Best of Columbus 2014: Eat & Drink

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From the July 2014 edition

Place to Toast the Crew

There’s nothing like Crew Stadium’s Nordecke section at kickoff, but what about before the game? Columbus Crew fans know to head to Fourth Street Bar & Grille, located just a couple miles south of the stadium. The bar is Columbus’ official soccer spot, known for tuning into several international games in addition to Crew matches, and the large front patio is perfect for the flags-and-vuvuzelas-toting gang who doesn’t want to lug their match gear inside. Bonus: The beer selection is one of the city’s best. On-site carryout House of Brews features more than 100 brews in six-packs, growlers and cases.

Bread Basket

The arrival of the bread basket at most restaurants is forgettable (or regrettable, after you’ve filled up on mediocre crumbs). At DeepWood, it has the effect of receiving a gift. Peek inside the little package to find tender fruit-and-nut-studded bread, crisp, flaky lavash and slices of country-white bread that make a perfect vehicle for salt-pocked butter that arrives in its own dish. This warm welcome to the restaurant sets the tone for the entire experience—sophisticated and eclectic, with a personal touch.

Hidden Bakery

Dan Riesenberger’s expertly crafted breads are easy to find—loaves of crunchy roasted sesame at the farmers market or crisp buns on burgers at Skillet. But the bakery itself, a small cafe where you can watch Riesenberger craft pastries through a picture window, is much more esoteric. In the back of an industrial park off Dublin Road, Riesenberger has created a baked-goods oasis worth seeking out for its vintage pastry case filled with flaky croissants and bacon and cheddar scones. Recently reopened after an update to the menu, Dan the Baker diners can pair coffee with seasonally topped toasts and pressed sandwiches on organic sourdough, too.

Expansion

Chef Henry Butcher is one of the city’s most underappreciated culinary talents. That should change later this year when he opens a long-awaited full-service version of his Creole Kitchen. For the moment, he turns out dishes like Chicken Andouille Jambalaya, muffaletta po’boys and his sinfully cream-drenched fettuccine entrees from a strip mall storefront with just a few seats. Soon, though, customers will be sitting in a full-fledged dining room next door, devouring these and other dishes—including Butcher’s grandmother’s bread pudding. Can’t wait for a taste of Creole Kitchen? Call in an order of beignets in the morning (they’re fried to order), and you’ll receive them piping hot and nestled under a blizzard of powdered sugar.

Reimagined Building

Though the kitschy party supplies are gone, there’s still plenty to love about the former Yankee Trader building, which got a dramatic revamp this year. Building owners Triad Architects smartly converted the Downtown building—saving architectural touches like staircases that lead to nowhere—into a mixed-use space for offices, apartments and, most notably, restaurants. We’re thankful we can once again appreciate the storied brick-walled, wood-floored Yankee Trader, this time noshing on bison burgers at Brooklyn-based Bareburger and sipping culinary craft cocktails at the vibrantly colored Denmark on High, which proves Prohibition-era cocktails don’t need a speakeasy vibe to taste good. But if it’s speakeasy you want, head downstairs to The Secret Cellar for a bottle of wine or beer to go.

Surprise Soup Stop

It’s easy to get distracted at The Fish Guys stand. You could keep your head down, focused on the fresh smattering of shrimp, salmon and halibut resting on ice. But here’s one great reason to look up: freshly made seafood soup. You’ll find the day’s four offerings on a small chalkboard hanging over the stand. There’s always a comforting Manhattan and New England clam chowder. The other two rotate at the whim of the “soup guy,” who’s been creating deeply rich soups like shrimp chili and tomato with shrimp and scallops at the North Market stand for eight years, owner Doug Denny says. It’s rare he ever makes something twice, Denny warns, so get it while you can.

Breakfast Bite

Let’s be honest. Despite their name, these sweet, fluffy, two-bite treats aren’t breakfast. But that’s OK, because Katalina’s serves owner Kathleen Day’s slightly crispy, soft and doughy balls—each warm, gooey center bursting with one of five flavors like fig or Nutella—all day, every day. Golden brown, lightly dusted with powdered sugar and served alongside thick strips of greasy bacon, this twist on traditional pancakes and syrup is the tiny eatery’s top seller. Though each basket of seven balls is good to share, we won’t judge you if you order them all for yourself.

Dessert Disguised as Breakfast

SuperChef’s Breakfast & More puts the “cake” in pancakes—or at least the sweet toppings. “We wanted to keep it traditional with the pancake batter, but our flair is in the extras and in the presentation,” co-owner Ryan Bryson says of their offerings, ranging from the heart-shaped Red Velvet Pancakes to Baked Alaskan Banana Pudding Pancakes topped with a torched meringue. Like everything the Downtown breakfast spot does, their pancakes are over-the-top in embellishments and portion size. When they first opened last summer, Bryson says, most people took home leftovers, “but now people know to bring their appetite.” Look for their Fourth of July-inspired Patriotic Pancakes, with strawberry and blueberry cakes, this month.

Bizarre Yet Delightful Ingredient

If chef Will Johnston were to engrave a dish on his tombstone—an accomplishment set for an eternity in stone—it would be the Jackfruit Tacos that have quickly become a signature dish at Franklinton’s Strongwater Food and Spirits, he says. Of course we hope Johnson is around for a long, long time. For who else would feed our addiction to these sweet-heat tacos? On a blue corn tortilla, fleshy jackfruit boasts the texture of pulled chicken with the light and bright flavor of tropical fruit. Add crunch and a kick of heat from Sriracha slaw and a generous drizzle of smoky chimichurri rojo, and you’ve got a dish that will sate carnivores and vegans alike. Normally $3.50 a pop, swing by for happy hour on Tuesdays when you can snag two for $5.

Evolution

When Brothers Drake Meadery opened at Fifth and High in 2011, it was little more than just that—an out-of-the-way space where mead was made and sold. But if you haven’t been since those first few months, you’d barely recognize it now. With new meads pouring from the taps, local art hanging on the walls, a diverse lineup of local music on the stage nearly every night and a constant line in front of resident food truck Tokyo GoGo, the once slapdash meadery has transformed into a lively cultural hub. “I think we’re just in a groove,” co-owner Eric Allen says. “We’ve been making some incredible mead and having some great music to go with it.”

Novel Lunch Spot

Housed in cavernous white-brick rooms in the Statehouse’s lower level, Milo’s Capital Cafe typically serves more than 300 people a day, yet it still feels like a well-kept secret. Three years ago, Milo’s—owned by the same family that owns Tommy’s Diner in Franklinton—took over the Statehouse’s basic take-a-tray-down-the-line cafeteria, says manager Jade Green. Expect unfussy but really good breakfast and lunch options like the staff favorite Smokey Omelet, with bacon, smoked cheddar and gouda (a weekly special usually served on Thursdays) and perennial favorite the Capital Pretzel Club. Make sure you save room for dessert, too. Milo’s is famous for its baklava, cheesecake and oversize gooey cookies.

Use of a Spent Barrel

Cleveland chef Jonathon Sawyer envisioned Tavern Vinegar Co. as a means to simultaneously reduce waste and create some very intriguing vinegar. Sawyer started making vinegar in his stone-walled home basement in 2008, using leftover wine and beer from his restaurants. Late last year, Tavern Vinegar Co. partnered with, as Sawyer puts it, the “like-minded individuals” at Columbus’ Middle West Spirits to grow production—and also take advantage of some of their previously unusable waste, including the distillery’s sour beer mash and, ingeniously, their spent oak barrels. So, what can you do with this vinegar? Anything, really. “I like the more unobvious answers to that question,” Sawyer says. “I like to see it in desserts. I like to see it in cocktails, like a mezcal margarita with a splash of rose vinegar.”

Inspired Pork

The Pork and Pork sandwich at Si Senor is as wonderfully gluttonous as it sounds—a food coma-inducing combination of roasted pork loin, chorizo, avocado and cool cilantro mayo that manages to be sweet, spicy and umami all at once. It must be the Coca-Cola and soy sauce marinade in which owner Guillermo Perez roasts the pork, and the spices inside the link of Mexican chorizo that are nearly identical to what he finds at home in Peru. The now-permanent sandwich was initially a one-off special designed to use up leftover pork from a catering event. “We had to do something with it,” Perez says with a laugh. “Now it’s one of the ones we sell the most.”