Friday, January 27, 2012

A Day Filled with Columbus Food and Spirits

After my morning tasting and exploring the North Market, I met Amy Weirick, who works with Experience Columbus. She put together a full day and it started at The Candle Lab in the city’s Short North section. We had time to mix our favorite fragrances into a candle (I choose hot chocolate and marshmallow), and do a little downtown shopping before heading off to lunch.

We ate in the German Village, one of the many diverse neighborhoods in this Ohio city. Among the Cobblestone streets and brick houses was Lindey’s, a popular restaurant that was filled to the brim on this weekday. Amy ordered the Tuna Tartar, a favorite of hers, and I enjoyed a Spinach Quiche, that was very good with a hint of bacon.

We stayed in the area a bit longer to head over to Pistacia Vera, which means true pistachio in Latin. You will find some pistachio items here, but the focus is all French. Like my favorite stops in Paris, there are macaroons that melt in your mouth, airy croissants and a selection of tasty treats. (In a tribute to the neighborhood, they even have a German Chocolate Cake.)

Anne Fletcher, who owns the dessert boutique with baker husband Spencer, took us through the kitchen, where the smells of sweets permeated the air and we saw the fine ingredients from around the world.

I will definitely have to make a trip back there someday to also sample their brunch treats, such as Baked Eggs with cream and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese in a tomato fondue.

We left the Columbus food scene for a while to tour some of the top spirits made in city, beginning with Watershed Distillery. Greg Lehman, who started the distillery with partner   Dave Rigo in 2010, took me through what goes into their vodka and gin.

As a gin drinker, I’m very familiar with the benefit of herbs in spirits, but the attention to that detail is one of the things that makes the Watershed Gin so good. It includes juniper, cinnamon, allspice, citrus peels, lemon, lime, orange and coriander, and all of those herbs are front and center for you to see before you taste.

The Watershed Vodka is made from only corn and distilled four times to 80 proof. I found it to be smooth and sweet, and I loved the unusual profile. I also love how they have utilized this space to delicately produce these spirits in small batches, keeping tight control on the quality.

The next stop was Middle West Spirits, where Ryan Lang was ready to tell us all about his spirits and how they built this fairly large facility “for production and to educate people.” Tours are encouraged as much as the tastings because the process is an important part of the Middle West products made by Ryan and partner Brady Konya.
A lot of detail goes into the making of the Oyo spirits with top-notch equipment, local ingredients, and lots of direction by this micro distillery’s owners. The Oyo Vodka is unfiltered and goes through 34 distillations.

The Honey Vanilla Bean is very light, with an opening mouthful of wildflower and a vanilla finish. While you don’t really taste the honey, Ryan says that’s what brings out the floral notes.

The can’t miss spirit here is the Oyo Stone Fruit Vodka, a start of cherries and apricot which bursts into just about every fruit you’ve ever tasted, and ends with a bit of a nutty flavor. The Whiskey is made from red winter wheat and is full of caramel and vanilla, without tasting as potent as its 80 proof.

Our final spirits stop was very different than the previous two. Brother’s Drake Meadery is more of a bar than a distillery with a tasting room, but it actually serves all those purposes. Mead is made from honey and is referred to as more wine than spirit.  Since 2007, the brothers Drake have used hundreds of different honeys and local ingredients to put together a collection of meads that is rather impressive.

While I’m not usually a big fan of mead, I did find a few that I really enjoyed. The Bergamot Blue is blueberry and takes advantage of the fruit’s slightly tart flavor to keep the sweetness down. The Apple Pie is very cider-like and quite good. The Pillow Talk uses lavender for an interesting flavor that is rather smooth and not very sweet.

From the meadery we went to the eatery, and one of the most well-known in Columbus, Ohio. I had heard nothing but praise for Basi Italia and I couldn’t wait to taste the creations of Chef John Dornback. We got to hear all about the ingredients (and love) found in these walls by the chef’s wife and co-partner, Trish, who joined us for dinner.

Trish and John had met in Cleveland and were married in 2002. A year later they began Basi Italia and the raves just kept coming. I was impressed from the start with the Gorgonzola/Parmesan Biscotti. We then nibbled on a scrumptious Duck Flatbread with caramelized fig-onion jam, fresh spinach and fontina cheese, as well as a yummy Zucchini Pronto, with toasted almonds and pecorino cheese.

A La Massa Sangiovese was perfect to get me in the Italiano mood, and the Fennel & Root Vegetable Cream Soup was excellent. Everyone's food looked delicious, but I had no problem with what I ordered.

My main course of Sweet Potato Gnocchi with roasted mushrooms and arugula in pesto was a great mix of flavors and I barely had room for the chocolate filled dessert (but I was really glad I squeezed in a taste).

The dinner was my final experience in Columbus – at least for this trip. I was happily surprised to find out about all the interesting food and drinks this city has added in the years since I had been there. I’m sure it won’t be another four years until I go back.

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