If you nibbled from the abundant food cart garden of eatin' that blossomed in Columbus last summer, then you must remember those great Japanese crepes that were all the rage. They were the product of an on-the-go girl and guy Twitter-casting outfit that called itself Fresh Street Foodie Cart. Operating within a substratum of the dining industry famously packed with non-conformists and go-it-aloners (my kind of people), the Foodie Carters stood out for their quirkiness, creativity and street-cooking artistry.
Well, now that winter's truly over (it is, right?), the girl and guy have returned, but the cart and crepes have gone bye-bye. The new, non-mobile Fresh Street enterprise is stationed in the endearingly outre Short North parking lot pizza shack manned in the evening hours by the fine and funky folks of Late Night Slice. During the daytime, Fresh Street pulls a shift there, but instead of those once beloved crepes, they're currently making takoyaki and their newest creation (and my newest favorite), negiyaki.
Fresh Street's giggly logo - a googly-eyed cartoony octopus - is a clue that takoyaki contain octopus. Wait, don't turn away, because even if munching cephalopods isn't your thing, you'll like these things because Fresh Street offers gooey cheese and enticing sausage options, too. And besides, their takoyaki are mostly golden brown, battery balls.
Made on a special (muffin-like) cast iron pan with rows of half-globe divots, it takes real skill to spin and whip the pickled-ginger-laced pancakey batter into fully formed balls. Watching this happen is pretty fascinating. Eating the results is even more entertaining.
The snacky takoyaki come eight ping-pong-sized orbs per order (for $5) and can be adorned with a fun arsenal of sushi-appropriate garnishes like sweet Japanese mayo, bonito flakes, seaweed, scallions, mentaiko (Japanese mayo with fish roe), kimchi, and a thick and sweet sesame oil/teriyaki type takoyaki sauce.
In general, these takoyaki are soft-crusted spheres whose barely brittle exterior yields to a creamy, rich and molten interior. In the center is a sort of Crackerjack surprise such as a nugget of octopus (usually quite chewy), brie cheese with cabbage (counterintuitively to me, these worked wonderfully together) or a sage-kissed breakfasty sausage link. My favorites were the latter two.
And I enjoyed the negiyaki even more. They were like two good-sized (can actually make a meal) omelet-like Korean-style scallion and cabbage pancakes topped with as good a version of bulgogi (strands of seared sweet marinated ribeye) as I've had in town recently - very highly recommended.