For my second installment of this year's weekend in Columbus, Ohio for the annual Ohio Linuxfest, I decided to once again return to the North Market across the street from the Convention Center during my lunch break. Not realizing the rich resource that the market was, for the first three or four years I attended the conference, I would foolishly follow other convention goers to the first floor of the center in lemming-like fashion to stand in line for Subway, Sbarro, or Great Steak and Fries. While it was filling, it was never satisfying.
Walking out the west doors of the center and onto High Street, I crossed the street and walked the ONE block to the North Market located at 59 Spruce Street, Columbus, OH 43215. Parking was available in the lot outside the market, of course, but since I was walking, it didn't particularly apply to me. A benefit of parking in the lot was that any purchase made inside the market was enough to get your parking validated; such a perk is always a nice thing.
I was happy to discover that my food vendor choice for last year, Lae Viet, was still around and actually had quite a line of people. Not wanting to cover the same vendor twice, I decided to walk around and choose something different for lunch today. After passing by the Greek place, the Hungarian place, and the Italian place, I ended up deciding on Flavors of India, just a stall or two down from Lae Viet:
As I got close to the front of the line, I took a snapshot of their suspended menu:
While Lae Viet had been serving food cooked a la minute, Flavors of India took a more "Chinese restaurant in a mall" type approach by allowing customers to order rice with one flavors, two flavors, or more, all served up from a large steam table full of half-size hotel pans:
While I normally wouldn't associate great food with this steam table type of approach, the line was definitely long for lunch and the product was being turned over fast enough that I put my fears aside. I decided to go with a two way vegetarian combo today and after grabbing a bottle of water, a cup of the freshly made mint chutney and a foil package containing Indian flatbread, I paid my $8.49 at the register and took my spoils to the second floor, where I managed to snag a small table just off the stairs.
Here was a shot of my lunch today:
Upon opening the Styrofoam container, I was rewarded with the still steaming vegetarian options I had just selected moments earlier:
The top left was Aloo Muteer and the top right was Palak Paneer; Basmati rice filled in the large cavity at the bottom of the container. The rice was soft and fresh, but as I began to eat the rice with my pairings, it became quickly evident that given the amount of toppings, the quantity of rice would be insufficient. Fortunately, I had thought to spend an extra $1 for a serving of the flatbread:
The first notion that popped into my head when I unwrapped this and saw it was: "Um, this isn't naan, it's a steamed gyro wrapper." That being said, it was soft from the steaming and actually served its purpose well to help polish off the remainder of the Palak Paneer. Speaking of which, while both of the vegetarian toppers were decent, they weren't outstanding. The Palak Paneer lacked much in the way of actual cheese (the Paneer part of the name) and while both dishes were definitely hot, neither tasted particularly fresh. The spicing of both dishes were uniquely Indian, but felt like they had been softened a bit for an American palate.
Overall, this was a slightly better than average lunch. From my memory of other Indian restaurants at which I've eaten while living in Columbus, there was (and is) much better Indian fare out there. Perhaps I should've just stuck with my first inclination and returned for another banh mi sandwich from Lae Viet.
My lunch now finished and cleaned up, I returned to the first floor with the knowledge that one cannot come to the North Market for a meal and NOT finish up with a trip to Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams. While we here in northeast Ohio can obtain some of Jeni's more popular flavors through several restaurants and markets, with the ability to choose from the two dozen or so flavors available at the North Market, I would be foolish to skip out on this opportunity.
As I walked up to the counter, I already knew a repeat from last year was in order: the Trio. However, I wanted to pick three new flavors this time around. First up was the Queen City Cayenne, which I had heard about from other patrons:
Second on my list was the Plum Cassis Lambic Sorbet:
And for my third and final choice, I settled on a much ballyhooed new flavor, Goat Cheese with Roasted Red Cherries:
I gleefully paid my $5 and took my sundae cup outside. After spotting an open picnic bench, I sat down and snapped this photograph of my dessert:
At twelve o'clock was the plum sorbet, at four o'clock was the goat cheese with roasted red cherries and at 8 o'clock was the Queen City Cayenne. Like last year, I decided to start with what I thought would be the most mild flavor and work my way up to the most assertive. Unfortunately, contrary to last year, I started out with the plum cassis lambic sorbet which wasn't the least assertive. That being said, it was also delicious. The flavors from the plum and cassis were bright and acidic and the fact that it was sorbet and not ice cream meant that there was no dairy to coat my tongue. The lambic added a wonderful brightness to the dish and quite honestly, this would've made an excellent palate cleanser between heavy courses at a dinner party.
I moved next onto the goat cheese with roasted red cherries. I picked out a cherry first from the ice cream and took a bite. They were sweet and sour at the same time. I then tried the goat cheese ice cream. Expecting a "Mmmm," I was surprised when my mind said, "Hmmm." I tried another bite. While I got cool and creamy and slightly sweet, what I wasn't getting was the goat cheese flavor, at all. I knew that at one point (and I'm assuming that it was the same today), Jeni's was sourcing their goat cheese from MacKenzie Creamery out of Hiram, Ohio. And I also knew that the goat cheese from that farm has a remarkably mild flavor to it. But I couldn't detect any of the slight tang that fresh chevre should have brought to the party.
I finally moved to the final flavor in my cup, the Queen City Cayenne. I took my first bite and let it slowly melt in my mouth, coating my entire tongue. The first flavor to surface was the chocolate. Next, the gentle warming spice from the cinnamon made itself apparent to compliment the chocolate flavor. Finally, a mildly assertive burning sensation manifested itself at the back of my throat from the cayenne pepper. It was interesting how Jeni's used this specific chili pepper to not interfere with the taste bud receptors at the front of your mouth, but at the rear. While this flavor was good, I truly think I enjoyed last year's selection of Thai Peanut and Dark Chocolate even better.
My trio of tastes now complete, I gathered up my trash and my personal belongings and headed back to the conference, now fully sated and ready to face another four hours of sessions at Linuxfest. While I probably could've used a nap at some point in there, I'm glad I had another opportunity to check out the offerings at the North Market. If for no other reason than to try Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams, I highly suggest you give this fascinating market a try yourself.