Our landlocked city's No. 1 myth is finally busted. Yes, you can get great, locally sourced fish dishes. Start with these three standouts
When it comes to "the other white meat," make mine fish. Especially if it's any of three seasonably light fin dishes I've loved lately. Created in vastly dissimilar Columbus restaurants using three different species prepared in completely distinct styles, these fantastic meals share an important key to their tender, flaky and sweet deliciousness: All star fish caught in Ohio.
That's right, local doesn't just mean terrestrial, even in our landlocked region. Plus, think about this: Eating local aquatic foods makes the same kind of sense as seeking out Buckeye strawberries and Ohio pork-not only does it shrink our carbon footprint and strengthen our state's economy, but fresher tastes better.
Among the trifecta of Ohio-caught fish likely to pop up, walleye is the most common. But the casual, brew-centric 101 Beer Kitchen puts an uncommon spin on its wonderful, Cajun-esque Pan-Seared Walleye ($16).
Flaunting the color yellow and garnished with two treatments of corn and tomatoes, it arrives like a paean to a sunny summer day. From the bottom up, it starts with a gentle, hummus-textured, sweet and creamy corn puree. Then come perky fried green tomato discs that lead to a flawlessly fried walleye fillet that's darkly crusted and dusted in volatile blackening spices. Crowning it all is a zingy little roasted corn and tomato salad splashed with vinegar, basil and arugula. Everything works beautifully together, and the delicate and supple fish is never overwhelmed by its acidic, sweet and cayenne-bite-delivering, yin-and-yang accents.
School is in session at Windward Passage. Wait, make that schools. While the vibe is decidedly old-school and hilariously nautical (the permanently fixed, darkly lit decor features captain's wheel chandeliers, crab traps and masthead adornments), Windward's fish is as fresh as it gets. Additionally, this vintage '70s strip mall space could school many a modern restaurant in the fine art of frying.
Windward's Lake Erie walleye is justifiably famous. But its Ohio lake-to-plate dinner I've been most crazy about lately is the amazing Yellow Perch ($17.25). Several preparations are available, but Windward's consistent genius for deep frying makes that an easy choice.
After a relic-like iceberg salad (go with the thick, chivey, homemade ranch dressing), you'll receive an enormous serving of refreshingly greaseless, thin and crackly battered perch with beautifully clean-tasting, snow-white meat underneath. Lemon and a rich tartar sauce are provided, but I prefer the lovely, juicy and stunning fish to speak for itself, enjoying it with in-between bites of granny-style green beans and crispy, handmade potato chips-or the best non-hand-cut fries in town.
Because of its relative expense, Ohio-sourced trout is much harder to find. Then again, rare treasures abound at meticulously sourcing, crazy-great Till-where trout crops up semi-often on a frequently changing menu (sometimes as a salad add-on for a mere $8).
Called Ohio Campfire Trout ($22), Till's elegant and deceptively simple-seeming grilled fish dish fittingly features mild whiffs of smoke and hints of black pepper. Wide-open clams jammed with bacon, a light and lovely tomato broth and crispy little croutons serve as a sort of "bridge," spanning a generous fillet of tender and phenomenal trout. Holding the bivalve bridge in place are heft-lending buttresses of roast potatoes. Warning: Resist the temptation to just stare at this pretty plate and, instead, immediately dig in to its harmonious flavors and fabulous fish. When you're finished, offer up a bit of thanks that you're lucky enough to live on our undiscovered fish haven of Columbus, Ohio.