Last week, I received an unexpected email from one of Columbus’ premier food writers and local food enthusiasts, Bethia Woolf, inviting me to tag along on one of the exciting tours given by her company, Columbus Food Adventures. A couple months ago, I had the opportunity to take their Meat Lovers Tour, which was exceptionally entertaining and educational…as well as delicious. This time around, they were hitting the streets to sample some of the tastiest food truck grub in the city. I eagerly accepted her generous offer, and readied myself for an afternoon of food truck fun.
Over the past decade, the food truck scene in America has taken off in a major way, and that certainly includes right here in our own city. Taco trucks pretty much started it all, but these days you can find many exceptional culinary geniuses at work behind the wheels of their very own mobile eateries. The food truck industry affords them the opportunity to focus much of their time and energy on preparing and perfecting the foods that they are passionate about, without the distractions of a full-time restaurant. For this reason, many of the food trucks around Columbus stay extremely popular, and with more and more frequency, people are choosing to dine at a truck rather than a sit-down joint. This tour focused on five of the most popular trucks in town, and the cutting-edge chefs behind them.
The Food Truck Tour featured a wide range of cuisines – innovative Korean favorites at Ajumama, a NY deli-inspired menu at Challah!, BBQ at Ray Ray’s Hog Pit, some excellent fried chicken at Mya’s, and some unique Japanese fare at Tokyo Go-Go.
We started our afternoon sampling the often-times spicy, always fresh cuisine at Ajumama. Their Korean street food-inspired menu is meant to be reminiscent of the snack-sized meals you’d find at a street vendor in Seoul. They strive to be as authentic as possible, but often times add a slight American twist to their dishes. Like many food trucks, Ajumama travels frequently to special events and festivals, but most days you can find them parked where we did, in the lot of Four String Brewing on W. 6th St.
Ajumama boasts some high honors in the local food truck scene. Last summer, they were named Best Food Truck Overall at the Columbus Food Truck and Cart Fest downtown, and have earned top honors for Best Sandwich and Best Ethnic Food, respectively.
Chef Laura Lee took a few minutes to speak with us about her culinary background, the history of Ajumama, and the food she serves. She spent several years in the kitchens of local restaurants before traveling to San Diego, and then returning to open her own mobile business. Her passion for this style of food comes from her family influences, and she loves what she does.
We got to sample several items from Ajumama’s menu, and they were all delicious. We started with a slice of Pajeon, which is a traditional, savory pancake mixed with green onions, soybean sprouts, zucchini, sesame-soy chicken and mushrooms. We also tried a Bibim Ball, made with seasoned rice and veggies, panko breaded and deep fried, and topped with sweet & spicy bibim sauce and toasted seaweed. Finally, we sampled a side of their traditional kimchi, which was a bit spicy, a bit sour, and 100% delightful.
Next up, we travelled to the Farmer’s Market at 400 Rich St to find the Jewish deli sandwich truck, Challah! Like Ajumama, Challah also travels frequently to events and businesses, but has recently taken up a semi-regular residence at Seventh Son Brewing Co. Challah takes inspiration from traditional NY-style deli flavors to create an updated menu using seasonal and local products. The truck came to be, simply for the love of the Jewish deli sandwich, and co-owners Catie Randazzo and Shoshanna Gross have proven that this style of food was something Columbus was craving.
After briefly chatting with Catie, we got a chance to try a few of their most popular menu items. We each got two sandwich halves and a full sized, traditional latke with sour cream – a generous sampling to be sure! The first sandwich was their popular smoked whitefish sandwich, which consisted of tender haddock in a horseradish mayonnaise with a braised beet and crispy potato latke on top of that, all cradled between a soft challah roll. Now, honestly, I was a bit timid about trying this sandwich because I had sworn off beets years ago. However, I decided to take one for the team, and I’m glad I did. To my amazement, the flavors were incredibly balanced and the sandwich as a whole was outstanding. The smoky, creamy whitefish, the texture of the latke, and the slightly tangy beet worked amazingly well together. This one is a winner!!
The second sandwich we tried was Shoshi’s Chicken Salad, a scrumptiously rustic, herby chicken salad topped with thin-sliced pickles and red onions, served on that same delicious challah. This was up there with some of the best chicken salad I’ve had (my wife and I consider ourselves amateur chicken salad aficionados). It was creamy, but equally chunky, and exceptionally seasoned. The pickles and onions added a nice crunch, and the roll, of course, was great.
It’s easy to see why Challah has stolen the hearts, and stomachs, of central Ohio. I hear they also serve a roast beef sandwich that is to die for. I’ll be hunting these ladies down next time I’m in the deli sandwich mood for sure.
Our third stop landed us just off of High St, at Ray Ray’s Hog Pit. Located along side the patio at Ace of Cups, Ray Ray’s is probably one of the better known trucks on the tour. In fact, we were there at around 3:00 in the afternoon, and there was a steady line of customers arriving the entire time we ate. Ray Ray’s used to be located a little further north on High St, in the space that is now occupied by Mya’s, but since moving to the new location, it seems as though business has never been better for the mobile BBQ powerhouse.
Ray Ray’s has a pretty sweet set-up, I must say. Owner, James Anderson, spends his weekends smoking brisket and ribs, grilling up chicken like it’s nobody’s business, and making some of the tastiest sauces in the barbecue game, all right there next to the bar and adjacent covered patio, which is littered with picnic tables and other seating options. The smoker he uses is impressive, and just standing and watching him work is mesmerizing.
We got to see him grilling up some succulent chicken and finishing up the glaze on a couple racks of baby-backs when we first arrived. To me, there is not a more mouth-watering, euphoric sight in the known foodie universe, than unbelievably scrumptious-looking meat being licked by flames on a giant grill.
Ray Ray’s was also super generous with their sample portions that day, offering us a meaty rib bone, several slices of tender, smoky brisket, a beautifully char-grilled chicken breast topped with wing sauce and sliced green onions, and a side of their mixed greens, along with two of their house-made sauces – sweet and fresh jalapeno. Everything was cooked perfectly. The meat on the ribs pulled easily from the bone without being overdone, the brisket was tender and had a delicious smoked flavor, the chicken was moist and EXTREMELY tender, and the greens were excellent, too. Many folks crown Ray Ray’s as best BBQ in Columbus, and I’d be inclined to agree (or at least in the top two or three). Just make sure when you visit, you bring plenty of wet wipes!!
Man, I was really getting full at this point.
Our next stop took us just up the street a bit to the parking lot of a little convenience store at the corner of N. High and Pacemont, where Mya’s Fried Chicken has quickly become one of Columbus’ hottest eats. Mya’s became a sensation practically overnight, by capitalizing on Columbus’ lack of authentic, southern-fried chicken options in the area, which has proved very successful. They source their birds from Ohio farms, and all of their product is hormone-free, antibiotic-free and vegetable fed. When we arrived, our group was greeted by Chef Mark Tolentino, and we found a spot a nearby picnic table.
Mya’s offers a simple menu, which allows them to focus on making the freshest possible product every time. Their menu centers around their herbed, honey-drizzled fried chicken, which is fried in small batches, along with their homemade biscuits. The rest of the menu consists of several made-from-scratch sides, and they also run a special or two each week (their chicken & waffles are crazy popular!!)
Mark brought our food to our table and talked a bit about how and why he started Mya’s, and about the preparation and cooking process that goes on every weekend at the truck. Another generous sample was offered, and man, although I was getting full, I wasn’t gonna pass this up. I had eaten at Mya’s before, and knew what a treat we were in for. We each received a beautifully golden-fried chicken wing, drizzled with herbs and honey, a chicken & biscuit slider, and a heaping of smashed potatoes with pan gravy.
The chicken wing was hot and juicy, with the sweetness of the honey perfectly complimenting the herbs and spices of the crispy breading. I hadn’t tried Mya’s chicken & biscuit slider before, but it was just as delicious as everything else I’ve eaten. The biscuit was soft and flaky, with a buttery top, and sandwiched a yet again sweet, perfectly seasoned boneless chicken cutlet. The smashed potatoes were a perfect combination of creamy and lumpy, and the pan gravy, outstanding. In fact, if nobody else had been around, I probably would have licked the container clean!!
For our final stop, we headed over to Brothers Drake Meadery on E. 5th Ave, where Tokyo Go-Go usually parks their truck. We arrived a little earlier than expected, so while the crew was preparing our food, the group stopped into the Meadery to have a drink. I ordered a glass of the Wild Ohio mead, which is a local wildflower honey traditional mead. It was light and delicate, but not without attitude.
Our stop at Tokyo Go-Go was a little confusing, because there was a whole lot going on at the Meadery that day. Aside from regular business, they were also running a meadery tour, and it was just letting out as we were settling in. In addition, we were told that the owner and regular chef of the truck was out of the country, and one of the other cooks was filling in, which was fine. We didn’t get a chance to go over to see the truck or anything, as our food samples were simply brought to us inside of Brothers Drake while we were sitting at the bar, which was ok by us. We sampled two delicate, Gyoza Dumplings, which were house-made with pork filling and a delicious dipping sauce. We also received two Korokke – deep fried potato and cheese balls, topped with tonkatsu mayo sauce. It was a little unusual to see cheese used in an Asian-inspired dish, but they were good, and all of the flavors worked well together. Finally, we were given a sample of their Agedashi Tofu, which is a pair of deep fried tofu portions served with a shitake and enoki mushroom broth. I enjoyed this very much, as the broth was earthy and rich, and the tofu, tender with a slightly crispy exterior. Also, I didn’t catch what the kimchi-like side dish was called, but it was served cold, and was crisp and spicy. It was delightful as well. I can see why Tokyo Go-Go and Brothers Drake have formed their partnership – I can just envision sitting on the patio with friends on a warm Saturday evening, sipping a cold glass of honey mead and dining on some amazing, Japanese-ethnic cuisine. They pair marvelously together.
So…if you’re wondering whether or not you get enough food on a Columbus Food Adventures tour…uh, yeah. I don’t think I ate anything else all night. Seriously though, this tour is a really fantastic time, and a great way to learn about some of the big boys on the Columbus street eats scene. Of course, you don’t have to take the tour to try any of these trucks. I recommend checking them out on Facebook and Twitter, to get more info on their locations, hours of operation and menus. But, if you’re looking for a fun, informative, and delicious way to spend a Saturday afternoon and try ALL FIVE, this tour is the best way to do it. Thanks again, Bethia, for the invite. I enjoyed it, greatly.
Spring is here, folks…Let the food trucking begin!!!