If you’ve been reading my blog for any period of time, you might remember that I took a press trip to Columbus, Ohio back in September of last year. I blogged about the first day when I got to hang out with the awesome Jeni of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream and the second day when I ordered way too much food at breakfast with my partner-in-crime Brian and then proceeded to eat way too much food the rest of the day. You would think that the gluttony would have ended there, but I actually had one more day to spend in Columbus, Ohio, and it was a doozy of a day. The first stop was at the North Market, a public market in the Short North neighborhood and it inspired me to make Super Quick Cinnamon & Spice Breakfast Rolls.
After not stop eating for the past couple of days, you would think that my stomach could handle no more food. But heading to the North Market, a historic farmer’s market and food area, not unlike San Francisco’s Ferry Building, I found myself starting to feel hungry. Awakening from my 48-hour food coma, I took a look around and found my jaded self getting excited about the fresh produce, the ethnic foods and the shopping opportunities that North Market had to offer. Over and over again I heard people talk about how they tried to support local foods and the following week was Local Foods Week, where they would supporting local food producers. I love that!
I wandered about, looked at great selection of cheese, Belgian waffles (so good), gourmet popcorn (I love popcorn and Pam’s doesn’t disappoint), fresh produce (if only I could bring fresh produce home on the plane), and a fantastic spice market (where I ended up stocking up on hard to find spices). I could probably write a whole post about North Market and all the local producers there that are deeply invested in Columbus and the food community.
Of course, I immediately gravitated toward Omega Artisan Bakery, which had fresh baked bread and pastries. I’m a sucker for fresh baked bread, but I couldn’t resist getting one of their mega huge cinnamon rolls. The Food Network magazine had rated those suckers as “Best Breakfast in Ohio” and who am I to argue with the Food Network? If yesterday was any indication, I knew I shouldn’t eat the whole roll, but I couldn’t help myself.
Also of note was a North Market Poultry and Game that sold exactly what their name implies. Adjacent to them was their Kitchen Little counter, that sold pre-made food. I was instructed by various vendors throughout North Market that I had to get their chicken meatloaf, so I obliged. I ended up waiting an extra ten minutes for it to finish up, while the rest of the gang ran off to The Candle Lab.
I hurried out of North Market and met up with the rest of the bloggers at The Candle Lab. I was super pleased that we had a bit of down time and weren’t immediately going to another eatery. Instead, I walked into an austere shop full of scented candles. I was instructed to smell the candles and then allowed to mix my own essential oils together to make my own candle. After near odor fatigue, I finally settled on a mix of three scents that reminded me of my month in Hawaii, matcha, guava and bamboo. One sniff of my candle I was transported back to Little Beach (though AJ said I should have added a little cannabis to give a true authentic vibe, but I hadn’t thought of that at the time).
While our candles set, the rest of us wandered up and down the Short North shopping district. I wandered into an antique and consignment shop, where I oogled old cameras, vintage salt and pepper shakers and other odds and ends. Then we ducked into a few other boutiques like Tigertree where I immediately felt nostalgic about the periodic table on the wall.
For lunch, we hopped back onto the bus and went to Latitude 41, where Chef David MacLennan and Mixologist Nicolene Schwartz dazzled us with their innovative food and cocktails. Fine dining at it’s best, everything we had was excellent and playful, from the Gyro Flatbread to Lobster Mac n’ Cheese to their own twist on Chicken and Waffles. I love me some chicken and waffles, and let me tell you, the corn butter they use on that waffle takes it over-the-top.
Of course, I had to get all up in the kitchen’s grille, sneaking off to take a few pics of people making the food that we would be eating. I also had a peak at their rooftop garden, where they grow herbs and some produce for the restaurant. You can’t get more local than the rooftop!
Well the meal isn’t over until we had dessert and coffee. So leaving fine dining, we did a quick stop at Sugardaddy’s, home of the round brownie and blondie. Cute as a button the eatery’s décor was just as sweet as their treats. They’ve been featured on Ellen and have won Throwdown with Bobby Flay. I found myself gravitating toward the Cinnamon Blondie with pecans and their America Beauty with chocolate and peanut butter swirled together. Once we had our sugar high, and to help stave off a sugar crash, we headed across the street to Café Brioso where we learned that Columbus has a thriving coffee culture as well. We tasted different in-house roasted coffees, had coffee beans roasting explained to us, and watched as talented baristas pulled an exact espresso and foam the perfect cappucino. As a former barista myself I was impressed.
Fueled up, we drove over to Middle West Spirits, a local vodka and whiskey maker. I loved the spirit of the company (pardon the pun) as the owner of the company explained that he came from a family of bootleggers who used to make their own moonshine. He decided to go legit and start making true artisan spirits, from the soft red wheat sourced locally. What makes their vodka specifically different than others is that they don’t multiple distill their vodka like other companies, meaning you can actually taste the ingredients that it’s made from. The vodka itself isn’t completely neutral like the vodkas most people are used to, but instead has a smooth full body, with notes of butterscotch and fall fruit like apples and pears. I can’t recommend it enough. The passion behind the product is evident and a number of bloggers bought several bottles to bring home.
If we weren’t liquored up enough, next door to Middle West Spirits was Brothers Drake Honey Mead Winery. If you’ve never had honey mead, you should seek it out, and Brothers Drake is an excellent example of it. The local honey they use to create the wine really gives each wine a varied nuance. They don’t mass produce it, so you’ll have to visit Columbus to get a bottle, but if you’re in town, it’s worth a stop, as they not only use local ingredients and craft the wine on the premises, but they also support local artists and musicians, hosting events at their tasting room and bar.
Are you exhausted yet? Because I was pretty much ready to pass out, but obviously we weren’t done. After all, we had much more eating to do! We headed back to the hotel to get cleaned up and take a power nap (or download images onto my computer) and then we headed over to Fresh Street Takoyaki House. If you have never had takoyaki, it’s a Japanese octopus savory pancake like dumping and it’s fantastic. I had it a couple of times at Japanese restaurants as part of an appetizer, but I’ve never had it street food style, which is how it originated. Piping hot (and I mean SCALDING hot) it was worth all the pain that it caused when I ate it too soon from the cast iron pan.
From the Takoyaki house, we joined up with Columbus Food Adventures and went on a Mexican Taco Truck tour. I know, you’re thinking Mexican taco trucks in Columbus? Well I was too, but let me tell you, though none of the trucks were better than our local San Francisco taco trucks (how could they be?) they were all surprisingly tasty. If you can’t get all the way out to San Francisco, these are the next best thing. Tour guide Bethia Woolf picked the top four best taco trucks in Columbus.
We ended the taco truck tour at a Mexican grocery store, which was awesome, because it was exactly what I imagined a Midwest Mexican grocery store would look like – basically a Mexican grocery store like the ones in San Francisco, but Midwest large in scale.
Post dinner cocktails were in order. We headed to M, an upscale fancy pants restaurant and cocktail lounge, which could have been an upscale restaurant and cocktail lounge in Los Angeles or New York. Chef Jay Cotrell presented us with some showstopping desserts, including a deconstructed apple pie but the real treat was Mixologist Cris Dehlavi who dazzled us with her cocktails.
The trip was coming to a close and I was sad to have to leave all my newfound friends. After three days of hanging out and eating up a storm, I couldn’t believe I was leaving. And as we slunk back to the hotel, a few of us decided we needed one more food adventure. We headed out to Dirty Franks.
Now Dirty Franks is a divey dining establishment that serves up ridiculous heartburn inducing hot dogs and other treats. In other words, it was the perfect way to end our trip to Columbus. Late a night, the group of us food bloggers ended up being the obnoxious table laughing up a storm, photographing each other, flirting with the cute waiter and gorging ourselves on bacon cheese fries, chili dogs, soft salty pretzels, tater tot-chos, funnel fries and gallons of cocktail slushies. Only $4 to add whiskey, rum, gin, vodka, or tequila to a cherry or lime slushie peeps. You must go there. And if Cory is still working there, tell him I say hi.
Special thanks goes to Experience Columbus for hosting me on this trip to Columbus, Ohio. All travel, accommodations, meals and tours were provided by Experience Columbus (except for Dirty Franks, I paid for that, oh did I pay for that…). That said, I was not compensated otherwise for what I wrote above and everything I have written is my own opinion.
By Irvin Lin
Once I got home from Columbus, it took me a few weeks to adjust to eating normal amounts of food. In the meanwhile I decided I needed to make some cinnamon rolls, inspired by Omega Artisan Bakery. Of course, normal cinnamon rolls are a bit time consuming because you have to wait for them to rise with yeast. So I adapted a recipe using baking powder and baking soda. Way easier and much faster. Don’t expect these cinnamon rolls to be the same as a regular yeast-risen cinnamon roll, these are closer to a biscuit in texture. That said, they have their own unique appeal, and the additional spices add a nice layer of complexity and depth cutting the sweetness of rolls.
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated New Best Recipes
175 g (3/4 cup) brown sugar
50 g (1/4 cup) white sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground all spice
1/4 teaspoon ground cardamon
1/8 teaspoon cloves
2 tablespoons salted butter, melted
315 g (2 1/4 cup) all purpose flour
65 g (1/2 cup) powdered milk
1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
85 g (6 tablespoons or 3/4 stick) melted salted butter, divided
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
185 g (1 1/4 cup) confectioner’s sugar (powdered sugar)
2-3 tablespoons buttermilk
1 vanilla bean (or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)
1. Preheat the oven to 425˚F. Spray a 9 inch round cake pan with neutral flavored cooking oil.
2. Make the spice filling by tossing all the ingredients together in a medium bowl until they start to clump together.
3. Make the dough by placing the flour, powdered milk, baking powder and baking soda in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Turn the mixer on to low and stir the dry ingredients until they are well blended and uniform in color. Pour 2 tablespoons of butter (reserving the other 4 tablespoons for later) into the buttermilk and stir. Add the liquid to the dry ingredients and turn the mixer onto medium to incorporate. Beat until the liquid absorbed.
4. Empty the dough onto a well floured surface and knead until the dough is smooth and no longer shaggy. Pat the dough down into a 12 x 9 inch rectangle. Brush two tablespoons of butter (half the remaining butter) onto the dough and then sprinkle the filling over the dough, on top of the butter to about 1/2 inch from the edge. Pat the filling down to the dough to make it stick and then roll the dough (from the long side) into a log. Press the seal the edges and cut the dough log into 8 pieces.
5. Put one rolled disc in the middle of the pan (cut side down) and then the remaining 7 rolls around it. Brush with the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and bake in the oven for about 25 minutes or until golden brown. Place a heatproof plate on top of the pan and immediately flip the rolls over to release them onto the plate (you might need to loosen the rolls with a butter knife before doing this). Then place a wire rack on the rolls and flip again, with the rolls right-side up on the wire rack. Let cool slightly while you make the icing.
6. While the rolls are cooling, make the icing by sifting the confectioners’ sugar into a medium bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of buttermilk then split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape the seeds out of it into the bowl. Stir together until you have an icing that is thin enough to drizzle. If the icing is too thick, add a little more buttermilk to thin it out, but not too much as the warm roll will melt the icing more. Drizzle over the warm buns and eat immediately.
Note: If you don’t want to splurge on a vanilla bean, you can use vanilla extract, but you may need to add more confectioners’ sugar to thicken up the icing.