Brunch is “in season” for the Southern-inspired Short North eatery.
In an area of town where it's common to wait to get a seat for even something as pedestrian as a Coney dog, it's strange to observe an empty restaurant. But the Short North's Biscuit & Branch operates with the predictability of a soft serve spot in a tourist town; there are times when there's a line out the door, and there are times when it's a ghost town. Saturday and Sunday brunch is “in season” for the Southern-style restaurant that serves breakfast fare all day. And dinner is that magical time when you can grab a typically coveted window seat at dusk without delay, and with the full attention of the staff.
The restaurant, owned and designed by Tony Selimi (who also owns Westies Gastropub), is sleek, if not classically Southern. The interior reflects Selimi's background in construction. The layout is no-nonsense and designed for easy food delivery. The finishes are stylish, and in an era when a visual statement comes at the expense of convenience for guests (think: cutting boards as plates, wall-anchored tables and 20-pound chairs), it's nice to have something as simple as comfortable chairs, an easy-to-read menu and enough lighting to read it. Some aspects of the restaurant seem a little out of place (such as the giant televisions showing sports on the wall) but are necessary given its primary audience of millennial urbanites.
Beverage-wise, the bar serves up an impressive variety of beers, mimosa specials and creative cocktails. The Moonshine Mule, served in a traditional Moscow Mule cup, is crisp and a sweet homage to the blueberry. The One Line coffee flows freely at brunch, while tea selections are sparse.
The service ranges from spectacular to hectic. The folks on the ground at Biscuit & Branch know what they're doing and manage the weekend afternoon crowds like pros. They collaborate and anticipate one another's customers' needs in a charming way. (A hostess, for example, expertly provided fresh coffee to two guests whose server hadn't had a chance to get to them yet.)
Executive chef Brad Bonacci executes a menu conceived by the restaurant's culinary director Paul Yow, whose past lives as a chef at Barcelona and owner of Hae Paul's (a Korean-American restaurant) lend variety to Biscuit & Branch's offerings. Look past the typical American-style brunch dishes, and you'll find snippets of Spanish and Korean fare sprinkled within. (Think: Korean barbecue and paella littered with black beans.) The menu features some hits (generally when Yow sticks with what he knows) and some very memorable misses. That said, with everything priced reasonably, there's not much investment required to take a risk while ordering.
First, the wins.
The Tractor Wheel ($9.50 with egg)—quite possibly the restaurant's best item—deserves its place at the very top of the menu. This Korean-style pancake (a cousin to Japanese okonomiyaki) has a base of cabbage and sweet potato and is topped with Korean barbecue sauce, tangy green onions, garlic cream, a dash of soy sauce and an optional over-easy egg. Crispy on the outside and fully cooked on the inside, this starter is delightful. The egg, with its runny yolk ideal for dipping, is a must-have.
The Paul's Nasty ($9.50) makes for a good dinner, but would be even better as hangover fare. Enormous pieces of chicken fried in rice flour perch on a buttermilk biscuit. It's topped with a sea of sausage gravy and melted cheddar. With a super crisp exterior, the chicken was perfectly tender, with the texture one might find in a soft-shell crab. The sauce had a bit of a kick. A few scallions scattered on top would go a long way (both in flavor and in color) for this giant pile of decadent, beige food.
Another dinner option is the Charleston Paella ($19). This fusion dish includes seafood (small pieces of shrimp and crab meat mixed in creamy rice) and expertly cooked fried chicken. Touches of garlic sauce, peas and a curious addition of black beans complement the meal, which is well-balanced and one of the restaurant's better creations.
And while pancakes are among the simplest of dishes, Biscuit & Branch's griddle cakes ($8.50) are worthy of a reorder. The pile of thin, chocolate chip-studded pancakes are perfectly suited for adults (with not too much chocolate) and served alongside sweet whipped butter.
And then there are the dishes that didn't work out so well, with the strangest being the Natalie ($9.50). This dish—labeled as a salad—is downright confusing. It starts out innocently enough, with shaved Brussels sprouts, too-thick slices of manchego cheese and an over-easy egg on top. But included in the mix are giant pieces of warm almond brittle and a mustard vinaigrette that is described as sweet, but was overwhelmed by an unidentifiable, nose-stinging ingredient similar to horseradish. From mismatched texture combinations, to jarring flavor profiles, to an inability to eat the dish with a single utensil (does one eat almond brittle with a fork?), Natalie needs a do-over.
Glenn's Pickle Plate ($8.50) is another dish that had good intentions but fell short in execution. This starter came out quickly with a bright array of pickled fare—mushrooms, okra, peppers, onions, cucumbers, beets and some beet-brined hard-boiled eggs. But the kitchen forced the Southern theme by including pimento cheese, which was displayed in the center of the plate underneath a pile of vegetables. It had a nice flavor and consistency, but it was confusing as to how the cheese (which came with no crackers or bread) was to be consumed. Added to the mix was an overpowering tang from the pickles that not even the cheese could break through.
I'm an adventurous eater, and I am among those who believe that Columbus chefs should work outside of their comfort zones. But they should also honor their skill sets, as well as the rules of gastronomy. Some things are meant to go together, like orange juice and bubbly, or biscuits and gravy. But in this concept, Yow and company have branched a little too far out of their—and our—comfort zones. At press time, the restaurant was preparing to rework its dinner menu, so maybe those no-wait days are numbered.