Under the Table

A chronicle of gastronomic adventures by G.A. Benton

May 3

Dining Ideas For Cinco de Mayo, Knead, Alterna-Mai Tais and an outbreak of Blue Teeth, or, just another weekend in Columbus

I’ve had a bumpy couple of weeks. Don’t ask!

Anyway, I’ll spare you the gories, but suffice it to say—and heed this warning!—a shady youth spent addicted to fancy pastries will come back to haunt you. But prior to this recent excruciating period (of swallowing—almost exclusively—smoothies, soups, and pain pills) I had some fun. Here’s a look:

I once got wobbly drunk at a bullfight and gobbled a pork rind the size of my hotel pillow (if I had a peso for every time I said this…just kidding, but heavily imbibing was the only way I could survive that odd yet riveting ritual of casual brutality). Anyway, that massive, sun-drenched snack was conjured back in my head when I spied these gigantic chicharrones at La Plaza Tapatia—an amazing Mexican supermarket that can provide hours of wide-eyed fascination.   

Even shopping for laundry detergent is more fun and colorful there.

Also fun and colorful: the daily buffet ($10) at the restaurant located right in the store. While that food is far from fancy, it’s worth an authenticity-seeking pilgrimage because some of the fare there is a lot like what I’ve eaten in Mexico City in diner-style restaurants. And heck, its steaming and supple homemade tortillas alone would make it worth a visit.

I wrote about La Plaza Tapatia in this week’s Alive (Hints: if ordering off the menu, try the enormous—and enormously delicious—molcajete; and pass on the uncharacteristically disappointing margaritas in lieu of, say, micheladas (sorta beery Bloody Marys) and/or Mexican beers w/sides of tequila. 

Another real-deal market/restaurant is La Favorita, a dinky place (next to Anna’s “A Taste of Greece”—I laugh every single time I think of that quote-yoked self-description) that, again, makes great diner-y Mexican vittles.

Above is a knockout bowl of soulful lamb soup that makes me shake my head and pound on the table when I greedily slurp it up (note: the menu says it’s made with “chivo,” or goat, but that’s not usually the case). It’s kinda like posole—a gloriously intense meat-laden broth studded with hominy and self-detailed with chilis, lime, cilantro, onions and so forth. This stuff is awesome! 

Continuing in the key of awesome was this powerhouse version of pasta carbonara fashioned with perfect homemade noodles, a local egg plus killer house-cured “lambcetta” and more raciness from chili flakes. I ate it with extreme relish at Knead, where I and some friends also enjoyed…

…one of Knead’s terrific burgers—made with great Pat LaFrieda beef, of course!

Not being a group intimidated by a swarm of food, we likewise eagerly dug into Knead’s spicy and satisfying chili relleno.

But wait, there’s more! Like Ray Ray’s at Ace of Cups sucked back with a gin-based Mai Tai starring the dynamic duo of Ransom Old Tom (love it!) and (cucumber-y) Hendricks gin (more love), along with homemade orgeat syrup. This delightful drink is what happens when kitschy tiki gets taken seriously—and I applaud it thoroughly!

WARNING: the next photo contains graphic and potentially disturbing images! 

With this bit of cotton candy-fueled hubris, we circle back to the dangers of a misspent youth. Yeah, its all sugary fun and games now, but in a couple of decades…well I guess some people just have to find out for themselves why dentists often own yachts.

For those more open to the hard won lessons of others, though, I present this loony blue picture as a cautionary tale of reaping what you sow!