Executive chef Tyler Minnis brings excitement to the menu, but this restaurant/bodega/coffee shop is still searching for its true identity.
With the recent addition of executive chef Tyler Minnis (formerly of Angry Bear Kitchen), The Market Italian Village has changed a few things since it opened four years ago. But one thing remains the same at this neighborhood restaurant: The atmosphere is both unique in Columbus and always a little awkward.
It's a restaurant, a grocery, a coffee shop, a bakery and a bar. The Market's everything-to-everyone approach requires a little dance with the front-of-house workers—they don't know if you want a table or a jar of mustard, whether you want to linger all day on a laptop or whether you have a one-hour lunch window.
The look itself is charming. The perimeters of The Market are lined with dry goods, a large selection of wine, an ample supply of cold beer and a charcuterie case. In the center is a service counter for baked goods, booze and coffee drinks. Peppered throughout are tables with red wooden chairs. Cookbooks and chalkboards accentuate the décor, and when the weather's nice, windows open to provide plenty of alfresco-style dining.
The Market (a product of A&R Creative Group, known for The Crest Gastropub, Ethyl & Tank and Alchemy) opened with the intention of selling local fare—both off the shelves and on the plate. Today, the grocery provisions are limited to little more than what one might need for a snowstorm: milk, butter, eggs and, of course, lots of beer and wine. It's not odd to grab a coffee or a pint of beer in grocery stores these days. (It's odd not to, really.) And having the folks behind a service counter at your grocery firing up flatbreads is also common.
What separates The Market from the pack is that what goes on in the kitchen is essentially Italian and Mediterranean fine dining: daily menus, $35–$40 nightly specials, ingredient-driven courses and the trendiest, most seasonal local produce (think: sunchokes and ramps) you can find. Chef Minnis is pulling off what Whole Foods would love to achieve, but he's doing it in a place that feels like a café and has service similar to what Rachel Green of Friends provided at Central Perk—ambling and distracted. It's a confusing dynamic for customers and possibly for the waitstaff, as well.
And thus, that which makes The Market unique also can make it maddening: It doesn't know what it wants to be.
As far as beverages go, there's a high-meets-low feel to the place: Glasses of bubbly rosé and cans of Miller High Life share the spotlight as happy-hour specials. The bar pours heavy on the wine and offers a few cocktails featuring local spirits.
The menu has several snack items meant to pair well with those wine pours, including a Lebanese spiced potato dish called batata harra ($8). If there's one commonality among A&R's menus, it's the presence of at least one nod to the owners' Lebanese descent. While they might be a better fit as a side dish, these paprika-kissed fingerlings have a deceivingly creamy texture. (At first glance, they appear to be crispy.)
The charcuterie ($21) doesn't skimp on the meats and pickled veggies; it's big enough for three. A spicy housemade chorizo pate stole the show on a recent board, which could have featured more than one cheese for the price.
The appetizers—which could be meals on their own—are where Minnis starts to reveal his mastery. The mussels ($14) are served in a heavenly umami-rich broth. Delicate fregola (a Sardinian pasta), small crumbles of sausage and hints of tomatoes envelop the mussels, which are served with a perfectly crisp baguette. Not served with the mussels were the utensils and bowl often accompanying such a dish. Nonetheless, it was worth the inconvenience.
The ricotta cavatelli ($14), another appetizer, is an appealing surprise to the senses. A thick, creamy sauce is the base for a generous pile of pasta, tender braised short ribs, hearty greens, broccoli pieces and cubed carrots reminiscent of a Midwestern school lunch.
The mains include a series of wood-fired pizzas ($12–$14) and three entrées: a “free-form” lasagna made with seasonal vegetables ($17), a seafood special and a meat special (both market price). It's here that the quality and price do not equate to the casual atmosphere and spotty service. I simply could not bring myself to order the $40 steak in an establishment that also sells Krema Nut Company peanut butter by the jar. And while the $35 Pork Three Ways dish included a ramp salad, pork belly and pork confit (three culinary buzzwords), a similar dish at the same price (or less) in another establishment would also be accompanied by a table setting, a tablecloth and servers who know fine dining etiquette. That said, the lasagna—a bowl of wide noodles, fresh pesto, a medley of mushrooms, perfectly cooked cauliflower and fennel—is a sophisticated take on the dish and worth every penny.
Service issues (mainly speed and attentiveness) aside, the food and atmosphere are more of a match at brunch, when the menu is complex but approachable. At first glance, the Dutch baby ($12) may look to be a cloyingly sweet option. But the tangy crème fraîche, hearty pieces of salty lardons and crumbled pecans provide flavors to balance out the sweet spiced apples and a variety of interesting textures for a grown-up pancake experience.
The steak and eggs ($18) are a good price given the portion size. The plate is topped with a large baguette spread with skordalia (a Greek garlic and potato dip). Cooked to order and sliced into pieces, hanger steak is paired with bright yellow, over-easy eggs—perfect for dipping. Crispy potatoes and a plentiful dollop of tzatziki finish the plate, which can only be improved upon by adding the signature hot sauce found in A&R establishments.
In short, some of the best food in the city is being served at The Market, but its laissez-faire approach and disorganization are holding it back. And while we Midwesterners prefer comfort to pretense (as evidenced by the closing of many a white tablecloth establishment over the years), it may take awhile for Columbus' sensibilities to adjust to the mixed bag being served up at The Market.