Goodale Boulevard's distillery delivers solid cocktails and a pub fare menu with highs and lows.
High Bank Distillery Co. looks like what you would expect from a partnership between a hip juicery, Zest Juice Co., and the owners of a branding and design company. Located in the industrial enclave of Goodale Boulevard in Grandview, this restaurant/distillery checks all the boxes that scream 2019: a cavernous concrete shell, Edison bulbs hanging from a single wooden beam, tall tables that can accommodate large groups, a long bar with giant televisions, views into the distillery, a well-used foosball table and a bustling patio. The concrete predictably does little to absorb sound, so nothing about High Bank purports to be an intimate eatery. Rather, it gives the feeling of a spacious man cave that’s both well-funded and grown-up.
And this low-key style fits well in Columbus. Tables are generally filled for brunch, lunch and dinner. At High Bank, you can grab a bite or a fancy cocktail and still manage to keep your eye on the Columbus Blue Jackets game between indoor shuffleboard showdowns. Multitasking is encouraged.
Service is just okay. When busy, it’s apparent that the staff are simply trying to keep up, suggesting issues on the operational side of the business. And when the restaurant is operating at a more reasonable pace, servers disappear, forget drink orders and are flippant about representing the brand. (On one occasion, a server informed me that the restaurant was out of the veggie burger because, “They just haven’t made any.”)
The menu doesn’t stray far from traditional American food—think: nachos, sandwiches, salads and protein-heavy mains—peppered with a few key local brands such as Lucky Cat Bakery and nationally known ingredients such as Nueske’s bacon. There are some house-made specialties (including an American cheddar), but the real attraction is the cocktails.
The vodka, whiskey and gin distiller takes its cocktails seriously, with several signature pre-batched drinks poured directly from the tap. High Bank’s juicery lineage comes through with fresh fruit and veggie garnishes. And the bar makes it easy to imbibe, especially on weekends, with a $5 day-drinking menu (from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays) that includes a spicy bloody mary. This cornucopia of cornichon, lemon, carrot and celery is smooth with a kick of spice at the end. The bloody mary makes it easy to imagine spending a blurry afternoon at High Bank.
One of the draft cocktails is the Blackberry Julep ($11). Mint tea is steeped in bourbon and served in a metal cup with a mound of ice and a straw, resembling an easy-to-drink blackberry slushie. Meanwhile, the High C ($9) is an effervescent, alcoholic Orangina of sorts, featuring High Bank vodka and a Zest juice combining orange, grapefruit and lemon, topped with an orange slice and a mint leaf.
There are plenty of appetizers to go along with High Bank’s cocktails, beer and wine, starting with the sticky chicken wings ($6 for five). Heavily sauced with gochujang, they live up to their qualifier. That said, the Korean sauce made me wish they’d been a little more crispy, like Korean fried chicken. Instead, the wings have the texture of being steamed.
The Brussels sprouts ($8) bring together the autumnal flavors of maple syrup, dried cranberries and pumpkin seeds. The sprouts are a little too soggy and sweet. The crunch from the seeds helps to counter, but not enough to make the dish worth ordering again.
The Hot Honey Chicken ($22) appears to sell out quickly, according to the “while supplies last” warning on the menu. When I ordered it at around 8:30 p.m. on a Saturday evening, I was in luck. The buttermilk fried chicken has a sweet breading, but isn’t as spicy as the name would suggest and begs for a little vinegar and more seasoning. Some of that is provided by the pickled cucumbers, carrots and cauliflower that accompanies it. A boat of pimento-spiked orecchiette with rich and creamy nacho-like cheese (also available for $7 as a side) is the highlight of the dish.
What the chicken lacks in salt is in over-abundance in the meatloaf ($16). Thin onion rings and a thick, salty veal gravy tops an over-salted meatloaf slice served alongside al dente root veggies and delightful whipped Yukons.
The brunch menu is hit or miss, with the Breakfast Pot Pie ($13) being the crowning glory. A cast-iron pan holds a mélange of hash browns, smoky Nueske’s ham, caramelized onions and mushroom and sausage gravy. Topping it off is a flaky cheddar biscuit crown and a fried egg. (The egg, not mentioned on the menu, comes as a surprise.) All of this is countered with mesclun lightly dressed with strawberries to mask all of the bad-for-you deliciousness in that pan.
The promise of a grilled avocado and a 63-degree egg with chorizo con papas ($15) caught my eye. An egg, sausage crumbles mixed with onions, bell peppers and cubes of Yukon potato all seem like separate ingredients in this bland and dry hash. Grilling adds nothing to the sad-looking avocado. A tortilla (to assemble the elements together) would have been a game-changer.
A few sandwiches are available on all three menus, including the roasted mushroom grilled cheese ($14). Slightly greasy caramelized onions and a layer of overdressed greens make up the majority of the sandwich, with mushrooms and creamy cheddar mixed with crème frâiche as secondary layers. Crisp grilled bread envelops the ensemble, which is the best grilled cheese I’ve had in Columbus of late.
The award-winning (according to the menu) Competition Burger ($15) uses sambal-laced mayo as its defining ingredient. A thin patty (think: quarter-pounder or less) of charred, pasture-raised beef is joined by bacon, pickle, warm lettuce, house-made cheese, that pungent mayo and a sesame seed bun. The meat-to-price ratio is a bit off, but overall, the burger and accompanying fries are enjoyable.
Generally, portion sizes do not leave room for dessert, but the eggy doughnuts ($9) with a cinnamon-kissed chocolate dipping sauce caught my attention. Dry and lacking in sweetness, the doughnuts resemble pre-packaged grocery store varieties.
All in all, High Bank is a solid, no-hassle place to grab a bite with a crew of all ages. While it’s not cutting new pathways for cuisine in Columbus, there are fun and games to be had here, making it a good venue for spending a few hours with friends or family.