Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Inspired by Columbus: The Cornerstone Deli Cafe

The Cornerstone Deli Cafe
3296 N. High Street
Columbus, OH
(614) 267-3354
Facebook Page

Cornerstone has been a Clintonville mainstay for awhile now, so it's hard to believe that even though we have lived in Clintonville for four years we have never been before.  Maybe it's because their unassuming facade hides their interesting menu menagerie.

The dining is more spacious than I would have assumed, even offering a separate room that could hold a large party privately. In the lower picture Isaac is standing in front of the salad case while Lyndsay looks at the rest of the menu, which is broken down into breakfast, hot and cold sandwiches and wraps, sushi, and rice bowls. Though we always dine-in when possible, it is worth noting that Cornerstone has online ordering and delivers in a 3-mile radius, giving people in Clintonville, North Campus, and even North Linden something else to eat other than pizza or subs.

Now what makes Cornerstone interesting is not anything specific on the menu, but the fact that you could get a bagel with lox and sushi and a chefs salad all at the same time and for a reasonable price. While Lyndsay and Isaac ordered a deli wrap and a bagel pizza respectively, I decided to embrace the menu by ordering an eel and avocado roll, some sesame chicken without the rice, and a small salad.

Rather than a salad bar you look over their salad case and tell someone behind the counter exactly what you want.  It is all pretty standard stuff, but the sheer amount of dressings puts it over the edge.  I built my salad to compliment the Asian food I would be having by adding carrots, broccoli, bean sprouts, almonds, sunflower seeds, and hard-boiled egg with a mango dressing. But you could just as easily make a Greek salad or a chef's salad or a chicken Caesar salad.

I alternated bites of salad with cool and creamy sushi  or hot and crispy sesame chicken. You would think that a place that offers bagels and sushi would do neither well, but this was not the case.  Everything was surprisingly good and I can't imagine anyone not finding something here to enjoy.  I am really looking forward to getting some sushi and bagel sandwich delivered to my house the next time I feel lazy.

How I was inspired.
America has given many great things to the world.  Jazz, barbecue, and of course, the salad bar.  I thought it would be fun to combine the American concept of the salad bar with culturally specific ingredients. So I spent the afternoon prepping and had my friends the Richettis over to share in the spread.

I decided to do a Thai theme and other than lettuce I had about 16 choices: four herbs, six vegetables, two meats, three dressings and  a couple of miscellaneous items.  Here is the breakdown of what I did.

From the top to bottom and left to right we have whole basil leaves, chopped cilantro, sliced scallions, whole mint leaves, chopped tomatoes, sliced cucumber, and shredded carrot.

Starting at the top there is spring mix, brown rice noodles, a sweet and salty fish sauce vinaigrette, a lemongrass and coconut milk dressing, and a thick and creamy thai peanut dressing. These dressings were a simple matter of mixing a few ingredients, though the coconut milk dressing was also simmered a bit and run through a fine mesh strainer.

Finally we have fish sauce and brown sugar marinated broiled pork tenderloin slices, minced jalapeno, chopped sauteed red snapper in a tamarind lemongrass sauce, and dry-roasted peanuts.

Everything worked really well together and everyone had seconds.  Everyone had their favorite, but mine was the pork.  When doing this, encourage everyone to make multiple small salads so they can experiment with different ingredients each time.

Thai Salad Bar

Salad ingredients

  • 1 lb spring mix
  • 1/2 package brown rice noodles, cooked and drained
  • 1/2 lb carrots, peeled and shredded
  • 1 cucumber, cut in half and sliced thin (peeled and seeded if desired)
  • 4 roma tomatoes, chopped
  • 6 scallions, sliced thin
  • 3 jalapenos, minced (seeded if desired)
  • 1/2 cup each basil leaves, cilantro leaves, and mint leaves
  • 1/2 cup peanuts
  • Thai peanut (mix)
    • 2/3 cup peanut butter
    • 1/2 cup coconut milk
    • juice from 2 limes
    • 3 Tbsp. fish sauce
    • 4 cloves garlic, minced
    • 1 tsp. Thai red curry paste
    • 1 tsp. sugar
    • water as needed to get to desired consistency
  • Coconut lemongrass (gently simmer all ingredients together for 10 minutes then strain and cool)
    • 3 stalks lemon grass, trimmed and sliced thin
    • 2 shallots, peeled, and chopped coarse
    • 8 sprigs cilantro
    • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
    • 1 can coconut milk
    • juice from 2 limes
    • 1 tsp. Thai red curry paste
  • fish sauce vinaigrette
    • 2/3 cup fish sauce
    • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
    • juice from 3 limes
    • 1/3 cup sugar
    • 3 seeded jalapenos, minced
    • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • pork tenderloin (marinade for 3 hours, then broil until browned)
    • 3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
    • 2 Tbsp. fish sauce
    • 2 Tbsp. brown sugar
    • 1 pork tenderloin, sliced into 1/8" thick rounds
  • red snapper with tamarind lemongrass sauce
    • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
    • 1 lb thick red snapper fillets
    • 2 Tbsp. minced lemongrass
    • 1 Tbsp. minced garlic
    • 1 Tbsp. peeled and minced ginger
    • 1 seeded jalapeno, minced
    • 2 Tbsp. tamarind concentrate whisked into 1 cup of boiling water
    • fish sauce and sugar to taste
    1. Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a nonstick skillet for 4 minutes.  Saute the fish for two minutes on each side and then set aside
    2. Reduce the heat to medium and add the lemongrass, garlic, ginger, and jalapeno and cook for two minutes.  Add the tamarind liquid and the fish, and bring to a simmer, reduce heat to low, cover, and cook for 10 minutes.
    3. Remove the fish, increase heat to medium high and reduce the sauce until thick.  Add fish sauce and sugar to taste to make a nice balance between sour, salty, and sweet.
So that's it.  It was lot of work and should probably be saved for a party, but it was worth it.  I will be taking next week off as I go on vacation in New England.  See you in two weeks.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Inspired by Columbus: Super Chefs

Super Chefs
199 E. Broad St.
Columbus, OH
Facebook Page

Lyndsay and I have been wanting to go to Super Chefs since they first opened about a year ago.  We even tried once before, but made the mistake of going for a late-morning weekend breakfast when we were already hungry and giving up when we saw how long the wait was.  So this time we got there plenty early and even brought some snacks just to be safe. Let me spoil the ending by saying I wish we had toughed it out previously, because we had an excellent meal that I wish I had experienced sooner.

Super Chefs has a pretty cool story, which you can read in it's entirety here. But the short version is that the co-creator of Super Chefs is a Columbus native who was the chef for team USA at the Beijing Olympics where he earned his nickname. My wife's insatiable love for all things Olympics (and breakfast) was what first drew us to this restaurant.  We were pleased that we were able to be seated right away, making our emergency snacks unnecessary. The interior is fairly spartan except for a few black and white photos and wall decorations and a large TV on either wall.

However, as soon as I looked at the menu it was clear that Super Chefs focus was on its food.  Even the most classic items, like blueberry pancakes, french toast, or a breakfast sandwich have something that makes them special, like lemon butter whipped cream, fresh fruit, or honey mustard vinaigrette, respectively.  And then there are the more esoteric options, stuff I have never seen on a menu, like baked Alaskan banana pudding pancakes, cinnamon toast crunch waffles, and The Juggernaut, a waffle and fried chicken sandwich too complicated to explain here.

Super Chefs website says that they focus, "on intense flavors, vibrant palettes, and creative presentations" and this was certainly true of everything we ate.  I tend to avoid critiquing my meals in my posts, but for Super Chefs I made an exception.  From the concept, to the plating, to the flavor of each dish it became clear that this was a restaurant that cares about excellence. So, rather than mindlessly gush about how amazing the food was (and it was pretty amazing), I believe Super Chefs deserves better from me.

I ordered the Elvis Waffles, inspired by the King's love of peanut butter, banana, and bacon sandwiches. The waffle itself had a wonderful crispy exterior and a well-flavored fluffy interior. The crumbled candied bacon and banana slices make a great salty sweet addition, though I could have done with more of both.  The caramel and chocolate drizzle is mostly lost in the dish, making for a pretty presentation, but not adding much to the flavor of the dish.  This is shame because a nice bitter chocolate syrup would have pleasantly cut through the sweet and salt from the bananas, bacon, and peanut butter. The peanut butter was a little problematic to me.  Every indent of the waffle was filled with it. It overwhelmed some of the delicate flavors in the waffle and was slightly unpleasant as it stuck to the roof of my mouth. I think the dish might have been better served with a lighter peanut butter mousse. That having been said, I gleefully ate every bite and then started nibbling on what Lyndsay ordered.

Lyndsay ordered the breakfast pizza for $10.99 with a side of hash browns $2.  The hash browns were expertly cooked, nicely crunchy and soft at the same time with a generous amount of seasoning. The breakfast pizza included their from-scratch sausage, candied bacon, eggs, cheese, spinach, and mornay sauce.  The from-scratch sausage caused a division at the table.  I found the sausage to be unique and delicious, it was sweet, it was spicy, and as I chewed it I several distinct flavors came and went. But I will admit, it isn't what you think of when you think about breakfast sausage and neither Isaac or Lyndsay warmed to it on its own, though Lyndsay did enjoy it on the pizza. All of the ingredients worked well together on the pizza and I thought it was the better of the two dishes we ordered, though would have liked a little more mornay sauce.

Though breakfast was quite a bit more expensive than a trip to your local diner, both Lyndsay and I felt it was worth it. Simply put Super Chefs boldly stakes a claim on the breakfast landscape.  They are worth a trip whether you want to try something a little different or impress your friends from out of town with Columbus's food scene.

How I was Inspired
I decided to make my own breakfast pizza based around my love for ham and brie.  I wanted this to be a dish you could just throw together on a Saturday morning without a lot of prep, so I decided to work with an already baked flat-bread, like naan as my base, but feel free to make a from-scratch pizza crust if you are so inclined.

For my sauce I made a honey, maple, dijon sauce by mixing 2 Tbsp. of honey, 2 Tbsp. of maple syrup, and 1/4 cup of dijon mustard. Using a pastry brush I lightly spread a sauce on each piece of naan.

 I mixed some garlic and herbs de provence with some onions and gently caramelized them in butter for about 15 minutes. 

Next I added slices of brie and thick-cut slices of black forest ham tossed with a little smoked paprika.I topped the pizzas with some scrambled eggs mixed with a little cayenne and the caramelized onions and baked at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes until the cheese was thoroughly melted and the bottom of the bread was crisp. The result was delicious and I think it would be right at home on the Super Chefs menu. Here's the recipe if you want to make your own.

Ham, Brie, and Caramelized Onion Breakfast Pizza
  • 4 pieces of naan
  • 1/4 cup of dijon mustard
  • 2 Tbsp. honey
  • 2 Tbsp. maple syrup (preferably grade A-dark or grade B)
  • 1/2 lb thick sliced smoked ham cut into bite-sized pieces and tossed with smoked paprika to taste
  • 1/2 lb brie sliced thin
  • 1 large sweet onion, sliced thin
  • 1 Tbsp. butter
  • 2 clove garlic
  • 1 tsp. herbes de provence
  • 6 eggs beaten thoroughly with 1/8 tsp. cayenne
  1. Melt the butter over medium heat until foaming subsides and add the onions, garlic, and herbs.  Cook stirring occasionally until thoroughly caramelized.
  2. While the onions cook scramble the egg and cayenne mix with salt to taste until cooked through, but still wet.
  3. Spread a small amount of dijon mix on each piece of naan.  Add cheese, then ham, then eggs and onions.  Bake at 400 degrees until the brie is well melted and the bottom crust is crisp, about 15 minutes.
Where should I head to next, Columbus.  Breakfast, lunch, dinner, or dessert, if there is interesting food out there, I want to know about it.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Inspired by Columbus: Press Grill

Press Grill
741 N. High St.
Columbus, OH
(614) 298-1014
Facebook Page

Alright, so it's time to reveal something about myself.  I love to maintain lists of things, whether it be music or video games to check out or life goals.  One such list includes restaurants I heard good things about, but haven't tried yet.  Press Grill was on the list and since we were near the Short North, Lyndsay, Isaac and I decided to head there for lunch. 

Press Grill is a fairly small space and it's bar takes up about a third of that space.  Considering it was a Saturday, in the Short North, during Comfest, I expected a wait.  We could have all sat at the bar immediately, but I thought that would be weird with a four-year-old (though another dad was enjoying lunch at the bar with his newborn in a carrier).  However, our wait wasn't very long and before long were looking over the menu  and admiring the purple walls and black and white photography on the walls.

The menu has some standard pub appetizers and entrees like burgers, pizzas, and onion rings.  It also has some creative sandwiches like Adobo pork and a salmon sandwich. It is also worth noting that they have some pretty great daily specials, like 60 cent wings on Tuesday or Thanksgiving dinner every Thursday evening.

We started with some fried calamari, which I have been craving.  It was quite good for an Ohio pub, though not quite up to par with what I used to get living in Boston.  That having been said, we polished them off pretty quick and were looking forward to our entrees.

Lyndsay ordered a daily special, a hot caprese sandwich $8 and I ordered the Cajun Tilapia Sandwich $8. Lyndsay's sandwich was interesting, mostly because I've only had Caprese salads (fresh mozzarella, tomato, and basil) cold.  Serving it hot intensified the tomato flavor and the melty fresh mozzarella reminded me of a parm-style sandwich.  Her nicely toasted bread did a good job soaking up any juices without getting soggy.  My Cajun Tilapia sandwich was absolutely delicious.  In addition to the flavorful battered fish fillet it also had salami, fontina, grilled onions and peppers, lettuce, tomato, and creole mayo.  My only complaint with the sandwich is that it was not remotely spicy, which I expected from something using the words Cajun and Creole in the description.

How I Was Inspired
I decided to take what I liked about Lyndsay's hot Caprese sandwich and what I like about Panzanella (Italian bread salad) and mix the two together to make a hot Caprese Panzanella.

In the bottom of a pan I mixed together some olive oil, salt, pepper, fresh thyme, rosemary, and sliced garlic (not pictured) and then cut about a dozen roma tomatoes in half lengthwise and put them cut side down on the infused oil.  I baked them at 325 degrees for about 2 hours until the skins were very wilted and they were very soft.

Meanwhile I took a baguette, cut it into 1 inch cubes, and toasted it in the same oven with the tomatoes for about 15-20 minutes until they were well-toasted.

Also while the tomatoes were cooking I cut up 8 oz. of fresh mozzarella into bite-sized pieces.  You could also use mozzarella pearls if you would like to save a little time and have a more consistent appearance.

Finally, I tossed the hot tomatoes with the dried bread cubes, the mozzarella slices, and a little balsamic vinegar.  When I make this again, I will not add the mozzarella before plating as they melt too fast.  Instead, they should be added by each person when they are ready to eat.  After this shot, I tore up that basil leaf and spread it around. Basil chiffonade would be the better choice. Anyway, regardless of a few missteps in presentation, it was crazy delicious.  It was everything I like about Italian put into one dish.  I also baked some chicken and had it on the side, dragging each slice of chicken through the leftover sauce on my plate to great effect.  Here is the recipe if you want to try it at home.  And you really should, though the tomatoes took some time, it was incredibly easy to make.

Hot Caprese Panzanella

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced thin
  • 16 individual sprigs of fresh thyme
  • leaves of 4 sprigs of rosemary
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 12-14 roma tomatoes, stems removed and sliced in half lengthwise
  • 1 baguette, cut into 1 inch chunks
  • 8 oz. fresh mozzarella cut into bite-sized pieces or mozzarella pearls
  • 1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, chiffonade
  1. Mix the olive oil, garlic, thyme, rosemary, and salt and pepper to taste in a 9 by 13 roasting pan.  Add the tomato halves, cut side down, and roast for about 2 hours at 325 degrees until the skins are very wilted and the tomatoes are soft through. Also toast the bread cubes in a separate baking sheet for 15-20 minutes until dried out and toasted.
  2. After the tomatoes are cooked, toss them with the bread cubes and balsamic vinegar in a large bowl and serve, topping with the mozzarella and basil to taste.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Inspired by Columbus: Shish Kebab Mediterranean Grill

1450 Bethel Road
Columbus, OH
(614) 273-4444

Okay, I'll admit it, the first two three restaurants I wrote about I have been to before and I already knew they had some menu items I might be interested in writing about.  And I'm sure I'll do it again soon enough, but for this post Lyndsay and I decided to try something new. Now, I have this strong apprehension about trying out new restaurants.  It's not that I don't like to try new things; I love it.  It's just that I love food so much that when I have a mediocre experience, one where I feel like my money would have been much better spent on something I know I like, I get literally mopey for the next several hours. Thankfully, I can say Shish Kebab was one the best experiences I've had in Columbus.

Shish Kebab's dining room is not terribly large, but is much nicer than I was expecting.  The beautiful wood interior means there is little need for further decoration.  We came for a very early dinner, so we were the first ones there, but by the time we left the dining room was more full.  

The quality of the decor extended to the attractive dish and glassware used, as well as plating, but more on that later.  Because we were the only party for awhile, our drink glasses never emptied and after we ordered our food came out quickly.  Most, if not all of the servers seemed to be Turkish which made communication slightly more labored, but no more so than any other restaurant where English is not the primary language.

The menu is full of the expected Turkish offerings like chicken kebabs and doner kebabs as well as quite a few seafood options and more.  We decided to start with zucchini pancakes, though I was also tempted to try the Turkish cigars, which looked like a mediterranean phyllo eggroll, and also the sauteed liver cubes.

But, before we ate our zucchini pancakes ($6.95), they brought us some of the best bread and dipping oil I've ever had.  The bread was crusty and had that deep dark flavor on the exterior that comes from using a hearth.  The oil was infused with sweet-sundried tomatoes and rosemary which made the bread even better.  The zucchini pancakes were perfectly flavored and cooked tasting primarily of feta and dill and the plain yogurt served alongside added a pleasant tanginess.

For our entrees, both Lyndsay and I were interested in the portion of their menu that pairs toasted garlic bread cubes with kebab meat, yogurt, and grilled vegetables and topped with a light sauce.  The meat was perfectly seasoned and perfectly cooked and as much as I love lamb, I think Lyndsay's chicken kebab ($14.95) might have been even better than my doner kebab ($16.95) because it had a fuller caramelized flavor from the grill.  The yogurt was, again, a nice addition, though I thought perhaps a little less might have been good.  The garlic toasted bread cubes were an interesting addition, sort of taking the place of pasta or potatoes in the dish.

Rarely do I order dessert at a restaurant, but the food was so good that I decided to save some of my entree for later and order the milk custard.  Like everything else, it was delicious and was a nice cool and treat to end the meal.  Overall the experience was fantastic and I wholeheartedly recommend it.  They also have a lunch buffet for $8.99, which I will be back to try sometime soon.

How I was Inspired
I decided I wanted to try and make my own doner kebab meat and then top it with the zucchini pancake "batter" sort of a Turkish inspired adaptation of Beef Wellington.

First I started by the making the gyro meat. I pureed an onion and then wrapped it in a tea towel and squeezed out as much liquid as possible.  Then I mixed the dried pureed onion with ground lamb, minced fresh garlic, dried marjoram, dried ground rosemary, salt, and pepper.  Next, I shaped the ground lamb into eight bratwurst sized logs and baked at 350 degrees until they reached an internal temperature of 160 degrees.  However, I would recommend making much larger logs, around 3 1/2 to 4 inches in diameter to get the proper ratio of meat to zucchini pancake.

To make the zucchini pancakes, you take the zucchini and shred it on a box grater or using a food processor shredding disk.  Then you toss it in a little salt over a colander and let it sit for 30 minutes.  After that, you press on the zucchini with paper towels until mostly dry. This took me several bunches of towels before it wasn't completely soaking them through.

Next, you add the remaining ingredients: green onion, yellow onion, dill, parsley, feta, eggs, and flour and mix to make a thick "batter." I took my cooked doner kebabs, put them on a cookie sheet, and coated them on the top and sides with a thick layer of "batter."

Broil the "loaves" or bake at 550 degrees until well-browned (my broiler stinks so I never got the color I was looking for). Here is the recipe if you want to try it yourself.

Donor Kebab faux Wellingtons
  • 2 small yellow onions, grated
  • 2 lbs ground lamb
  • 1 Tbsp. minced garlic
  • 1 Tbsp. dried marjoram
  • 1 Tbsp. dried ground rosemary
  • 1 tsp. salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/2 tsp. pepper
  • 1 1/2 lbs. zucchini
  • 3/4 cup chopped scallions
  • 3/4 cup chopped fresh dill
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 6 eggs, beaten
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  1. Process half of the grated onions in a food processor for about 15 seconds until it is just pulp.  Put the pulp in a tea towel and squeeze all the onion juice out.  Mix the dried onion pulp with the lamb, garlic, marjoram, rosemary, 1 tsp. salt, and pepper until thoroughly combined.
  2. Shape the meat into one or more large loaves, roughly 3 1/2 inches in diameter, put in a greased rimmed baking sheet and and bake at 350 until they reach an internal temperature of 160 degrees.
  3. Meanwhile, grate the zucchini and toss with a little salt in a colander and let it sit for 30 minutes.  Spread the zucchini on a quadruple thickness of paper towels and then press with another quadruple thickness of paper towels to dry.  Repeat this with fresh paper towels until the the moisture no longer bleeds through.
  4. Thoroughly mix the dried shredded zucchini with the scallions, remaining grated onion, dill, parsley, feta, eggs, and flour until you make a thick batter.  Spread the batter over the top and sides of the cooked doner kebabs and broil or bake at 550 degrees until well browned. Cut into slices and serve.
What is your favorite Turkish or other Mediterranean food? Where do you go for a good gyro? What restaurant should I visit next? Let me know in the comments below.