PJ Hot Pot |  Korean BBQ & Bar opens on the Northwest Side in Columbus

Picking your own ingredients and building your own meal are ideas as old as the church flower—or maybe longer. In a cave somewhere on this planet, there must surely be petroglyphs of ancient people praying to their gods for an extra scoop of guacamole.

But from Condado’s lists of delicious proteins and creative salsas, I’ve ticked the box to create some pretty regrettable tacos. My partner has come to the conclusion that he is unable to make a good bowl of Piada pasta himself.

We felt similarly torn the first time we looked at the menu at PJ Hot Pot ∣ Korean BBQ & Bar, which opened in February on the Northwest Side. We’re both quite capable in the kitchen – I’m not going to say who (me) is a better cook (me) – but with a combination of 109 ingredient choices, two do-it-yourself cooking methods and an array of tools, it seemed. there was a lot of room for error.

Let’s back up real quick to review what PJ Hot Pot & Korean BBQ is all about. The restaurant combines two popular dining traditions: Chinese hot pot and Korean barbecue. Hot pot is a communal experience of cooking meat, vegetables and noodles in tabletop pots filled with delicious juices. Korean barbecue shares that common dining aspect, but focuses on cooking the meat on electric grills that are built into tables.

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Both are designed for casual dining and extended visits between family and friends. Only one other Columbus restaurant combines the two. KPot, a rapidly expanding national chain, opened its first central Ohio location on Bethel Road in February 2023 and has another in the works at Polaris Towne Center.

It’s not the food we found intimidating in mid-March first-time hotpotter and Korean barbecue. Among those 109 choices are many popular offerings, such as sliced ​​pork belly, rib eye, brisket and chicken; shrimp, squid, salmon and octopus; zucchini, onion, eggplant, sweet potato and pumpkin. (There’s also beef tongue, beef, and beef aorta for those who enjoy those offerings.)

It may have been the online reviews that got us into our heads, the ones where people recommended keeping track of which tongs you use to touch raw and cooked meat. It may have been the proximity of hot burners and hot grill plates.

It may have been the pressure to get our money’s worth in an all-you-can-eat situation, although really, that was not the case at all. Lunch at PJ Hot Pot is $20 for hot pot or barbecue, or $25 for both. Dinner is $30 for one or $35 for both.

We had a great meal and enjoyed the experience. PJ Hot Pot is a big and beautiful place with low lighting and modern decor. Booths can be a little tight for Ohio-sized people like me, but there are also tables and chairs that accommodate parties of two, four, six, or eight.

But I had the nagging feeling that we just weren’t doing something right, so I asked Felix Zhao to have lunch with me last week. The assistant manager of PJ Hot Pot and the two Cajun Boil Seafood & Bar restaurants run by PJ co-owner Joe Lin said he’s not a professional chef, but he knows his way around a tabletop grill and a pot of gravy. boiled.

In his native China, Felix said hot pot is a favorite dining option. You can do it at home, he said, but then you have a lot of dishes to wash.

“The fun thing about hot potting is that you get to cook, eat and talk at the same time,” he said.

Although hot pot and Korean barbecue are long, cheap meals – lunch prices are very good, but don’t go if you only have an hour – the cooking is not piecemeal. I ordered the prime brisket, green mussels, lobster balls, bean sprouts, broccoli and shiitake mushrooms to cook in my herb broth. No need to worry about which tongs are reserved for which meat. Felix pushed them all into the pot to cook them together.

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It’s a smart move because hot pot is about the food you put in the pot, not the liquid it’s cooking in. Although many people enjoy the juice, which Felix said gets better and better by the flavors of the ingredients you add to it. the real meal is the beef, seafood and other things you pull out and dip in a selection of sauces.

Which brings us to the big question: How do you know when your food is cooked?

In the soup, Felix said, cook thinly sliced ​​meat for 30 seconds to a minute. Seafood takes one to two minutes, vegetables take two to three minutes, and noodles take three to five minutes.

On the grill, after you’ve melted a little butter to cook it, cook the thinly sliced ​​meat for about a minute on each side. Shrimp and squid take about two to three minutes per side, while thicker cuts of meat and vegetables, such as mushrooms and zucchini, take about three to five minutes per side.

By ourselves, we had grilled some pieces of chicken and were hovering like nervous parents. Felix cooked the beef, pork, and shrimp separately, but added the entire plate of each to the grill at once. He used tongs to move the meats around until they were golden brown with a tiny bit of delicious caramel.

(As for the sauce, Felix makes his own by combining the house secret sauce, garlic and chilies. There are 12 sauces to choose from and posted recommendations for combinations. I recommend the shacha sauce, a ready-made blend of soybeans, garlic, onions, chilies, and dried shrimp that I’ve never tried before, but will soon buy at CAM International Market.)

The best lesson Felix offered was to not obsess over what you’re combining and how you’re cooking your PJ Hot Pot meal. If you burn something, ask for a new grill tip. If you don’t like something, order something else, although the restaurant reserves the right to charge people if it thinks they’re wasting food.

Go with the flow of communal dining. It really seems to work in bringing people together.

Joe Lin’s co-owner at PJ Hot Pot is Peter Chen, who owns Pier 11 Boiling Seafood, another local chain. It is the first joint venture for the men whose other businesses compete for customers.

“For seafood restaurants, we are rivals,” Lin said. “In fact, he is my main competitor.”

“We have known each other for a long time,” he continued. “We go fishing together. Our kids go to the same school.”

And now, they’ve even climbed over hot pots and barbecues.

If you go

Where: PJ Hot Pot ∣ BBQ & Bar, 6100 Sawmill Road, Northwest Side

Hours: Noon to 10pm Monday to Thursday, noon to 10.30pm Fridays and Saturdays, noon to 9.30pm Sundays

Contact: 614-389-0567, pjhotpot.com

[email protected]

Instagram: @dispatchdining

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