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Inspired by Columbus: braised pork chops, mashed sweet potatoes, and Swiss chard

A trip to food-obsessed Columbus, Ohio, inspired this autumnal combination.

By Blue Kitchen / October 6, 2011

A delicious combination. The sweet potatoes, their sweetness ever so slightly enhanced with maple syrup interacting with salt, do something amazing when they share a fork with the garlicky chard.

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I don’t know if I’ve ever eaten so much in such a short time span as I did on a recent press trip to Columbus, Ohio. One afternoon, I called Marion from the hotel, where we’d been delivered to briefly rest and attempt to digest the day’s many delicious meals and snacks. I told her, “I’m full as a tick, and in an hour, they’re taking us to dinner!”

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Our group of 10 food writers came from as far away as San Francisco and Boston and from as close as Columbus itself. We were guests of Experience Columbus, a non-profit organization whose mission is to promote the city as a travel destination. Even as I arrived at the airport, Columbus was a blank slate for me. I’m sure many of my fellow travelers felt the same. We didn’t have any negative image of the city to be overcome; we had, well, no image. Our hosts said that was the challenge – and the opportunity – they face daily.

I know my focus here is supposed to be food, but let me start by saying my first impression is that people in Columbus are really, really nice. Friendly, not just cordial. And while they take great and justifiable pride in their city, it doesn’t come across in a boastful sort of way. They’re just genuinely pleased to share the city’s treasures with you.

And now, the food. Columbus, Ohio, is serious about it. This city of some 790,000 people (1.8 million if you count the whole metropolitan area) supports three local food magazines. We’re talking print here, and glossy at that. Slow Food Columbus, founded just three years ago, is the largest Slow Food chapter in Ohio.

Columbus is smack dab in the middle of Ohio’s rich farmland, and chefs and home cooks alike take full advantage of it. From the smallest storefront restaurants to the swellest, poshest nightspots, locally sourced and seasonal were the twin mantras, repeated again and again. In fact, Chef Dean James Max convinced the Columbus Renaissance Hotel, where his restaurant Latitude 41 is housed, to let him put a small rooftop garden next to the hotel pool deck. There, he and his team grow some of the vegetables and herbs for the daily changing menu.

I mentioned vast amounts of food in a short period of time. Here’s one day. Local is very much on the menu at Skillet in German Village too, where we started our first full day with bountiful breakfasts of “rustic urban food” – plus shared samples of unordered dishes the staff kept bringing out. After breakfast, we headed to the Franklin Park Conservatory, where we consumed no food, but saw a community garden shared by neighborhood residents and the working kitchen where the local member of our group, Rachel Tayse, teaches hands-on cooking classes. Next came Thurn’s Specialty Meats, a 118-year-old family business and Columbus tradition specializing in sausages, smoked meats and various sides. Of course, a too generous platter of their smoky, meaty treats was offered for our sampling. From there, we went straight – not kidding – to Katzinger’s Delicatessen for lunch. Katzinger’s is a full on deli experience, with shelves and cases chock full of amazing, fragrant wonders, but by now, we were pairing up to split sandwiches and sides, trying desperately to pace ourselves.