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Tools for Wandering Writers – how to stay productive on the road
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How To Make A Living Writing Short Fiction – can it be done? Yes.
Book Review: Lord of the Flies – all about Ralph and Piggy and Roger
Who Moved My Cheese? – a short review of this short book
How to comfort someone whose mother or father has died – advice for handling this difficult situation
Coping with unemployment – more practical advice for a difficult situation


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Sunday, January 04, 2009

Restaurant Review: The Pub Polaris
The day after Christmas, a restaurant opened at the mall on Polaris Parkway*. It's a new offering from the Tavern Restaurant Group called The Pub Polaris , and it purports to be a replica of an English pub.

Some friends and I tried the place out today, and overall we give it big thumbs-up.

The ambiance is nice and the seating is comfortable, although if they're really trying to maintain the illusion that it's a British bar they might want to put on music other than Kenny G-style lite jazz. The wait staff (none of whom were trying fake British accents, thank God) were pleasant and attentive. Matt described the mini-kilted waitresses as "tall, pale, lithe, and spathic." (Spathic refers to rocks exhibiting good cleavage, so thanks to him I've learned a new word today.)

According to him and Alex, the beer selection at the pub is extremely good, and not overly expensive for a Columbus restaurant. They'll even give you free taster glasses of tap beers if you ask; I had a taste of their Old Speckled Hen ale and it was quite good.

The food was top-notch all the way around. The Cokes were made with cane sugar and not high fructose corn syrup. For appetizers we had chips and curry: long steak-cut potato chips served with dipping cups of yellow and green curries, which were all very tasty. We also got the crab dip, which was made with real cheddar cheese instead of processed cheese and delicious. For my entree, I had the bangers and mash. The sausages were accompanied by an ale-onion gravy that complimented the meat extremely well and also went well with the chive-whipped potatoes and peas and carrots. Gary had the shepherd's pie, and Alex had the fish and chips: he got a single enormous piece of perfectly battered fish atop his fries. Both men report their meals were excellent.

For desert, we tried their Tipsy Laird: slices of fried pound cake over custard, dressed with berries cooked in brandy. It was amazing, but obviously not for anyone even thinking about trying to lose weight.

According to the Tavern Group site, the restaurant is intended to provide "gastropub" fare: British-style bar food turned gourmet. I'd say they've achieved their goal. It's not uncommon for restaurants (especially in the ultra-competitive Columbus market) to open with their A+ cooking game and then let the quality slide as time wears on; I hope this doesn't happen at The Pub.

We'll definitely be back. Price-wise, if you're careful you could probably eat for $10-$15, but if you get drinks you could easily end up racking up a $50 bill (Polaris restaurants in general tend to be on the pricier side). Those who are fish-eating vegetarians will find plenty of meal options, but I don't know if a vegan could find much other than plain fries (assuming they're cooked in veggie oil) and the pub salad to nosh on. People with gluten intolerance should do fine here.

You can call the restaurant at 614.781.7829 but it appears that they don't generally take reservations. If you get there early with a party of six people, you might try asking for the King's Table in the back, though.


* A note on getting to the restaurant: The street address is 1554 Polaris Parkway, Columbus, OH 43240. Mapquest will give you unhelpful directions that will take you to the entrance to the Polaris Mall grounds but not to the actual restaurant. The Pub is hidden from the road, but if you circle the mall until you see the big Barnes and Noble and park nearby, and then walk through the bookstore to the back entrance, you'll see the restaurant right there. This is not to be confused with the other B&N that's across the street in the strip mall that has the Best Buy.

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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Restaurant Review: La Fogata Grill
Yesterday, Gary and I tried out a new restaurant that opened up just a couple of blocks from our house: La Fogata Grill at 1175 Worthington Woods Boulevard, which describes its cuisine as "Authentica Mexicana". We were all kinds of hopeful, because the restaurant that previously occupied the space was La Costa, a seafood-oriented Mexican restaurant that was really damn good and sadly only open from 2002-2005; the space has been empty since they folded.

So, with savory memories of La Costa's mole chicken dancing in my head, we went inside. And were greeted by a smiling blonde waitress standing beside a t-shirt display under glass. Uh oh. Clearly this place was not run by the La Costa folks, and a quick glance at one of the business cards by the cash register confirmed my suspicion. The proprietor is Jeff Rinehart, and this is the third of a citywide chain he's founded.

Restaurants are a hard business to be in, especially in a market with so much competition like the Columbus area. So clearly the La Fogata Grill chain has got something good going on, right? So we took our seats and started browsing the menu.

Let me back up just a minute for a disclaimer: when a Columbus restaurant claims to serve authentic Mexican food, I try not to take these claims very seriously. Really, I do, because I am inevitably disappointed.

I grew up in San Angelo, Texas, which when I was a teenager had no Thai, no Indian, no Korean, no sushi, and the best we had for Italian was an Olive Garden. What we did have were legendary steakhouses like Zentner's, Zentner's Daughter, and the Lowake Steakhouse. And we had a bounty of Mexican restaurants I didn't truly appreciate until I moved to the midwest. Holy mole, does San Angelo have Mexican. There's Fuentes Cafe downtown, and Mejor Que Nada, Henry's, and Rosa's, home of excellent tamales. If a Mexican place lasts in San Angelo, you know that either the food is really, really good, or they've got an exceptional bar. The cuisine is a cardiologist's nightmare all the way around, but you'll die a happy diner.

The Mexican restaurants I grew up with are better described as "Tex-Mex" and will not seem authentic to somebody who grew up in Baja or Mexico City. There's a subjectivity to the whole authenticity thing that I try to set aside in favor of a simpler question: does the food taste good?

When Gary and I have gone out for Mexican since La Costa failed, our default restaurant has been El Acapulco at 7475 Vantage Drive. I suppose El Acapulco serves as our baseline comparison these days; it's not the best Mexican in town, but it's a short drive, tasty, and inexpensive. Foodwise it's probably on par with the local El Vaquero chain.

But I digress. Back to Fogata Grill. Gary and I ordered the deluxe nachos as an appetizer, and for the entrees I got their Plato del Mar (shrimp and scallops in ranchero sauce) and Gary fell off the beef wagon and got a fajita quesadilla. Those three items plus drinks ended up being about $33, which seems par for the course

The first thing we got were the old standby chips and salsa. The chips were tasty, and not too greasy. The salsa was on the thin side and surprisingly hot.

The nachos were piled high with refritos, beef, shredded chicken and lettuce; what they did not have was much cheese. The nachos were tasty, but there was just a bare whisper of melted queso blanco on them.

Gary reported that his quesadilla was also tasty, but once again, it had just a token amount of queso blanco on it; my plato del mar was similarly lacking in cheesiness. I like cheese, and I expect to see it on Mexican dishes that incorporate it. I wondered if the kitchen had run out. We may have to go a second time to see if cheese is still skimpy. If it is, and if you're lactose intolerant, this may be the restaurant for you; it sadly will not be the restaurant for me.

My meal was good. The seafood sauce, rather than being the chili-based sauce I expected, was a kicky tomato sauce that struck me as being more Italian in flavor despite the heat. The shrimp and scallops were plentiful and flavorful. The "Mexican" rice alongside was cooked up with corn, peas, and lima beans -- in short, it was screamingly unauthentic but it was tasty and my favorite part of the dish. The plate also came with some sauteed veggies which I got too full to do more than sample, but they were nicely cooked and attractively presented.

So, in summary, was the food good? Yes. Although the nachos and quesadilla needed more actual cheese, I certainly appreciated the emphasis on meat and vegetables; I've been to more than a few Mexican joints that offer only sad little iceberg salads and overcooked bell peppers, and this place was leagues better than that. If you're concerned with a healthy diet, you can probably safely eat here as long as you avoid the chips and refritos and other fried items. Was the food authentic? Not so much -- I wish it had been billed as Mexican fusion rather than authentic Mexican, but I may be nitpicking. We'll be giving them another try to see if they might become a new go-to Mexican restaurant.

The restaurant scored well on other measures: the facilities were comfortable and clean, our waitress was attentive without being intrusive, and the food was served very promptly.

For more information about the La Fogata restaurants, visit http://www.lafogatagrill.com/.



June 2009 update: The Worthington location has folded; the Pickerington location remains open for business.

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Sunday, March 26, 2006

Columbus Restaurant Review: Amazon Grill Steak House
May 2008 Update: The Amazon Grill is dead, or at least in a coma ... their website seems to indicate they may reopen, but their phones are disconnected.

This evening, Gary and I tried out a new Brazilian-style steak house that opened near our house recently. It's called the Amazon Grill, and it's located at 245 E. Campus View Boulevard.

It occupies a niche between casual and upscale, serve-yourself buffet and full-service restaurant. Nobody will look twice if you wear sneakers, but it's nice enough to take a first date.

There is no menu -- when you arrive, the hostess will hand you a card; one side indicates that you'd like more food, and the other side indicates that you're full. Keep this on the table to let the wandering cowboy-attired meat runners whether or not your plate needs refilling.

Yes, I just said "meat runner". The cooks grill up a variety of meats -- strip steak, pork ribs, lamb, beef kabobs, chicken, turkey, and chorizo sausage -- on steel spits around an open fire. When a spit of meat is cooked, one of the runners will take a spit and carry it around the room, asking patrons if they'd like to sample what they've got.

So, while a vegetarian can likely get a meal out of the small but well-stocked salad bar, this restaurant definitely caters to carnivores who aren't worried about keeping kosher -- the tasty smoked turkey I had came wrapped in bacon. All the meats I tried were tender and well-seasoned. I didn't sample much of what they had at the salad bar, but at each end they had warmers for hot foods such as meatballs, seasoned rice, fried squid, and fried bananas.

The restaurant is all-you-care-to-eat, and the quality of the food is higher than that of your standard buffet restaurant in Columbus. This is reflected in the price -- dinners, not including drinks, are $22 per person. Expect to spend about $30 per person for dinner, less for lunch, and more if you're having alcohol.

Also, try to sit out in the main dining room -- you're more likely to be seen by the runners than if you sit in the booths off to the side. Gary and I were overlooked for a little while, but once the runners realized we were there, we had plenty of service.

The only letdown was dessert. The flan seemed very average, but cost twice as much as the somewhat-better flan one can get at the little Mexican place on the other side of the shopping center (El Acapulco at 7475 Vantage Drive).

The Amazon Grill is open 7 days a week. Lunch is served 11 am- 2:30 pm Monday through Saturday, and Sunday brunch runs from 10:30 am through 3:00 pm. Dinner is served from 4:30 pm until 9:30 pm (10:30 pm on Friday and Saturday nights).

For those who are more interested in drinking than eating, they do feature a bar that's separate from the dining room. Happy hour runs 3-6 pm every weekday.


Update: Someone pointed me to the universally-negative reviews of this restaurant on AOL CityGuide; it sounds like the restaurant staff didn't have their act together the first couple of weeks after they opened.

The restaurant was maybe 25% full when we arrived late in the evening (close to closing time is usually when buffet food takes a serious downturn). There were plenty of clean plates, and the waitstaff seemed attentive -- we didn't have any more of a plate pileup than I'd expect at a restaurant of this sort. The food was appropriately cooked and seemed on par with what you'd get at midrange steakhouses.

It did take a while for the main-course meat to make the rounds -- this, to me, didn't cause a problem because we were there to chat and weren't concerned about how long we'd be there.

As to it not being authentic Brazilian food -- yes, they likely have a point. Speaking as a person who grew up in Texas, none of the Mexican restaurants I've tried in Columbus have seemed authentic, either; I have yet to find a tamale that I've liked. In general, though, ethnic authenticity is not a big deal to me -- my main interest is, does the food taste good? Last night, it was a "yes". I can't say how the service/food would be if the place was in the weeds, but in retrospect it did seem to me that they were trying to address the criticisms leveled at them in the CityGuide comments.

As always, your mileage may vary. The one night I went to Asian Cuisine, the restaurant was packed to the rafters and my dinner was undercooked and underwhelming, but obviously others have had a far better dining experience because the restaurant is well-respected.

So, it's possible that we hit Amazon Grill on an unusually good night, or they're turning things around. However, it's impossible to know whether this restaurant will continue to improve and survive, or if it will go under as so many restaurants do in this competitive city.

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Monday, February 20, 2006

The Blue Danube

The Blue Danube (or The 'Dube as it's more commonly known) is a wonderful eatery and bar that has been a fixture north of the Ohio State University campus in Columbus, Ohio since 1940.

The excellent jukebox blasts tunes ranging from Johnny Cash to Tom Waits to Massive Attack to ABBA to Bjork to AC/DC. The single pinball machine by the front door is garish. The water- and smoke-stained ceiling tiles are decorated with amateur paintings that are by turns juvenile, funny, and disturbing. The tattooed waiters and waitresses are surly and efficient. The clientelle ranges from young, snotty punks and goths to starving college kids to aging professors and townies.

Everybody in town goes here because the drink selections are good and are served up strong, whether your drug of choice is caffeine or alcohol; people keep coming back because the eats are cheap and range in quality from decent to good.

If it's beer you seek, it's beer you shall find. Give their draft Newcastle a try.

And if it's great greasy plates of savory bar fare your heart desires, you will not be disappointed. Carnivores will be well-pleased by their burger and sandwich selections (be sure to try the Dube Melt, their gyro, or their Reuben). Vegetarians will probably be even more pleased, because the menu has an unusually large variety of meat-free dishes. Try their lentil soup or their hummus platter. If you're short on cash and unconcerned with cholesterol, they also make a delicious grilled cheese sandwich.

One of the main attractions of The 'Dube is the fact that it avidly caters to us night owls. Columbus has a sad lack of late-night dining options; it seems as if the entire downtown rolls up its sidewalks after sundown. But The 'Dube keeps the grills smoking past 2 a.m.

If it's conversation you seek, be aware that they crank up the music pretty loud for the dinner and late-night crowd, so don't sit by the back wall where the speakers are. If you do and you try to talk, you'll be hoarse by the time you leave the restaurant. Better to drink your beer and stuff your face and groove in your own private Idaho and save conversation for the ride home.

The 'Dube is located 2439 N. High Street. To reach it, head up or down I-71 and take the Hudson Street exit west (you'll be turning right onto Hudson if you're heading from the north). Go down Hudson until it intersects with High Street, then hang a right on High. You'll soon see The 'Dube on your left; it's right beside Campus Video.

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Yellow Springs, Ohio

I found Yellow Springs to be a very pleasant, very arty little community. It has about 4,600 residents and is home to Antioch College. Apartment rental and real estate prices are on the high side because so many people working in Dayton want to live in Yellow Springs.

It's also the home-away-from-Hollywood for popular comedian Dave Chappelle, who was spotted there after his 2005 nervous breakdown and flight to South Africa.

The village really reminded me a lot of parts of Bloomington, IN and Portland, Oregon. (Presumably, it would remind me even more of Eugene, Oregon, another city that has been accused of being stuck in the sixties, but I have not been there yet.)

While we were there, we stayed at the Morgan House Bed and Breakfast, which is within walking distance of practically everything you'd want to visit in the town. The location is the major advantage to Morgan House; while it is far less expensive than most B&Bs, it's not ideal if you're looking for a getaway with your significant other. The rooms don't have private bathrooms, and the accomodations are more rustic than romantic. You also can't lock your room when you leave, and although I was assured my belongings would be safe, I still found it a bit offputting.

Yellow Springs' downtown is nice, but it's small, and the village rolls up its sidewalks fairly early; if you're out and about after 8 p.m., the only food you'll be able to find is at the Sunrise Cafe, which looks from the outside like it might be a greasy-spoon type diner but which is a more formal restaurant inside. The food there is good, but perhaps a tad overpriced.

If you're willing to drive a bit north out of town, a very good place to eat (if you're a carnivore) is Young's Jersey Dairy. They offer excellent burgers and real fountain Coca-Cola made with syrup and soda water that taste much better than the bottled kind. The food is fresh and inexpensive.

If you're a book lover, you should check out Dark Star Books while you're there. The front of the shop has a very decent collection of comics and anime; my first impression was that this was entirely a science fiction book shop, but when I went toward the back of the store, I realized most of their stock is used books on a wide variety of subjects.

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Friday, December 14, 2001

Scottie MacBean's Cafe
Scottie MacBean's Cafe is a coffeehouse, roaster, and restaurant at 660 N. High Street in Worthington, Ohio. The cafe was named after a frightened Scottish terrier pup whom owner Robert Haas rescued from a pet store that had gone out of business and abandoned its animals. Founded in 1991 and located on a street of scenic shops and restaurants in the heart of Old Worthington, this cool little restaurant offers:

  • a comfortable, pleasant interior decor with tables and couches and a selection of board games
  • a varied and tasty menu of sandwiches, soups, quiches, salads, and pastries
  • free high-speed Ethernet ports and conveniently-placed electrical sockets at a few tables for us geeks
  • pleasant outdoor tables in the front and a fenced back patio
  • a pet-friendly atmosphere that features amenities like complimentary bowls of water for patron's dogs during the summer months
  • bag-your-own coffee and coffeemaking accessories for sale in the front of the shop
  • live acoustic music on Friday and Saturday nights
  • a variety of beers, wines, and liquors
  • loads of yummy, fresh-roasted coffees and tasty teas, fruit juices and cocoas.


Furthermore, as my housemate stated so eloquently, "It's not %&*#ing Starbucks!" Scottie's is also one of the few quiet, smoke-free-indoors places in Worthington (or elsewhere in the Columbus, Ohio area, really) that stays open even remotely late (on Fridays and Saturdays, they close at midnight). For this and the reasons above, it's my favorite coffee shop and favorite all-round meeting place in town. We used to hold our writers' group meetings there until the group grew too large for the restaurant. It's a great place for that first casual date, too.

The wait staff is friendly, and everything on the menu is good. Their quiches are particularly tasty, though, and that's what I tend to order while I'm there. Their chai is very good, as is their house coffee blend. But their pastries are wonderful, particularly their brownies and cookies.

Scottie's is a great place to grab breakfast (they open at 7 a.m.) but beware that around 8:30 a.m. the place will be completely crowded with kids from the nearby high school working on their sugar/caffeine buzzes before classes start. However, the pre-school crush passes by 9:00, and you can settle in with your coffee and bagel and get a window seat and read your paper, fire up your laptop, or watch passers-by in peace.

Scottie's is just a block south of the intersection of Dublin-Granville Road (Highway 161) and High Street in Worthington. To get to it from the 270 loop, just take the High Street exit south for a couple of miles. If you're heading south, the coffee shop will be on your left side; keep an eye out for the Graeter's Ice Cream shop, because it's right past Scotty's and is a bit more obvious. Scottie's is also catty-corner across the street from the historic Worthington Inn. There is parking behind the building, and you can also park in the Graeter's lot if it's not too crowded. However, take the "tow zone" signs in other nearby lots seriously during business hours, because they will tow you.

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I'm Lucy Snyder. I'm a Worthington, Ohio author and former magazine editor; on this site you'll find my writing as well as features from my husband, novelist Gary A. Braunbeck.

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