A Hamburger Today
Columbus, Ohio: Bizarrely Delicious Japanese/Korean/French Snacks From Fresh Street
After a long day of eating tacos in Columbus, Ohio, recently, the last thing on our minds in the late afternoon was yet more food, but our awesome guides from Columbus Food Adventures insisted that we stop at Fresh Street. Knowing we were in good hands, we did.
There's nothing normal about the small lunch spot that serves customers out of a single window in a rickety lean shack in a parking lot attached to a gallery in Columbus' Short North neighborhood run by husband and wife team Kenny Kim and Misako Ohba.
Kenny, a 30-year old Korean-American California native who has lived in in Columbus, Ohio, most of his life, met Misako while she was on a temporary work experience program in the U.S. after having spent six years as a professional pastry chef in Tokyo. The two married, quit their respective cooking jobs, bought a hot dog cart about a year ago, and converted it into a Japanese-style crepe cart simply named "foodie cart."
After realizing that cold Columbus winters make for poor cart-running weather, the two decided to rent out the Late Night Slice pizza shack during the earlier part of the day. They've been hopping ever since then.
Their "Japanese Style Crepes" ($5 to $7) are filled with stuffings ranging from the vaguely familiar (try sweet banana/nutella/almond or savory brie/egg/veggie versions) to the completely wacked-out bizarre, like bacon okonomi-yaki crepes, Italian trio, soy chorizo and avocado, or salmon cream cheese.
The crepes, made from a recipe that Misako brought back from Japan (she seemed a little unsure of whether they were French, Japanese, or "other" in origin) are formed on a traditional flat French cast-iron griddle and cooked until almost crackery crisp on the exterior. The batter is vaguely sweet, making for an interesting contrast when you opt for a savory filling.
Miso-marinated pork belly comes with tender fatty slices of fresh bacon doused in a sweet and spicy Korean chili pepper sauce along with onions and lettuce while a "Bulgogi cheese steak" combines thin-sliced shavings of ribeye bound in gooey white cheese. Either of these would be supremely satisfying for a quick lunch or a pick-me-up after a long night out.
Perhaps even better are the takoyaki (eight for $5), the traditional spherical Japanese pancake studded with bits of octopus. Kenny and Misako sell the traditional octopus variety, but also make a sausage-stuffed version along with rotating seasonal flavors. All of them come out with a perfectly crisp exterior that gives way to a soft, bready layer surrounding an almost molten core.
Before serving, the balls are covered with a healthy drizzle of sweet Kewpie mayonnaise, some Worcestershire-esque okonomi sauce, a sprinkle of shredded seaweed, and a gentle shower of shaved smoked bonito that dances back and forth on top of the balls. It's tough to resist popping one in your mouth as soon as they're delivered, but you'd be wise to wait—the creamy, gooey core is crazy hot.
When I was there, Kenny had just received a Yakitori-style ceramic grill and promises to be grilling soon. That's exciting news!
Kenny is an avowed master of social media, frequently taking photos and videos of his customers and posting them to the cart's Twitter stream. This past summer, they offered a weekly "Dance 4 a Discount." The deal? Dance for Kenny's phone camera and get a buck off your meal. Dances were compiled in to a video and posted on YouTube.
By the way, if you ever find yourself in Columbus, I couldn't recommend the tours run by Columbus Food Adventures more strongly.
Fresh Street Foodie Cart
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Managing Editor of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.