8 Questions for Ami Iannone & Jakob Murphy

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Earlier this week, I wrote about my recent visit to one of the newest mobile trailers in Columbus, Raccoon Coffee Co. (read the review HERE). Ami and Jake are the super friendly, super passionate owners of this little cart, which, by the way, serves some excellent caffeinated drinks and delicious snacks, and they were kind enough to sit down and answer 8 Questions for my readers….

 

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So, you guys both have quite the history in and around the coffee and restaurant business. For those who don’t know, can you give us a little background info on your pre-coffee trailer lives?

We met at Cup O Joe/ MoJoe Lounge Short North and ended up running that store together. Jake had been at Staufs briefly and worked for Coffea in Lexington, KY when he was in college and I had been at the famed Salaam in Athens, OH while I was at OU. After Cup O Joe/MoJoe I went on to open the new Sycamore in GV and then to Involve, a full service marketing and experiential agency in the Short North. Jake went to Brioso and they’ve been incredibly supportive of our adventure. We both still work full time during the week and RCC runs on the weekends.

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Who came up with the name Raccoon Coffee Co.?

This is a good story. Jake’s parents live in this beautiful house they built in the woods 28 years ago. And they would have these baby raccoons orphaned occasionally… if their mom was hit by a car or something. So they would take them in and raise them. He had pet raccoons. And I thought that was the craziest thing I’d ever heard.

It became such a big teasing point for Jake among all of our friends—people buy us raccoon toys and pillows, we have a velvet raccoon painting in our house. So it only seemed appropriate to name the business Raccoon.

What types of coffees and drinks do you offer?

We have a full espresso menu (espresso, macchiato, cappuccino, latte), we hand pour all of our drip coffee. I make our chai from scratch. We use Hartzler whole milk for our drinks. I make all of our syrups and those change. We also make incredible sodas– we just haven’t gotten around to adding them all to the menu

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I must know the story behind Tiny Pies….

I don’t remember not knowing how to make a pie crust—kind of like you can’t remember before you knew how to read. My granny Tootsie (we pronounce both o’s like 2-tsie) watched me when my mom worked and we would always bake together. The crust is clearly the best part of pie and a slice of pie only has crust on one side. So I figured that a tiny pie would give you crust on all sides… plus they’re so damn cute. Two or three years ago very few people were making them, it felt really novel. You can find them more commonly now.

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Tell me a little bit about how much work you guys put into your trailer itself. I heard you stripped it all the way down to the steel frame before remodeling it?

Oh boy. We bought the 1957 Trotwood trailer off of a guy on Craigslist outside of Cincinnati. Then we spent almost every weekend for the next year and a half ripping it apart and building it back up in Jake’s parent’s driveway outside of Dayton. Yes we took it all the way down to the studs and steel frame. Jake and his dad did everything themselves except for installing the electric and rebuilding the front tongue/hitch. Jake even custom built our 3 compartment sink.

Lots of people in the coffee industry scoff at the thought of drinking anything but black coffee for the clean, pure flavors. So what do you think – Is it ok that I add cream and sugar to my coffee?

Yea man, of course it is ok. You should eat and drink what you enjoy. You’ll notice that we don’t offer tons of flavors or candy bar style drinks… we want the coffee and quality milk to be the forward flavors. We love when people are willing to taste and consider different things, we appreciate an advanced coffee palate, Jake can pull you a beautiful shot with notes of hummingbird or whatever… but at the end of the day the priority is making sure that people walk away from our truck with something that makes them really happy.

So do you guys have any aspirations of a brick & mortar shop in the future? Or is the focus solely on mobile coffee right now?

Right now we are so happy in our little creation. We are always dreaming and scheming; there are always new ideas and collaborations we would love to start. But this whole project has been a real exercise in slowing down and building something great together. We’re exciting to be working together again—even if it is only on the weekends!

How can coffee lovers in Columbus keep up with where Raccoon Coffee will be set up next?

I try my damndest to keep our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram up to date with info– @RaccoonCoffee. Thank you so much for offering us this opportunity. We are humbled by people’s enthusiasm and really grateful

(Photos provided by Ami Iannone)

 

 

Raccoon Coffee Co. – Columbus, OH

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I’ve been on quite the coffee kick lately. The thing is, I can’t quite figure out if it’s because I’ve been more active in seeking out delicious, quality java, or if the coffee gods are somehow just finding me more often? Either way, last week while working on an upcoming 8 Questions interview (watch for it soon!!) with Ami Iannone and Jakob Murphy, co-owners of Columbus’ newest mobile coffee vendor, Raccoon Coffee Co., they invited me to visit them at their outing at Lucky’s Market in Clintonville this past Saturday.

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Raccoon Coffee Co. is a dream job come true for both Ami & Jakob. Having gained a ton of knowledge and experience by working for several local coffee roasters and eateries for many years, they decided to turn their know-how into their own mobile coffee adventure. In 2013, they purchased a 1957 Trotwood trailer and over the next year would completely renovate it, inside and out. They tore the 56 year old trailer down to the studs and metal shell, and rebuilt it into a beautiful, classy little trailer that you can now find serving delicious hot and cold brew coffees and tea, as well as pastries and snacks, at many different events across Columbus!

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Their menu is very simple and direct. Raccoon Coffee serves locally roasted Café Brioso coffee in a handful of methods and varieties, some of which can be flavored with their homemade syrups – flavors like vanilla bean and caramel.

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I had been tipped off prior to my visit by an unnamed source (my people are everywhere!! Mwaahahaha!!!) who advised that I absolutely had to try their Homemade Chai ($3.50). When I arrived at the trailer and saw the Chai on the menu, I knew that’s what I’d be drinking. RCC makes their Chai in small batches using black tea, spices, real sugar and local, whole milk. They offer it in both steamed and iced variety, and of course, when given the option, you’ve gotta go with iced!

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I also noticed the little sign at the order window advertising their Tiny Pies. According to Ami, these pies are made from her Granny Tootsie’s timeless and incredible recipes. Ami was offering two varieties that day – Apple or Sweet Potato – so I ordered a Sweet Potato Tiny Pie ($5.00) to enjoy with my latte.

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The iced chai was absolutely wonderful! It was sweet and creamy, and the blend of spices was perfect – not too strong, not too weak. I’ve had chai lattes that were so strong I could barely drink them. This was not like that. It was probably the best I’ve had. Seriously. My only complaint was that I wanted more of it after my cup was empty!

Likewise, the Tiny Pie was really, really good too! I loved the crust – it was flaky, but was sort of thicker, like a shell…and it had a delicious, buttery flavor. The pie filling was smooth and well spiced. The addition of the torched mini marshmallows on top was absolute genius.

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The Spring and Summer seasons mean many festivals and fun events in Columbus, Ohio, and Raccoon Coffee is sure to be found at lots of different stops throughout the city. I’m hoping for big things for these guys. They are genuinely great folks who have worked really hard for what they have, and I hope they succeed in every way! If you see them around town, be sure to stop by and grab a delicious coffee or chai latte and a snack.

Pro Tip: Raccoon Coffee can also cater your private event!! They offer the option of bringing the full trailer for outdoor events, or setting up a small indoor cart!! So if you’ve got a wedding, a birthday party, a meeting, a family reunion…whatever…coming up this summer, contact them for pricing and availability!!

To find out more about where and when Raccoon Coffee Co. will be stationed around town, be sure to check out their website, and follow them on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

 

Boston Stoker Coffee – Columbus, OH

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As a coffee lover, I know that there are many excellent places in Columbus to find great coffee. Fortunately for us, there are also many other fantastic roasters outside of Cbus who are making their way inside the city limits to find further success, and to share their craft with us.

Boston Stoker is a Dayton-based roaster who has taken their place respectively alongside some of the best roasters in the city. They emerged on to the Columbus coffee scene about three years ago, operating from a small counter inside the lobby of a bank near OSU’s campus. Just a couple of months ago, however, they moved their operation to a roomier space further down Neil Ave. They’re now in the Thurber Village shopping plaza in Victorian Village, nestled among other shops between a CVS and a Giant Eagle. I visited them once while they operated out of their old location, and really enjoyed the coffee, so when I found out last year that they were relocating, I was excited to see them branching out in an effort to broaden their customer base.

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The new space is much roomier and is easily accessible. Columbus’ Boston Stoker shop now has a much more traditional coffeehouse feel that was sort of lacking a bit at their old spot.

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The store is bright and cheery, and looks like a place where you’d want to settle in with a book or your laptop. On the morning I visited, I found several folks doing just that, while enjoying their freshly roasted brew. The shop features several small tables, a counter with stools that stretches across the front window, and a comfy lounge area with a sofa, coffee table, and a few chairs.

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I especially loved this vintage Boston Stoker sign that came from one of their original stores from the early 1970’s. In those days, they sold pipe and tobacco products along with their coffees and teas. In fact, I’ve heard that they still offer quite the cigar assortment at some of their Dayton stores!! Really great stuff!!

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I got to talk a bit with the store’s manager, Erik Fenstermacher, on my recent visit, and he’s pretty excited about the new space, and the potential it brings. Erik told me that he’s seen a steady number of his campus-area regulars continuing to make the short trek to the new spot, but business has also increased among newer patrons as well. He attributes it to the much better parking situation at the new store, the addition of some incredible baked goods from local bakeries that are now available at the shop, and their constant effort to provide the highest quality, direct trade coffee available.

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The coffee at Boston Stoker is pretty straight forward. They serve the standard espresso, lattes, cappuccino, and mochas, as well as French Press and pour-overs at the brew bar.

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On my visit, I opted for a Kenyan Jungle Estate pour-over ($3.00) at the recommendation of the barista. It was certainly an excellent coffee, with bright, clean flavors and a pleasant aroma.

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Boston Stoker’s presentation was memorable as well. My drink was displayed on a wooden plank tray, with a stirring spoon, a branded mug, and a small carafe so that I could pour myself a second cup.

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As I mentioned before, Boston Stoker has really extended their selection of baked goods since relocating. They’ve partnered with several local bakeries in order to offer a wider range of snack and light meal options. They now offer croissants, scones and pastries from The Angry Baker, cookies and muffins from Pattycake Bakery, fresh-baked bagels from Sammy’s Bagels, and toast from Dan the Baker. Some of this stuff looked so delicious, but I promised my wife I wouldn’t cheat on my diet while I was here, so I stuck with coffee. Next time!!  :)

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Luckily for you, Boston Stoker also sells their deliciously-roasted beans by the pound to take home. They also offer a section in their store that is stocked with home brewing supplies, t-shirts, mugs, snacks, and more. Being the slightly-obsessive collector of coffee mugs that I am, the Boston Stoker mug is on my “to buy” list, along with a bag or two of fresh beans, upon my next visit.

If you haven’t visited Boston Stoker yet, please consider trying them upon your next craving for caffeine. As I said at the beginning of this post, I understand that there are many, many options for coffee in Central Ohio, and I, for one, am thankful for that. I look forward to continuing my exploration and engagement of the incredible coffee scene in our city as I frequent my favorite shops, and I’ll be adding Boston Stoker into my regular rotation.

So should you.

Boston Stoker Coffee is located at 771 Neil Ave, Columbus, OH 43215 (MAP). They’re open Monday – Thursday, 7:00am – 9:00pm, Friday 7:00am – 10:00pm, Saturday 8:00am – 10:00pm, and Sunday 8:00am – 8:00pm. You can find more info on their website, or on social media at Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Boston Stoker Coffee Roasters on Urbanspoon

Millington Donuts – Millington, TN

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For the last post from my recent Memphis trip, I thought we’d finish off the weekend with some good, old-fashioned donuts! Millington Donuts is located along Hwy 51, right on the outskirts of town, and from what I could tell, is actually one of the only real donut spots in the area (Millington is about 15 miles North of Memphis, and I was too lazy to drive any further). Sure, there are a couple of grocery stores, and a Walmart if you’re really desperate…but I’m talking about the kind of place where all they do is house-made donuts at a genuine, gotta-get-there-early-because-they-sell-out-by-noon donut shop.

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Millington Donuts is a simple shop, really. Not a lot of hype or hoopla, just a space big enough for some donut counters and cases, a couple of coolers for milk, fruit juices and other drinks, a coffee maker, and they’re good to go.

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We almost missed out on donuts on this particular morning – we arrived at around 10:30am and it was apparent that they had already had a busy Saturday morning, since most of their selection had already been pretty well picked over. Millington Donuts is the kind of donut place that fries up a certain number for the day, and when they’re gone (or close to it), they close up shop. It was good to see that even for as late in the morning as it was, there were still several other customers that were seeking out delicious donuts just like I was. I love seeing local folks supporting local businesses right up until closing time!!

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I went ahead and ordered a dozen donuts ($6.89) from what was left, to take with me to a family gathering we were on our way to. The lady behind the counter cheerfully helped me with my selections. I got a decent mix of some glazed donuts, crullers, maple & strawberry iced, blueberry, apple “filled”, and she even threw in an extra glazed donut and some holes. Score!!

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I have to be honest and admit that I probably ate more than my share of these dudes, but my favorites were the apple-filled and the classic glazed donuts. These delicious treats were very light and airy, and the sugar glaze had just the right amount of sweetness.

The family really enjoyed the desserts from this simple little shop, just as much as if I would have driven into the city for “big-name” donuts. It’s proof that you don’t have to have the fanciest, most glamorous location or things like trendy décor and unique architecture – your products are what people will come back for.

If you’re in town, stop by and support this local shop. Let somebody else buy the Walmart donuts.

Millington Donuts is located at 7816 US Hwy 51, Millington, TN 38053 (MAP). They’re open Monday – Sunday, 5:00am – 2:00pm or until they run out of donuts. For more info, you can follow them on their Facebook page.

Bryant’s Breakfast – Memphis, TN

 

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Continuing on with a series of posts about my recent weekend trip to Memphis, TN, one of my main desires during my trip was to get together with one of my best friends from my teen years to have breakfast together while I was in town. After doing some research on the best breakfast spots Memphis has to offer, I asked for his opinion on where we should meet up. His response came almost too easily: Bryant’s.

Bryant’s Breakfast is a breakfast institution in Memphis, serving their southern-style breakfasts to the masses since 1968. They are known across Memphis as one of the best places in town to get a true, Southern breakfast – and some claim it’s the ONLY place to go when looking for a morning meal here. I was intrigued as I read the reviews from several online sources…report after report giving praise to this neighborhood diner whose main breakfast attractions are simple combinations of basic eggs, meats, grits, and various griddle carbs. But as I read on and on, it became abundantly clear that two main points were emerging as the things that separate Bryant’s from everybody else…what Bryant’s is best known for – their homemade biscuits and the constant line of hungry people that regularly stretches out the door and into the parking lot.

I needed to check this place out for myself. Could a basic menu of diner breakfast staples really be so spectacular that people stand in lines wrapped around the building for it? Hot chicken in Columbus I can understand, but biscuits and eggs in Memphis??

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We arrived at Bryant’s at around 9:00am on a Saturday morning. Looking back, we probably could have made better choices when it came to scheduling, but I wanted to experience full-fledged Bryant’s-mania running wild (“Whatcha gonna do, brother?”….nevermind). As we arrived, I noticed the line ended just inside the front door, and I was temporarily relieved. My friend David and I, along with my family, stepped inside to find that the line of waiting patrons stretched up one of the side walls, all the way across the front of the shop, and then started  back again, across the counter. I kept reminding myself that the online reviewers warned of this, but insisted that the line moved pretty quickly, and that it would all be worth it. In the photo above, you can see the door where we started all the way to the back right.

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My overall opinion of the interior of Bryant’s was that it was bright, colorful, and very, very congested.  Aside from the line of waiting people weaving in and around the tables, the tables themselves were very close together and tight. There were rows of booths and tables kind of intermingled together, and I could see people having to squeeze together as they sat to eat. This bothered me a little…I’m not a small guy, and I like my space when I eat. I was having a little anxiety about the whole thing. Nonetheless, I kept moving along, trying not to dwell on it. The big windows were nice and helped with making it feel not so claustrophobic inside.

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Approaching the counter, I could see that Bryant’s entire menu was posted on several hanging boards behind the line and above the grill/prep areas. It was separated into egg combos, biscuit sandwiches, “from the Griddle”, etc. I knew, based off of my research, that Bryant’s serves a Sampler Breakfast with three eggs and a piece of every kind of breakfast meat they offer, along with a hash brown patty, grits, biscuits and gravy. I was tempted to go with that, but that seemed like a whole lot of food, and if I was going to be cramped, I didn’t want to be cramped AND full! For more on the Sampler, and to check out Bryant’s entire menu, click HERE. Anyway, back to our visit. Coffee is self-serve as soon as you get up to the counter. You poor yourself a Styrofoam cup full of diner brown…walk past tempting desserts like cobblers, brownies, and iced cinnamon rolls…and end at the register, where you place your order and pay. You then receive a number for your table, and then find yourself a seat. THANKFULLY, we had the presence of mind to have someone grab a seat for us while everyone else stood in line. Honestly, I have to say that the review site folks were right, the line did move pretty quickly.

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Bryant’s sets out a whole lotta options when it comes to the coffee station and condiments. The bad news is that the station is right up against the wall exactly where the line curves around and there’s usually a build-up of people waiting right up against it (honestly, I don’t think there would be any other place to put it). The good news is, somehow, the line sort of extended outward just long enough for us to go dress our coffee, grab forks, napkins and straws, and get back before people were standing in the area we just left. Whew!!

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Our food came out pretty quickly, especially considering the congestion and the sheer number of folks in that dining room. I was impressed. My friend, David, ordered the Philly Omelet ($8.69), which was a big 3-egg beast filled with Philly steak, onions, tomatoes (huh?) and American cheese. All of Bryant’s egg platters come with three – yes, three – homemade biscuits, and a cup of both country gravy and grits on the side. Seriously, how awesome is that?!? David slammed that omelet like it was nobody’s business. He said that it was very, very tasty and filling. It looked pretty huge and its insides looked fresh and plentiful.

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After deciding to pass on the Sampler, I went with the Breakfast Special ($6.69), which is advertised as a Memphis classic! It was a big plate of two eggs (I added a third egg for $1.19 extra), homemade biscuits, grits, country gravy and my choice of breakfast meats. I opted for the thick-cut bacon, but could have also chosen sausage, city ham, smoked sausage, grilled chicken or country fried steak, pork tenderloin or country ham. The eggs were cooked nicely, and the bacon was perfect. As I mentioned before, Bryant’s is famous for their biscuits – people come from miles and miles around for breakfast here, because of them. I found them really good, but not out-of-this-world, to-die-for as was the expectation. They were slightly dense and doughy, yet light and fluffy on the inside. I’ve had a lot of biscuits in my day, and I’d say these are probably in the top 5 I’ve had. The gravy was good. I split two of my biscuits and topped them with gravy, and the third I simply ate with butter. I’m not a fan of grits, so I passed those off onto my buddy. Overall, good stuff.

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My dad wasn’t especially hungry that morning, so he ordered from the a la cart menu – 2 Eggs ($1.19/ea) and a side of sausage ($1.89). Eggs were ordered over easy and came out fine, and the sausage was cooked just right. Simple and yummy.

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Bryant’s Cinnamon Roll French Toast ($6.89) is a big seller, and rightfully so. They slice one of their fluffy cinnamon rolls into three pieces, batter it, drop it on the flat top to fry, and serve topped with a sprinkle of powdered sugar. It’s plated with a dish of fresh strawberries and maple syrup. Pretty basic stuff, but tasty and filling.

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As we finished up and made our way out of the restaurant, I noticed several small tables on the sidewalk out front. This would definitely be the way to go if you were dining by yourself at Bryant’s, or with just one other person. I really like the old, metal lunch boxes which contained napkins and condiments at each table, too!

I liked Bryant’s. I thought it was a cool place that every breakfast fan should probably visit while in Memphis, if for nothing else than just to say you’ve been there. Would I go back? Maybe. Even though the service was great and the prices were good, I found it to be pretty basic diner food that honestly you can find most anywhere. That’s not to say that the food was not good by any means. Everything we had was hot and tasty. They obviously know how to run a successful restaurant, and luckily for Bryant’s, the folks in this area obviously love a good, simple Southern breakfast. But if you’re looking for something fancy, this isn’t the place for you.

If you don’t like crowds of people, this definitely isn’t the place for you. I like people, but the dining room was a little too congested, even for me. It would be the only thing that I would say I didn’t care for about this place, but part of that could have been my fault too, based on the time and day we visited.

Guess that’s why Bryant’s does a heck of a breakfast take-out service too!! :)

Bryant’s Breakfast is located at 3965 Summer Ave, Memphis, TN 38122 (MAP). They’re open Monday, 5:30am – 1:30pm, Wednesday – Saturday, 5:30am – 1:30pm, and Sunday, 7:00am – 2:00pm. For more info, check them out at www.bryantsmemphis.com, or on Facebook, Twitter or TripAdvisor.

Bryant's Breakfast on Urbanspoon

Columbus Craft Beer Week is coming this Friday!!

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In case you haven’t heard already, the inaugural Columbus Craft Beer Week kicks off THIS FRIDAY, May 1st and runs through Saturday, May 9th!! During the week, you’ll have the opportunity to celebrate the wonderful world of Columbus beer at over 200 events that are taking place at local bars, breweries, restaurants and retailers across Central Ohio!! Some of the activities planned for this awesome event include specialty beer releases, tap takeovers, “Keep the Glass” promos, and beer pairing dinners. There will also be unique events like bike tours, art exhibits, video game tournaments, home brew classes, inflatable hot tubs, and much more!!

The week-long event will start with a big kick-off party this Friday at the Market District in Grandview Yard, and will culminate in a HUGE way – with an Ohio beer festival called Six One Pour at historic Brewmaster’s Gate!!

For this event, seven teams of local breweries were paired up and asked to brew collaboration beers. The beers will be available at various locations throughout the week, and will all be available for this Friday’s kick-off party and for Six One Pour next Saturday.

For more info on this week’s upcoming event, activities, partners, and parties, visit www.columbusbeerweek.com, or follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram!!

Also, in conjunction with the weeks activities, The Columbus Ale Trail will launch THIS FRIDAY, rewarding you with FREE STUFF for visiting local breweries!! As part of the program, passports (aka. The Columbus Ale Trail Brew Book) are being launched in association with Experience Columbus, Drink Up Columbus, Columbus Brew Adventures, The Ohio Taproom and Blue Label Digital. With four Brew Book stamps at any four participating breweries, you can get a free pint glass, and with 20 stamps, a free t-shirt!! For more info on The Columbus Ale Trail, follow them on both Twitter and Instagram at @CbusAleTrail.

Don’t miss out on the activities of Columbus Craft Beer Week!! Get out and celebrate the incredible craft beer and breweries of our wonderful city!!

 

Other Meals: El Mezcal – Millington, TN

This past weekend, I hitched a ride with my parents down to Memphis, TN (and surrounding suburbs) to visit with some family members that I hadn’t seen in almost 20 years. This area used to be my teenage-days stomping grounds, from middle school until my senior year in high school, when we moved back to Columbus. I was excited to see my family, but also excited to see the area and how it has changed since I was a kid. As is always the case prior to a road trip, I did a little online research on some of the area eateries, and I had a few places in mind that I thought might be cool to check out, for breakfast and otherwise. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to hit up nearly as many places as I had hoped (darn you, family time!! j/k), but my next few blog posts will feature some of the spots we dined at while we were there.

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We arrived at our hotel after the long 10-hour drive just as dinner-time was approaching, and had to make a decision on where we would grab some grub. Conveniently, there was a restaurant that shares the same parking lot as our hotel, so we decided this would be the best solution to our hunger problems. El Mezcal is a local restaurant chain, with several locations in the Memphis area. There were no frills or gimmicks outside, so I liked it already. Simple, strait-forward “Mexican Restaurant” signage let us know exactly what to expect inside.

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The interior of El Mezcal is pretty comfortable, but not nearly as “ethnic” as many of your typical Mexican restaurants are. There was no distinguishing wall art, no sombreros, no Hispanic music. It was really quite “Applebee’s-ish” in appearance. It could have honestly been any casual family dining place in any suburb. There were a few branded t-shirts hanging over the bar, but that’s it. That being said, El Mezcal was extremely clean and comfy.

El Mezcal’s menu was really large. Five or six plastic-covered pages detailed their appetizers, specialties, combos, drinks, salads, and more. They serve a lot of your standard, “Americanized” Tex-Mex favorites, as well as some authentic dishes too. Our meal started with the usual complimentary chips and salsa, both of which were really fresh and yummy.

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I ordered the Special Dinner ($10.50), which came out on two huge plates. The meal consisted of a Chalupa, chili relleno, an enchilada, a taco, a burrito, Mexican rice and fried beans. Everything was pretty tasty, but my favorite component was the chili relleno, which could have been truly amazing with the addition of a spicy/smoky chili sauce or something similar. The beef, which was featured in all of the major components of the dish, was seasoned really well. Beans and rice were good, too.

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Here’s a shot of the Pollo Noricno ($11.50), which came out on a sizzling hot skillet. It was composed of a grilled chicken breast with plump, grilled shrimp, served with grilled onions and pineapple, and came with three flour tortillas. I tasted the shrimp and chicken together, and both were tender and delicious. I liked the grilled flavors and textures of this dish.

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My pops went with his Mexican restaurant stand-by, the Carnitas Dinner ($10.50). El Mezcal’s version was a huge pile of shredded and coarsely chopped pork, which was roasted with onions and seasonings, and was presented with three flour tortillas, as well as rice and beans. These carnitas were sooo good!! Perfectly cooked, perfectly seasoned, a HUGE portion. I would go back for this!

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Finally, here’s a shot of the Burrito Veloz ($7.50). I actually ate this burrito on our last night in Tennessee, after we returned to our hotel from a full day of family activity. The others opted to skip dinner, so I walked over to El Mezcal and ordered this bad boy to go and ate it back in the room. Because of this, presentation might be a little skewed, but the flavor was still solid. It was a big, 10-inch flour tortilla filled with shredded chicken (or I could have had beef), pico de gallo, jalapenos, lettuce and tomatoes. It was topped with a creamy, but slightly thin queso sauce, and sour cream. Pretty much what you would expect. Nothing out of the ordinary, but enjoyable and filling.

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Wisely, El Mezcal features a nice bar to stay competitive with the happy hour crowd, but also plays to business people who might be in town and staying at the hotel less than fifty yards away. I didn’t get a chance to visit the bar to check out their drafts, but it looked as though they did a good drink business based off of the folks sitting there while we visited.

The old adage of “Location, location, location!” holds true for this El Mezcal restaurant (I’ve never visited the other locations so I can comment on their whereabouts). It doesn’t hurt that they’re so close to a major hotel chain, but honestly it’s their food that will keep people coming back (it did me). Everything we had was pretty tasty, and the portions were big.

We were off to a good start, food-wise, on our trip to the Mid-South. Stay tuned in the next several days for more Southern eats…including upcoming reviews of a Memphis breakfast institution and an old school donut shop!!

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