Every restaurant in the Short North is trying to replicate the effortlessly hip vibe of Rigsby's Kitchen, whether or not they realize it.
And while several newer places have established their own great ambience, nobody encapsulates the feel of the city's arts district as perfectly as this joint-which at 25 years old is the grandfather of the scene.
Rigsby's is where you go when you're looking for a fine-dining experience without the fussiness associated with some high-end places. The focus here is on the food-always-stunning plates of Mediterranean- and Italian-inspired fare.
In the dining room, exposed brick walls are dressed up with oversized art. The distinctive, original works help Rigsby's blend seamlessly with its arts-district neighbors, and the effect is like eating dinner in a gallery-only with an always-lively Hop-night vibe. It's an ideal spot for a celebratory meal, from an intimate anniversary dinner to a raucous birthday party.
Plan on arriving early to leave time for a cocktail at the bar, a fab place to see and be seen.
Try a crisp and refreshing Kir Royale, a crimson classic made here with Veuve Cliquot and crme de cassis, or the Pear Garden, a sweeter ruby-colored concoction mixing crme de cassis with pear vodka, cranberry juice and lemon.
After you kick the night off with drinks, your meal will start with a basket of artisan breads from Rigsby's own Eleni-Christina Bakery. The assortment varies-sourdough and a multigrain loaf studded with walnuts and raisins are standards-but it's reliably soft and delicious.
The Burrata appetizer is a must-order for cheese lovers. A hunk of fresh mozzarella is heated until it's soft and creamy, then plopped onto smoky roasted peppers and fresh basil leaves. The delicious concoction is made to be scooped onto crackery planks of Sardinian flatbread.
Seafood makes up a good bulk of the menu, and the Branzino entree is an especially impressive dish. Branzino is a Mediterranean sea bass grilled and served whole (yes, with the head and tail, so it's best suited for adventurous eaters). It's a delicate fish with a clean, sweet taste, and grilling it whole means you don't lose a lot of moisture, ensuring meat that's nice and succulent. Here it's served with roasted slivers of fennel and a parmesan-and-tomato conserva, a thick gazpacho-like sauce.
If you're in the mood for meat, go with the towering Veal Involtini. Pounded-thin slices of tender veal are wrapped around a salty mix of breadcrumbs, pine nuts and caciocavalto, a provolone-like Italian cheese. Those meat rolls are stacked on a heap of spaghetti squash ribbons and juicy tomatoes that quickly breaks down into a sweet-tasting sauce perfect for sopping up with forkfuls of veal.
Finally, Rigsby's is known for its inventive desserts, and the Apple Tart Tartin is a standout. Made with caramelized apples from Lynd's Fruit Farm in Pataskala, the elegant upside-down pie slice is served in a pool of decadent cinnamon-caramel sauce.
Here's to aging gracefully-and still setting trends.
Shelley Mann is the editor of Crave, Columbus' new dining magazine. For more, visit ColumbusCrave.com.
Meet the Rigsbys
Columbus native Kent Rigsby, 58, started cooking casually in college and fell fully in love with food during a summer on a Greek island. He graduated from Ohio Wesleyan and spent some time in New York, then eventually headed to San Francisco and enrolled in culinary school.
After honing his skills in several restaurants, he returned to Columbus and became chef at German Village's much-praised Lindey's. Three years later, he opened Rigsby's Cuisine Volatile (now Rigsby's Kitchen).
His wife, Tasi, 46, had grown up in her Greek father's restaurants. A lifelong dancer, she retired from ballet in 1995 to help run Rigsby's. In 2007, the couple opened a more casual restaurant nearby, Tasi Cafe.