Takoyaki vs. Takoyaki: Fresh Street Be the Victor
When the warm weather arrived again and it was announced that the creators/artisans responsible for the Foodie Cart would no longer be making crepes along the streets of Clintonville and beyond – it sent shockwaves among the Columbus culinary community….or it at least disappointed the handful of faithful who treated their food as manna from the gods. It was soon made clear by the couple that they weren’t quitting in the slightest, they were just moving to a more permanent location, and trying their hand at making takoyaki. Takoyaki is a traditional Japanese street food consisting of pancake balls usually filled with boiled octopus and topped with numerous condiments befitting this taste sensation. Compared to the Bulgagi Cheesesteak crepes I was used to, I thought this might be a hard sell for the Foodie Cart. I’m sure people thought the same when calamari or pork belly started becoming menu staples. Now christened Fresh Street, I had no reason to doubt their prowess on the foodie scene here in Columbus. And in the months following their opening at their High Street location they’ve expanded their menu to include various okonomiyakis, soba, and even flavored “snow cups” (their desserts were always their best kept secret). Again, I can’t stress enough how anything you order from the Fresh Street dynamic duo is sure to be a treat – but for now, if you’ve yet to try the takoyaki, that should be your first order of business.
But in order to compare/contrast I had to try a takoyaki stand that has stood the test of time. Otafuku. This Manhattan closet of a restaurant in the East Village is likely the most authentic takoyaki one can procure in North America – at least on this side of the Mississippi (the west coast Japanese population has been serving up takoyaki for a while now). The Freshstreet duo has taken great pains to make their shed as quaint and charming and convenient as Otafuku. The presentation is the same, six takoyaki balls tucked into a bamboo boat, topped with bonito flakes and an assortment of other choices. At Otafuku I did not get a choice – it was bonito and a hot sauce similar to sriracha. At Fresh Street it’s called “mom sauce” and it comes in addition to things like dried seaweed, wasabi mayonnaise, and kimchee. I love the choices, something that is a trademark of the Foodie Cart/Fresh Street brilliance. It’s a constantly changing course for them, each and every day. Even their take on the traditional takoyaki has been altered to include sausage and veggie options of those lovely fried pancake balls, usually stuffed with octopus. So – in comparison to an “original” such as Otafuku, Fresh Street absolutely rules. Then again, the hometown/accommodating atmosphere the Fresh Street duo can provide in Columbus is also the reason it has not become as standard fare as Otafuku. And if you think you will be missing out on the artistry that came with the crepe making, there’s a dexterity involved in rolling the takoyaki on a custom grill that has to be seen to be believed. This is not something just anyone can do. A must – at least once a week – for anyone who calls this city home.