Pizza at Ironwood Grill, Plymouth MI

This was our second visit to the Ironwood Grill in Plymouth, Michigan. We enjoyed the food on the first visit and decided to try out their pizza on this visit. We had stopped by the day before this visit, but the wait was an hour so we decided to try our luck elsewhere. We came back the next day and the wait this time was only about 5-10 minutes on a Saturday night, not bad.

The waitress brought our Cokes to the table, but after tasting them we found them to be a bit low on syrup. The server brought back a “test” glass from a different spigot, but it still wasn’t right so she offered that we try something else. I was a bit disappointed at first that they wouldn’t just switch the mix to adjust the amount of syrup coming out, but I gave in and ordered a bottled root beer for the sake of being easy. The root beer was Goose Island brand and was really good. It was almost on par with some of the best homemade root beer I’ve had.

We ordered their BBQ Chicken Pizza and an order of garlic cheese bread. Both were fantastic. The bread came out first with a nice mix of cheeses: cheddar jack, mozzarella, parmesan and muenster. The marinara sauce on the side had good tomato flavor and a nice sweetness which was great with the salt and garlic flavors in the bread. The pizza was served directly on the wooden peel which was a fun touch. The pizza we ordered had the same tasty mix of cheeses that were on the garlic bread, but also had applewood smoked bacon, chicken and a house-made barbecue sauce. It was so good I couldn’t wait to have leftovers for lunch the next day. It was a little on the high-side as far as price ($18.95 for a large pizza), but we had enough leftover between the two of us for two more meals. They refer to their crusts as Neapolitan (which is similar to a thin crust) and Deep Dish. One word of warning, their deep dish the not a traditional deep dish that you may think of, it’s closer to a standard hand-tossed crust available at most pizzerias.

The service was adequate just like the first time we came, but that isn’t what is bringing us back here. The food is really comforting and surprisingly good. If the servers could put in a little more effort to show a smile or that they might actually enjoy working at Ironwood, then this would be more than just a good place to go, it would be a great place to go for dinner.

Cake Nouveau, Ann Arbor, MI

I’m surprised at myself for not having written a review of Cake Nouveau sooner. I’ve been a follower and champion of their cupcakes for a couple of years and they are my hands-down favorite place to get a cupcake in the area. This bakery specializes in fondant wedding cakes, too. They carry four cupcake flavors each week, including their two classic flavors: Vanilla Beany and Chocolate Truffle. The other two cupcakes are always an interesting rotating set of flavors and they also have slices of delicious cake for sale. You may have seen owner, Courtney Clark, compete on TV in a number of Food Network Challenges.

Last week I had a Pomegranate cupcake that was one of the best flavors I’ve had at Cake Nouveau. The pomegranate flavor was intense with its unique notes of berry and citrus with a nice pomegranate “cream” in the center. I also love their Caramelized Banana and Vanilla Beany flavors. Their frosting is always light and airy with a perfect amount of sweetness. So many bakeries use a sickly sweet heavy frosting that just doesn’t jive with me. I also love the denseness of the actual cupcake while still maintaining a moist interior. The balance of light frosting with the texture of the cake is a great textural experience every time.

Cake Nouveau was previously located in Kerrytown near the farmer’s market. I used to make a tradition with a friend of stopping by the farmer’s market, but making a side trip to for a cupcake each time we went. Now that they’ve settled into their new location on Packard next to Morgan and York I really appreciate the ease of parking, not to mention it’s a couple miles closer to where I live! The new space has also given them the room to offer classes and take on more orders. If you haven’t checked out their new store make sure you do soon!

Jeni’s Ice Cream, Columbus, OH

Jeni’s Ice Cream is a must for visitors and locals in Columbus. Every time I’m in town visiting my in-laws for a long weekend I go to one of the Jeni’s locations at least twice. My preferred stop is the one in the Short North because it seems to be less hectic than the one inside North Market, plus it’s open late! They now have five locations in the Columbus area and they distribute to a few outside locations. Lucky for me one of the places that stocks pints of their ice cream isn’t too far away at The Produce Station in Ann Arbor, Michigan, but you’ll pay an arm and a leg here at $10/pint (yes, for a PINT!). It’s much cheaper to get it when you’re in Columbus, or you can order it online, too.

Jeni’s has a signature list of flavors that are available year round along with a rotating choice of seasonal concoctions. They do a great job of selecting local ingredients to make fantastic ice cream flavors for all types of palettes. Most of their selections are a bit more on the unusual side, like Cucumber Sake or Bangkok Peanut, but they have more kid-friendly choice like Honey Vanilla Bean or Belgian Milk Chocolate. They let you sample plenty of flavors before making your final choices and you can mix two or more flavors based on the size you choose.

On one recent visit I tried a scoop of seasonal Ohio Sweet Corn with Black Raspberries on top of my favorite, Gravel Road (a salty caramel flavor with smoked almonds mixed in). Who knew that corn would work so well as an ice cream flavor? I guess Jeni did! The taste of the corn was really pronounced and was great with the natural sweetness of the local black raspberries. The Gravel Road is always rich and smoky sweet with a nice crunchy texture from the almond pieces; I haven’t tired of it yet!

When a friend of mine drove from Akron to meet us this past weekend I told her that she had to be initiated into Jeni’s, she didn’t have a choice. I was proud of her for trying some interesting seasonal flavors like Lemon and Blueberry and Backyard Mint. She wasn’t certain about the combination, but in the end was really happy with how well they complimented each other.

On this visit I tried the Buckeye State seasonal flavor I missed the day before, and on top added the Brown Butter Almond Brittle which I was told went over well with Gravel Road fans. Yum! The Buckeye State was a peanut butter ice cream with chopped dark chocolate pieces throughout. How can you go wrong there? The counter server was absolutely right about the Almond Brittle flavor, definitely a hit with me! It reminded me of a sophisticated version of the Good Humor Toasted Almond ice cream bars from when I was a kid.

I often wish there was an actual Jeni’s Ice Cream store in the Ann Arbor area, but it’s probably safer for my waistline if they keep their locations in the Columbus area. Although, I was happy to hear that they’ll be opening a new location in the Clintonville section of Columbus in the near future which will be just down the street where we visit my in-laws. I’m looking forward to it!

Holy Smoke BBQ (North Market), Columbus, OH

North Market in Columbus has an overwhelming selection of food choices when you’re hungry for lunch. For those familiar with the first floor of Kerrytown Shops in Ann Arbor, North Market is similar, but on a much larger scale. We took an out of town friend here on this visit so I showed her the ropes of how to choose where to eat: always make a loop around the whole market before making a final decision so you don’t miss anything. On this day both my husband and I decided I wanted to try out Holy Smoke BBQ while our friend settled on Indian. The three of us took our food up to the second floor to find a table to enjoy our goods.

I had ordered a beef brisket sandwich which I topped with their sweet barbecue sauce and a side of coleslaw (they had already sold out of their potato salad by the time we ordered at 1pm). The beef had been smoked for more than 15 hours and was very tender. It’s served in a deliciously soft hoagie-type roll. The coleslaw was fine, but nothing to write home about. My husband had also ordered the beef brisket sandwich, but went with the baked beans for the side. They were alright, but a bit on the vinegary side. It seems that Holy Smoke’s talent lies mostly with the meat based on this experience. Maybe their potato salad is an exception since it sold out so early in the day.

I’d give this place a try on another visit. Their BBQ is not the best I’ve had, but the brisket was pretty tasty. I’d like to try the potato salad on the next visit to see if that changes my opinion of the sides.

Northstar Cafe, Columbus, OH

The Northstar Cafe in Coumubus, Ohio is another restaurant that has consistently good food, service and makes an effort to use local ingredients. Their prices are a bit on the high side, but you do get really good food.

After catching a movie we decided to grab a late dinner on the way back. I wasn’t sure if the Beechwold area Northstar would be open after 9pm on a Friday, but we decided to stop by. We got their around 9:45 and they close their doors at 10pm. I was glad we caught them; they didn’t even seem to mind having last minute customers.

We ordered our food at the counter. I got their famous Northstar Burger ($11.50), a veggie burger that is said to convert carnivores, and it truly does. My husband who cringes at the word vegetarian often orders this burger when we come here. It has a very “meaty” consistency that makes you forget your eating a meatless burger. It’s made with organic brown rice, black beans and beets and comes standard with white cheddar, lettuce, tomato, pickle and onion and their Simple Salad on the side. You can also substitute any of their other sides, if you prefer.

I had the standard Simple Salad side which does fit its title. It’s an easy mix of cabbage and salad greens (maybe a bit heavy on the cabbage for those who aren’t a fan), house croutons and the house citrus vinaigrette. It is truly simple, but a nice compliment to the very flavorful burger.

This is another place in Columbus that is a packed house most of the time. You have to fight for an individual table or share “community” tables with strangers. We lucked out by hitting them at the end of the night on the visit and taking our food to go. We didn’t have to wait long for carryout though the tables were mostly empty anyway.

Because the prices are so high here, I’d rather spend my money at a place like Black Creek Bistro, but it’s a nice treat for take-out once in a while.

Dirty Frank’s Hot Dog Palace, Columbus, OH

I generally try to eat a bit on the healthier side. My husband is more of a burger, hot dog and pizza guy. When we go out to eat when we’re in Columbus to visit his family I try and mix it up a bit so we’re both happy. One of the more low brow and less healthy places we went on this visit was a place called Dirty Frank’s Hot Dog Palace in downtown.

My brother-in-law had recommended this bar/restaurant to us before and we decided to give it a try. It’s not quite your typical hot dog joint; they have more than just ketchup, mustard and relish for toppings. The selection ranges from beef brisket to Srirarcha cream cheese and everything in between.

They were packed when we got there around 2:30 on a Friday. We were going to wait for a table, but when two seats at the bar opened we decided to grab them instead.

Although many of their pre-created hot dog combinations sounded pretty good I went for one of their Vienna dogs with BBQ sauce, cheddar and their house made creamy coleslaw. I must have repeated at least four times that the coleslaw was “really good”. It was probably in my top five coleslaws of all time. The dressing was very creamy and lightly sweet with a sour cream flavor. It went perfectly with the BBQ sauce and cheddar. The hot dog itself was rich and meaty with a nice bite to it and a light snap.

I tried fried leeks on the side instead of fries or onion rigns for a change and because I love leeks. It was a mixed bag. The leek pieces that were more broken apart and less of a solid ring had great crunch and a light oniony taste, but the leeks that were still mostly whole had a less desirable texture. If they break up all the leeks before frying them I think they really have something here. They’re a nice change from your typical onion rings.

The place itself is a small restaurant space with limited seating and a bar. It’s very much a college-crowd atmosphere with quirky artsy decor. They only play local music through their speakers, which is kind of cool.

The bartender who took our order was kind enough not to charge us for my husband’s fries because they didn’t come out with our meals and we had to wait another 5 minutes for them. Even so, the prices are pretty cheap so you can get a full meal here for two under $20. They even serve Jeni’s Ice Cream, although Honey Vanilla Bean is the only flavor they carry. I think I can suffer through another high calorie meal here, for the sake of my husband, of course!

Tasi Cafe, Columbus, OH

The Banana Foster’s French Toast at Tasi Cafe in downtown Coumbus is so darn good that it deserves a second review. Well that, and the fact is I couldn’t bring myself to order a different dish when were were in town last week.

This delightful little gem of a cafe is hidden in an alley in downtown Columbus. If you don’t know it’s there you’ll miss it. They serve breakfast and lunch. The breakfast is fabulous and I have yet to try lunch there, but I’m sure it’s just as good. The only trick is to get here early for breakfast because by 8:30 on a weekday the tables are full and the line is out the door. Parking can be tough so you may want to park on High Street and walk over.

I was somehow doubting my choice after ordering the French toast before it arrived, wondering if I should have gone for the caramel roll; which I’ve had the past and it was especially tasty. But, after one bite of this excellent breakfast dish I no longer had any regrets. The caramel flavor of the roll was in the French toast. I’m not sure I noticed that flavor the first time I had this, but I think that’s what makes it so good. The bananas are caramelized and their flavor and caramel syrup fill every bite.

I’m usually a wimp when it comes to enjoying a latte straight up with no sugar added. My particular vice is a caramel latte (seeing a theme here?). Tasi Cafe does not add syrup to their lattes, though they may have mochas. I decided to give a plain latte a shot anyway and add some Sugar in the Raw so I could get my morning caffeine fix. They use Illy espresso and serve the latte in a soup bowl. When it arrived at my table the bowl was piping hot and came with a small spoon. I felt a bit silly sipping my latte off a spoon, but the taste was delicious. I missed the caramel a bit, but it allowed me to really appreciate the quality of the espresso they use. I think the soup bowl, without handles, was their attempt at being modern. I would have preferred they use a cup with a handle so I could drink my coffee the traditional way rather than relying on a utensil as the vehicle, which was a bit awkward. Next time I’ll ask for it in a cup to go.

Well, despite my coffee experience on this trip, we’ll definitely keep coming back. The food is fantastic and the service is really quick. I’ll make a point of stopping for lunch next time sometime after breakfast. I can’t wait to see how their sandwiches and lunch entrees stack up to the first meal of the day here.