With an eclectic, chef-driven menu, year-old Ambrose and Eve is making a home on South High Street.
When Catie Randazzo and Matthew Heaggans announced they were opening a restaurant together, it came with great fanfare. Finally, the two nomadic chefs and friends—each owned their own food trucks at one point—had landed a permanent home. And it’s apropos that Ambrose and Eve looks like—feels like—home. Specifically the Midwestern home of an older relative, with its cross-stitch, floral plates, framed family photos and all the delights (and imperfections) found in a place familiar and quaint.
The Brewery District restaurant, which is named after Randazzo’s grandparents, opened in late 2018 and has a multilevel front porch, complete with white picket fencing. The porch is inviting but not exactly serene; guests are treated to the sounds of heavy traffic and happy hour at Local Cantina across the street.
Inside, the former antique shop features details like floral patterns on the walls, exposed brick, a bar with comfortable seating and ambient music that lends a homey, welcoming feel. Also homey, but not great: a taxed HVAC system, which on hot days has trouble handling the open garage door that makes the dining room and porch seem like one. On one of my visits, certain tables had the unfortunate experience of having condensation drip directly onto food and drinks.Like what you’re reading? Subscribe to our weekly newsletters.
The service at Ambrose and Eve is as eclectic as its style. In some cases, servers expertly read the table, only showing up when necessary and anticipating every need. In others, the style is what I’d call aggressively Midwestern. One staffer hovered around the table too much, reminding me of a button-clad TGI Fridays associate while awkwardly crouching at our table to explain the menu. In another case, the server seemed so ready to leave, she didn’t offer dessert.
While food is at the forefront of the Ambrose and Eve experience, the libations are not far behind. And if an atmosphere that reminds one of family begets thirst, no worries: Half-price bottles of wine are available on Wednesdays. So you and Aunt Margaret can each have your own. The cocktails are worth a tour, as well. I enjoyed the Dexter’s Never Been to Mexico ($11), a mezcal-heavy concoction with grapefruit, a milky color, gritty texture and that grown-up buzz that mezcal provides its fans.
The restaurant’s menu—which riffs on childhood memories (hello, ants on a log) while incorporating flavors from around the world—invites diners to share, like they would at, say, Buca di Beppo. But instead of giant bowls of mediocre pasta and platters of chicken saltimbocca, Ambrose and Eve treats diners to an experience where quality, creativity and ingredients are valued. The dinner menu is divided into snacks, vegetable dishes, a section called “Make Friends” (ostensibly main entrées for sharing) and large-format suppers. (There’s also brunch service on weekends.) The general recommendation is to order one of each from the first three sections for two people to share, or one of the suppers for two to four people.
At first glance, the communal menu sounds fantastic and wide-ranging—cucumber carpaccio, red oil beef tartare, fried chicken and biscuits. But ordering can be a challenge, as the indicators of size and value don’t always match up with reality. On one hand, a meal that costs less than $40 can feed four. Something labeled as a “snack” at $14 is truly an appetizer in size. On the other hand, something with the price point of a main dish leaves you wondering where the other half went. In short, one can leave the restaurant with a $50 bill and leftovers for days or a $100 bill and a growling stomach. But while the sizing and pricing seem inconsistent, the food itself is creative and solidly good.
The Vietnamese-inspired pork ribs ($14) are sizeable for being on the snack menu. Crushed cashews top four large ribs and a slaw made of celery root. A dense ginger marinade and a fish sauce caramel coat the tender pork, which was perfectly cooked and falling off the bone.
Meanwhile, the crispy Brussels sprouts ($9) are not to be missed. The honey-sweetened vegetables have crispy exterior leaves that resemble chips, all under a delightful pile of snowlike pecorino.
Ambrose and Eve’s take on the watermelon salad ($13) is straightforward, demonstrating that the chefs know when to let classics just be classics. A bed of 1-inch, cubed watermelon is served with microgreens, chiffonade of mint, fine crumbles of feta and sunflower seeds. All the textures and flavors play nicely together in this quintessential summer salad.
One of the main dishes that feels more like a starter is the calamari ($14). This beautifully plated ensemble resembles thick spaghetti over greens with an abstract, expressionist splash of what looks like squid ink—it’s actually lemon aioli transformed by activated charcoal—and crispy radish slivers. The noodles, of course, are poached (not fried) tendrils of warm squid that are wonderfully balanced by the spicy greens, citrus and microgreens.
While the flavors in the chicken and dumplings ($18) work well together, the dish itself is a disappointment. Two tiny, cheese-filled pierogies are served atop fresh and fragrant warm tomatoes, roughly chopped basil and a crusty, fat-fried chicken thigh in a citrus-kissed broth. (For a dish meant to be shared, it is difficult to cut the thigh.) Here in Der Dutchman country, “chicken and dumplings” provided expectations of something entirely different. This version didn’t quite deliver.
The fried chicken meal ($33 for two; $60 for four), however, is not only a fun experience, but a great value. In the smaller portion, four enormous pieces of crispy (but quite salty) chicken are served KFC-style in a paper bucket along with a jar of house-made hot sauce and four excellent, buttery biscuits (Heaggans spent years perfecting the recipe).
The sides that accompany the fried chicken are classics: green beans, dill potato salad and macaroni and cheese. The green beans are possibly the best part of the collection, with just enough salt and a kiss of butter. The mayo-laden, rough-cut potato salad lacks vinegar, but grains of whole mustard help to make up for it. And the generous portion of macaroni and cheese is pulled straight from the oven and served in a tiny skillet on a grandmotherly trivet. While the entire ensemble—which could easily feed four people—could use a little less salt, the price can’t be beat.
Ambrose and Eve is a catch for Columbus, and brings homegrown authenticity to a neighborhood overrun by chains (and still mourning the loss of The Clarmont and Round Bar). The restaurant’s playful take on food—and what “home” means, both on the plate and as a sense of place—adds an element of emotion that isn’t always present while dining out. As the service becomes more sophisticated and chefs Heaggans and Randazzo settle into the permanence of South High Street, I suspect that Ambrose and Eve may become a household name.