Guacamole Cart Cilantro-haters and pepper-phobes, you’re no longer destined to a guac-free life thanks to Blue Agave, a Mexican mini-chain in Westerville and New Albany, where servers roll out a made-to-order guacamole cart during dinnertime. For $5.99, they’ll whip up a custom batch tableside—avocados, onions, tomatoes, jalapenos, cilantro and a little lime, in the perfect portion for four to share.
New Take-Home Treat It’s 11 p.m., and you need a pretzel, like, now. With some careful planning, North Market darling Brezel can come to the rescue. Since March, local markets like The Hills, Weiland’s and Huffman’s have stocked take-and-bake boxes of these perfectly chewy pretzel twists—in addicting flavors like rosemary garlic and olive oil and cinnamon sugar—in adorable freezer boxes created by local designer Jeremy Slagle.
Nickname Nod The newly opened Short North bar Arch City Tavern is littered with winks to the city’s past, like The Columbus Experiment cocktail, a spiced-bourbon, applejack and green chartreuse concoction named for the turn-of-the-century pioneering public water system developed here. Even the name hearkens to the city’s longstanding nickname. Brushing up on local history never tasted so good.
Because culture can come with fun perks
Table Service: Having a meal and drink delivered to you in your seat at Cinema Suites at AMC Easton 30 as you take in a movie compensates for even the most disappointing summer blockbuster.
Family fun: The Gateway sets aside the last Saturday of each month for its younger patrons at HOOT Family Film Series. Activities and crafts in the lobby start at 10 a.m., followed by a mix of international live-action and animated short films. It’s free, too, though you can donate to benefit the Open Shelter.
Classics: A Central Ohio staple, CAPA Summer Movie Series at Ohio Theatre (running through August) has the same vintage charms as it has had for the past four decades: classic movies, ranging from Alfred Hitchcock to Daffy Duck, and live organ music during each show. And yes, there is an organ. And yes, it rises from the orchestra pit.
Table Service: Six nights a week, Natalie’s Coal-Fired Pizza draws regional and national acts with a focus on Americana, singer-songwriters and jazz. Prefer your pizza without musical toppings? Come an hour or more before the show for no cover charge.
Family fun: Turning five this year, Goodale Park Music Series continues to present free, family-centric concerts Sundays through August from 12:30 to 2 p.m. at the gazebo in Goodale Park. But more than the sounds, if the kids get hungry, there are food carts; if they get bored, there are activities aplenty.
Classics: Museums are usually big on the whole “shhh, no talking” thing, but Sundays in July and August at the Columbus Museum of Art are hopping. Jazz pianist Mark Flugge will perform July 7 and 12 and Aug. 4 and 18, from 3 to 5 p.m. At $10 for adults and free admission for kids with an adult, it makes us want to holler with delight.
Bakery Comeback Bread lovers let out a whimper of despair when Eleni-Christina Bakery closed to the public nearly three years ago. During the hiatus, hungry patrons fled to Rigsby’s Kitchen and Tasi for signature loaves of chewy sourdough and baguettes made from natural ingredients you can count on one hand. Now, the doors to Eleni-Christina’s standing-room-only shop have finally reopened with a glass counter case full of pastry delights: warm breads, buttery almond croissants and rich brownies with cream cheese icing. Cravings can be satisfied Thursday through Saturday.
Free After-Dinner Nip What makes the trip to cozy Mediterranean eatery Lashish the Greek isn’t the savory lamb kabobs or fresh-cut fries sprinkled with garlic and feta—it’s the parting gift from gregarious chef and owner Mo Ballouz. After your meal, he’ll emerge from the kitchen with hot tea brewed with five types of leaves, sweetened with honey and served in gold-leafed aperitif glasses. This better-than-baklava dessert is the same treat he offers to guests at his home.
Local Partnership Shared ideas, mutual backscratching, collaboration—that’s just how Columbus does business. But heads turned for good reason when artisan roaster Cafe Brioso and microbrewery Columbus Brewing Co. released the Sohio Stout in October: Pioneers from city-shaping beer and coffee trends released a product that, like all good partnerships, is far better than the sum of its parts. Brewed with the Downtown cafe’s house espresso, the rich, chocolaty ale boasts an 8.5-percent ABV and the roasted flavor of your sunrise pick-me-up. Grab a draft during its seasonal return this fall.
Place to Try (Good!) Ohio Wines Step right up, ladies and gentlemen, to the amazing, misconception-defying, palate-delighting Ohio wines booth at the Ohio State Fair! In this corner, you’ll find samples and generous pours of some of the finest viticulture in the en-tire great state of Ohio. What’s that? Do I hear naysayers? Be silenced! These fine offerings—cabernet franc, riesling, pinot grigio, fruit wines, ice wines, more!—are selected for your tasting pleasure by our esteemed friends at the Ohio Grape Industries Commission. And for the first time this year, you’re invited to gain exclusive knowledge on pairing these delicious nectars with Ohio’s bountiful foods. Be sure to register in advance for the opportunity to impress the guests at your next soiree.
Scotch Education Wing’s Restaurant just might be the world’s only old-school Chinese restaurant that enjoys an equally robust life as a killer Scotch bar. We have second-generation owner Ken Yee to thank for this delightful contradiction. Don’t know much about the most seductive and compelling of spirits? Take a seat in Wing’s lounge and ask Yee, who shares his knowledge and passion freely, for a Scotch flight built just for you. The presentation—three sensuously curved little glasses in a tray built just for this purpose—is meant to be savored as much as the Scotch itself.
Local Cut There are as many ways to paint a flower as there are to slice up a hog. And, like artists, butchers have a long tradition of putting a personal (often geographical) stamp on a creation (think New York strip and Boston butt). Now, from the meat-obsessed mind of Bluescreek Farm butcher Tim Struble comes the Columbus rib, a pork spare rib with the belly (aka future bacon) still attached. Typically they are separated in butchering, but Struble wanted some extra luscious fat with his ribs or, after the cut has been brined and smoked, bone-in bacon. Either way, they’re dreamy and, just as important, Columbus proud.
Restaurant with Chain Potential On a stretch of Sawmill Road overcrowded with chain restaurants, we’re overjoyed to see one deserving eatery drawing the kinds of mobs usually reserved for the Olive Garden. The waits—up to two hours on weekends—tell us Dubliners were starving for the kind of scratch-made, reasonably priced gastropub fare 101 Beer Kitchen offers. We’d love to see this masterful concept replicated elsewhere, so all of Columbus can have access to house-made tater tots, hefeweizen-steamed mussels and ancho-and-coffee-rubbed pork porterhouse steaks.
Bowling Alley Food Let’s hear it for bowling alleys getting a much-needed makeover with Instagram-ready retro decor, classic cocktails and food from an actual chef. Embrace the trend at Ten Pin Alley in Hilliard where bowlers can dip crispy Brussels sprouts in a bacon aioli and feast on pizzas topped with wild mushrooms and drizzled in truffle oil. Meanwhile, drinks run the gamut from local Elevator beers to classic Manhattans to “Big Lebowski”-inspired White Russians. Sounds like a perfect game to us.
Pub Makeover In Clintonville, Prohibition-era liquor laws require restaurants to get community approval before they can serve alcohol. These legal hoops make many restaurateurs think twice before opening here. Brothers Ali and Abed AlShahal found a loophole: They bought a bar with existing liquor permits and gutted that dark and deserted dive bar to make way for a bright and airy restaurant. The Crest Gastropub may have a name similar to its Crest Tavern predecessor—but with a rustic-industrial decor, healthy craft beer selection and food sourced in part from a rooftop garden, it couldn’t feel more different.
Sub(urban) Winery Oak-barrel tables, brick accents, soft lighting—walking into cozy tasting room and bar Powell Village Winery feels more like California wine country than a suburban shopping plaza. It’s a purposeful design by owners Jeff and Gina Kirby, who fell in love with winemaking during trips out West. Stop in most evenings, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a seat to sample 20 varietals—from classic reds and whites to sweet fruit and ice wines—smartly crafted from California grape juice, reasonably priced ($6/glass, under $17/bottle) and bearing tongue-in-cheek names like My Place or Yours and Call Me a Cab. A new appetizer menu includes flatbreads and grape-cluster bread made by Gina’s grandmother.
PACKS A WALLOP
Grass Skirt Tiki Room’s Zombie is a tad less dangerous than the drink’s original three-rum recipe, but still warrants this menu disclaimer: “So potent, it’s one per customer!” House-made demerara syrup and grenadine, grapefruit juice, Cruzan Single Barrel and Cruzan 151 rums meet in deceptively fruity and smooth harmony in this classic must-try.
Want a cocktail under 100 calories that drinks like something a little stronger? Try the Pineapple Splash ($4.50) at laid-back Mexican joint Yabo’s Tacos. Little Black Dress Pineapple-Honey reduced-calorie vodka, lime juice and a splash of soda are served on the rocks in this refreshing, crisp and not saccharine-sweet “Slender Sipper.”
Anyone, from your 20-year-old niece to your pregnant girlfriend, will fit right in with the rest of you booze hounds at Molly Woo’s when she orders the Blackberry Cucumber Fresca ($3.25). Fruit and cucumber slices are muddled in the tall, showy glass and topped with soda water.
Middle Eastern Sampler Fast food is great because it’s fast, not typically because of taste. Enter Mezze, a quick-serve, build-your-own-meal eatery that meshes Middle Eastern and Mediterranean flavors—the cuisines owner Johnny Baransi, a native Israeli, grew up enjoying. You’ll find baba ganoush made the Lebanese way and eggplant dip made the Israeli-meets-Greek way. The menu is simple; the flavors are not. You choose your base—pita, rice bowl, salad or hummus—your protein and your vegetables. Not sure of a particular dish? The staff is happy to offer a sample ... or two.
Restaurant Row Newcomer The Grandview Avenue strip isn’t short on fine-dining establishments; what it’s been lacking is a laid-back, cheap-eats joint that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Local Cantina perfectly fills the void, with $3 tacos, a dozen-or-so cocktails and margaritas, serve-yourself chips and salsa and a kitschy-cool atmosphere. This bar first, eatery second spot is perfect for a post-work or weekend drink, so long as you don’t mind seating yourself—the staff is too busy pouring stiff drinks and fixing up Mexican fare to worry about details like “booth or bar?”
Misnomer Don’t be fooled by the label. Black Radish Creamery doesn’t make cheese—yet. That will come in spring 2014, when owners John and Anne Reese anticipate opening their 18-acre Granville creamery. The culinary-concept local fruit jams this chef and food photographer have been making in the meantime? A happy accident that’s spoiled big-box jellies for those of us who’ve sampled the 10-plus varieties at farmers markets and The Hills Market (and soon select Krogers) and fallen in love with its abilities beyond toast-topping. Try the sweet-and-spicy Parker (grilled peaches, cayenne, rum, brown sugar and vanilla) on pork or the Beaujolais-laced strawberry-rhubarb Billionaire with brie.
Bar-Food Kitchen Takeover Mismatched woven placemats and quirky salt and pepper shakers shaped like pool balls remind both regulars (at the bar) and hipsters (in the booths) exactly where they are—a no-frills dive that’s not afraid of a joke at its own expense. The overall personality hasn’t changed at Hey Hey Bar & Grill, but the food has, and it’s harder to get a seat since former The Coop food truck chef Angela Theado took over the kitchen every Thursday through Saturday. Those who remember The Coop will appreciate reincarnations of the Yak Burger and Turducken Tacos on a tight gastropub-like menu. Longtime Hey Hey regulars will appreciate that the bar’s standby—sauerkraut balls—have stuck around.
Brand Evolution Convincing people to shell out a few extra bucks for Snowville Creamery’s artisan milk is as easy as letting them try it, says owner Warren Taylor, who hooks many customers for life through free samples. And now Snowville devotees can buy much more than milk. First came chocolate milk and half-and-half, and now the Athens-area creamery has expanded its lineup to include creme fraiche and decadent cream-topped yogurts in flavors like lemon-ginger, coffee-cardamom and turmeric-mace, all of them excellent.
Meal for a Cause Maybe it’ll be a backyard seafood ball. Or perhaps a pig roast at The Hills Market. The mystery of Freedom a la Cart’s traveling Eat Up! dinner party is half the fun, with a location and menu both kept secret to the fortunate 16 to 18 guests who snag a spot at this monthly meal for a $50 donation benefiting the cart, which employs human trafficking survivors. The creative, four-course seasonal suppers have featured dishes like lamb with artichoke spaetzle and crispy leeks and desserts like vanilla-beet buttermilk panna cotta.