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Foodies Favorites On The Show Scene – Congress Edition

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316 – October 2019

By Cameron Crenwelge
The sweet scent of cinnamon rolls waft through the air as glazed bourbon bites start sizzling on the grill. The Sweet Shop has just opened for the day, and the line is already around the corner with exhibitors clamoring for their coveted apple turnovers to start the day on the right foot.

One of the best parts of being at the All American Quarter Horse Congress for three long weeks is the wide variety of dining options that are available literally right outside your horse’s stall. Granted, some options are healthier than others, but you can’t really go to the Congress without getting a deep fried Oreo… Can you?

We spoke with numerous exhibitors to get the inside scoop on the best places to eat, both on and off the show grounds, as well as a few hidden gems in the area, if you have some free time to spend away from the horse show.

On The Show Grounds

A relatively new addition to the Midway is Bella Brew, which is located conveniently right outside the Celeste Arena. Not only do they serve a wide variety of specialty coffee drinks, they also have crepes that can be filled with cherry, nutella, blueberry, apple, and banana fillings complete with powdered sugar and whipped cream. Favorite drink options include the Frozen Hot Cocoa Frappe, Americano Expresso, and Hot Chai Tea with Toasted Marshmallow syrup. Also, many a Congress exhibitor starts a tab at Cuppies Coffee upon arriving on the show grounds, because they’re open early and late, more so than other food vendors at the show. However, Vicky Holt’s favorite for coffee is a tiny expresso stand. “On the fairgrounds, I must have a cream puff from the German tent along with a ‘Congress Coffee’ from the little espresso stand,” she says.

Speaking of cream puffs, Gordon Downey’s go-to at the Congress is most definitely one of Schmidt’s cream-filled puff pastries. In addition, Schmidt’s serves other traditional German fare like sausage sandwiches and chicken noodle soup for the really cold days.

Lucy’s Chinese is a favorite for health-conscious exhibitors, because they cook the food right in front of you. Choose from chicken lo mein with veggie eggrolls or glazed orange chicken with sesame seeds. Another healthy option is a little-known stand located inside Congress Hall. Situated right next to the Food Court that serves traditional items like hot dogs, hamburgers, and nachos, this small stand serves homemade items like grilled paninis, potato salad, and giant slices of decadent cake. In addition, the Greek vendor located just off the Midway, right next to the wooden gazebo and picnic tables, always has a huge line thanks to its falafel balls, gyro salads, and breakfast sandwiches.

Of course, it just wouldn’t be the Congress without trying a root beer or orange creamsicle float at the ice cream stand, or mini donuts sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar.

Off The Show Ground

Despite the amazing variety, sometimes you just need a break from the horse show, and there is a multitude of restaurant options located in Columbus and nearby Easton.

“The Pearl is our absolute favorite place to go at the Congress,” Penni Himes says. “The martinis are absolutely amazing, and the bartender is great! He has been there forever, and we have seen him working year after year. He’s amazing every time. The place is usually pretty busy, so unless you plan on sitting at the bar, it’s better to make a reservation.”

If you make a trip to The Pearl, Penni recommends the Devils On Horseback appetizer. “It’s absolutely amazing, and my husband and I order it every time. Also, the Not Your Mama’s Tater Tots, fried chicken, flank steak, and oysters are family favorites,” she says. In fact, Thursday is Oyster Night at The Pearl, and they can be enjoyed raw, baked, or fried for $2 each. It’s located in the Short North Arts District at 641 North High Street in Columbus.

If you’re looking for another seafood option, Vicky Holt highly recommends The Fish House. She says, “It’s a must-do for me. I order something different every time, and I have never been disappointed. The wine selection is amazing, also.”
If Mexican is more your style, Becky George is a big fan of Mamacitas Mexican Café. “Mamacitas Mexican Street Café is one of the best and closest places to eat,” she says. “It’s so close that you can literally drive your golf cart from the fairgrounds. They also have some of the best and cheapest empanadas around town.” Tantalizing options include the Ceviche Tostada, Flautas Don Pepe, or Steak Tampequena. Located at 201 Chittenden Avenue, you can also order online for fast delivery or pickup. Another quick dining option is Donato’s Pizza, which sometimes even delivers to the show grounds.

The Thurman Café is another one of Becky’s favorites for creative, German-inspired appetizers like Fried Pretzel Bites with honey mustard and Cordon Bleu Balls. Macedonian Fries with banana peppers and creamy dressing or the Fried Bologna Sandwich are among their more unique items. “Thurman Café is amazing,” Becky says. “It’s located in the German village and has a super unique vibe where you can write your name on a dollar bill and post it on the wall.” The café is located at 183 Thurman Avenue.

Finally, if you’ve had your fill and need a quick dessert option, Becky recommends Buckeye Donuts. “It’s the first place we go to when we get to the show. It’s located really close to campus (1998 N. High) and is open 24-hours. The bacon maple donut is to die for, and I think it might actually be one of the oldest running donut shops in Columbus.”

However, if you need somewhere to celebrate a big win, or just want a more sophisticated environment, Kathy Tobin has just the ticket. Her favorites include Smith and Wollensky and Mitchell’s Ocean Club. Located in Easton Town Center, you can’t miss the giant, green and white exterior of Smith and Wollensky. Blistered Shishito Peppers with togarashi hollandaise, the Coffee and Cocoa Rubbed Filet, and Snake River Farms Swinging Tomahawk Rib Eye are among some of their delicious items. Also located in Easton Town Center, Mitchell’s Ocean Club serves unique items like Sonoma Goat Cheese Ravioli with golden oak mushrooms, Aged Wisconsin Cheddar Fondue, and Florida Grouper with lobster gnocchi, spring peas and lemon jus.

Rounding out the options in Easton Town Center is a favorite of Scott Neuman’s: McCormick & Schmick Seafood & Steaks. The Chesapeake Buttermilk Fried Shrimp, Salmon Pesto Rigatoni, and Lumb Crab Stuffed Shrimp will make sure you don’t go away hungry.

Where The Natives Go
When you visit a new town, it’s always a good idea to ask the locals where they prefer to dine. Ohio natives and Congress regulars, Jennifer D’Onofrio and Jenna Jacobs, have provided a few of their favorite eating spots off the show grounds in Ohio.

Where We Eat:

The Top – This old-school steakhouse is virtually unchanged from its opening in 1955. It’s known for manhattans, martinis, live music, and steak, of course.
Location: 2891 E. Main St., Columbus, Ohio 43209

Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse – This is a perfect place to go out to celebrate that big Congress win. Jeff Ruby’s is an experience centered around excellence. Check it out for a dinner that tastes just as amazing as that big win feels.
Location: 89 E. Nationwide Blvd., Columbus, Ohio 43215

Del Mar SoCal Kitchen – This Southern California-inspired restaurant features fired-up flavors, crafty cocktails, and a special weekend brunch.
Location: 705 N. High St., 1st Floor, Columbus, Ohio 43215

Alchemy – This restaurant focuses on sustainably-sourced food to accommodate any and every dietary preference. Service is efficient, and online ordering assists in making a healthy meal more accessible throughout the hustle and bustle of a packed Congress schedule.
Location: 625 Parsons Ave., Columbus, Ohio 43206

While the horse show itself is packed from sunrise to sunset with exciting events, new classes, and top-notch competition, sometimes exhibitors need a break from the fairgrounds. Find out what Jennifer and Jenna recommend for fun off-the-showground activities.

What We Do:

Circle S Farm – This quaint farm has a pumpkin patch that offers hayrides, a petting zoo, sunflower maze, and corn maze. They host a multitude of Fall events to remind you that the seasons aren’t actually Spring, Summer, Congress, and Winter.
Location: 9015 London-Groveport Rd., Grove City, Ohio 43123

Lynd Fruit Farm – As horse-lovers, it’s nearly impossible to pass up the opportunity to go pick your own horse treats. Lynd Fruit Farm offers picking experiences for a variety of apples including Red and Golden Delicious, Suncrisp, Melrose, and Evercrisp. Be sure check out their updated apple-picking schedule online for dates and availability.
Location: 9393 Morse Rd. SW, Pataskala, OH 43062

AHA! Hands-On Adventure Children’s Museum – When your kiddos get tired of being at the horse show, take them to this children’s museum featuring a colorful indoor play park with more than 30 interactive exhibits geared toward kids under ten.
Location:1708 River Valley Circle S., Lancaster, OH 43130

Easton Town Center – Sure, you can shop the incredible Vendor Hall at the Congress, but don’t miss out on this indoor and outdoor mall filled with shops like Burberry, Luis Vuitton, Lululemon, and Nordstrom.
Location:160 Easton Town Center, Columbus, OH 43219

Columbus Zoo and Aquarium – The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium is a non-profit with a worldwide reputation. This zoo is home to around 7,000 animals, 800 species, conservation facilities, and an 18-hole golf course. As a result of their many amenities, USA Travel Guide has ranked it in the past, as the number one zoo in the United States.
Location: 4850 W. Powell Rd., Powell, Ohio 43065

COSI – The Columbus Museum of Science and Industry offers one-of-a-kind exhibits and experiences like their dinosaur gallery, unseen oceans, planetariums, and science lab park.
Location: 333 W Broad St., Columbus, Ohio 43215

Finally, if you just can’t get away from the show, but need something fun for the kids to do, a creative option is to let them dress up in their Halloween costumes early and have them “trick or treat” down the barn alleyways. Almost every stall front has a candy basket, and it’s a fun way to start the fall season off right.
While it may be difficult to get out of the Congress bubble, many of these places offer an opportunity to take a step back from the craziness of the Congress and indulge in new experiences.

Click here to read the complete article
316 – October 2019

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