Author Archives: CMH Gourmand

Nazareth Restaurant and Deli





Cuisine – Middle Eastern

5239 N Hamilton Rd Columbus, OH 43230
(614) 899-1177 – Website
Sun-Thurs: 11:00 am – 9:00 pm, Fri-Sat:11:00 am – 10:00 pm

Click here to map it!

(Note: Yes, the wreath is still hanging in May, that is part of the charm)

Nazareth Restaurant and Deli is an icon of alt eats in Columbus. It opened over twenty years ago in the Columbus Square Shopping Center at SR 161 and Cleveland Ave. This is an area called the United Nations of Columbus food by a few. Nazareth was a pioneer in the non-campus, non-chinese cuisine of northern Columbus. The restaurant quickly became a local favorite due to good food at a good price as well as the engaging personality of owner Hany Baransi. He is quite a character – the restaurant web page lists one of his signature quotes “I love you man” and warns diners that Nazareth is not responsible for food addictions. The phrase Ahlan Wa Sah Lan (welcome in Arabic) greets diners in the parking lot and inside at the entrance. Visitors are welcomed by the image of Hany wielding a baseball bat in a Santa hat. The baseball bat is his trademark. He can be seen toting it with him in the aisles. I am not sure about the back story on that bat….and I am reluctant to ask. Hany hails from Israel so I am sure he tough when the occasion calls for it.

The restaurant has been successful over the years. In 2010 Nazareth moved into a former Chili’s restaurant about one-quarter mile from its original location. The move greatly expanded the dining area and added a bar to the mix. On my visit, the bar was packed and a one man band singing 1970’s era cover songs echoed throughout the restaurant. That site did so well that have now moved to yet another sit on Hamilton Road. Nazareth is still a family operation with family members mixed among employees in the kitchen and waiting tables too.

The menu is classic Middle Eastern offering all of the staples of this type of cuisine. There are some unexpected items for diversity sake including Freedom Fries, a grilled bologna sandwich, Rachel’s gyro with American cheese, a Catfish gyro and beer-battered onion rings.

The above are all well executed comfort food. Hany’s daughter explained that when families come in, some of the older and younger people are not sure what to do with Middle Eastern fare so Hany wants everyone to have something that can be enjoyed. He might tempt reluctant diners to try some hoummus then led them slowly into culinary diversity.

The Middle Eastern entrees are all well done with several being my best-loved versions / interpretations in the city. One of my favorites is the Vegetarian Mediterranean Dinner which includes – hoummus, baba ghannoug, falafel and tabbouli salad served with pita bread. The pita bread is served warm which is a small but much appreciated difference. All other baba’s I have had pale in comparison to this one. Somehow it is a little less bitter, a bit more balanced and maybe has a little more love it in. I can’t fully explain the je ne sais quoi of this dish. On this subject my dining companion said “it made whatever my mother used to do with eggplant a crime that should be punishable by jail time or hard labor.” That being said let’s move along to more of the menu.

There are two versions of grape leaves. One is vegetarian and the other is stuffed with ground meat as well as rice, mint and a mix of spices. Both are excellent. While these grape leaves are smaller versions than encountered most places they pack a big, flavorful punch.

Lentils and Rice is another signature dish. The main ingredients are mixed with caramelized onions, seasoned with cumin and other spices. Nazareth’s House Sauce is served on the side (I have not figured out all of the substances in the sauce yet but the sum of the parts is very good).

The menu includes several other dishes, good soups and salads as well as desserts. My favorite item is the smallest and most simple. A sampler dish of pickled baby eggplant, pickled turnips, pickles, cucumbers, olives and Feta cheese is served with some entrees. I could eat this sampler all night with some warm pita bread and ignore anything else in front of me.

I invite you to visit Hany and his bat some day soon to pay tribute to Columbus “alt eats” history.

Nazareth Restaurant and Deli
2700 Northland Plaza Dr (SR 161/Dublin Granville Road, just east of Cleveland Ave)
Sun-Thurs: 11:00 am – 9:00 pm
Fri-Sat:11:00 am – 10:00 pm

Udipi Cafe

2001 East Dublin Granville Road (161) * Columbus * 614.885.7446

Cuisine: (Southern) Indian / Vegetarian
Open seven days per week

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I love Indian food I could not begin to describe the subtle and not so subtle flavors of Northern, Southern, and the other regional cuisines of India. Each meal is an exploration of spices, tongue pleasing tastes and tongue tying names. OK, honestly my lack of knowledge is due to sloth because I am a sucker for an Indian buffet. A buffet is like a parade for my stomach – there is so much to see and eat that I lose track of the names and all of the flavors start to blend together.

Udipi is a coastal city in southern India known for diversity and as a rich farming area. The 161 / East Dubin Granville Road strip was known as restaurant row in the 1980’s, it consisted of miles of the best Columbus had to offer at the time: Flakey Jake’s Hamburgers, Chi Chi’s, Olive Garden, The Elephant Bar and every chain restaurant that could find space to build. The area is still overrun with eateries but the glory days have gone. Udipi Cafe is very much an outlier in the seemingly endless array of fried food and cheese covered cuisine. The Beechcroft area is not exactly known for it’s large Asian Indian community however 80% of the buffet customers at Udipi seem to be natives of India and make the trek to this part of town for the buffet. I think that is quite an endorsement.

I am certain the term vegetarian strikes fear into the minds and stomachs of many meat eating, Applebees lovin’ central Ohioans. I imagine the concept of Indian cuisine does the same to the people in a venn diagram overlapping with carnivores afraid of people that eat vegetables by choice. If you have one of these people in your life, might I suggest you take them to Udipi Cafe – as their gateway meal to the “dark side” of culinary choice.

The way to lure people in is through the value of Udipi’s lunch buffet. This all you can eat buffet will knock one back a whooping $7.46, including tax. In exchange for what would be a tip at many places you have access to fourteen plus entrees as well as soups, salad, sauces and dessert. A pitcher of water is brought to your table so you can stay hydrated during your feast.

At some point during your meal a dosa (masala pictured below) will be delivered to your table…..

If you don’t have time to dine in, you can drop in to fill up a large carry out container for the same price.

The Udipi Cafe buffet is a great way to explore the vegetarian cuisine of Southern India. The buffet experience does not make you bother with having to remember or pronounce what you are eating.

The buffet is offered from 11:30 AM to 3 PM Monday to Friday.

After several lunch time trips for the buffet, I was inspired to return in the evening to explore the menu in meal form. The evening experience is very different from the lunch buffet. There seems to be a different crew on board at night. My evening experiences often seemed to be hampered by a language barrier and what I can only describe as disjointed service, not bad mind you but somewhat confused. Eye contact is critical to move service along in the evening. The night staff seem content to let you sit for long periods of time so as not to disrupt your mediation or digestion depending on where you are in the meal. One of the evening research sessions involved the usual suspects (including Hungry Woolf/Columbus Food Adventures – photo credits on some shots below) and we delved into the menu in depth.

While evening service is a bit underwhelming. Everyone is friendly and each staff person has a good knowledge of the food. Two things are overwhelming: the menu selection and the size of the dosas.

The menu is fun to read. One section is headlined: Ye Soup Kettle and lists the soups made on site. There is also the Udipi Royal Dinner: choice of soup; choice of Idli or Medhu Vada or choice of dosa or Uttappam and Sambar with chutney. One might choose to end the evening with the Falooda Deluxe: vermicelli with vegetable seeds in condensed mild with raspberry syrup and rose ice cream. I am not sure if these terms made me feel like a visiting dignitary, pampered or a participant in a renaissance festival but I liked the variety to the point of indecision. Note: The carry-out menu uses different terms and phrases for the menu descriptions.

Fortunately, with a few people in tow one can easy explore the menu and the cuisine of southern Indian by ordering a few combination plates. We did not eat or meet a dosai (crepes made with rice) we did not like. We also enjoyed the Uthappas (Indian style pancakes) served with a variety of sauces.

Again, did I mention the large portion size? Check. The depth of the menu and the quality of the vegetarian fare here is very impressive. Beverage choices include Lassi, milkshakes, Indian beers and teas. Several desserts are available as well. There are many Indian restaurants in town now. This is one from the first wave and has stood the test of time and changing palates very well. Udipi is a good first experience for novices and well worth the effort of Indian food aficionados.

Blue Nile Restaurant

Cuisine: Ethiopian

2361 North High Street (Olde North Columbus / North OSU Campus)

Tuesday – Friday 11:30 am – 3:00 pm; 5:00 pm – 10:00 pm
Saturday 12:00 pm to 3:30 pm; 5:00 pm – 10:00 pm
Sunday 12:00 om to 3:00 pm; 5:00pm – 9:00 pm
Lunch Buffet (Tuesday to Sunday: 8 items and dessert, $8.99)

Click here to map it!

As a city with a giant university in the middle, Columbus has always had some types of alt eateries to offer. However, the tipping point from the usual (Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Indian) to the unexpected can be traced back to 1995. Blue Nile was an Ethiopian Cafe that started on East Main Street by a car wash. Within a year it moved to the campus area to a place where the owner felt he could cater to a larger and broader group of diners. The eatery attracted a lot of press when it opened including a listing as a top ten best new restaurant in Columbus by the Grumpy Gourmet. As part of the story, a cab was sold to get the money needed to open the restaurant.

Blue Nile has survived changes in campus, Columbus and it’s competition to continue on as as a “gateway” alternative eatery. Countless OSU students have entered the world of international eating via the Blue Nile lunch buffet then they have come back for dates and nights out with visiting parents to show off their worldliness to mom and dad.

Some diners can gather around a tray (Mosseb) in a tradtional arragment of chairs and a small wicker tray table

Mequanent and Meaza Berihun are the owners. Both are gracious hosts with Mequanent likely to refer to you as “my friend” on first contact. The husband and wife team have years of experience as guides to first time Ethiopian cuisine eaters. They are happy to provide Ethiopian dining 101 lessons to new customers. It can be a bit intimidating since custom involves eating with your fingers. Injera bread (note: different spellings exist for this food) is a flat, spongy, tangy, crepe-like, flat bread made from teff (previously only available in Ethiopia), wheat and corn flour. Diners pull off strips of the bread to fold into a C with their fingers and then use it to grab and eat their food.

There are two main styles of spicing to the food: spicy – Berbere or mild – Alichas. The typical and best route to take for a first time dinner experience is to gather a few friends and share a platter. The menu offers Specials 1, 2 or 3 for one, two, three or four people. Each special offers a combination of four items from the menu – usually two meat based entrees and two vegetable based entries with varied spicing.

2 different specials for two shared on one tray

Typical items include: Doro Wat – chicken cooked with bebere sauce and served with hard-boiled eggs; Kitfo -minced beef with butter and hot pepper served with seasoned cheese; and Yatakilt Wat – fresh carrots, potatoes, string beans and peppers cooked in tumeric and others spices.

Other items on the menu worth sampling include Ethiopian honey wine and the sambusas (meat or vegetable filled pastries).

If you have a medium sized group with some “wary” eaters, this may be a good first bite into the world of alt eating.

Solay Bistro

Cuisine: Somali with Ethiopian and other influences

5786 Columbus Square (near intersection of SR 161/East Dublin-Granville Road Cleveland Avenue)
Open: Monday-Thursday, 11am – 10pm, Friday 11am to 11pm, Saturday 9am to 11pm, Sunday 9am to 9pm
Breakfast from 9am to noon on Saturday and Sunday

Click here to map it!

(Reader warning: There is a long lead in to the meat of the story.)

The aim of alt eats is to make connections. We want to connect you with new cultures, cuisines, areas of the city, and ultimately, the people behind the counter and in the kitchen. The stories of the people that make the food are often as important as the food they create.

Food has a way of bringing people together. Taco Drew met CMH Gourmand at a beer tasting via Columbus Underground. CMH Gourmand met Hungry Woolf at a North Market cooking class. The three of us went on to join Slow Food Columbus. Then we created Taco Trucks Columbus which introduced us to more people and places we would not have met any other way. It seems each person we meet or tweet with or e-mail, adds to the melting pot of alt eats with a restaurant lead, suggestion or feedback. Adding more people to the alt eats team has helped us spice up the content as well.

Food continues to connect us with new people. We met Abdi Roble from the Somali Documentary Project at a Social Media Conference. This prompted us to ask him to share a meal with us to help us better understand and appreciate Somali food and culture. We met with Abdi and his wife Fatima as well as Ismail, another acquaintance from the Somali Documentary Project for a meal. Fatima suggested a last minute change of venue which led us to the newly opened Solay Bistro.

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Mardi Gras Ice Cream & Cakes

Cuisine: Ice Creams of the World

1947 Hard Road (Intersection of Hard Road and Smokey Row)
Monday to Sunday 1 pm to 9:30 pm / 10:00pm in summer months.
Closed for a period of time in the winter.

Click here to map it!

There is an ice creamery in our city that is beloved for having fascinating flavors made from unusual combinations of non traditional ingredients. The owner of this little ice cream shop started scooping her exotic creations in 2000 and quickly grew a loyal following. This is not the story of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream. This is the tale of Mita Shah and Mardi Gras ice cream. Mita has always enjoyed cooking and making special Indian dishes for her relatives. She also likes to experiment with flavors. She created a mango ice cream recipe which she gave to the owner of a nearby ice cream store. Mango rapidly became a customer favorite so the owner asked Mita if she wanted to work for him. She told him she would rather purchase the business when he was ready to sell, and was later given the opportunity to buy Mardi Gras. She kept the name while changing the recipes of many of the traditional homemade flavors.

Mita has created a United Nations of ice creams. In addition to the standards, she offers several flavors based on Indian desserts, a few with Asian leanings such as lychee or green tea and several obscure or forgotten regional ice creams including Blue Moon (a very blue, vanilla based ice cream). She has a repertoire of 200 flavors, scooping 48 at any given time including (depending on ingredient availability) at least 16 international flavors.

Mardi Gras has an unlikely location, buried in a strip mall on the Northwest side of Columbus. Over ten years a loyal customer base has developed at a place that is way off the radar. The walls are lined with photographs of happy customers. A cricket team comes in for a traditional round of Sweet Rose milkshakes before matches.

Customers bring her recipes and ideas for her to try out. One customer brought her a recipe for Spumoni that was passed down from her Italian grandmother. Mita is constantly searching for authentic ingredients and dries her own fruits so she can create flavor profiles that meet her high standards. She teaches her employees to take special steps to store and cover the ice cream to preserve freshness and flavor.

Unique flavors such as Kesar Pista (a mix of saffron, almonds, pistachios and cardimum) are balanced out with flavors such as Rum Raisin or Highlander Grogg. Mardi Gras has something for everyone with kid friendly soft serve options, candy toppings, sugar free and fat free options. There is even a flavor with noodles in it, that one is staying a secret until you try it. The staff gladly offer as many samples as one needs to make a decision since there are so many new options to choose from.

Popular flavors include: Mango, Sweet Rose (it really has the aroma of a rose), Ginger (not too intense, but full of flavor), Anjeer (Fig), Guava and Roasted Bananas. Mita’s more exotic flavors combine a balance of subtle and intense tastes while allowing one to taste the true essence of the main ingredient. Tasting notes for the Falooda Kulfi (a combination with Iranian, Pakastani and Indian roots that includes pistachios and rose water) were: “intensely floral, creamy, sweet aroma, like sticking a nose in a flower“. Mardi Gras makes a party of flavors and tastes which allow one to explore the world via an ice cream cone.