Burger Tour 2012: The Case Against Gahanna Grill

I’m tempted to contact Motz, the inspiration for my burger tour, and have him remove the Beanie Burger from his list of America’s Best after my excruciatingly underwhelming visit to the Gahanna Grill. Make no mistake, this institution in the idyllic burg of Columbus proudly lets the world know they are on that list (being in that location since 1939), but what occurred inside is nothing to be proud of. I’d almost say they should be ashamed to advertise as such. The Gahanna Grill is not as rustic as Johnny’s, historic as Thurman’s, or classically dive as O’Reilly’s – the small town pub vibe was only accented by a couple of afternoon drunks and one too many shamrocks dotting the walls. The service and atmosphere was completely passable, but the food was hard to choke down. 

I’d come for the “famed” Beanie Burger and ordered without hesitation, to which I was prompted “medium well,” and I was agreeable with this standard. I came to find out that “medium well” meant that these burgers weren’t made to order. The tasteless atrocity that arrived was brought to me less than three minutes from sitting down at the bar. The Beanie is the usual pub style burger – now replicated to better effect by chains like 5 Guys and Graffiti – piled with bacon, cheap American cheese, grilled onions, and the average dressing of lettuce and tomato. It looked intimidating, but as soon as I lifted the bun I could see the grayish hue of the burger and was somewhat scared to dive in. The kicker with the Beanie is the addition of a “house made” slaw. I was intrigued – and tried a bite of the side of slaw that comes with each burger. I’ve had better slaw at Captain D’s, it does nothing to help the Beanie. As sated previously, the Beanie was impossible to choke down and I couldn’t finish it. Should it have tasted better, I would have certainly been able to tackle this monstrosity, but as it was, I couldn’t bear any more after a few bites. It was that bad. Top that off with cold, downright awful side of fries, and I was embarrassed to even think about complaining, kindly paid my bill, and left promptly. Perhaps I caught them at a bad time? Perhaps the best days of Gahanna Grille are long gone? All I can relay is that this IS NOT a worthy burger. And even if it’s in spitting distance of Columbusites who might read here – you’re better off going to Rally’s – for serious. UGH. 

Why Haley Reinhart's "Free" Exists...

No -- I'm certainly not advertising that Haley Reinhart's debut single "Free," should replace the ubiquitous pleasures of Carly Rae Jespen's brilliant "Call Me Maybe" as this years first summer jam (no need for me to expound about that song here) -- but it deserves plenty of merit as a breezy counter to the urban strings and bubblegum splash of Carly. I'm a American Idol apologist. Just look through reams of past posts and you'll see my quick odes to past contestants. This year was a struggle for the show and I'm tempted to never watch again (Jessica Sanchez wuz robbed), but last year, even though froggy Scott McCreary won due to the Red State vote, was full of outstanding performances. Ms. Reinhart came in third-place. She was portrayed as the bitchy villain, the one who really had all of the talent but was snubbed for her confidence (mistakenly perceived as attitude). Now, a full year later, she emerges with that same talent and some very astute handlers in her corner. "Free" is extremely hard to place. Above we see the stunning Reinhart vamping as vintage pin-up, lounging in the beach, and soaking in the sun. But "Free" is more set-piece, a bit Broadway, a bit Nelly Furtado, pure pop pomp with a twinkling piano adding faux-hokum as if she's inches from being the next Adele or Duffy (whatever happened to?). It's dramatic and mindless at the same time, as if she can hang with Kelly Clarkson and Arcade Fire at the same after-party. I'm not entirely convinced that Reinhart will succeed, as this is just as much an anomaly as one can find on the pop charts, but it definitely has potential and fits perfectly on that mixtape you're dying to make before the first road trip of the season. Poolside for miles. 

Burger Tour 2012: O'Reilly's Pub

O’Reilly’s has been a fixture in the Clintonville/North Campus for many years (just how many I can’t seem to find anywhere on the ‘net) and I’ve always loved the place just because it exists. I’ve been there a number of times in the last decade, but for some reason have never tried the food. It’s truly one of a kind, and the last of a dying breed of perfectly comfortable dive bars. They have a quaint sunken bar, a stacked jukebox, free Galaga, a lively patio, colorful regulars (including the guy I call “teach” cause he looks as if he did his first shot before the last school bell), and as far as I can tell it’s the closest thing to a Cincinnati Reds-friendly establishment as I can find (tell me if I’m wrong). 

I’ve always wondered why the barkeeps push the menu on you even if you’re just having a cheap draft during happy hour. Now, after trying a handful of Pepper Burgers over the last few months, I know why. I’m not entirely sure what makes the Pepper Burger so good – maybe it’s the attention to the cheese, the pre-grill recipe, the bun, the just-right size of the patty – but it has quickly surpassed any other burger I’ve had in this city (yes, it’s heads and shoulders above the mighty Thurman). There are a lot of pub-style burgers that boast some kind of quirk (i.e. the Gahanna Grille's Beanie Burger includes slaw) and in most instances those quirks need to be perfected to make or break the burger. Hearing about the Pepper Burger, I'd always imagined that the pepper might just be too much -- but that's far from the truth. The "pepper" of the Pepper Burger adds a satisfying crispness to this sandwich, they use a modest amount of spice in the pre-grilling stages that will never overwhelm the taste of the quality beef used here. And the toppings on the Pepper are not used to mask any inadequacies, they are there to compliment an already formidable burger. There's the standard LTO dressing, pickle chips, both provolone and pepperjack cheese (perhaps this is what makes the burger?), and a small portion of bacon. 

All told -- by reading here you'll find that that in the most unassuming locations, you'll likely find the best food. The Pepper Burger, which must have an origin story that needs to be told, is simple and common in it's creation, but a symphony of flavors when tried. Easily the best burger in this city. And though it doesn't rank as high as Crabill's or the Wagon, it sits high in the hierarchy of the Ohio burger.


Connections on Your Stereo

Now that I'm invested in a tirelessly inspiring new band, I'm sure the lackluster effort I put into updating this here blog will decrease even more. But it's fully worth it -- for my health and yours. I will however certainly be adding to the burger files and updating you on all things Connections -- that new band I've been talking about. There have been multiple versions of what Connections has sounded like over the last 2 years, countless songs on countless discs, but those are all gone now. The three shows we are playing in Columbus should show how much things have evolved since Gold Circle (apologies to the aggro Kent band who was somewhat upset we were using that name, oh well -- was my favorite department store). Recordings are in the the works -- but for now we kick off Young Professional Band Appreciation Week in Columbus with a special mix for all of you. No track list and no texting on the dancefloor.

Knockin' on Kevin's Door

I'm writing this in shaming myself for not going to "take-in" the new incarnation of Pink Reason for the third time last night. My mistake, but it was a school night. Still, what's become of Kevin Failure and Pink Reason is inspiring -- word of mouth reviews compares the new band to the Stones (I feel it can be achieved). And now, Mr. Failure lives right around the corner -- so seeing his constant shifts in full sight is something the denizens should not take for granted. One of those shifts is going from the moody immersion of his long players to the out-there concepts of his singles. The next chapter, or better yet footnote as chapters are heavier, is the Negative Guest List Jukebox Single recently released on Disordered. My review will sum up my agreeable thoughts on this anomaly. Anomaly, because the first side is chopped and screwed by Matt Horseshit and himself, giving the increasingly bizarre influence of dub more weight in today's world. Don't doubt out a whole album of this remixology. It's the b-side though that stuns. Failure and band's turn on Dylan is a stroke of genius because it fits Failure's strengths as an artist and performer like an airtight bio-hazard glove. Spooky in the recording's capture of such a pure moment. Find this. Wish I could post it here. For now, what I'm convinced is perhaps the 21st century's finest punk take:

The Heidelberg Project

The Heidelberg Project is only a short jaunt outside of downtown Detroit. Don't be wary of the neighborhood as there's really no one living in the blocks surrounding this treasure. Read up and enjoy, it will likely take you a good hour to enjoy. Three if you want to get close, discover every little idiosyncrasy of this living, breathing, art project. I'm amazed at all of the many flowers growing out of the rubble in this city. This is certainly indicative of Detroit's rise and a keystone to the city's modern landmarks.

More photos after the jump.

Telway is Detroit :: Detroit is Telway

First off, the name alone wins points in this battle. The day we rolled into Detroit, past miles of wasteland, with plenty of bright spots showing a healthier, inventive, urban future, there was a wait for burgers, not because anyone wanted them, but because the line out the door was for their coffee. Everyone was ordering "double doubles," "single doubles" and the occasional "triple triple" in referring to how they liked their cup. Yes, the coffee was great as well, much in the way White Castle coffee has that discernible comforting flavor you can't find anywhere else. White Castle was also the link that brought me to Telway at 10 in the morning, as it was described as "a mom and pop version" that late night palace of burger. Never underestimate the attempt to make a slider, even if it is White Castle. Telway know what they are dealing with when it comes to being economically and aesthetically "stuck in time." Even the wait staff seemed untouched, as if we were in nowhere Kansas.  

As you can see, 4 burgers cost you $2.25, and I'm pretty sure that's under the line at a White Castle these days. That said, I'm old enough to remember when White Castle's were a quarter and we'd drive 20 miles to get one. So Telway has grown with inflation, but still remains a gem of a cheap meal. The interior reminded me a lot of K's in Troy -- with the white tin walls and red text everywhere, a spotless small counter -- only this was in the middle of a warzone and not an idyllic downtown square. 

I can honestly say these are better than the iconic slider, even if they're missing key elements and are actually less of a patty than a White Castle. It's possible. The burgers were fresh with just the right amount of grease claiming the bun, and the standard onions and mustard giving off the usual slider musk. Perfectly dive and perfectly cooked. I could have probably eaten another four. But it was apparent it was time for us to leave. Just the institution alone, in operation since 1947, is worth your trip. The original location is likely much safer and resides in suburban Madison Heights. 


Not a Mount Carmel Apologist....?

You should apologize if you've ever made a Blues Hammer reference in reference to Columbus' Mount Carmel. I'm guilty, hope I am forgiven. Seems I've caught some flack for my Agit-Review of Real Women. But I really like it. And with temps in the 70s today, it's the perfect soundtrack. So I suppose I'm not going to apologize again. Maybe it's age. Guess I just have to recline and get used to the kids questioning my tastes. This one is pure rock though. Watch below, ignore the douche headbands.


Burger Tour 2012: The Hamburger Wagon

Steps from the banks of the Great Miami River sit a tiny beacon for all of humanity to sample. That the Hamburger Wagon --  which is just that, a mobile wagon with barely enough room for two burger chefs -- still survives, 7 days a week, rain or shine or freezing temperatures, is yet another testament to the quality that exists inside these little wonders. It began in 1913 after the great flood of the Great Miami and Miamisburg, as sustenance for a camp of survivors, and it remains, recipe untouched, in the small center of town. Quite easy to miss. They serve nothing else - just singles and doubles, save some bags of chips and cooler of soda. These are sliders in the best sense, served with nothing but pickles and onions, no slop of ketchup or mustard to get in the way of the taste. 

What is superior about the Hamburger Wagon's deliciousness is the absence of slop, and the fact that they are lightly fried in their a pan of grease that may or may not have been handed down for generations. It's a nice and easy assembly line from pan to bun, ready to go, even a handy chart pricing multiple burgers makes the transaction smooth, since you'll be needing to know how much 10 or so are. The fry gives it a crunchy texture unlike any other burger I've tried so far. It's a blissful little crust, lightly salted and peppered, with no indication these are overcooked. I might have trouble picking a champ were I to have Crabill's and HW in dueling hands, but for now, The Hamburger Wagon sits slightly below, if only for their lack of a counter to enjoy multiples. Hamburger Heaven.


Chi-Ali: The Native Tongue's Native Son

While I loved every minute of the Tribe Called Quest documentary, Beats, Rhymes and Life -- the best thing about the film was re-discovering the Native Tongue family, and the mini-revolution they started among late '80s/early '90s hip-hop. We've already talked about Monie Love -- an anomaly to the group, so next in line is the strange case of Chi Ali, or the Fabulous Chi-Ali. In the present, not that fab, as he admits in a recent mini-doc about his life, that 30 seconds and a gun charge changed everything. He's now in, or just recently released from, Sing Sing prison. But way back, with "Age Ain't Nothing But a Number," he was a young, budding, rapper with the instant cred of the Native Tongue in his arsenal. He couldn't have been a day over 13 when he debuted. By the time the record came out, he had aged, you can hear it in his voice going from "Roadrunner" and onto "Funky Lemonade." But to me, he was part of my crew -- as a tween mutant, I thought I was in my own rap crew (Teenage Soldiers, where's Shane Darner when you need his craps table).

In retrospect, besides the single, The Fabulous Chi-Ali is a highly inconsistent record. He started becoming more sophisto in aforementioned follow-ups on the album. Still, the Beatnuts produced, "Let the Horns Blow," is worth seeking out. It was the essential posse cut, involving Dove of the Jungle Bros., Phife of Tribe, and Dres from Black Sheep, and displays young Chi as a triumphant sixth man with the most inspired verse of his short career. Must'a been feeling the energy in the room that day, because after this, Chi had little to offer. A shame, a tragedy, at least he knows his faults. 

Burger Tour 2012: Crabill's Holds the Secret

For the time being, I think I’ve found Ohio’s best burger – trumping all burgers in all categories. And for that reason alone, I’ve decided to ditch the metric for which I was determining how I arrived at a certain (mostly arbitrary) number to rank these burgers. Logic should dictate that if the burger is good, so are the accompaniments, the setting, and need to travel wherever it is you need to go to experience said burger. Crabill’s is certainly off the beaten path, but extremely worth the time it takes to journey to Urbana. For generations, existing in one form or another since 1927, it has been the centerpiece of the small Ohio town. That’s not even including the Mumford Potato Chip Company, who have been making the most delectable kettle cooked chips in the country since 1932 – which by the way are the only extras you get at Crabill’s besides home-baked pie. Oh, and they’ve just added ketchup in 1990. Talk about traditions.

I’ve kept Crabill’s in my back pocket for a while now, and I feel I have to apologize. It’s the go-to for anyone who wants to know the secret to the best Ohio burger. Arguably, the Sidney Maid-Rite may have the taste – but it’s not really a burger. Crabill’s make sliders, but sliders only because they are small. Encountering Crabill’s came at the very end of our Western Ohio, and it was so beyond the competition of the day, I didn’t think it should be included. Plus, at that point we couldn’t truly indulge in Crabill’s earthly delights (the guy who came in directly after us, plopped down and ordered 12 doubles…to start). We were stuffed, in need of exercise and coffee, and about to end with what Matt claimed was the world’s smallest hot fudge sundae (which also exists on the outskirts of Urbana). But what we did indulge in was enough to rule this burger the supreme stop of our trip. It was simple – a eight seat counter, with a grill directly to the left of that, and barely enough room to order if the place was at capacity. No plates or cutlery, just a piece of wax paper and some napkins. You have your choice of single or double – with or without the customary onions and brown mustard. Bliss. Their secret, judging from the link above, is folklore – much like the Maid-Rite (though I’ve seen it duplicated quite well). But it’s the essence of a perfect burger – no frills and no gimmicks – and can challenge anything I’ve tried so far.

The Power of the Swailes' Road Floating Cube

What does it all mean? Can locals inform me if this spins at night, year-round, and not just during the holidays? I should know more about this strange, mysterious, Troy, Ohio, USA landmark. What does it all mean?


W.O.W. Top Film of 2011

A tad late, sure. But I've spent the last two months holed up, catching up, with just about any film anybody said was worth your time in 2011. I've even started a film journal -- extra geeky, but it will come in handy next year. With minutes until this year's Oscars, there are a number of films I have yet to see like Melancholia (which would probably make this list) and the Artist (probably too precious, which is why it will win mucho trophy tonight), or fully digest, like Tree of Life. I actually think, though this will be one of the weakest Oscars in years, there was a lot to dig through and appreciate -- which is why I'll have a Special Consideration post in the coming days. All of the following films from 2011 are highly recommended viewings, but don't take my word for it. Click on the titles to see the trailers. Enjoy.

Herzog's first foray into three dimensions seems pretty obvious once you actually get into the caves. This is a film that is not for the meek. His choice to use 3-D throughout this entire documentary is daunting, as helmet cams and rough terrain do not translate well into this realm -- headaches and vertigo may consume 20 minutes into it. But once the space opens up, and long, long, long, shots of the cave walls take over, it's somewhat magical and meditative. Herzog knew this, that's probably why the torture takes place throughout the beginning -- to challenge you before seeing this ancient spectacle and convince you this is first example of modern art (and in his theory the first example of film) and the intelligence of man. As far as cinema goes, this, like my favorite film of the year, uses three dimensions as a ultimatum to make you go back to the theaters. 

dir. Woody Allen

The first time through Midnight in Paris, I dismissed it as Woody Allen using a bit too much imagination. I hated all of the overblown, and very literal, performances in Owen Wilson's hallucination of 1920's Paris. Of course Wilson is made for the Allen protagonist -- but it seemed he was bumbling through a wax museum and his whimsy was too much to accept. Then I watched it again, with a better mood, and decided to play along. Even if it wants to indulge the viewer in history and deep thought, this is truly Woody Allen's best use of location since Radio Days and Manhattan -- Paris is the protagonist, dealing with an identity crisis, but beautiful and mysterious nonetheless. It's Allen's wanderlust swallowing the city and weaving these "easy" characters through it, which makes this "easy" viewing, perhaps that's why it was his highest grossing movie ever. He deserves the Oscar for direction, but his snubs will likely rule him out. 

dir. T. Sean Durkin

The debut from both director T. Sean Durkin and actress Elizabeth Olsen is this year's Winter's Bone in my estimation. It's also the year's best psychological drama. I prefer to not give away much of what's being done here. Another example of thoughtful duality in the mind of the main character (see Take Shelter), and the blurred lines between reality and dreams. Plus you get John Hawkes as the cretin commune alpha (a performance that demanded at least a nomination), wielding an acoustic guitar and toying Manson-esque with the will of his people. Just as scary as any horror film released in the last five years, sans the horror. 

dir. James Bobin

If you told me to buy in on a Muppets re-boot this year, I'd say don't ruin my childhood psyche. Thankfully, and faithfully, Jason Segel and director James Bobin included everything that would make a great Muppet re-boot and then some, using humor (not a toilet joke in the bunch, if you don't count Fozzie's fart shoes) that embraces the simplicity of the earliest Muppets shows with an expert update -- which also cements that this version won't soon become outdated. Seeing Kermit lonely in a mansion with his '80s robot, convinced me this was no ordinary song and dance. And the jokes, and excellent obscuro Muppet references, keep coming throughout. The music, my least favorite element of Muppet movies, is perhaps the best the franchise has seen. Extremely well done. It's hard to be critical of a movie this joyous. 

dir. Asif Kapadia

Whether you know a single thing about Formula 1 racing -- this is the most intriguing documentary in a stellar year of documentaries. Aryton Senna is a saint in his native Brazil -- where the sport is second only to futbol. -- and again, the duality of the terrestrial and the supernatural exist in this detailed portrait of Senna's life. His is a very complex story, with villains and angry mobs, a whole country singing at his feet, and a tragedy as dramatic as any Shakespearean play. 

dir. Lee Chang-Dong

From Korea, and originally released there in 2010, Poetry is as simple as it's title suggests. This is something Terrence Malik should sit down with before entertaining the notions of boring audiences to sleep with extended scenes of nature and the creation of the universe. Chang-Dong shows it in slight observations of the world surrounding the unnamed, octogenarian at the film's center. We don't learn much about her, other than she's in the pre-stages of dementia, she's searching for her poetic inspiration, and she's faced with a very serious decision concerning her lethargic grandson (of whom she is the guardian). But there is so much life in Yun Junghee's performance, that you feel her every emotion, her every thought, and want nothing more than for her victory over the immeasurable odds which she must face. It may reek of art house boredom in the early going, but unravels into a story that's hard to stop immersing yourself in. 

dir. Jeff Nichols

First, if you haven't seen Nichols' debut, Shotgun Stories, start there. Then you'll be fully aware of Nichols' deliberately tense pacing in his sophomore effort, Take Shelter. The film is yet another glimpse into the myths and beliefs of rural American life -- where somewhere in the middle of nowhere Ohio, Micheal Shannon's idyllic small-town family plan is thwarted by the oncoming apocalypse. Is it real or all in his head? Again, another film where this duality that confronts the audience. Who do we side with? This could have easily starred Nicholas Cage, and be made with a mega-budget, and then tanked -- but instead it's earnest, and slow, and mostly free of special effects (they are needed when they show up.....). Shannon, completely snubbed for this studied role, is an enigma of a character, never really in need of approval or dissecting -- you either believe him or you don't. 

dir. Ashgar Farhadi

The Iranian A Separation, shows quotidian tales of he said/she said are universal no matter what context or culture you drop them into. Here, though there are very strict rules regarding the male and the female in marriage, there is a divorce (a very modern concept) in making as the rising action of the plot takes place. A Separation is another chamber-drama that leaves a lot to the imagination and perceptions of it's audience -- and ends in some stunning revelations which can't be revealed here. 

dir. Nicholas Winding Refn

As slick and cool as Drive exhales onto the screen, it's also methodical and complex behind the scenes in exposing Ryan Gosling's character as one that isn't as hollow and expendable as he's portrayed. His stunt-driver, who goes unnamed, is the year's best anti-hero, in a year where there a lot of these types, and though he's just as gnarly and unkempt morally as the people who sponsor him, you're rooting for him to prevail. Combining a highly stylized soundtrack with the backdrop of a neon-noir Los Angeles at dusk, it's a Grand Theft Auto video-game played pitch-perfect and transformed into cinematic high-art. 

dir. Martin Scorsese

While the Artist is stealing all the thunder, continually heralded as this year's grand tribute to silent film and the sole reason audiences should return to the theater to consume their movies, Hugo, unfortunately, lags behind as an afterthought (my theory is the public is confusing it with Tin Tin?). Nothing is further from the truth. Though I can't speak for the Artist (again, looks too precious, but I'll get around to it), Hugo should stand as a landmark of cinema, a turning point for 3-D, and among one of Scrorsese's myraid masterstrokes. The entire experience is all about the experience -- piecing back together a lost automaton, re-discovering the wonder of film (via Georges Milies, here wonderfully played by Ben Kingsley), the labyrinthine train station overlooking picturesque Paris, the expertly choreographed humor from Sacha Baron Cohen -- and not seeing this in all three glorious three dimensions, displayed upon a widescreen theater is doing Hugo a huge-o disservice. It's been a while since I've felt like a kid in my seat, constantly in awe of what I was watching -- though it will delight both curious adult and the anxious child in all of us. This will be an film we'll be taking future generation to witness.


2011: Columbus' Stellar Year

Yeah. It's cool. I'll always play the "homer" card and rep Columbus above all other "scenes" in America and the world. If you were to never leave the I-270 corridor, you could still grow up hep, maybe even more hip than if you left and abandoned your roots in some soul-less megalopolis. Don't change. Stay here. Plant the seeds and keep watching them grow. This is simply a list of notable records that came solely from this city. Oldies, newbies, and for the most part, great peoples. I could probably name another 5 releases that pricked up my ears this year -- but this is the best of the best. Go buy, go listen.

Psychedelic Horseshit - Laced (Fatcat) 
>>>> Wrote some words on this here. <<<<

Envelope and Jacoti Sommes - This Could Go Either Way EP
>>>> Wrote some words on the record here. <<<<

Psandwich - Northren Psych (CDR)
>>>> Tempted to call them the best live band in town right now. This could've gone either way as well, but it turned out to be the psych garage record of the year, packed with everything that has put Columbus' brand of outsider punk and loaded with new dimensions Ron House sounds spryly surprised to encounter. <<<<

Moon High - Six Suns (self-released)
>>>> Seems this town is rancid with Appalachian art/alt-folk bands -- it's hard to keep them apart. Burn the violins I say. Moon High might get lost in some of those affectations, but keep it quaint and deceptively stoned enough to feel the songs. Good songs, that's all that matter .<<<<

EYE - Center of the Sun (self-released)
>>>>Wrote some words here. Rumor has it, Center of the Sun is soon to be released (on vinyl) on a reputable national label. <<<<

Cheater Slicks - Gutteral: Live 2010 (CDR)
>>>> Wow. The Slicks are more productive now than then and that's indicative of how much they are coveted by the cognoscenti of high/low art in Columbus. Australians would travel to Bourbon St. just to see this once, we get them once a month. Appreciate every moment. <<<<

Times New Viking - Dancer Equired (Merge)
>>>> I have nothing to say. I've said enough. In a lot of ways, TNV are done shouting, now reflecting, and soon to build a whole new temple to barbed pop and guitars. This is a nice breath before moving on.Their most realized record to date. <<<<

>>>> Mr. John Olexovitch would probably hate me if I called the Lindsay the Smashing Pumpkins of the Columbus family. Well they are. Olexovitch is nothing like Billy Corgan, but this band's riffs mirror those of alternative nation -- and that in itself is an alternative to what goes on in the dives. Every time they play, they explore, and what they do sonically gets bigger and bigger.Stadium rock for the thinking man on a budget.<<<<

Another Unnecessary Unholy Two Gif

If you're in one of the many scenes holding benefit concerts for the Letha Melchior Rodman Cancer Fund, you should probably go (as well as buy as much Dan Melchior music and art as you can) -- as it may just result in a historic occasion. Alright, so maybe history wasn't made, but in this young year, and in a Columbus that can't seem to rouse itself out of a winter mentality (even when there isn't a winter), it was quite a magical night. The call to help the Melchiors was first made by El Jesus De Magico (read my recent interview with the band here), who decided to "reunite" or simply jam for the cause -- then came the call for support. I'm not going to go into details, but between Psandwich, a seemingly reinvigorated Guinea Worms, a transcendent voyage from El Jesus, and a nihilist (not to mention sonically controversial) nightcap from the Unholy Two, it was the finest Friday of music I've seen in this city in quite some time. Of course, these are all bands/dudes/friends I've believed in for years, but for some reason this gathering went above and beyond.

 Don't believe me? Thanks to the thankless efforts of Mr. Sperry you can find all of that night's sets right here. I suggest listening to that January 27th in full -- to get the full effect. Keep it up Columbus.


The Western Ohio Burger Tour 2011

I was tempted to make either passports or merit badges for the inaugural Western Ohio Burger Tour. For this trip, which we completed in less than 8 hours, I suggested eating four regional burger champs. That may have proved to be too much by the end of the day, but we persevered and made it home safe and bloated. Again, inspired by Motz’s Hamburger USA trek, I knew one could experience an enriching staycation just visiting the burger meccas that lie along Interstate 75 in Western Ohio. The fourth burger (more in a future post) was a delightful detour off the beaten path. So for this post, we’ll stick with the first three, mostly for their aesthetic similarities.

 The first three all fit a common theme. They all sat a mile or two from I-75 (an artery of the rust belt and half of America’s crossroads, along with I-70). They all started (we hit the original locations) in the county seat, at the absolute center of town, usually adjacent the courthouse. They were all emblematic of small town America, cultural institutions embedded in the fabric of these communities. They all have their men’s rooms situated on the outside of the restaurant (anyone know the reason for this?) There’s a reason they’ve all survived and stood the test of time – they provide a wholesome regional identity with their product and a tangible link to the past. It’s something that goes beyond nostalgia -- each place is a living, breathing, reminder. Between Wilson’s, Kewpee, and The Spot, who has claim to the best burger and the best place in which to enjoy that burger?

Atmosphere: I’m probably in the minority here, but I felt Findlay, Ohio had a bit too much of a Pleasantville feel to it. Giant houses lined Main St. all draped in jingo-Americana, some even had massive dollhouses of those house in the grand windows. I thought this was the rust belt, but you wouldn’t know it cruising into downtown. The location was almost too clean, too polished, to indicative of small town America. Almost as if it was forced. Surrounded by windows were orange stools surrounding an open kitchen and typical burger joint counter – all too typical. I suppose that’s my only argument of Wilson’s. Everything seemed quaint enough, but something seemed awry. I just can’t put my finger on it.


Burger: Rumor has it that Wilson’s became Wilson’s because Wilson didn’t want to purchase a Kewpee franchise. So he tweaked the recipe (using mayo instead of Miracle Whip) and opened his Sandwich Shop. It’s still hard to mess with Wilson’s variation on what we’ve found to be the standard Ohio square hamburg (look to your nearest Wendy’s). It’s nothing fancy – the burger, with “everything,” includes tomato, onion, lettuce, a slice of American cheese, off a flattop grill. Perfection, really.


Hype: I can put my finger on that something that seemed awry. They were awfully suspect of strangers and the insider’s guide to ordering a Wilson’s burger killed our initial buzz for Wilson’s. It’s uppity in a way – and didn’t have the underdog status vs. Kewpee that one would think. All of that said, the burger is more than worth your visit, if only to say you’ve tried both for comparison.


Atmosphere: What we loved about Lima is how it was the antithesis of Findlay. The city was pretty gnar/gnar and has seen much better days. Kooler’s, which looked like the most happening abandoned train station turned bar, had long closed up, but three Kewpee’s outposts (including the original downtown location) remain as thriving businesses. And though that downtown was grimy and plain, half shut-down, there was a bustling line through the drive-in at the tiny diner. It had the essential qualities of an old-school burger joint (perhaps because it defined those qualities) and nothing has changed – lots of chrome and kitsch, an impeccable logo/mascot, a compact, steaming, visible kitchen, swinging doors, huge malts, and a staff that was equally accommodating and aging. Priceless. 


Burger: Maybe it was the character of the place, but it was the best food on our trip. Maybe it was the tang of the Miracle Whip that gave the burger a distinct sweeter flavor? Kewpee was the first to use the flat bun, the first to offer the “deluxe” burger (wit’ tomato, lettuce, onions, cheese), and it shows. The “mity nice hamburger” which “caters to all folks” is the blueprint for burgers across the Midwest.


Hype: The chain originated in Flint, Michigan in 1923 and has longed been known to serve as the inspiration for Dave Thomas’ Wendy’s burger. Eventually the franchise moved headquarters to Lima – and now this location is the longest still in operation. You want more firsts? Kewpee founder Samuel V. Bair was also the first to introduce curbside service, which eventually morphed into the modern day drive-thru. So pairing the food with such history – this is the real Ohio burger experience and well worth your time. 


Atmosphere: Though once a chain to serve Shelby and Miami County, the Sidney Spot (previously known as the Spot to Eat) is the only remaining location. It’s been there, at a picturesque corner of downtown Sidney, in one form or another, since 1907. That’s a testament to the brand, the loyalty of Sidney’s citizens, and the durability of a good burger. Though the Spot might be untouched, the excessive displays of nostalgia and ‘50s kitsch and diner-red-leather booths and neon, might have taken from the taste, the experience.


Burger: Still, this was the third stop the day. We needed coffee and walk about the square to keep off the sweats. Cleansed, we tried our best to comply and be objective. The Spot burger is a variation on another classic of the Ohio burger world – namely the Big Boy double decker. There was a “special sauce” (tartar, relish, mayo) and a poppyseed bun sandwiching a somewhat bland thin patty. I certainly prefer Frisch’s. The Spot’s only saving grace on the day was the sheer variety of their diner essentials menu.


Hype: Sidney had the nicest of the three historic downtown districts. We could’ve spent the day just exploring those few blocks. But even that is not worth the trouble to pull off the highway to frequent the Spot when there’s a Kewpee a mere 15 minutes away.