Kevin Caskey's beloved farm-to-table eatery celebrates a decade of humble decadence.
Skillet, the tiny breakfast and lunch spot in Schumacher Place, turned 10 in June. Launched at a time when anyone who purported to like food was carrying a copy of a Michael Pollan book (when he was more into culinary adventures than psychedelic ones), Skillet, with its commitment to local sourcing, opened to great fanfare. And that commitment remains, 10 years later, without much change.
The restaurant’s dining room is like a game of “Tetris,” with a mere seven tables (plus one outside) and a newish bar that holds an additional five diners. While chef/owner Kevin Caskey has experimented with many things (including dinner service and a food truck), he’s stuck with what works. (And, yes, booze during brunch works.)
Its size and limited hours are the greatest obstacles to visiting Skillet; since the popular spot doesn’t take reservations, a trek to the German Village-adjacent neighborhood takes great patience, good weather (the corner outside becomes the waiting room) and a tolerance for risk. During one recent visit, just when the restaurant started to have available tables, a late-arriving guest was told that the kitchen was closed, prior to the listed 2 p.m. closing time.Like what you’re reading? Subscribe to our weekly newsletters.
Once you snag a table, Skillet’s close quarters don’t matter as much as they would elsewhere. I give credit to the scientific precision of the music volume, which is loud enough to make conversations somewhat private without making it hard to hear your dining partner. The service style can best be described as “Ohio folksy.” It’s not formal, nor super attentive. The staff (a team of four serving those eight tables on a recent visit) read their guests well and adjust accordingly. The bar is a nice addition, accommodating solo diners and providing a visual reminder why your brunch for two costs between $40 and $70, depending on how thirsty you are.
Speaking of drinks, locally roasted Brioso coffee, tea and a line of Ohio-made cane sugar sodas join cocktails on the drink menu. Nothing says brunch like a bloody mary ($13). Skillet’s unconventional version, Peter Piper’s Bloody Mary, uses OYO Vodka and comes adorned (on my visit) with an olive-shaped beet and a pickle spear. The dark red, chipotle-flavored cocktail is a good way to get a dose of vegetables into a meal.
The menu, which changes daily, showcases daylong breakfast dishes as well as some sandwiches and mains that are only available after 11 a.m. Although it celebrates local—or more accurately, seasonal and ingredient-driven—fare, even during the summer, the menu is heavy with Ohio’s animal products, rather than its produce. And Skillet’s overwhelming reliance on the sweet-meets-savory formula produces a jarring reminder that local and healthy are not the same. Many dishes, though flavorful, are dense, rich, sweet, greasy or all of the above.
The chicken and andouille gravy and biscuit ($13) is a butter-toasted biscuit topped with a thinly scrambled egg that looks more like an omelet and is covered in a peppery gravy with semicircles of andouille sausage. Cloaked in all beige, the dish has a kick of spice and is well-seasoned, but a little too rich.
The crab and waffle ($19) is equally heavy. A large, fried-in-butter soft shell crab is served atop a spongy waffle, both drenched in a saccharine chipotle maple syrup. While the crab has a nice, spicy exterior, the microgreen crown saves the dish, providing color, texture and something that’s not fat or sugar.
Speaking of sugar, the cinnamon roll ($7) has been a Skillet menu regular since the restaurant’s inception. Expertly served with two plates for splitting in a lake of sweet sauce, the bun-shaped roll is cut in half and griddled, providing a nice French toast-like crisp on one side. The rest of the roll is dry, but is slightly improved with the sauce.
The lunch menu gives a little more opportunity for produce—and color—to appear on plates. A simple salad ($6) showcases full leaves of several types of crisp and refreshing lettuce, hand-grated tomme from Black Radish Creamery, and a bright and tangy strawberry and balsamic vinaigrette to tie it all together in a metal bowl. Although the lettuce leaves could have been cut for ease of eating, this salad is one of the best offerings on the menu and showcases what I suspect is Skillet’s mantra: Seasonal ingredients matter.
The chilled strawberry soup ($5 cup; $8 bowl) is crisp, cool and tart; it’s an example of what happens when a menu is based on what’s in season, and it’s not something you’d find anywhere else. Meanwhile, the chilled tomato soup ($5 cup; $8 bowl) includes a dash of citrus and comes liberally seasoned with an herb blend highlighted by mint. The flavor combination is so odd that I’m still not sure if I loved or hated it.
The veggies and kale-kissed pilaf is the best part of a smoked pork chop entrée ($21). Al dente sugar snap peas, green beans, asparagus and tiny tomatoes are stacked atop a dry and smoky pan-seared Berkshire pork rib chop and a bed of pilaf. Typical to Skillet’s style, this chop comes topped with a sweet sauce that does little to hide what was, on my visit, overcooked meat.
Ask for extra napkins if you order the Diner Burger ($17), which comes with a beautifully fried egg whose yolk overtakes the naturally fatty wagyu beef burger. The soft bun, heirloom tomato and lettuce are drowned by the sweet bacon jam, beef grease and egg yolk. Add “guv’ment cheese,” and the burger is nap-inducing.
The Lunch Counter Ham Salad ($12) is a delightful departure from the rest of the menu. A generous pile of ham salad made with a spicy relish and loose pieces of salty and smoky Hormel ham joins a beautiful array of tomatoes and lettuce and buttery toasted white bread. It’s difficult to eat as a sandwich, but a fork and knife will do the trick.
Overall, it’s nice to see that amid a decade of changes in the Columbus food scene, Skillet’s vision of a farm-to-table breakfast spot is still going strong. That said, as a city, our tastes have evolved in 10 years, and Skillet’s sweet-meets-savory formula has not. I’d like to see something more inventive coming from the kitchen. If Michael Pollan can expand upon his oeuvre, surely one of the city’s first champions of seasonal cuisine can find a new trick or two, as well.