A cozy lunch joint near German Village offers daring dishes with big flavors.
On its website, Skillet describes itself in a concise yet odd way: "Rustic. Urban. Food." But there is no puzzlement over the offerings on the menu of this lunch and weekend brunch spot near German Village. The dishes were big and bold-not for the faint of heart.
Take, for instance, the spicy pumpkin and black bean soup. Topped with a drizzle of good olive oil and roasted pumpkin seeds, this purée of squash and beans was hearty and luscious at the same time. Equally good was a dish of thick, dumplinglike noodles in rich turkey broth with bits of carrots, onions and turkey; warming on a cold day, it will remind you of Thanksgiving dinner.
The rest of the lunch menu ran mostly to sandwiches. But not any ordinary sandwiches. When was the last time (your answer will be "never") you had potato and cheese pierogies as part of a sandwich? You can do so at Skillet. The tasty dumplings were pan-fried and topped with caramelized onions, sharp cheddar cheese and mildly spicy sauerkraut. It was served between thick and buttery slices of grilled brioche. It was darn good.
Better than darn good was the braised beef short rib and smoked Gouda sandwich enhanced by fried sweet peppers. Slather on some of the sharply flavored apple-horseradish sour cream-served as a side-and it was heaven, with a heavenly level of calories and fat, of course. (I'm not complaining, just noting for the record.) Porchetta is pork, but not just any pork; it's slow-cooked, soft and rich, with crispy bits of skin and touched with fennel pollen and whacked with garlic. It was lovely. Frita was a burger mixed with the mildly spicy sausage called chorizo and a good ground beef. It was topped with a fried egg and dressed arugula. Truly delicious.
These were not haphazard combinations-the cooks here know what works and what doesn't. The only sandwich that didn't thrill me was the Truffled Grilled Cheese, but only because it paled in comparison to the other offerings. Sandwich sides were as creative as the rest of the menu, including a terrific sweet potato hash with plenty of sweet, browned onions and wonderful grits with crimini mushrooms and oven-dried grapes. If you are not quite that adventurous, browned and crispy fingerling potatoes will do just fine.
Recent specials have included beef tenderloin with grits and a tomato demi-glace, as well as pancakes made with apples and farmer's cheese. The only dish I didn't like was Red Flannel Hash. Topped with eggs and a beet vinaigrette (just fine), the hash itself was too rustic-with off-putting whole garlic cloves and chunks of beet so big they had to be cut before eating. The idea of the hash is to get a bite of the beet, potato and onion together. That wasn't possible when the pieces were so large.
Skillet took over the minuscule (some might say cozy) storefront on East Whittier Street that once housed the popular Banana Bean Café, which moved to larger quarters. The layout allows for only about 25 seats, so you might have to wait a bit for a table, especially during the popular brunch. Service is pay-at-the-counter, and you fetch your own drinks. No alcohol is served. The people who run the place are friendly, and they're happy to talk to you about the dishes, or whatever.
There are long-term plans to stay open for dinner. If they do dinner like they do lunch, the description on the website should change to: "Rustic. Urban. Yummy."
410 E. Whittier St.
Recommended dishes: Everything on this small menu, except the red flannel hash.
Price range: Sandwiches $7-$10; brunch $8-$12.
Hours: Lunch Tuesday through Friday 11 am to 3 pm; brunch Saturday and Sunday 8 am to 2 pm; closed Monday.
Service: At the counter, friendly.
Reservations: Not accepted.
This review appeared in the February 2010 issue of Columbus Monthly.