You know you’re a foodie when the first thing you want to do in a new city is go on a food tour. And this is exactly how it was on my recent visit to Ohio’s capital city of Columbus. Sure, we had tickets to a Blue Jackets hockey game and being the history nerd that I am, I also wanted to tour the lovely and historic Statehouse, but it was the prospect of a food tour that captivated my planning interest the most. And that’s where Columbus Food Adventures comes in.
Columbus Food Adventures operates a total of 11 food tours (check their calendar by clicking here for offerings as they do vary from week to week and even month to month). The two that corresponded to the dates that we would be in Columbus were the Short North Food Tour and the Grandview Avenue Tour. Both were essentially neighborhood tours (which I love) since how often do visitors to a new city ever really get to delve into a local neighborhood, one off the tourist path? I ended up selecting the Short North for two reasons-one, it was closer to where we were staying (well, I semi-jest although with the Arctic-like conditions that were present last Saturday, it wasn’t a bad thing either), and two (the real reason), it started at the city’s famous North Market. I adore visiting local food halls so naturally the Short North Food Tour got my vote, although I’m sure the Grandview Avenue one was equally fabulous.
We made a total of seven stops in the city’s Short North neighborhood, an area located immediately north of downtown, one replete with a vast array of restaurants, art galleries, and unique shops (for more information on the neighborhood’s history click here). Debra was our tour guide and was a total delight. She didn’t have an easy time of things between the occasional snow squalls we had to forge through and the bitterly cold wind gusts, but she always had a big smile and endless enthusiasm for her tour participants, not to mention had a wealth of information on all of the places we visited as well as offering interesting tidbits about the neighborhood.
And now a recap of each of the seven spots we visited:
Had we not gone on a food tour, I would have visited here on my own. Home to 35 unique food producers, local food purveyors, and dining options, the North Market, like all food halls, was a wonderful assault on the senses. And as much as I love Cleveland’s West Side Market, the North Market, being considerably smaller, didn’t feel as nutty as Cleveland’s, not to mention there was actually ample seating for you to enjoy your culinary purchases (seating at the West Side Market is basically non-existent). Everything from Indian food to Belgian waffles to Vietnamese pho can be found here.
We got to sample authentic Bavarian-style pretzels from Brezel’s as well as Manhattan and New England clam chowder from the Fish Guys. We also heard from Ben at North Market Spices, which as a cooking fiend was very neat (he makes all his own blends and is a true testament of someone doing what they love to do). We didn’t get to go back after the tour was over (I wanted to make it to the Statehouse before it closed) but I definitely would have loved to.
Artisan chocolates, need I say more? We didn’t get to meet the owners/staff while we were here but it was Valentine’s Day and they were a tad busy to put it lightly. We were given two chocolates to try, a carrot cake and a cookie crunch-both were sublime, both were flavors I never would have thought of for chocolate but this just made them all the more delicious. They also had matcha latte chocolates-this is one of my favorite hot beverages so enjoying it in chocolate form? Sold.
If I return to Columbus, this is a restaurant where I would definitely like to have a full meal at. Debra mentioned that it was one of the city’s most popular dining spots and its booming interior confirmed this. Unlike some of our other spots, here we actually got to sit down at tables which was nice. We were given a deviled egg and a miniature buttermilk pancake topped with butter and fresh lemon, comfort food at its best (and being a Saturday, it was so cool to have “brunch” items on a food tour!).
-Eleni Christina Bakery
This was the only spot where we didn’t eat anything (we ate what the bakery makes at the next spot). The bakery is owned by a famous Columbus restaurant family (the Rigsbys) and supplies many of the city’s restaurants with their bread. We got to meet with a staff member who chatted with us and also got to see the family’s 25 + year old sourdough bread starter.
The benefits of being on a food tour. When we entered the cafe, there were huge lines yet we got to snake our way to the back where we were able to sample in private. It was here that we tried some of the Columbus famous Eleni Christina bread as well as hangover soup. The latter was apparently brought to Tasi by one of its workers who was originally from Bolivia. Soup that day was just what we and everyone else needed. I’m not sure what all was in it but having lived and traveled extensively in Latin America, it had such a “Latin American” taste to it, something I noticed with the very first bite.
Remember the Rigsby family that I mentioned earlier? This is their restaurant. Well, back in the day when Short North was still a somewhat derelict place, this restaurant was one of the first to lead the way in putting it back on its feet. It’s run by Beard Award nominee Chef Kent Rigsby and was a great penultimate stop. The restaurant was a lovely space and as we were there before it opened to the general public for the day, it definitely had more of an intimate feel, which was nice. Both the chef and general manager spoke with us. We had more bread from Eleni Christina’s to try as well as pork belly with lentils. Pork belly…so good.
-Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams
Living in Pittsburgh I had never heard of Jeni’s Ice Creams but she’s apparently the Elvis of America’s most famous cold dessert. We learned that she first got her start at the North Market but has since expanded to say the least (her ice creams are literally all over the place; we even noticed some for sale at our hotel’s mini food mart). From the moment the doors opened, you could truly smell the incredible scents wafting your way. The coolest thing about it, though, was the mind blowing unique flavor options-Bangkok Peanut…Brioche with Butter and Jam! They also let you (and more importantly, encourage you) to sample as many flavors as you would like. We were able to select two scoops each-I opted for a traditional dark chocolate and then for a complete polar opposite, a Riesling poached pear sorbet. Amazing.
I’ve been on four food tours now (two in my home base of Pittsburgh, one in Miami, and one in Columbus) and I love that each one has been slightly different from the rest. With Columbus Food Adventures, it was the first tour I got to sit down at actual restaurants and eat; it wasn’t all just quick standing stops and moving out. This definitely made me enjoy it as much as I did.
If you’re a first time visitor to the Ohio state capital, the Short North Food Tour will prove to be a wonderful foodie introduction to this very charming city.
Note: I was a guest of Columbus Food Adventures but all thoughts and opinions expressed here are entirely my own.