Three of my favorite things-
Photo credit: Skillet
How could I not be intrigued when I saw that Skillet was our destination for breakfast? Rumors of Skillet's breakfast have made it east to Pittsburgh and I had been looking forward to finally trying it out. Would it rival Pittsburgh's own Pamela's? Could it rival DeLuca's in the Strip District? I had to see for myself.
Chef and owner, Kevin Caskey welcomed us to Skillet and talked about the food he prepares for his guests. The menu is seasonally derived and makes use of many local purveyors such as Laurel Valley Creamery and produce from nearby farms. Skillet opens at lunch time during the week but Chef Caskey was kind enough to open privately for the Experience Columbus, A Diverse & Delicious Culinary Tour food bloggers. While we were enjoying breakfast, a few other people poked their head in the door excited to find Skillet open early. They were gently told that the restaurant would be open to the public at 11 and I must admit I felt a little bad when they reluctantly turned away.
But not so bad that I didn't scoot this delectable omelet closer to me each time someone attempted to venture inside! Farm fresh eggs were carefully folded around house smoked andouille sausage and Laurel Valley cheddar. The cheddar was a little sharp but provided an interesting contrast to sausage which was heavy on the smoke flavor and light on the spiciness. Cremini mushrooms and blistered fresh okra spilled off the top of the omelet and I poked at a bit of the okra skeptically before I put one tiny piece of okra in my mouth. Um, how come no one has ever told me about okra before? I couldn't finish the generously sized omelet but you better believed I ate every single bit of okra. Next time...do you think I could just have a plate of the okra? And maybe some of the mushrooms?
We spilled out of Skillet and I had the comfortable knowledge that Skillet is indeed better than Pamela's but you can't really compare Skillet to DeLuca's as they are two entirely different styles of cooking. Notice the big smile on Laura of Cincinnati Nomerati . I think that pretty much sums up Skillet. (Terry of Blue Kitchen holds the door & Rachel of Hounds in the Kitchen follows.)
Comfortable full and properly fueled, we got in our bus and began a day of being overwhelmed in the best possible way by Columbus and a sampling of its offerings.
There were several large reproductions of photos from the book 'Hungry Planet: What the World Eats' that captured what different families around the world eat in the course of a week. It was interesting to see the wide diversities among different cultures especially in regards to the fresh produce they consume.
A quick tour of the conservatory and gardens guaranteed that coming back for further exploration was not an option; it's a must. I especially enjoyed seeing the outside gardens and could have spent happy hours poking around looking at this and that.
After our brisk walk in the chilly morning air, we drove to Thurn's Specialty Meats which was established in 1886 and has been serving loyal customers ever since.
The building is nondescript and doesn't even hint at all of the carnivorous goodness inside.
Albert Thurn is the fourth generation owner of Thurn's Specialty Meats. I loved the shirt and tie behind the white apron--so classic!
Meat was everywhere; it hung from hooks and racks in various stages of preparation in meat lockers. A large smoker in the back corner of Thurn's Meats made its presence known even before I saw it by sending out great wafts of smokey meat that made my mouth water.
Not quite enough to sample the tongue...I'm getting braver but when it still looks like tongue? Maybe next time. But I have no shame; I had one of each thing on this tray. A lot of the meat shared the same smokey flavor but it did not overshadow the individual tastes of the meats or the spices used.
'Save room for lunch,' we were warned but I think most of us disregarded the advice until we were whisked away to go to lunch at Katzinger's Delicatessen in Germantown. A devoted foodie can always find room. Always.
The gentleman in the pink asked me if he should smile when he saw me getting ready to take this picture. 'Of course!' I said, and snapped the picture just as he laughed.
Katzinger's strives to use the best possible meats, cheeses and other ingredients in their deli. Whenever they can they buy local and proudly display where the item is from. The salads were bursting with vibrant, tempting colors and it was a hard decision to choose just one, but the red skin potato salad did not disappoint. It was creamy, yet light and each potato piece was cooked until it was tender but stil firm.
We sliced and shared crisp pickles and Terry and I shared a 'Memories of Morris' hot corned beef sandwich.
I sure hope this hungry hopeful got something to eat!
Guess where we went next? A bakery! Pistacia Vera dubs itself a 'dessert boutique' and serves coffees and teas with its desserts. I can't find argument with that. Everything was too beautiful to be a simple bakery; the desserts and the space itself were elegant and simple and if I lived in Columbus I would often be found tucked inside with coffee, a cookie and my laptop.
I did have one disappointment while at Pistacia Vera; I didn't get to try a French Butter Shortbread cookie. I wanted one so bad. Can you tell? Save the chocolate chips, the oatmeal raisins and the peanut butter cookies. I'll take a buttery shortbread cookie over any of them any day.
I also experienced extreme mixer envy which wasn't an unpleasant feeling. I wanted all of them (except for the kitchenAid because remember how many I've been through? Five? Six?) and for one naughty moment I even wondered how heavy the ones sitting on the counter were but had to give up that path of thought because it wasn't going to fit in my backpack no matter how much it weighed.
Tools to make a baker's heart sing! I wish I could spend a week (or more!) in this kitchen learning to do what they do in Pistacia Vera. Does anyone offer internships to obssessed home bakers? I think I'll have to keep wishing.
And see this Strawberry Amaretto Macaron. Hands down...er...up? the best thing I ate this day. Crisp out the outside, it quickly melted in my mouth to a soft chewiness punctuated by sweet buttercream and notes of almond. The other desserts were beautiful and full of flavor but I had already given my heart to the pink macaron.
Down the street from Pistacia Vera, we were subjected to torture of the cruelest kind: We were shown The Book Loft which has 32 rooms of books.
Thirty two rooms! Packed floor to ceiling with books, books and more books! And not nearly enough time (I'll need a minimum of six hours next time) to spend in this bookstore of bookstores.
After dragging my feet sadly out of The Book Loft, we drove thirty minutes out of Columbus where I found myself being happily consoled by Rockmill Brewery beer. But since I was subjected to cruelty at having to leave the bookstore after too little time I'm going to channel a little of it myself and not share my Rockmill Brewery experience until the next post.
The Jury Room is Columbus' oldest running bar at 180 years old and it has the dimly lit, comfortable feeling of a well established place. Translation? It's a great place to relax and enjoy Italian style appetizers of cauliflower, meatballs, fettucine 'arancini' and flatbread in cozy companionship but not so fantastic for an amateur photographer (me!) to take the pictures that The Jury Room deserves to have taken.
I was seated next to a local artist by the name of Jim Arter who was an amazing drinks and appetizers companion.
How happy I was when I learned he was to join myself, Kari of Experience Columbus and Joe of The Hungry Dudes for an intimate dinner at G. Michaels. It is my fervent hope that he did not think I was too silly especially in regards to my comment about fish coming out of Lake Erie and Pittsburgher's skepticism that anything out of Lake Erie was safe to eat. (By the way, fellow Pittsburghers, it is, I saw Kari quite safe the next day!)
Our meal began with several appetizers. There were fried green tomatoes with a crunchy coating on a bed of grilled napa cabbage an topped with a bacon and truffled egg salad. Sweet, succulent shrimp tossed with andouille sausage and country ham in a broth of tomato and scallions rested on an island of grits.
Grilled Wild Board Sausage was served with blackeyed peas, pulled pork, and hominy succotash and sweet and sour macerated peaches. I am completely unable to pass up wild boar anything ever since I went to Piccolo Forno in Pittsburgh's Lawrenceville. The taste of this dish was very earthy and deep lightened only slightly by the peaches. It would be a perfect meal in and of itself on a cold winter's day with a thick chunk of bread torn off a freshly baked loaf.
The sun outside the large windows set too quickly as we wined and dined and chatted with one another. Soft illumination from overhead lights and the glow from tabletop candles challenged (again) this amateur photographer and try as I might I could not capture the juicy grilled prime steak I had for dinner. Undocumented goes the applewood bacon infused mashed potatoes and the greens. The red wine reduction that skimmed the surface of the plate? I am saddened to say that all photos of my wonderful dinner did not turn out and I protest anyone who challenges this claim by saying I dived into my meal too quickly to really put forth any effort taking pictures.
Being full of good wine gave me the perhaps-not-the-best-idea to use the flashlight app on my cellphone to shine on the desserts while I took a picture with my camera. It worked well enough, but more importantly quickly enough so that the cameras could be put away and dessert properly enjoyed.
Part II of my Experience Columbus: A Diverse & Delicious Culinary Tour