Most rookies don't make the all-star team, but most new restaurants don't field a strong and consistent kitchen crew like Watershed Kitchen & Bar. The business wasn't exactly embryonic—as a pioneering Columbus distiller, Watershed has been creating excellent spirits for about six years. Now, the company's booze brightens a lineup of sophisticated cocktails shaken at the copper-topped bar inside a dark, fashionable space where plants, distillery tanks and pew-like banquettes offset black walls and a low ceiling. It's routinely packed, thanks to the shareable plates and lusty yet stylish cuisine of executive chef Jack Moore, a veteran of top Cleveland restaurants like The Black Pig and Greenhouse Tavern.

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Difference-Maker: Sharables Worth Sharing

Explaining Watershed's embrace of the popular small plates trend, chef Moore says, “Dining doesn't have to be a prim and proper, elbows-off-the-table ritual. Food is fun.” To this end, Moore eighty-sixed the menu structure of appetizers, entreés and desserts. Instead, as Moore puts it, “We run ones, twos and threes—each number corresponding to a larger portion.” Watershed also offers diner-designed tasting menus (the shareable meals are deals at $47) that include a snack-sized one; hefty-appetizer-like two; entreé-ish three; plus dessert. “We want guests to feel in control,” Moore says. “Order however you want, try a bite of everything, or not. It isn't about the start and finish, but what happens at the table in the meantime.” Smiles will appear at the table when the herby, garlic-kissed, crispy fingerling potatoes arrive with a lush aioli playing off lemon zest and feathery shaved Parmesan. Fans of Nashville-style hot chicken—and aren't we all—will love the buttermilk fried chicken, a Moore favorite. It's a crackly battered leg and thigh capped with tangy, chili-flecked “whipped pig butter” (think spicy lardo) melting like a scoop of ice cream; sweet pickles and a terrific hot sauce come on the side. But there's also a corned beef-style treatment of sweetbreads (a staff favorite), dressed-to-kill fried Brussels sprouts, baby back ribs and other dishes Moore accurately describes as homey yet new.