A few weeks ago I published a post about the trendy Short North neighborhood in Columbus. I listed off a number of places I would have patronized had I come to spend money. This past weekend, I brought money.
Specifically, I paid money to Columbus Food Adventures to take my wife and I to some of the best Short North restaurants. Our birthdays, two weeks apart, were a good excuse to splurge and be tourists in our own city for an afternoon.
Columbus Food Adventures currently offers 11 different tours centered either around a neighborhood or culinary theme (such as a taco truck tour that sounds awesome). I chose the Short North because I wanted to do a walking tour, and the Short North is one of the best places in Columbus to walk.
We met our guide at North Market, my favorite place in Columbus. With a history going back to 1876, North Market is the place to find anything from Belgian waffles to Himalayan dumplings. It’s at once an incubator for new restaurant concepts and a destination for established local hits. If you leave hungry, it’s your fault.
Our tour began with several stops within the market, the first being Hot Chicken Takeover. As much a social enterprise as a Nashville-style chicken restaurant, Hot Chicken Takeover hires primarily people who were formerly incarcerated or homeless to serve up some killer chicken, mac and cheese, and cole slaw. Also on the menu is Miss B’s Banana Pudding: somewhere on my list of Top 10 Things Matt Has Ever Eaten. While I didn’t have the pudding that day, the chicken was the perfect way to start the tour.
After we finished our hot chicken, our guide took us back to the main floor of the market to sample some Cave Aged Cayenne Cheddar from Black Radish Creamery, savory Bavarian pretzel twists from Brezel, and the aforementioned Himalayan dumplings, or ‘momo’s, from Momo Ghar. We perused the North Market Spices shop before leaving the market for High Street.
Short North restaurants run the gamut from divey to shabby chic to just plain chic. After passing the deconstructivist Greater Columbus Convention Center, our first stop on High Street was the decidedly chic The Guild House, one of a number of Cameron Mitchell establishments in the Short North. The Guild House is exactly the kind of place I never would have stepped foot in outside of this tour. It’s expensive, and its recipes might be considered ‘bougie’ depending on your tastes (what is micro cilantro? Why not just cilantro?). Still, the chicken sweet potato hash they placed in front of us was excellent.
More my speed was the Short North Pint House, with the biergarten design and an impressive and diverse line up of draft beer on tap. This is the kind of place you could find families, groups of close friends, or tourists enjoying themselves (the Penguins were playing the Blue Jackets later that day, so there were several Pittsburgh jerseys in the mix). Our tour included generous helpings of three or four of their appetizers including beer cheese and pretzels, short rib nachos, and fries. I washed it all down with a Rhinegeist Cheetah lager, and all was right with the world.
Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams
Our final stop on our Columbus Food Adventure was for dessert at Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. Perhaps no place captures the entrepreneurial and local spirit of the Columbus culinary scene better than Jeni’s. Started in the North Market in 2002, Jeni’s uses primarily local sources to invent slightly edgy ice cream flavors that you wouldn’t necessarily have thought of yourself. My favorite? Brown Butter Almond Brittle, but there’s also the likes of Goat Cheese with Red Cherries, Bangkok Peanut, and Gooey Butter Cake. Invoking the tour’s spirit of trying new things, I opted for two flavors I don’t typically get: Cream Puff and Coffee with Cream and Sugar. Delightful, waffle cone chip and all.
There are now over 30 Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams shops across the United States and they ship across the world. Honestly, it’s probably Columbus’ best export. Years ago, for a hot minute, I worked in their main kitchen filling pints and hand writing labels. They’ve moved up in the world since then.
At about $60 a pop, tours with Columbus Food Adventures are definitely in the “once in a great while” category for us. Still, we both really enjoyed our time and thought the tour was a good value. The amount of food you end up eating is probably about one and a half to two meals worth spread across three hours. Our guide was knowledgeable and shared historical context and information about the buildings and restaurants we passed. We also had the chance to speak with representatives from nearly all the stops. It’s not exactly a shocker that by slowing down and talking to people you gain a greater appreciation for a place or its products. The tour was a good reminder, and helped me gain more appreciation for my city. I already appreciated it, but now I appreciate it more.