A Chef Who Is Redefining Tavern Fare

Why He's a Tastemaker: Any true Columbus culinary adventurer has followed Andrew Smith wherever he's gone over the past several years, from the cozy Short North digs of The Rossi to the creative diner fare of Philco Bar + Diner to the ambitious but short-lived Salt & Pine. Now he's found a home at Rockmill Tavern, the gastronomic extension of the Lancaster-based brewery, where his skill has created a menu that pushes boundaries for daring diners while satisfying the casual burger-and-a-beer crowd.

A Proper Pairing: One of Smith's first tasks in opening the Rockmill Tavern kitchen was crafting a menu to match the Belgian farmhouse ales produced by Matthew Barbee, owner of Rockmill Brewery. “It's nice to be able to cook forward-thinking food that can sit well in a tavern and can pair with beer,” Smith says. “It's a nice thing to mark off my list. Most cooks pair with wine. I learned to pair with beer.”

It certainly seems to be a winning combination. Smith was familiar with Rockmill's style, and the menu came together with the beer faster than he expected. His ongoing challenge–one he seems to be meeting admirably–is creating tavern food that still pushes the envelope. “We have a burger and chicken sandwich,” he says, “but even those are different than you'd expect to find at other places. That aside, our main goal is trying to create a small, focused menu that pairs well with beer. We'll always have the staple items, but the rest of the menu is a way for us to be creative. We always try and do things that put us out of our comfort zone. We have a great opportunity to force ourselves to learn new things and make mistakes and keep learning.”

The Kitchen Team: Smith says he's always felt at home in the kitchen. Following culinary school in Portland, Oregon, he landed his first kitchen job and found himself enjoying the camaraderie. After moving to Columbus in 2010, he's continued to excel in the kitchen and attributes his success at Rockmill to the strength of his team. “It's given me an opportunity to work with a kitchen team that I regard very highly,” he says. “We push each other to be different in our thinking. My cooks aren't hesitant to tell me, ‘Hey, this might be better.' We all bounce ideas off each other.”

Future Collaborations: Smith and his team continue to flex their culinary muscle with a monthly Monday supper. He describes the dinners as more “romantic and refined.” Each month he features a different theme; past excursions have included a pairing focused on the house Saison Super while another Monday featured a hog roast at Rockmill's Lancaster farm with The Butcher & Grocer. Smith says he's looking forward to more of these collaborations. “Our commitment will be doing it better every time,” he says.