UPDATE: For a more recent post, see Kitchen Little.
Date of Visit: Saturday, October 6, 2007, 10 a.m.
IMPRESSIONS: So this review is a bit impromptu, but still a lot of fun to put together. This past Saturday, Beth and I were visiting the North Market, one of our favorite spots in Columbus. We swung through the farmers’ market and then grabbed lunch before I had to go open the candle shop for Gallery Hop. Although there’s a lot of goodies to be found at North Market, our favorites include Lac Viet Vietnamese food and this place, North Market Poultry & Game, right across the aisle from each other. The poultry place is primarily a meat market, and their lengthy display counters hold every type of meat imaginable: chicken, turkey, beef, pork, ham, goose, duck, rabbits, bison, alligator, even ostrich eggs. But to the side of their display cases is this small counter where they serve prepared food. This counter has grown in size and selection over the past few years, and recently they began serving a Cuban breakfast. Thus, my stop; and thus, my review. Because of the impromptu nature of the review, all of the pictures were taken on either my cell phone or Beth’s. So, apologies in advance for the grainy quality (but that’s still pretty good for cell phones, yeah?).
ATMOSPHERE: This is a little different than being in a sit-down joint. Basically, you’re in the North Market, so you’re surrounded by all manner of food stalls and therefore all manner of food smells. We typically go on Saturday mornings, which means you’ve got a wide mix of folks: people buying produce at the farmer’s market out front, trendy couples who biked in to get their morning coffee (or Segway’d as we saw one couple do), visitors from the Convention Center wearing name badges and wandering around until they eventually settle on Chinese food (just kidding, but not really), families eating lunch and finishing it off with some Jeni’s Ice Cream. And everyone in between. In other words: busy, fun, and stimulating for your senses. Everything a market should be. You can order food at NM Poultry & Game to-go or to consume in-market. If you choose the latter, they’ll give you an honest-to-goodness plate and honest-to-greatness silverware. Pick the former, and it’s Styrofoam and plastic for you, kid.
FOOD: This place focuses on taking their well-raised, well-treated foods and whipping them into some of the best comfort food in Columbus. They usually have only 4-5 meals available any given day, but they exemplify the adage to be really good at just a few things instead of being mediocre at a lot. Case in point: their cassoule, which is a type of soupy casserole, their chicken a la king, their amazing chicken salads (served on Oat Nut bread!), their melones (a Polish concoction of breaded sausage wrapped and then baked around a cheese center. And all of these are graced by sides like mashed potatoes, biscuits, green beans. All home-cooked and delicious.
The picture at the top of this post shows the sign describing the Cuban breakfast and all that goes into it. They varied the recipe that day, based on what they had fresh (which isn’t a bad way to dine out). I had the two eggs (over-easy, my new favorite preparation), the black beans (which really were smoky and meaty), the pico de gallo, and a dollop of sour cream. Instead of the corn bread, they had fresh-baked biscuits, which I think fit the breakfast better. (Not to mention the nice, soft butter they put on it.) And instead of the turkey sausage, they gave me a cheese and japaleno sausage link. I generally avoid sausage with any sort of insertion, but this one I didn’t mind. The cheese fit the whole setup, and the jalapeno was not overwhelming; plus it gave the breakfast a needed kick. I could imagine some strong coffee complementing this meal well. Overall, the breakfast is a little soupy, but the flavors mix incredibly. The key, I realized, was to cut slices of things and try to scoop bits together… a little bit of egg, a little bit of meat, some black beans and veggies. The textures and flavors blend into a rich and complex taste. It’s a hearty and colorful breakfast. Here it is in all its glory:
Makes you want one, doesn’t it?
SERVICE: Service is always great at NM Poultry & Game. You can tell these folks are invested in their work, and proud of it. Any time you ask them to describe their wares, they do so boldly and with colorful descriptions. I didn’t catch the name of the guy who made my Cuban breakfast, but he told me that he rarely gets to make the breakfast, so he was trying to make it amazing. I helped him by loudly complimenting the result. Here he is preparing it:
Halfway through the preparation, he showed me the pan with my two eggs over-easy. He told me they were probably the best, most beautiful eggs he’s ever prepared. I believed him, so when he turned his back, I snapped a picture of them:
Yeah, I think I agree. That’s a work of art.
OVERALL: Okay, so this place isn’t your traditional breakfast joint, but this particular dish merited it’s own entry. It’s freshly and lovingly prepared, and I can’t think of many other places in town that offer a Cuban breakfast. Whether any of the employees are actually Cuban is beyond my knowledge, and I also can’t judge whether this is authentically Cuban, but it’s tasty nonetheless. And it’s a pretty healthy breakfast: the eggs, meat, and black beans provide the protein, salsa gives you fruits and vegetables, the biscuit is your grain. And I guess the sour cream rounds it out with dairy. So there you go: a meal that completes the food pyramid. The breakfast is just the right size, too. Filling, but not overly so. All this goes to say that I’ll probably order it again. They have every reason to be proud of their food. It sorta sets the standard for comfort food.