If you’re a Cincinnati native, Jungle Jim’s needs no introduction.
The eccentric grocery and its eccentric owner, X, sell just about everything under the sun in their massive international market, from local microbrews to cuisine on the world like fish sauce, Kimchi, ugli fruit, fresh squid, and every kind of rice n the world. Literally, anytime a Cincinnati person is trying to cook something exotic, they head here to get the hard-to-find ingredients. Of course there’s a basic little shop for the quick essentials, but people come here for miles around to get exotic items. Shopping at Jungle Jim’s isn’t like your average grocery trip. It’s an experience.
Groovy Spoon Frozen Yogurt is a small chain with two locations in south Los Angeles, California, and two in central Ohio. It’s a self-serve frozen yogurt concept with a number of creative flavors which is different depending on the location. According to the website, the yogurt place opened in California in 2009 before expanding its market to the “cold-weather” state of Ohio. Well, what works for Los Angeles seems to be able to work pretty well here in Columbus, too. This city is already saturated with good cold treats, but Groovy Spoon seems to have carved out its own niche.
While it is an established and beloved presence in the West Virginia market, Pies and Pints is brand new to the Ohio market. Newly-opened in The Shopps at Worthington Place, Pies & Pints is eyeing more locations around the Columbus market, bringing its unique take on pizza and its eclectic beer menu to a larger audience. Another Food Critic and a number of other local food bloggers and writers had the pleasure of attending an invitation tasting event to sample the dishes and meet the people who are bringing Pies & Pints to prominence.
With 12 locations in three states, and another 40 on the way, Sunny Street Cafe is a new and ambitious growing chain in the casual cafe concept. With breakfast items, burgers and sandwiches, it’s got a good mixture of menu items that make it an ideal place to quick food early in the day. A good breakfast place is hard to find, especially downtown. For all the bars and nightspots around a downtown like Columbus, it’s not easy to find a diner that is worth the drive. Whether or not Sunny Street has that distinction, though, is a matter of debate.
The people at Ben’s were pretty humble when I stopped by their booth at the Troy Strawberry Festival, but that website has everything you need to learn about this product. They sell only two things and are damn proud of it. The joy of street festivals for me is that little places like Ben’s get to show off their products, and you really do get a taste for what you’ve been missing. Too many people pass these places by without recognizing them, and in this case it’s a real shame to miss. Sauces like these are what make food interesting.
Growing herbs in your garden at home isn’t a terribly hard task. A lot of them just need to be planted, watered, and left in the sunlight. It’s taking those herbs and incorporating them into your food in a tasty way that is the much more difficult task. I like it when a place like Heartland Herbs appears with an offer of delicious dips made from combinations of herbs and spices, I get excited. It sounds so simple to create an herb dip, but the people that do them well do them very well.
Mellow Mushroom is not your typical restaurant chain. With 100 locations across 15 states, the franchise seems to have all the trappings of a corporate food factory. But this chain breaks the mold of the standard line. Founded in 1974 by college students, Mellow Mushroom maintains an air of nonconformity — every Mellow Mushroom is a sports bar specializing in pizza, but beyond that, every single location has a radically different menu catering to the local cuisine. I should note I’ve reviewed the Nashville, Tennessee location as well.
Established in 1999, Giammarco’s has recently set up shop at a brand new location in Westerville, Ohio, just northeast of Columbus. It’s classy, it’s contemporary, and it provides a real culinary challenge to the chain restaurants down the street in serving up masterfully done Italian food to locals and travelers of the busy Interstate 71 corridor. Giammarco’s has a mantra of fresh ingredients and simple dishes anyone would recognize as Italian food. It’s a resounding success; this restaurant knows how to make a good dish. In fact, it’s the best Italian food I’ve had in Columbus.
With over 60 locations primarily in Cincinnati and neighboring cities, LaRosa’s Pizza is a neighborhood pizza place making quality craft pies. There are a lot of different kinds of pizza in Cincinnati, but once you give LaRosa’s a try, you’ll definitely taste the difference. They’re going for higher quality, more filling, delicious pizzas. While the prices may be higher than than the average place, the distinct toppings and flavors you sample here will quickly reel you in and keep you coming back. Cincinnati is where I was born, and LaRosa’s has a special place in my heart.
It’s a newer addition to downtown Columbus’ restaurant selection, but Lexi’s is an aggressively-marketed, colorful and convenient eatery which seems to be growing in popularity among the metro lunch crowd. The place is a fairly simple Americana -type restaurant of sandwiches, burgers, salads and the like. Opened only in winter 2011, Lexi’s has a casual, quick and very bright concept perfectly suited to the downtown atmosphere. It’s a breakfast and lunch place exclusively, but nonetheless makes for a pleasant experience.