Eating through the streets and years in historic and modern Delaware
No restaurant in the area embraces edgy modernist cooking techniques like Veritas in Delaware. At first, Delaware-a quaint, pretty and ostensibly sleepy old college town about 30 miles from Columbus-might seem an ironic setting for the high-tech-inflected cuisine of Veritas. But walking around Delaware's gently undulating narrow main streets, you begin to notice a palimpsestic quality to the place and how it eats that's utterly charming. Here, "vintage" and "contemporary" seamlessly mesh like alternating pages in a fluttering flip book.
Delaware is full of historical markers alerting people to its temporal layering. For instance, there's a sign near a sulfur spring commemorating the very first Ohio State football game-an away battle the Buckeyes won on May 3, 1890, against Ohio Wesleyan-the beautiful-campused school (it's actually older than OSU) that is still the beating heart of Delaware.
Another sign, by a downtown antique shop, describes how Frederick Douglass and William Tecumseh Sherman each made fiery speeches there. And swinging prominently over the middle of a major avenue-like a traffic light-hangs a neon indicator you've reached the beloved Bun's Restaurant (hint: eat in the roomy "enclosed patio").
Nourished through business roots reaching back into the Civil War era, the original Bun's lamentably burnt down in 2002; the new Bun's is built on the same site. If Bun's son looks like a standard 21st-century family restaurant-cum-sports bar, fragments of its menu echo a rich history. For instance, the menu cover juxtaposes the same street vista seen just outside the building in a current-days color picture with a black-and-white photograph taken during horse-and-buggy times.
Inside the menu, some classic holdovers are noteworthy, such as "a favorite for 100 years" called Ham Loaf ($12). Prepared from "Bun's original recipe," it's like a mildly sweet and salty, porky yet light version of meatloaf. The big and pleasant pink slab comes "gravied" with honey mustard sauce and sided with dense honest mashers, a veggie du jour plus very fine house breads.
You also gotta go retro with the Homemade Chocolate Fudge Cake ($4). Made, as the menu informs, implementing Bun's "original recipe from 1864," it's an irresistible slice of the past that tastes like a great, marshmallow-cream-starred Texas sheet cake.
To continue eating through the years, head down the street to the little greasy spoon gem called the Hamburger Inn Diner, established in 1932 and virtually intact from then. The breakfast-all-day, 24-hour (except for Sundays and Mondays) joint has a layout and large metal griddle that'll be familiar to any Columbusite who's ever dined at Nancy's in Clintonville.
Its seating stands out-black bar stools beneath one continuously snaking square wave-form made of well-worn, polished wood; this conjures an unbroken stepped timeline. Also standing out are thin and crispy, hand-cut fries ($2.25) plus never-frozen, old-school burgers arriving on soft and puffy, house-baked buns.
Splurge on a double "Hangover"-twin-patties with breakfast on them (i.e. bacon, egg and cheese; $6.25), and don't leave without justifiably famous, deep-fried and maple-iced Cinnamon Roll ($1.59).
Keep feeding that sweet tooth at the cute, built-in-1850, porch and courtyard-equipped brick domicile housing Ollie's Fine Ice Cream. An Ohio Wesleyan favorite, Ollie's offers 25 or so ever-changing homemade flavors and pours beer in the summer. I recently enjoyed a buttery and chunky Vanilla Pretzel Stick with Caramel and a smooth Strawberry Gelato-each $3.50 when scooped into made-here waffle cones.
For a wonderful drink (they also make good-looking snacks) and aggressively friendly service, head to Vito's Wine Bar. This suave dual threat offers vinos from state-of-the-art, enomatic-style dispensers upstairs and carefully crafted cocktails ($10) in a nifty downstairs whiskey bar. Try their accomplished Manhattans and Old Fashioneds.
Comfy, airy and family-friendly, the terrific Amato's Woodfired Pizza features strong appetizers (excellent homemade meatballs are $4.50); salads (thumbs-up to the veggie-laden, large Greek-ish House-$7-with a tart and sweet homemade blue cheese vinaigrette); cheap wines (a glass of Ruffino chianti is $5); and a pizza menu basically cloned from Bono's in Columbus.
If less delicate than Bono's stunners, Amato's first-rate thin-crusters are a close runner-up. Plus they offer arguably the best whole wheat crust in Central Ohio. Try these beauties (all $8): the veggie-heavy Verdura, San Giorgio (sausage and pepperoni) or Hulk-a pesto-sauced green meanie.
This brings us back full circle to the classic-yet-modern fun palace where Veritas was hatched (i.e. where its chefs previously concentrated) named for the year Delaware was founded-1808 American Bistro.
Flagrant with huge frame-riffing elements that seemingly invite patrons to enter its world, 1808 is emblematic for this city-it's simultaneously old (inhabiting a vintage brick building across from the historic Strand Theater) yet contemporary (practicing sous-vide and other au courant techniques).
For a delicious check-it-out taste, show up at happy hour when 48 craft beers are half-priced, and munch on 1808's marvelous Boudin Balls ($9)-an old Cajun-style, spicy homemade sausage preparation given a new stylish plating.
Food critic G.A. Benton was awarded 2012 Best Critic in Ohio by the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists.