Food review: Dinin’ Hall

By Columbus Alive
From the May 24, 2012 edition

“This is what change looks like, but have food carts jumped the shark?” was the rhetorical jumble echoing around my brain — along with cacophonies of conversation and widespread food-bloggy photography — when I sat down in our city’s first anti-restaurant restaurant. Wait, what?

Dinin’ Hall (no “g!”) — where you eat off-the-grid while relaxing on a safety net — is a mobile vendor “pod,” and the result of the white-hot, dine-by-the-seat-of-your-pants food truck movement mimicking more traditional businesses. There are trade-offs, of course.

On the plus side, in one fell swoop you can graze on kicky munchies from multiple buzzed-about food trucks while also temporarily joining a like-minded micro-community of novelty-cuisine lovers. Other positives: You can support worthy nonprofit organizations (who get a portion of D-Hall’s profits) and enjoy your truck grub with amenities such as easy parking and a seat at a table in a spacious, brick-and-concrete-block set-up that accepts credit cards and provides restrooms and ceiling fans. For these perks (which don’t include air conditioning, water or waiter service), you must fork-over a nominal surcharge ($.50-.75 per item), wait in an extra “pay” line and deal with the potentially crossing wires of a more complex circuitry.

Only a brief jaunt from Downtown across the mod Main Street bridge, D-Hall resembles a renovated loading dock in an unrenovated parking lot. Here, customers order from trucks (which change daily), receive numbered cards plus itemized checks from each, then trek inside to pay, find a seat and await delivery.

With its infectious conviviality (on the beautiful-weather-graced afternoon I visited, the packed and rollicking D-Hall had a summer camp-type vibe), low-volume indie rock and fashionably bare bulbs dangling from black cords affixed to white-painted rafters, D-Hall exuded an energetic “Hey kids, let’s put on a show!” spirit. Though not everything ran smoothly, it was a cheerfully semi-anarchic and intensely zeitgeist-y experience, plus a chance to try these new things:

Ajumama

Specializing in pajeon, i.e. Korean-style pancakes, this truck’s a fine introduction to the bold splendors of this increasingly popular cuisine. The shareably large pajeon I tried (both were dark-cooked, omelet-y, sorta oily and flabby and threaded with scallion) were the Hae ($9 — with bits of tiny shrimp, fake crab and jalapeno) and the Twe ($8 — with chunks of pig meat). If Ajumama’s Dukbokki ($5 — skewers of super-glutinous “rice cake” tubes slathered with chili paste) were unusual chews, the addictive Hodduk ($3.50 — puffy, dense and toasty nut-and-cinnamon-bun-flavored pocket pastries) are universally loveable.

Web: ajumama.com

Freedom a la Cart

This do-gooder (local and organic, but also supporters of human-trafficking survivors) has a zesty Latin tinge to its fare. I enjoyed its distinct sub-type sandwiches ($7) in both vegan form (The Papa, with crusty fried spud cubes, white beans, onions, lettuce and a sriracha-y sauce) and carnivorous style (the pot-roasty Gaucho, with chimichurri and mayo) as well as a refreshing watermelon, mint and mayo-free “slaw.”

Twitter: @freedomalacart

Green Meanie

Potent flavors and a sense of humor emanated from this fun and funky truck. While its Green Thumb “sandwish” was as healthy and satisfying as anything I tried that day ($8.75 — excellent grilled portobello, melted mozzarella, arugula and aioli on warm and puffy pita loaf) and its wacky “Shiznite” fully embraced the outre nature of its genre ($7.75 — a slob-tastic and irresistible crisply panko-crusted and deep fried hot dog with spicy jalapeno cream cheese), GM’s inexperience (open only a couple of days) showed via missing ingredients, short supplies and general confusion.

Twitter: @eatgreenmeanie