Monday, September 30, 2019

Especialidad de la Casa Pt. 8

-Eating like a Mayan King in the Windy City

My apologies that it's taken so long to get to the next chapter in my 'Especialidad de la Casa' series where we zoom in on house specialties at Mexican restaurants around Chicago. It's a good way to showcase the wide range of regional Mexican food that can be found in the Chicagoland area.
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Peke's Pozole

Archer Heights

This past winter on what was one of the coldest days ever in Chicago I warmed up with some pozole. Me and a friend took the ride out to Archer Heights with the heat on blast. I had been wanting to check out this new specialist in the neighborhood located just down the block from the beloved specialist that is Birrieria Zaragoza. As I later learned from a comment on an instagram post this place was opened by a local mother who had long wanted to open a spot of her own. She's serving family recipes with an emphasis on Pozole. The traditional Mexican hominy stew being what she made a name for herself with selling out of her garage to neighbors. The Pozole here is made fresh daily and the maiz is not canned. This makes it different than most others. From scratch for real. Pozole comes served rojo, verde, or blanco. Just what I needed on what was one of the coldest days of my life. Plus some flautas bc those are good in warm weather, rain, sleet, or snow. Small menu also featuring platters of Patitas de Puerco aka pig trotters for those that like to get gelatinous.

Pozole at Peke's Pozole
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 Favela's Burgers

Archer Heights

I once did a little roundup on Mexican burgers which I'm a fan of now and then. I also long ago did a roundup on Southside tacos (also a fan). In that taco roundup I featured the fantastic guisado tacos from the now gone Favela's which was at Pulaski and Archer. They were replaced by a place called Leah's Pancakes. Well since Leah's closes after lunch the people at Favela's have been able to use the kitchen for dinner service where they're serving what was their most popular item almost exclusively. Lots of locals loved Favela's for their Hamburguesa estilo Santiago Papasquiaro. It's wider than your average burger and served with the typical toppings plus bacon, jalapeños, avocado, and Muenster cheese. They also do Micheladas and wings from 4-9p weekdays and 2-9p on wkds.

Hamburger at Favela's
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Tamaleria Oaxaca

Melrose Park, IL

The colorful facade at this tamale shop caught my eye. I went in hoping to find Oaxacan antojitos and instead found a Tamal de Torta. The tamale sandwich has taken off in spots like DF where popular vendors have started drawing lines of people for their product. I watched as who I presumed was the owner make me a torta paying special attention to each aspect of the sandwich. He lightly toasted the bun and made sure the sour cream and beans were spread on perfectly. Then he placed two rojo tamales (my choice) in between each bun and sliced it down the middle. This is a Carb bomb and a good one considering how well made the tamales were. Which were being made by whom I presumed to be the sandwich makers wife. I'll be stopping back here for tamales next time I'm around.

Tamal de Torta at Tamaleria Oaxaca
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Carniceria Maribel

Pilsen 

Here's a low key great spot for carne asada. Though it's not a total secret as I had a handful of people suggest it to me over the years via DM's, emails, and live human interactions. Carniceria Maribel sits on the corner of Cermak and Wood street. On the Wood side you'll find a full out mural painting of the late great Selena in different poses. Inside you'll find all the stuff a corner grocer carries including beer and in the special case of Maribel a full fledged butcher/taqueria in back. I haven't had a chance to explore the menu in-depth and that's bc the steak is sensational. They grill skirt steak to order so anything with it is most likely going to be really good. Including what are some of the best steak tacos anywhere in Chicago. I'd put these in my top 5 for sure. The meat is higher quality than most.

Steak Taco at Carniceria Maribel 
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Restaurant Y Taqueria Guerrero

Back of the Yards

Jalisco and Michoacán are the dominant Mexico states repped in Chicago. But Guerrero isn’t far behind. Here you’ll find a great little Guerrerense spot helmed by a lady from Guerrero originally. Her Picaditas estilo Acapulco are awesome. They’re beautiful too in that they display the colors of the Mexico flag in the toppings. As far as tacos go at spots helmed by those from Guerrero - always go with a cecina. More times than not it’ll be one of the house specialties served on made to order corn tortillas spread with beans as is the case here. I feel lucky to live in a city with strong connections to Mexico. The food, the culture, and the people are a major part of what make Chicago so great.

Picaditas (and cecina taco) at Restaurant Y Taqueria Guerrero
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Previous Posts from this Series 

Friday, September 27, 2019

Torchio Pasta Bar

-Grubbing in Chicago
New to the 'Scene'

Chicago's pasta game has improved dramatically over the last calendar year. One of the spots most responsible for this uptick in quality is Torchio Pasta Bar near the border of Old Town and River North. This area of the near north side isn't exactly known for passionate openings but Torchio isn't like most other restaurants in the area. For one it's not from a restaurant group. The owner is a first time restaurateur who's basic experience in the kitchen was throwing pasta parties at his home.

Newly Opened in River North 

The spot Torchio sits in used to be a brunch spot I believe. It's a long and narrow space that the owner and his team gutted and then built back up to their liking. Seating is also available at the bar and outside on their patio surrounded by plants and flowers. It's a nice space that you get the feeling would be busy even if the food wasn't anything special. That's just the type of neighborhood it is.

Torchio Salad

Since it was still summer we started with a nice fresh house salad. This namesake salad is made of chopped lettuce, shrimp, crispy pancetta, mozzarella, celery, chick peas, cherry tomatoes, and red onion in a light red wine vinaigrette dressing. Pretty good but maybe better served with watercress or something other than iceberg lettuce. It felt out of place among the rest of the quality ingredients.

 Torchio Pasta 

We both opted for a pasta bc that's why we came. They have salumi platters and a few classic apps like shrimp scampi but it's the pasta that's gotten all the media and food peoples praise. I went in expecting to get an order of bucatini with clams but the menu had been switched up before our visit. The other pasta we planned to try was still the first one listed in the "Torchio Pasta". House-made Torch-shaped pasta pairs with sausage & cremini mushrooms in a brandy, thyme, cream sauce. Excellent work with one minor quibble in that I don't like when places leave big chunks of sausage in their pasta. The loose sausage used could've been broken down a bit more. We also tried the classic that is Bucatini all'Amatriciana. It too was really well prepared and right up there with some of the better versions I've had elsewhere. I look fwd to their next menu unveiling as I prefer pastas made for winter weather as opposed to those that work better when it's warm out. Reservations recommended.

Bucatini all'Amatriciana at Torchio Pasta Bar

Torchio Pasta Bar
738 N Wells St
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 643-0543
Website

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Super Pitas

-Grubbing in Chicago(land)  
Real Greek Gyros in Niles

The casual Greek food trend from last year is still giving us options. The latest comes from a place called Super Pitas on Milwaukee in Niles. They're saying is "The Original Greek Gyros" by which they mean most people in Greece prefer their gyros be made with pork. For a while in Chicago your only option was really the beef/lamb combo that companies like Kronos made a staple of the Chicago food diet. Some places still make homemade gyros with a beef and lamb blend but the spots making gyros in house with pork has overtaken them. Plenty of parking as Super Pitas sits in a strip mall.

Newly Opened in Niles

Real deal gyros are one of my favorite things to eat. They fall into the spits of meat category that I so very much adore. Even though I grew up eating the lamb and beef blend so popular in Chicagoland I much prefer a pork gyro now that I've had so many of them. Rarely do they disappoint and Super Pitas did not. I got the plate which comes with fries, tomatoes, sliced red onion, tzatziki, and a pita sliced into four. As always the plate made for a meal and leftovers. I enjoyed the traditional flavors and would happily go back if I lived in the area or next time I'm near. They also offer chicken gyros while fries are standard in the gyro sandwiches. That's how the most popular places in Athens do it.

Pork Gyro Plate at Super Pitas

Super Pitas
7041 N Milwaukee Ave
Niles, IL 60714
(847) 423-2050
Website

Monday, September 23, 2019

Hom Mali Thai

-Grubbing in Chicago
Interesting Thai Food in Old Town 

Sometime in the last calendar year I saw some really good looking Thai food featured on ABC7's the 'Hungry Hound' segment. Not only did it look good but it looked unique by Chicago Thai food standards. As confirmed by Steve Dolinsky this is a Thai restaurant pushing some dishes like none other you will find in Chicago or the rest of the Midwest region. It's the product of Hom Mali Thai & Sushi. If not for Steve's excellent coverage of Chicago's food this one may have slipped by me. I know I'm not the only one who gets scared off by Asian spots pushing sushi among other cuisines. It's not a guarantee they wont be good it's just less likely they will be when focused on so much.

 Newly Opened in Old Town and Ukrainian Village

Hom Mali Thai opened a second location quickly so they now have spots on North avenue in Old Town and on Chicago avenue in the Ukrainian Village. The menu is basically the same at both of them. When browsing said menu it's the chefs specials you want to keep your eye on. It's that section where you will find quite a few dishes that are basically new to Thai restaurants in Chicago. One of those that stood out right away for me was the Chor Muang Dumplings aka purple dumplings. This is a popular appetizer in the Thai Royalty food genre of Thai cuisine. These delicate dumplings are purple from butterfly pea flower-dyed steamed wrappers filled with ground chicken and garnished with roasted garlic. Not only are they instagram worthy but they taste great too. Not always the case.

Chor Muang at Hom Mali Thai

Another item you wont find anywhere else in Chicago (to my knowledge) is the Pad Thai Koong Sod. This is not the Pad Thai of my Midwest upbringing. Thin rice noodles are stir-fried fresh with head on jumbo shrimps, egg, bean sprouts, and chives mixed into a house tamarind sauce and served with crushed peanuts, chive, and lime. If you've ever been to Thailand you probably learned that the Pad Thai is different over there for the better. It's not as sweet as it is over here being geared towards the American palate. Tamarind sauce makes this version more sour than sweet. I found a Pad Thai I like.

Pad Thai Koong Sod at Hom Mali

Khao Soi is an item you can find in Chicago. The popular Northern Thai coconut curry noodle soup is served at a handful of spots around town. It's something I'll try if I see a spot serving it. Hom Mali has it available with a variety of meats including seafood, pork belly, beef, and chicken. They make a really nice rendition but when served out of a shallow bowl with only a few noodles it leaves you wanting more. They basically turned it into a pasta more so than a soup in serving it in a random piece of chinaware. I've been to the Old Town location twice and on one visit got to try their seafood custard which is a red curry served out of a coconut shell. It was really good. I'd like to try the whole fried snapper but the $35 price seems a bit high compared to other spots in town. Hom Mali makes mention that they buy many of their ingredients from local suppliers. All in all it's a worthy spot for a Thai dinner out on the town. Just focus in on the more unique offerings so that they stick around. 

Khao Soi at Hom Mali Thai

Hom Mali Thai
1546 W Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60642
(312) 733-3339
Website

Monday, September 16, 2019

Eating BIG in Columbus

Eating like a local:
Regional food specialties
- Exploring the home of The Ohio St. University 

I went off to Columbus this past Spring for some freelance work. We were there for four nights and had a decent amount of free time to check some stuff out. I was always intrigued but it's a pretty long drive from Chicago. I didn't realize how big it was as far as population. Part's of it actually felt like an Urban City. It is Ohio's largest city after all. Food wise Columbus can most definitely be called a melting pot. It's pretty underrated in that you never really hear anything about it. I found it to be my type of spot as there's quite a few long time establishments as well as a long list of international options. It being home to the largest University in the country means it attracts people from all over. Two things I didn't get to tackle but would on a return trip are the city's large number of African restaurants featuring food from a handful of Countries. It was Ramadan so most were closed during the day. Also of note is they have a real nice taco truck culture but most of them close by 10pm. 
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 Hey Hey Bar & Grill

After the long drive from Chicago it was time for a beer. I wanted to see how the bar scene in Columbus compares to the Big Ten's best bar scene in Madison. I got the feeling it doesn't compare and that's ok bc not much does. That said I was surprised by the long history of some of Columbus' favorite watering holes. These days at my age I prefer a bar with a long history that gives it character than I do a rowdy college bar with great specials. The Hey Hey has been a part of Columbus since 1900. It was a speakeasy during prohibition and their slogan then was "Hey Hey the beer is here!" and it later became named The Hey Hey Bar & Grill. It's location in the Old German Village makes it a great place to grab a beer after walking through the neighborhood. They also have a signature drinking snack in their Sauerkraut Balls. It's sauerkraut mixed with eggs, mustard, seasoning and binded together, breaded and fried. Some delicious house horseradish sauce comes on the side.

Sauerkraut Balls at Hey Hey Bar & Grill
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 Village Coney

This old school looking Coney shop was directly in front of where I parked when going to The Hey Hey so I might as well have tried it. I read that their most popular item was a Coney Dog with cole slaw which is pretty much a West Virginia (or North Carolina slaw dog). Seeing as how West Virginia isnt that far I can see why these are popular but the colorful cole slaw seemed off. I also had half a Cleveland style Polish Boy. It's a Polish Sausage covered in BBQ sauce topped with fries and cole slaw. Another popular regional hot dog from a place not far away. Another Coney shop checked off.

Hot Dogs at Village Coney
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 Yogi's Hoagies

In a lot of ways Columbus seemed more East Coast than Midwest to me. One of the small reasons for this was their love of Hoagies. You don't see Hoagie shops in most of the Midwest as they tend to be found out East. Essentially they're all just cold cut sub sandwiches that can also be ordered warm (at the hoagie spots). As Subway continues to take over most corners strip malls spots like Yogi's Hoagies fade into oblivion. They've been around since the 60's and that's exactly what the inside felt like. They also do Columbus style pizza (and popular French Bread pizza) which is essentially Midwest tavern thin. So when it comes to the pizza Columbus is Midwest but the sandwiches are East Coast style hoagies and they're pretty good if you like them this way. Toasted with lots of oil and a good amount of seasoning with banana peppers etc. The bread was just ok but overall I liked it. 

Italian Hoagie (warm) at Yogi's Hoagie's
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Talita's Southwest Cafe

Here's one I really enjoyed. If only bc when I started looking into where to eat in Columbus I wasn't expecting to find a legit Tex-Mex option. Talita's has been a part of the area since 1968. Named after the matriarch who moved with her family from Brownsville Texas to Columbus Ohio. They eventually opened a restaurant selling the food they sold in Brownsville. Their most popular item are the burritos which come smothered in cheese and red chile sauce. It's hard to find the flavors of Tex-Mex outside of Texas but this was one of those spots that's an exception to the rule. I loved my burrito so much so I finished it pretty quickly which prevented me from trying a Coney. They also do made to order crispy fried tacos but they're two to an order and I was pretty damn full from the burrito.

Smothered Brownsville Burrito at Talita's Southwest Cafe
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 Ding-Ho

I'm not going to say that Ding Ho was at the top of my dining bucket list but it's one of those old school spots in the US that I very much looked forward to the day where I got to go. The reason is War Su Gai aka War Shu Gai aka Almond Boneless Chicken. More on that in a minute. Ding Ho has been a part of the Columbus area since 1956. Though they've moved from their original location the new spot still feels like an old school American-Chinese restaurant. The same family still runs it so there's lots of relics from the past including the original menu which had some interesting options on it. Wonton Skin soup and an egg roll to start. They were ok. The soup being the better of the two.

 Appetizers at Ding Ho

Now for the reason we were here. This would be my first go with Columbus style War Su Gai where they serve it with an orangish gravy as opposed to Detroit where it’s commonly brown. You can find this dish served at pretty much every Chinese restaurant in town but you wont find it in many other spots that aren't the Detroit area. Ding Ho is the city’s oldest Chinese restaurant and the War Sue Gai is their number one seller so much so that it out sells all of the other menu items 3:1. The regional American Chinese favorite is commonly compared to pressed duck which was a popular dish in American Chinese restaurants decades ago. No one knows the exact origin of this delicious fried chicken dish but it’s most likely a product of Cantonese immigrants who moved east from San Fran. A half order comes with tasteless fried rice that becomes tasty when the gravy is poured on. The chicken was fried crisp and pretty much everything I was hoping for as far as that goes. War Su Gai is my favorite of all the regional American-Chinese dishes though I still need to try a few others.

War Su Gai at Ding Ho 
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 Momo Ghar Ohio

Most know Columbus as home to the Ohio St. University but it's also the home of the best Momo west of Queens. Hidden in a bustling international market is the magnificent 'Momo Ghar Ohio'. A small food stall pushing one of the worlds great snacks - Momo. The Nepalese and Tibetan style dumplings are my personal favorite from the dumpling family tree. Momo Ghar’s menu has momo on offer in a handful of ways. Pictured are the Pan Fried Pork Momo aka Kothey and below that the Tibetan Jhol made with steamed pork dumplings swimming in a pool of spicy red sauce. I scarfed that Jhol down so fast even though I was already full. Shout-out to the Amish family that was sitting next to me. Living proof everyone loves dumplings. I also loved the ganja reggae they always have playing. All in all I loved my first visit. So much so I returned the next day for the fried dumplings. I owe the GOAT that is Guy Fieri for this one. They have a second location but go the OG if you can. You'll get a true sense of the amazing presence of immigrants in Columbus. A great grocery shop.

Momo at Momo Ghar
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 Los Gauchos

The folks at Los Guachos, one of Columbus' most popular taco spots, have built a nice taco empire with a few locations in the city. It all started with a taco truck which was popular for its tacos al pastor. It doesn’t feel like this family from Michoacán has messed much with success as both the tacos al pastor and a Volcan al pastor were on point. Between the fresh spit of spinning meat, the tortilla machine churning out fresh tortillas, and the top notch salsa bar, this was clearly the real deal upon arrival. Not a fan of the football team but the taco scene in Columbus is very underrated.

Tacos al Pastor at Los Guachos
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 White Castle

Columbus is home to quite a few corporations including the purveyors of "America's Most Influential Hamburger" aka White Castle. My favorite of all the fast food burger chains. Turns out I love them even more after visiting this special location on Columbus' popular late night hangout High street. First off they serve beer until 3:30a here. They had the NBA playoffs on the TV and like all White Castles the dining room was squeaky clean. I was invited over by one of the higher ups at the offices as he wanted to get my opinion on the 1921 slider which I had just learned was a thing. Currently there's three White Castle locations where they're making sliders from fresh beef. Two of them are in Columbus and the other is in Chicago (State street). The 1921 Slider is an ode to the original White Castle burger which debuted in 1921. It's pretty damn good. Not as good as the slider in its current form but it's a burger you can enjoy anytime of the day. Though oddly they offer it with lettuce, tomato, and cheddar cheese. I rec getting it dressed traditionally (American cheese, pickles, onion).

The 1921 Slider at White Castle
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 Buckeye Donuts

Here's the students spot for 24 hour eats. Donuts and gyros on the heart of the OSU campus. Interesting combo I'd say. The donuts are pretty much known by every Ohio St. student who's ever lived on campus. They make for a great stop after White Castle which is also 24 hours. They've been open since 1969 and currently owned by a third generation Greek-American hence the gyros. They fry donuts all day and we got a bakers dozen to take back to our AirBNB. The specialty of the house is the Buckeye donut which is filled with peanut butter and dunked in chocolate as seen below. 

a peek inside Buckeye Donuts
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 Jiu Thai Asian Cafe

Don't let the name of this strip mall spot confuse you as this is a Northern Chinese restaurant through and through. I asked our younger waitress about the name and she told me some story about tarot cards and the older lady who owns it. Packed house on a Sunday visit. They had a mix of clientele with plenty of groups in tow. We started with a couple skewers each of both the hot dog and chicken hearts. Ever since trying the hot dog skewers at Gao's in Chicago's Chinatown I've been in love with them. This was good but not quite to the level of Gao's. The heart was cooked well and thus not too chewy. I was here for an order of Biang Biang noodles which are one of the their best sellers if you count the pictures from yelp reviews as evidence. Hand pulled noodles are one of my favorite things to eat so I always seek them out. This was a good bowl, they most always are, but it lacked that heat.

Skewers and Biang Biang Noodles at Jiu Thai Asian Cafe
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The Original DiCarlo's

Here's a hyper local regional eat I always wanted to try. Ohio Valley Style Pizza. One of the weirder styles of pie out there in that they don't put on the cheese or toppings until after it comes out of the oven. DiCarlo's is a regional franchise that I saw had a location in the suburb of Hilliard. I rode out to try their locally loved pie which got it's start in Steubenville, OH in 1945. The son of Italian immigrants came back from World War II and wanted to start making this specific style of pizza he saw while in Italy. This from their website - "The pizza can best be described as a delicious combination of crispy hot bread, homemade tomato sauce and freshly grated provolone cheese." It's sold by the square so I was able to try three slices for something like $5. Most operations are exclusively takeout which allows for the pizza to steam in the box which semi melts the cheese. I didn't love it but I also didn't hate it. The crust was pretty good. Another family member opened a DiCarlo's in Wheeling, WV in 1949 thus is the preferred pie in both Steel and Coal Countries. It's also popular around Pittsburgh.

Ohio Valley Style Pizza at DiCarlo's
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 Ritzy's

Speaking of locally famous regional chains here's one attempting to make a comeback. Anyone out there remember G.D Ritzy's? I'd never heard of it until I found this semi new place which is the first location of it's attempted comeback. Some online research led me to their story. They were founded in 1980 here in Columbus. Apparently the original founder has decided it's time to make a comeback in the Central Ohio region. During their short lived run (they closed in the 90's) they had more than 100 locations across most of the Midwest. Known for their smashed burgers, ice cream and art deco aesthetics. Not just those but also hot dogs, chili, shoestring fries. Four independents survive in Owensboro, KY and Evansville, IN. But this is the first of the original owners relaunch.

Chili Cheese Fries at Ritzy's

I got in a small line upon entering and ordered my burger which was smashed after ordering. I saw the guy making an order of chili cheese fries and decided that I had to try those too. I contained myself from ordering a hot dog but they looked good as they were a locally made natural casing brand. The chili cheese fries were terrific. I loved the Steak N Shake-esque house-cut shoestring fries and the chili sauce too. I can see those chili cheese dogs being delicious. The burgers are held by a super light house baked bun which gets a nice toasting with butter. The smash job was nice and the topping options were abundant. This was comparable to the legendary spots I stopped at coming to and from Cbus. I'd describe it as Steak 'n Shake meets Five Guys but it's way better than both.

Cheeseburger at Ritzy's
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Bonus Stop!

The G&R Tavern (Waldo, OH)

I've long wanted to try the Roadfood favorite that is G&R Tavern in Middle Ohio. Seeing as how I was as close as I probably ever was going to be I made the trek here for breakfast. The small town of Waldo is about 40 miles north of Columbus. It's home to an old time tavern with a mighty sandwich. The bar has been around for more than 50 years and due to sites like Roadfood it's attracted patrons from all over. Be it bikers, families, or city boys like myself they host out of town guests on the regular. They also host a slew of regulars from the town as evidenced by the large group sitting around a table and talking upon our arrival around 9am one morning. If asked to shoot a Hollywood scene featuring a small town tavern this would be a great place using the locals as extras.

The Famous Bologna Sandwich at The G&R Tavern

Beer might not even be the bars number one seller and that's bc the people who come to visit do so for the famous bologna sandwich. The current owners still make them the old school way which is popular around these parts of Ohio. No place more known for them than G&R Tavern. Thick sliced bologna (beef/pork) is fried hot on a flattop until nice and charred on the edges. I ordered mine deluxe bc I wanted some crunch and it comes in the form of lettuce, sliced raw onion, and pickles. The cheese is Monterey Jack and it gets melted just enough. Somewhere underneath all of it is a bottom bun. This is no doubt a heavyweight division sandwich and one worth fighting. Equally as laugh out loud large are the slices of pie. I love a good banana cream so I tried a slice. It jiggled like  an early 2000's rap video vixen. Bc they open early I was happy to take the ride here for breakfast.

Banana Cream Pie at G&R Tavern
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Note: To find the locations of all the spots featured in this post, as well as places I didn't make it to, please click HERE for my google maps guide to Columbus.

See ya next time @chibbqking 

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