Welcome to Buckeye Country, Part 1 (Food)
I grew up half an hour from Ann Arbor, home to the University of Michigan, so, needless to say, I was born with a general disdain for not only THE Ohio State University, but also Columbus and, by extension, the entire state of Ohio. Even in Toledo, the least Ohio of Ohio cities, that was still considered “the South” to a Michigander like myself.
Regardless, the allure of visiting a relatively unknown, large-ish city (Columbus is Ohio’s largest city. Who would have known?) was too much to pass up, so I took a trip by myself there after the 2008 election. That trip was a dud, largely because I didn’t plan well enough in advance and the pool at my hotel, the Best Western “Plus” Columbus North, also doubled as a community pool for children’s swim lessons. There’s nothing more deflating than seeing a pack of 5-year-olds swimming better than you in an adjacent lane.
Still, years later, when I saw my favorite hockey team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, was coming to Columbus, I kidnapped Caitlyn and the two of us made the 2-hour-and-45-minute trek east from Indy to take in some professional hockey. Since then, we’ve returned to Columbus. Between my three trips there, I’ve learned a lot — too much to fit into one post! This first installment is on food; the second will focus on lodging and attractions.
Food: Caitlyn and I are vegetarians, but that doesn’t mean we eat at exclusively vegetarian or vegan restaurants. In fact, Columbus is home to two fantastic, affordable eateries for carnivores and herbivores – North Star Café and Betty’s Fine Food & Spirits.
North Star Cafe is a modern-looking local chain with several locations, especially in the trendy, artsy “Short North” district, which is located just north of the Arena District downtown. Expect lots of delicious dishes, including the Square Meal, which is spicy black beans, avocado, cheese, sour cream, sautéed peppers and onions and artfully displayed tortilla strips over brown rice. There’s even a free magazine rack that would give Barnes & Noble a run for its money if you’re travelling solo and need to catch up on the latest edition of Dwell or The Knot while downing your square meal.
Betty’s, meanwhile, is a sassy hole-in-the-wall where, if you dine at any normal time, you’ll have to wait to get a seat. If you like sassy 1950s pinups and the comic book-punk style wall art in the bathroom, you’ll fit in well here. First, the food is stellar. There’s no shortage of comfort food-style meal options, including Betty’s Beer Brats and a veggie melt or mac n cheese for us vegetarians.
Need a sweet treat to end the night? Visit one of the many Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams locations; there are two downtown – one in the Short North and another in the popular North Market. Both have unusual flavors of ice cream like salty caramel, guava cloverton or sweet potato with torched marshmallows. Expect to wait in line, especially if you hit up the Short North location after dark. Live in Indy and want a sweet treat but can’t or don’t want to travel to Columbus? Pick up a pint of Jeni’s at Georgetown Market or The Fresh Market.
If you’re on the move, you might check out the aforementioned North Market, which has a bevy of food stands, butchers and produce growers that are available to satisfy all your foodie and on-the-go needs. Located just south of the Short North, this gem also has artisans sell their wares outside the market on Saturdays. Get there early: It will get busy, especially on a Saturday.
Next post: Welcome to Buckeye Country Part 2 (lodging, shopping and sightseeing