Plant-based burgers, speakeasy-style bars and more

Dinner Table Dispute

There's a running joke in the craft brewing community that if the industry keeps booming, eventually they'll run out of new names for beer. That phenomenon spilled over into the local restaurant scene last year when owners of The Table in the Short North sued Giant Eagle over the name of its in-store Bexley restaurant, Table. The dispute was resolved last November when Giant Eagle agreed to rename its eatery Market District Kitchen & Bar.




Food Trend: More Plant-Based Options

In the past year, Eden Burger has become a Campus-area favorite for vegan burgers, fries and shakes. The Impossible Burger is now served in places like Acre, Bareburger, Melt Bar & Grilled and Starliner Diner. Three cheers to Service Bar for offering a separate, all-vegetarian menu option from the moment it opened. Launched last fall, the adorable food truck The Little Kitchen is slinging vegan nachos, mac 'n' peas, smoothies and more. This year, Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams released its first dairy-free ice cream, the delicious Dark Chocolate Truffle. Whit's Frozen Custard now offers vegan frozen custards, ice cream cakes and ice cream sandwiches. There are also a slew of vegan pop-ups to try, like Woodhouse Vegan, Willowbeez Soulveg and Freeks + Leeks.

Ploy for Free Food

In April 2017, a Nevada teenager named Carter Wilkerson asked Wendy's how many retweets it would take to get free nuggets for a year. Wendy's answered 18 million, and the #NuggsForCarter campaign was born. His tweet went viral, and he eventually hit 3.6 million retweets, surpassing Ellen DeGeneres' world record for her star-studded photo from the 2014 Oscars. Wilkerson got his nuggs despite falling short of the original goal, and Wendy's donated $100,000 to the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption in his name.

Helping Hand

After reading about a food pantry at Michigan State University, Ohio State students Alec Admonius, Katie Watson and Thomas Rosenberger opened a similar facility in Lincoln Tower in March 2016. The Buckeye Food Alliance aims to address hunger for the 15 percent of OSU students who reported being food-insecure in a 2014 survey. Information about donations of food or money is available on the website, buckeyefoodalliance.org/donate.

Bars Without TVs

Tired of playing second fiddle to a TV? Several bars in Columbus recognize that conversation should sometimes take the spotlight. Curio (RIP) and Mouton provide an alternative for those tired of the sports bar scene. Speakeasy-style bar The Light of Seven Matchsticks lacks cell service and emphasizes getting to know the people around you. The Bottle Shop and St. James Tavern offer alternative entertainment in classic movies and a jukebox, respectively, while Lineage Brewing encourages outdoor engagement with huge windows and patio spaces.

New Bites

Here are some of our favorite dishes from the past year. You'll find one of the city's best smashburgers at Preston's Burgers, now located inside Woodland's Backyard and Eugene's Canteen. Cravings Café has quickly become a Downtown darling, serving delectable breakfast burritos and tuna melts. For tasty barbecue, try the beef ribs from Smoked on High Barbecue Co. and the brisket from Legacy Smokehouse. If you're feeling fancy, order the crispy ribs or oxtail gnocchi from Service Bar. (We also loved chef Avishar Barua's take on pani puri, which he shared at Columbus Monthly's Best New Restaurants event.) Veritas launched its first lunch menu, including a fine harissa and carrot hummus plate with a crispy focaccia-pita hybrid. Rockmill Tavern and chef Andrew Smith continue to surprise—Smith's rotating “blanket pasta” is always a stunner. For dessert, we'll take Tiger + Lily's Mille Crepe Cakes, Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams' Frosé Sorbet or the outstanding gelato from newcomer Ciao Café in Delaware.

New Hidden Gem

Veritas' new home in Downtown Columbus has gotten a lot of attention of late, but its sister bar, The Citizens Trust on the lobby level of the The Citizens building, is well worth its own accolades. It's accessible via a side door on Gay Street or by navigating a few back halls and staircases from Veritas itself and is named for the building's original tenant: Citizens Trust Bank. Head there for classy environs, inventive cocktails and superb service.

Drink Trend: Aperitivo

It's increasingly easy to drink like an Italian in Columbus. We're seeing a lot of cocktails and happy hours inspired by aperitivo, the Italian version of happy hour. Giuseppe's Ritrovo in Bexley is a fine spot for exploring different aperitivo drinks (served before dinner, featuring liqueurs and fortified wines like Aperol and amontillado sherry) and amari (bitter, herbal after-dinner liqueurs like Cynar). Bartender Sean Ward says this summer the restaurant will feature “a small spritz bar section of the beverage list” offering a wide variety of seasonal flavors, aperitivo and bubbles. The opening of Lupo in Upper Arlington provides another boon for fans of Italian- and Spanish-influenced drinks, via a nice selection of sherry, vermouth and amari, plus an aperitivo menu with tapas, wines and cocktails like the White Negroni. The Market Italian Village also offers aperitivo 3–6 p.m. Monday through Saturday with a variety of drinks from spritzes to sherry-based cocktails.

Taste Test: Chocolate Chip Cookies

With a gallon of milk on hand, the Columbus Monthly staff took on a formidable challenge: sample 13 nut-free chocolate chip cookies from around the city (including one homemade one) and determine a winner. Using aesthetics and overall flavor as the criteria, Northstar Café won over our sugar-addled staff. The most imposing cookie of the bunch, Northstar's was also the most balanced—not too salty and not too sweet. In second place was Little Eater's wee, almost gooey cookie, while Worthington's Sassafras Bakery captured third with a crunchy, salt-flecked exterior that some loved and some found off-putting (one staffer said that it “could be used to survive a long sea voyage”). Chips ahoy!

1st Place: Northstar Café ($3 each)

4241 N. High St., Clintonville, 614-784-2233; 4015 Townsfair Way, Easton, 614-532-5444; 951 N. High St., Short North, 614-298-9999; 109 S. State St., Westerville, 614-394-8992

Staff comment: “Mmm. Great chips, like the salt, not too sweet.”

*

2nd Place: Little Eater ($1.75 each)

4215 N. High St., Clintonville, 614-732-5829; 59 Spruce St., Short North, 614-670-4375

Staff comment: “This is fab. Chewy outside, soft inside, great chip-to-cookie ratio and flavor. A classic.”

*

3rd Place: Sassafras Bakery ($2.25 each)

657 N. High St., Worthington, 614-781-9705

Staff comment: “I prefer chewy to crunchy, but the crunch works. Mysterious, floral taste.”