We expect things to be better abroad: the landscape more rustic, the wine more robust, the cheese stinkier. Anything exotic immediately becomes 50 percent more interesting. Why else would we spend endless lunch hours studying Travelocity before hawking our life savings for a week in Paris?
This was Italy and Greece for me. Before embarking on a two-week tour of the Mediterranean this summer, I was absolutely certain each day would be more devastatingly fantastic than the last. And for the most part, they were. On an hourly basis, its prepossessing grandeur made me lose my train of thought, like a teenage boy on a nude beach.
Even the airport in Rome seduced me with its 30-euro cheese plates and delicate thimbles of espresso. Until then, I thought that everything in the U.S. was a “knock-off” of something from another country and that I had been experiencing what they call in Italy “genuine fakes,” very impressive reproductions of originals. This trip, I was going to experience the real thing – real red wine, real Caprese salads, real architecture and city streets.
So you can imagine how surprised I was when I found food and drink that paled in comparison to what I could experience at home. I was disenchanted, but also sort of thrilled that the capital city is holding its own on the culinary world stage and, in some examples, straight-up kicking some Euro ass. Here are a few areas in which Columbus performed equally, if not far better, than our foreign friends.
Prior to my journey, everyone made Italian gelato sound like it was made by combining the 17 rare earth metals on the periodic chart in a very specific order on a leap year while holding the Hope Diamond. From what I had heard, it was absolutely impossible I could ever get anything that compares in Ohio. Naturally, I was anxious to try it. I ordered pistachio, my favorite flavor, from three different (highly recommended places by my Italian tour guide) in Rome. And it was good. But I found myself craving Jeni’s pistachio-honey ice cream afterwards. There seemed to be very little salt to bring out the sweetness of the natural ingredients in the gelato, a trademark of Jeni’s ice cream that many refer to as the “crack effect.”
Take it easy, foodies. I know that ice cream and gelato are not the same thing. Ice cream has a dense texture, while gelato is creamy and smooth like frozen yogurt made from Giada De Laurentiis’ diphthong. Okay, fine. I think Whit’s (841 N High St.) achieves the same texture with its custard.
Granted, I have to enjoy a cone beneath the neon lights of a newly built parking garage instead of the illuminated augustness of the Pantheon, but still.
Let me just preface this with the fact that every bite of pizza I had on this trip was, in fact, extremely delicious. And even fast food-style pizza in Italy is like some of our finest, gourmet pizzas in the states. But I was expecting to have pizza that was so beyond what I had ever tasted in Columbus. And this was not the case.
With every slice I tried – and there were quite a few – I was reminded of the sausage and pepperoni pie from The Rossi (895 N High St.), which to me, is better. Something about the caraway in the sausage and the real tomatoes cooked down with olive oil that I just can’t quit eating.
One thing I will give the Italians though, is they never slice up their pizzas. No matter how big, it’s a meal – your meal. And you eat it with a knife and fork, which made me feel less disgusting smashing an entire large pizza on my own. I think Columbus should get on board that bus.
Compared to Italy, Columbus is a speck on the scrotum of Michelangelo’s David in terms of architecture. That said, Italians will erect a pizza counter anywhere. And I mean anywhere. They have one in the middle of Pompeii. To your left, the public bath; to your right, cold Peroni and pizza.
The closest we have to such ambiance is eating Mikey’s Late Night in front of the ruins we fondly remember as Little Brothers.
In Florence, I had some amazing fettuccini made with homemade noodles so yellow you could hear Coldplay. But the simple bolognese sauce I tried several times in Rome fell flat. I prefer an order of tender veal and beef meatballs with a side of pasta marinara from Scali Restorante (1903 Ohio 256, Reynoldsburg). No one would think a meatball that big could be so light. Every time I eat them, I feel like a proud Italian nonna.
I dined at more than 12 restaurants in various parts of Greece with zilch pita. I don’t care if I’m being an ignorant American. For this reason alone, Cbus wins. Plus, every croissant I ate had nothing on the almond croissants from Pistacia Vera (541 S Third St.). The sweet, nutty paste in the center gives the often one-note breakfast bread some amore.
Okay, there’s no denying that Greeks and Italians obviously kill it when it comes to wine. And I will spend my summer searching for the favored pilsner in Greece, Mythos. It’s bright and clean – light without being watery, much like Italy’s beloved Peroni. Many shops also offered a porter by Peroni, which is rich enough to stack up to the traditional afternoon espresso drink. That said, beyond the above mentioned, there were few other choices. I didn’t see any craft ales, nothing that showcased another dimension to beer, or applied hops or other ingredients in unique ways.
I missed interesting beers so much that the first thing I did upon my return at 10:45 a.m. was drink a Fat Julian from Actual Brewing (655 N James Rd). The website describes the beer as a “bittersweet imperial stout reminiscent of leathery elephants dipped in dark chocolate.”
Music to my mouth, and anything but a genuine fake.