Category Archives: vegetarian

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.

Bono Pizza

Cuisine: Italian and beyond (pizza, crepes…)

1717 Northwest Blvd.
5xNW section of town
614.906.8646 (ToGo)
as the menu says: “of course it’s in the back of a liquor store, it’s bonopizza!”
Open: Wednesday to Sunday 5 PM to 10 PM

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Regular alteaters may be thrown a bit off balance when trying to conceive of Bono as an alt.eats destination, but consider the case carefully: Bill Yerkes, the head ‘tosser’ at Bono Pizza is about as alternative as any human could be and Bono also meets our other alt eats criteria: off the beaten path location, authentic (with a dash of audacity) ethnic food and independently/family owned.

Bono Pizza is located in a carryout on Northwest Boulevard (almost in Grandview) in the area known as 5xNW. It features a wood fired oven and the always entertaining personality and styling of Bill Yerkes. His wife Peggy is there most evenings to take orders and take care of her customers. Bono features eighteen specialty pizzas as well as a ‘build your own’ option. All pizzas are $10 each.

Bill perfected his pizza craft during twenty odd years in Italy. His crusts and ratios are in the Italian style with all flavors balancing each other harmoniously. Italian pizza lovers have often said that the Yerkes approach to pizza pie would make any Italian proud. Bill’s non traditional half (or in his case 3/4), exhibits itself in the some of the toppings and names (Hulk, Waikiki, The Greek Boy….). Using a wood fired pizza and hand tossed techniques, the pizza may have a bit of char or not come out as a perfect circle. We like to call that real food.

A Greek Boy.....

The menu is a constant blank slate for Bill. There is a core group of pizzas and sometimes other dishes (maybe a salad, maybe a pepperoni roll) and who knows what else. Bono has offered crepes for $3, espresso for $1 and on occasion creme brulee in shot style glasses. Beverages can be obtained in the adjoining carry out.

The location is not without challenges. There have been issues with the roof and the space itself calls for some creativity for business hours after the carry out closes. However, customers get a “hidden clubhouse” feel about Bono that can be hard to beat.

Here are a few examples of the pizzas:

San Rolando
Fresh tomato sauce, pepperoni, (real – really good too) Italian Sausage and fresh Mozzarella cheese.

Smithfield peppered ham/bacon, carmelized for three plus hours with onions then lathered on a layer of Asiago and real mozzarella cheese with a sprinkling of Parmesan and “pixie dust” (that came right off the menu and not my keyboard, but at Bono….it could happen).

This pizza was created and inspired in part by the Grumpy Gourmet who has made an appearance or two at this establishment.

Here is a bit of Bono history to give the current incantation some added meaning.

The summer of 2008 was THE season for Bono Pizza in the Short North. The unconventional ways of pizza purist Bill Yerkes meshed a traditional approach to pizza (well kind of) with many non traditional elements such as a unique partnership with a Short North Bakery in a location in an alley. The enterprise should not have worked. It did. In fact it prospered. It was the darling of Short North and Victorian Village residents as well as an unofficial meeting point for Columbus Underground ilk. However, like any burning sun, it was bound to extinguish and it did in the fall of 2008.

There were attempts at rebirth. Bill came full circle with a location near his home at a site vacated by Cowtown Pizza but the site did not quite work out. Unfortunately most of 2009 was a year without a Bono Claus so the natives started to get a little restless. Bono reopened in mid 2009 and has slowly been rebuilding a following.

Alt eats specializes in some out of the way places and off the beaten path locations. For a few, the far side of 5xNW may be a bit too far. Bill does have a mobile pizza oven that can be available for events and catering (give him a call) and there is ongoing discussion of partnerships with other businesses to bring Bono to the masses on occasion. We will see what happens.

Sweet Pot

Cuisine: Jamaican
1485 South Champion Avenue

Places like Sweet Pot are what make alt.eats tick:  ‘Where the hell are we’ location?  Check.  Dilapidated shack of a building that makes up for its shabbiness with a double dose of unaffected charm?  In spades.  Novel menu items?  No doubt.

And, for extra credit – beverages for, umm, putting the lead in your pencil?  Yeah, they have that.

Sweet Pot’s building is somewhat forboding… think Calanley with a few more windows.  Step inside, though, and the vibe is more that of a run down gulf coast shrimp shack.  A series of glass panes separate the dining room from the kitchen and allow customers to see everything going on in the back of house.  On our visit, we saw massive pans of jerk chicken being pulled together – they were obviously busy with a large catering order.

Which is not to say that we felt neglected.  Ordering occurs at an opening in the window, through which you’ll also receive your food.  The folks running the window were happy to answer questions and were notable for not tailoring their answers to what they thought we’d like.

Well, perhaps with one exception – when one of the females in our group asked about some of the more unusual sounding (and expensive) drinks on the menu, the response was “Those are not for you… they’re for him!

So, I ordered two ‘Tiger Bones’, a couple of ‘Bedroom Bullies’, and a ‘Magnum’. Alright, so maybe I didn’t.  But they serve ’em and they’re certainly not shy about letting you know who they’re for.

Returning to the more gender-neutral portions of the menu, we settled on orders of goat curry, jerk chicken, oxtail, and a mystery fish dish that whose appearance at our table was the result of some confusion at the order counter.

The goat curry was excellent – a generous portion of tender, flavorful meat devoid of excessive gaminess. The curry seasoning was fairly mild, allowing the full flavor of the goat to shine through.

The oxtail was also good – tender meat in a rich stew and particularly notable for being less fatty and greasy than other iterations of this dish.

The jerk chicken was both enjoyable and a bit of a curiosity – enjoyable in the sense that the chicken was properly grilled and nicely flavored, and curious in that it tasted more like barbecued chicken than what we’d normally think of as jerk-seasoned meat.

The fish was the red-headed stepchild of the bunch.  It struck us as being a fairly dry baked white fish of some (undisclosed) sort that was doused in an eye-poppingly acidic vinegar sauce and topped with shreds of veggies.  A similarly tart slaw accompanied.

All of the above were the ‘small’ portion sizes, and they pile ’em high.  All were served with beans and rice with peas, which were roundly deemed exceptional.  Whether you choose to eat-in or opt for takeout, you’ll get your food in to-go clamshells.  And, in the best of alt.eats tradition, the availability of menu items vary based upon day, time, whim, and perhaps astrology readings.

Vegetarians take note – Sweet Pot has a significant meat-free offering.

Banana Leaf

Cuisine: Indian
816 Bethel Road

Click here to map it!

Banana Leaf is a vegetarian and vegan Indian restaurant whose owners hail from Gujarat in western India. Banana Leaf has several features that distinguish it from other Indian restaurants. Although you can order a la carte, most people opt for the grand buffet option, available both at lunch (11.30-2.30pm) and dinner (6-9.30pm). On arrival you are greeted with endless lassi (a rich yogurt ‘smoothie’), which comes in a choice of 6 flavors (mango, rose, khus, sweet or salted). Khus is a bright green herbal syrup with a woodsy medicinal flavor.

The second distinctive feature are the chaats, prepared in the dining room. Chaats are traditionally a street food in western India, originating in Gujarat. These were described as the second course but arrived as a series of separate plates served family style, giving the opportunity to savor each one individually. I won’t describe them all in detail, but they were intriguing mixes of flavor and texture with spicy, crunchy and cooling chutney: they included bhel puri – puffed rice krispies mixed in a tangy and sweet sauce with onions, potatoes, tomatoes and cilantro; ragada pattis – spicy potato patties simmered and seasoned with dried pea spicy gravy; samosa chaat – samosas covered with spicy chickpea gravy.

Also served at the table were masala dosas, thin rice crepes stuffed with a spiced potato mixture. Piled together, they got a little soggy and didn’t quite live up to the versions found at Dosa Corner or Udipi.

The pani puri were a notable hit, small round crunchy puffs into which you pour a spicy broth before eating.

You would be correct in thinking that this is already a lot of food, especially given the set price of $12.95 but the buffet component of the meal is still to come. The buffet consists of choices of an appetizer (potato pakora), vegetable curries, daals, steamed rice, special rice, chutneys, vada (a lentil flour donut) and a dessert (halwa). The buffet changes daily and is different even from lunch to dinner on the same day.

Just when you think you can’t eat or drink anything more, its time for masala chai, milky tea served (we suspect for western tastes) unsweetened. We were there at closing time and were offered any leftovers that we wanted to take home from the buffet.

The owner Kamal Panchal and his wife are extremely friendly and passionate about their food. They enthusiastically explained the dishes to us and patiently answered all our questions, even bringing some khus syrup to the table for us to taste. Kamal is an animated and entertaining story teller. Banana Leaf is very good value and a great introduction to southern and western Indian food.

There is more information about the a la carte menu and buffet options on Banana Leaf’s website as well as a $1 off coupon valid until the end of the year.