The history nerds eat this stuff up.
But that’s hardly a requirement for the Historical Dinner Club, one of this year’s most inventive event series, dedicated to reliving the tastes and tales of Columbus’s culinary past.
For those who never got to pull up a chair at The Kahiki (where you could sound a gong to call a Polynesian waitress and dine amongst live parrots) or Jai Lai (famous for its salt sticks, salads, and Woody Hayes press conferences), the Historical Dinner Club has spent 2014 trying to reconnect Columbus with its past. The brainchild of Columbus Underground’s Anne Evans, the club has been a collaborative effort with the Historical Society’s Doug Motz and famed local chef Alana Shock.
Originally, the idea was to have chefs in the city re-imagine the old menus, but once Evans ran the idea by Shock, it quickly turned into her own passion project.
“She just lit up,” Evans said of Shock, who not only has been an award-winning chef out of Alana’s Food & Wine kitchen for years, but also worked at many of the city’s most beloved and bygone establishments. “She was like, ‘I can just do them all!’ It was great. She never cooks just one type of cuisine. She’s incredibly imaginative and she looks at every restaurant, their old recipes, and thinks of a way to make it shine.”
In addition to The Kahiki and Jai Lai, they’ve celebrated Maramor, which before closing its doors in the early ’70s was considered one of the top restaurants in the region. Since many of these places have been closed for decades, the Club is also unearthing new information with each event, often times with the help of dedicated regulars or former owners. Jai Lai boss Dave Girves personally brought in recipes from the restaurant for Shock to work from during the event in January, and a woman whose grandma worked at Maramor dropped off whole folders of recipes, hand-written notes, and guest lists.
Beyond a great meal, the Historical Dinner Club offers something many history-based tours or events do not, Motz said.
“You just say history, and people start to roll their eyes, but you say ‘stories’ and they’re interested,” he said. “People love to hear stories, and some of these restaurants have some really great stories behind them.”
This month, the Club pays tribute to The Clarmont, the old-school supper club that managed to keep its doors open until 2012. The plates are said to feature prime rib and the club’s famous banana cream pie, but the stories on the menu that night might be the most tantalizing. The Clarmont, now a South High Panera Bread, was widely known as a meeting place for the city’s politicians and journalists, and its stories – both true and rumored, lived on past its expiration date. (According to one rumor, former-Mayor Buck Rinehart ruined a tablecloth once when he hastily scribbled on it with a ballpoint during an interview with a Dispatch reporter).
Motz said that the series has been particularly appealing to newer Columbus transplants, who have attended without knowing much about the restaurants, or that they even existed at all.
“A lot of new people to Columbus didn’t grow up here, and this starts to give them a little bit of context, a little bit of shorthand for them to understand the city,” he said.
Or as Evans added:
“You didn’t have to have gone to these restaurants to know why they were cool.”
Historical Dinner Club
August 12, 6 p.m.
Alana’s Food and Wine, 2333 N High St.