Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Searching for Sustenance in Ohio

I snuck out of my hotel in downtown Ohio this morning with a pair of running shoes on, determined to get a taste for more of this city than what I’d seen. I was in Columbus for a three day conference, and as conferences often go, I spent most that time in one place, eating conference food. Thus, one of the last seminars had to be sacrificed in the name of culinary exploration.

I’d read a bit about this midwestern city and its budding local food scene. I knew at the very least I’d be making a pilgrimage to Jeni’s, one of the country’s most craveworthy ice cream companies, known for their local sourcing (cream from Ohio grass-pastured cows, no less) and creativity. I recently thumbed through Jeni's new cookbook, spotting things like Bangkok Peanut ice cream (with cayenne pepper) and other crazy flavor combinations, and was instantly infatuated. 

So I ran down High Street to one of Jeni’s scoop shops, housed in a gourmet haven known as the North Market. This indoor public food market holds rows of vendors facing an inner arcade. It's reminiscent of other historic North American food halls like Pike Place Market in Seattle and Grandville Island Public Market in Vancouver, B.C.), with prepared foods, fish, produce, meat and poultry, ethnic groceries and locally made goods.

I quickly jogged around the place perusing my breakfast options, and decided on a fresh carrot-celery-grapefruit juice from Bubbles, the Tea and Juice Company, and a scoop of Chana Masala over rice from Flavors of India. Delicious. It was only 9:30 a.m. but I couldn’t resist the smell of their curries, and also bought a couple of spice blends to take home with me. Then I grabbed a ham (from local Bluescreek Farm) and Swiss cheese croissant from Omega Artisan Baking (oh my, was that good) to eat on the plane.

On my way out, I stopped by Jeni’s for a taste of just one flavor, which turned into at least eight. I could have tried them all, all day long. My favorites were the limited editions -- Goat Cheese with Cherry, Lemon Curd with Juniper, Grapefruit Frozen Yogurt, Backyard Mint, and get this: Wheatgrass, Pear and Vinho Verde. Seriously! I normally can’t handle wheatgrass, but this complimentary combination captured the bright flavors of springtime.

Visiting North Market was a fabulous way to get a quick hit of the thoughtful food you can find in Columbus if you look (and of course where I ended up finding the latest issue of Edible Columbus). I wish I had time to venture further.  On my last night there, I got the chance to try a dish from The Coop, one of the city’s stellar food trucks: duck confit salad with ramps. Fantastic.