Sky Full of Bacon

Columbus’ Second Voyage, to the Lands of Buca and Beppo

Actually not my second voyage to Columbus, Ohio by any means— I go every year, almost, for a silent and classic film festival— but the second one I’ve posted about here with the finds I found in between obscure 1931 Paramount films.  (My posts go back even further here, here and here at LTHForum.)  Columbus is actually a pretty good food town, a university town with a number of ethnic cuisines (along with lots of fast food and bland American bars and restaurants to satisfy unadventuresome undergrads), and every year I poke around and find new, interesting things.  If you have any reason to go there… go there!  It’s a fun place.

Japanese is oddly big in Columbus.  I don’t know if there’s really a Japanese population there or if they’re just especially fond of the 1970s Benihana-type steak places.  But I heard there was a good izakaya (bar food, basically) place on the far northwest side and so I hunted it up.  It’s called Kihachi and, indeed, it’s a really pleasing place that feels like an authentic family restaurant, not tourist bait, and made me some very nice simple dishes.  I basically ordered off the specials list, with a little guidance from my waitress, and I was very happy about a plate of tender grilled pork cheek meat; an eclectic combination of things like mountain yam and baby octopus in soy sauce; “box sushi” (sushi pressed very very square in a box; it reminded me of the Thingmaker I had as a kid) made with mackerel; and a very interesting special in which a shrimp paste was pressed in between pieces of lotus root and deep fried.  It was sort of like a cross between Chinese restaurant shrimp toast and eating a bar of soap, but past the first, Avon-y bite, it was quite good.

When I last posted about Nancy’s Home Cooking it was a few days from closing.  About six months ago a woman with a catering business reopened it and if it’s not quite the place it used to be, either in terms of dead-on country diner food or the crowds that once thronged there, well, it’s still a perfectly fine place to have breakfast in a town surprisingly short on such.  I also visited Buckeye Donuts one morning, the place that every college town has where you can get your late night post-drinking carbs (at least until you realize you’ve put on a double helping of the Freshman 15), and the doughnuts are pretty good old school examples of the art.  As for the greasy spoon breakfast— well, the clientele is probably in exactly the right state to appreciate it, most of the time.

One of the things I’ve been meaning to check out for a long time is Columbus’ North Market. Though the new building it’s in doesn’t have the charm of Cleveland’s West Side market, the food choices are exceptional, a handpicked selection of meat shops, bakeries, ice cream makers, Vietnamese banh mi stands and all kinds of stuff that really represent the best of Columbus.  My only chance to go there was after a lunch, so I only managed to try the locally-acclaimed Jeni’s Ice Cream, but I was pretty much wowed by it.  There are lots of gelato and sorbet makers out there doing interesting things with exotic, tart and pungent flavors, but it’s much rarer to find someone doing flavors like Thai Lime-Cilantro in an ice cream.  Yet Jeni’s does great things with these flavors that take full advantage of the mouthfilling creaminess of dairy as well; I loved the Thai and very much liked a lavender berry one and a salty caramel as well.

As much as I try to take advantage of the festival’s meal breaks to try new places, though, I also use them to, you know, see other human beings, old friends who I pretty much only know from, and see at, this festival.  And sometimes that means I go where they want to go.  Frankly, it’s a pleasure sometimes to go off the foodie clock and just enjoy whatever they choose… which is how I wound up at the Columbus branch of Buca di Beppo, the dreaded, Ed Debevic’s-style cartoon concept version of Italian-American cooking.  Actually, you know what?  I thought the food was pretty decent, definitely better than the travesty of blandness that is Olive Garden.  Yeah, the red sauce is too sweet, but that’s true of a lot of Italian grandma’s red sauces too.

But the concept… mamma mia, what a shonda for the goyim!  Every square inch is covered with tacky photos, Sophia Loren next to Vic Tayback next to Pope John XXIII; the WASPy Ohio-born servers affect a high school theater My Cousin Vinny-esque chumminess as they try to upsell you (as you might expect, the menu starts out fairly traditional but the newer specials emanating from Laboratory Beppo are increasingly heading into Spicy Cajun Chicken Chipotle Pasta On a Stick territory); and the meal starts with a Goodfellas-tracking-shot-like trek through the warren of small dining rooms and into the kitchen where one family sits at the chef’s table, mortified to learn that their special honor means being displayed like wax figurines for every shlub entering the restaurant, while they sit there wearing the same expression Joe Pesci had in his last scene in the same movie.

I literally physically cringed several times in my first few minutes in the place at the overwhelming shtickiness of the concept… and then I thought, get over yourself, Mr. Foodie Snob, and just enjoy that you’re there with friends.  So I did.  And silently thanked the gods of Rome that none of us had a birthday, because if the clean-scrubbed college kids had come out to sing Happy Birthday to us to the tune of “Funniculi, Funnicula,” I really would have gone all Luca Brasi on their asses.

2667 Federated Boulevard
Columbus, OH 43235-4991
(614) 764-9040

Nancy’s Home Cooking
3133 North High Street
Columbus, OH 43202-1125
(614) 265-9012?

Buckeye Donuts
1998 North High Street
Columbus, OH 43201-1165
(614) 291-3923?

North Market
59 Spruce St.

Buca di Beppo
60 East Wilson Bridge Road
Worthington, OH 43085

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