Food Club: 102
Five years later…
Eighty-two restaurants and we are still meeting.
When this all started, I had no idea how long it would last. I figured it would slowly fall apart like too many of the good things in life that are just based on pure joy. Sleepovers with friends. Field trips. Trick or treating. We get too old or too busy or too responsible. But…Food Club still lives and breathes and chews its way through Columbus.
When I talk about Food Club with non-members, I am asked the same question time and again- “What is your favorite restaurant?”
That is an impossible question that leads to many others including, “What were my last six meals? Has something traumatic happened in the past 24 hours? What is the current weather?”
Let’s just take that last one. The graphic below demonstrates how just the weather may influence what my exact “favorite” is at that time:
But back to the meetings…
In the past couple years we lost a few favorites. One of the toughest for me personally was Knead, a fantastic modern diner that offered the Motherclucker sandwich, a buttermilk fried Gerber chicken breast with house-cured bacon, roasted poblano chiles, greens, house made aioli and Amish jack cheese served on a brioche sesame bun. Follow that with the Swoozy Q (a double chocolate cake square with a hefty layer of buttercream in the middle, all coated in chocolate ganache) and I was in heaven. Sadly, Knead closed a couple years back and I have seen no reason to hope they will return. Places like The Eagle, Hot Chicken Takeover, and Chicken Little all offer fantastic options on the chicken front, but none offer the one-two-punch that Knead offered.
Another loss was Betty’s, the site of our First Annual Holiday Feast. Their comfort-food options, cocktail menu, and staff were top-notch, but the ultimate Betty’s experience for me was the Pumpkin Love. A shallow bowl swimming with what I can only describe as a warm pumpkin cobbler perfectly spiced with cinnamon and cloves and topped with whipped cream. I could share a picture here but it doesn’t do the dish justice. This wasn’t a dessert you stared at, it was one you devoured. Rest in peace Pumpkin Love, I miss you every fall.
We are lucky to live in a city that has a strong food scene, when one restaurant closes another will open. I actually worried after the first year that we may run out of fresh new options to try. I have been proven wrong time and again. We may lose a Knead or a Betty’s, but we gain a Nada, a Hadley’s, a Big Room Bar, and a Wolf’s Ridge Brewing.
While we have kept our meetings consistent, I have a bigger goal: Food Club Roadtrip. A plan was created to travel to Cleveland to try out a few specialties. Unfortunately, it was just not meant to be and didn’t come to fruition. That’s okay, it is good to have goals and we will get there.
After over 80 meetings, I have learned some lessons. If you have started or are interested in starting your own club, chances are your membership will change over the years. We have lost members from time to time because Food Club can’t be a priority in their schedule anymore or becomes more of a chore than a pleasure. It is important to me that everyone at the table truly wants to be there, finds joy in it, and looks forward to meetings. If it’s a chore, it’s no longer right for that member. Don’t let a changing membership dampen your dedication.
Another crucial lesson still applies from my first piece Food Club: 101: Be open to other members’ picks! We have visited everything from food trucks to high-end establishments and everything in between. One pick, Pierogi Mountain, is based out of a tiny side kitchen inside Cafe Bourbon Street,
a self-described dive bar near the OSU campus. From the outside you may never guess what is happening in that kitchen: hundreds of handmade pierogies being churned out, stuffed with the traditional fillings (mashed potatoes and cheddar) and the non-traditional (Pork Sausage Reuben, Green Bean Casserole, and Chipotle Butternut Squash). One sample of the chicken paprikash and I was hooked. The best part? On Tuesday they offer pierogies for $1 each. You may not love every pick, but you should at least give each a fair chance to wow you.
Another good idea to try is throwing in a food or drink related activity to keep things interesting. Pairing a meeting with a brewery tasting or movie (such as Chef or Jiro Dreams of Sushi) is a nice way to round out an evening if members have the time and interest. Who doesn’t want to watch these scenes over and over right?
I couldn’t ask for more from my dedicated friends who have stuck with me through this culinary endeavor. The standout meetings (good or bad) are frequently revisited in conversation. We have sat out in the rain with umbrellas to eat nutella-stuffed pancake balls, waited an infuriating 45 minutes for our checks after a two-hour dining experience, and found out that the chicken pot pie we were counting on for holiday dinner had sold out for the day.
So yes, all meetings will not be the perfect meal but they are shared. Over the years, we have celebrated career changes, met potential life partners, come together after losing loved ones, said goodbye to members who are moving their lives, and welcomed them back with open arms. I think we all know this is about more than food, it is about friendship, breaking bread, over-ordering and splitting plates. As Cesar Chavez said, “the people who give you their food give you their heart.”
We had five attendees at our first meeting on January 7, 2012. Three of us are still members. We have gained and lost throughout the years but are sitting comfortably at nine members and have no end in sight. See you at #100, I can’t wait to get there.
Carrie Levicki lives in Columbus, Ohio with her husband Bill and her rabbit Woodruff Wilson. Read Carrie’s other food article: Food Club 101.