Saturday, 16 March 2013

Onto Year Three: Continuing to Cook Up dat Cajun/Creole Cuisine in Columbus

Da Levee on Urbanspoon

Midway into my final semester at Albion College during the spring of 2010, a restaurant completely off my radar at the time had first opened its doors in the Short North District of Columbus. In looking back at my previous blog posts, it surprises me that it's been just over a year since I first began reviewing this restaurant with every dish that I tried. Well, I've definitely returned quite a few times within the last year or so to that local dive, Da Levee, and have witnessed a few reconfigurations and additions to both the space and its menu. Alongside its aesthetic updates, the Da Levee team steered by Midwestern Chef/Owner Justin Boehme has remained strong and I think has only gotten better with time, serving up some of the most satisfying and consistent food in Columbus. But apparently, change was still on the horizon. After checking out Da Levee's Facebook page this past Mardi Gras, I found out that Da Levee's doors were closed for a substantial renovation project (a bar installation); and as this post notes, even more exciting changes are in Da Levee's future. In the meantime, and with yesterday being its three-year anniversary and official grand reopening, and especially after reading this review, I was excited to check out the changes and to introduce my friends and Central Ohio foodies Susan, Marlaine and David to what is easily one of my favourite Columbus restaurants. In addition, Marlaine and David's friends Amy and David (who have much closer ties to Louisiana than I do-- originally from Arkansas, some of Amy's family is Cajun, and David's originally from New Orleans) joined in our Columbus food adventure, as well.

Upon entering Da Levee is an expanded menu appropriately fitted to a much larger chalkboard than what used to hang on the wall leading into the kitchen. With the new bar, a set of smaller chalkboards are position up and to the right of the large one pictured above.

When facing the menu, to the left against the windows looking out onto N High St is a window bar offering more of a solo or duo kind of dining experience than in the past. To the right is a brick divider that almost creates a sub-resto within the restaurant, making the already small space appear much smaller than it actually is. And past that first wall and beyond the smaller register station is the newly installed bar, a clearly defining feature of the space.

Along with beers on tap, the growing bar has some Louisiana staples (of which I didn't write down). There are apparently enough ingredients for "the quintessential New Orleans cocktail," the Sazerac, which Amy got. Susan and I comfortably split a carafe of what Da Levee calls a Derecho, their version of what tourists of New Orleans might know as the Hurricane. Given our landlocked status, I can't imagine an actual hurricane ever hitting us, but derechos (windstorms of devastating effect) actually can and have (as recently as this past summer while I was in France). Da Levee's refreshing concoction (though its punch seems to be a bit weakened by all the ice its served with) is made of rum, orange juice and red pop.

As we moved to our food orders, Amy got an order of Zapp-chos (craw tator chips with the housemade chorizo); think nachos only with Zapp's potato chips as your base. In addition, she and Susan started out with a side salad (I didn't even know that much green actually existed in Da Levee..) dressed on the side with "Dat Sauce," a spicy yet balanced blend of Louisiana flavour. Like a similar, yet entirely unique sauce you can also find further down on High St., the sauce itself transforms the simplest of ingredients into something special. Around the table, we had orders of red beans and sausage, crawfish étoufée, the jamburrito and gumbo.

Since yesterday was a Lenten observance for me, I went with the half and half option, with a half order of the pescetarian crawfish étoufée (which I absolutely love) and a half order of the sole vegetarian main option the B & B (caramelised corn and black beans-- slightly sweet, incredibly filling and wonderful textural bite).

I should note here that we just happened to catch the tail end of Da Levee's "Happiest of Hours" (T-F, 3-7pm), and that the group consensus leaned toward satisfying, as close to NOLA as one could get in this area, and food we'd all definitely enjoy eating again. Many thanks again to Justin and crew for taking great care of us!

A visit to the Short North just never really seems complete without the heart warming smells of freshly made ice cream cones and stopping in at Jeni's Splended Ice Creams; before we even got our food at Da Levee, and with great enthusiasm we had decided to head over for dessert. A few weeks ago, I learned via Facebook that a new flavour inspired by the 100th anniversary of Igor Stravinsky's ballet "The Rite of Spring" had been released in the form of Absinthe + Meringues. After a sample of it, I couldn't quite commit to a whole scoop of the prominent taste of licorice (though I did like its crunchy element coming from the hand-piped meringues).

And so I went with one of the other limited flavours, Guava Cloverton which is smooth and creamy because of the Laurel Valley Creamery's Cloverton cheese (and don't forget the base of all her ice creams comes from the one and only Snowville Creamery!), and into which a guava jam made in the JSI kitchen is swirled. To pair with this subtly sweet flavour, my second scoop was that of the "tart and true cherry" flavour of the signature Cherry Lambic Sorbet, which won Gallo Family Vineyards award in 2008. Together, they made a truly balanced flavour of happiness.

And on such a positive note, I end this post here but back where I typically begin, hungry for learning more. For the entire album from last night, click here.

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