Basi Italia's Parmesan Crème Bruleé
I didn’t know until I stepped foot in Columbus, Ohio, that it had become a foodie mecca. Sure, I knew they’re near some of the most valued farmland in the US. But I didn’t realize that Ohio’s capital was so gourmet.
Le Chocoholique is in Columbus's Short North neighborhood. Get a frozen chocolate drink or indulge in a chocolate/wine/cheese tasting. I sampled a few chocolates, including a blue cheese truffle. I recommend the "Rosy Posey"; it has a deep chocolate and red rose water flavor and is covered in a crystallized sugar coat.
Pistacia Vera serves in a bright café atmosphere some of the most exquisite macaroons and sweets – as written about in Destinations Magazine – in the world. Their drinks are made with Valrhona chocolate. I had a food epiphany with their orange brioche: with its rock sugar coat and subtle flavor, it would be a perfect foil for fois gras.
At Columbus’s finest bars, you can order Middle West Spirits' OYO Vodka, Honey Vanilla Bean Vodka and Whiskey. I’d always heard that Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla is the best vanilla, but the finest actually comes from Uganda. Middle West Spirits braves the political turmoil to support a woman farmer who grows the crème de la crème. They also use 100% Ohio red winter wheat handpicked from certain farms for their spirits. The rich honey comes from Lancaster, Ohio.
Head to the awesome North Market for North Market Poultry and Game. You'll no doubt stop at some of the other purveyors, selecting from local green grocers, mouth-watering pastas, cornmeal pizza crust beloved by Anthony Bourdain, and other delectables. Be prepared to be wowed by the fresh-never-frozen, mostly grass-fed and free-range organic bison, pheasant, rabbit, venison, elk, drakes, hens, Muscovy ducks (which I learned are from warmer waters and thus less fatty and thinner skinned) and more from small local farms. Their cooked-food side, Kitchen Little, makes a scrumptious cassoulet with ducks, wild boar bacon, roasted turkey, chicken and white beans.
Bon Appetit magazine named Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams one of the top 10 in the US. The ice cream is made from milk and cream coming from one hand-selected farm, Snowville. Check out the funky flavors, such as blackberry-sweet corn.
Lindey’s is a chic, upscale place where the city’s movers and shakers definitely go to see and be seen. While I hear that not many people indulge in the house-made charcuterie plate, it’s a secret treasure. Maybe folks are intimidated by the generous size – definitely enough for at least two. The meats are excellent: rich and flavorful, not gamey. It had a touch of smokiness to it and was thinly sliced, enhancing its melt-in-the-mouth qualities. The pork pâté had crushed pistachios. The chef clearly had a great sense of how flavors work together.
The Franklin Park Conservatory – a gorgeous conservatory located in a neighborhood with stunning architecture – has all kinds of events designed for foodies. Along with special farm-to-table dinners, they have a "From Field to Table" dinner series, Market Days, Harvest Thursdays, Food Truck Sundays and Community Garden Campus tours.
Surly Girl Saloon has a cowgirl, badass-yet-grownup vibe, and the food is good. The menus are made from hand-tooled leather. The menu is described as “Southwestern comfort, but with upscale twists”: you’re not going to see burgers. Surly Girl infuses OYO vodka with natural ingredients for seasonal flavors.
One of Columbus’s restaurants is about as secret – and cherished by locals – as a speakeasy: Basi-Italia. Located in an alley of a quiet residential neighborhood, the restaurant has the feeling of a private party. If you eat in the courtyard, you’ll feel like you’re at a garden get-together. A “must-order” is the Parmesan Crème Bruleé. It’s a sweet, buttery crème bruleé with fresh, savory herbs and flatbreads. It’s kind of genius, really.