The dining experience has changed drastically, but Service Bar is still infusing its food with stubborn creativity and global inspiration.
Carryout wasn’t in Service Bar’s DNA when the year began. The restaurant’s cerebral, world-traversing dishes were meant to be enjoyed in its intimate dining room, adjacent to Middle West Distillery, with a made-to-order cocktail in hand.
But after COVID-19 and mandatory shutdowns forced the issue, executive chef Avishar Barua and his remaining kitchen staff (whom he put on salary), grabbed a piece of butcher paper and wrote a new takeout menu in 24 hours. “It was kind of wild. It was like we opened a brand-new restaurant within two days,” Barua says.
Service Bar remains carryout only, and the new normal continues to get harder, the chef says. But the results have been surprisingly wonderful—from Service Bar stalwarts like the Bengali-inspired whole chicken meal and the Cheesy Brisket Crunches to specials like Mexican carnitas with all the fixings.Like what you’re reading? Subscribe to our weekly newsletters.
But probably the best carryout meal I’ve eaten during this bizarre time—and there have been many—was Service Bar’s Fourth of July special: a steak-and-potatoes dinner that paid homage to both the American grill and to the flavors, smells and sights Barua experienced while traveling last year through Vietnam. The meticulous meal—which was accompanied by Barua’s own amusing, stream-of-consciousness instructions on how to reheat it—spoke to a different time: one when we trekked to far-flung places, and one when the chef might stop by your table to say hello.
When Barua travels for vacation, “the work never turns off completely,” he says. He’s always taking notes on flavors and ingredients that may inform a future dish back in Columbus. Indeed, his Vietnam trip photos, which he kindly shared with Columbus Monthly, depict a sea of foods: countless banh mi sandwiches overflowing with pâté, fresh greens and herbs, generous bowls of pho and street food dishes, mostly consumed while seated outdoors—an experience that “had a big part in the flavor memory,” Barua says.
Here, we break down elements from that Fourth of July dinner and Barua’s inspiration behind them. And if you want to try cooking like Service Bar at home, just ask. “We give away all the recipes. If anyone wants to know, we just ask them to ask us,” Barua says. “We do hospitality because of hospitality. Not because we want to be famous or get rich or anything.”
On the Menu (See above photo)
1. Shaking Beef Marinated Rib-eye: This tender, 10-ounce wagyu rib-eye, sourced from D’Artagnan Meats, was the star. Customers needed only to reheat it on the grill for a couple of minutes. The marinated steak was partially inspired by a Vietnamese dish called bò né, an iron plate of sizzling steak and eggs, which Barua fondly recalls was placed in front of him and then lit on fire.
2. Fresh herbs: When accompanied by ho-hum romaine, steak salads can be “kind of lame,” Barua says. Instead, the chef envisioned a steak salad bursting with herbs like shiso leaf, Thai basil, sweet mint, rice paddy herb, Vietnamese coriander and culantro (a long-leaf herb in the same family as cilantro)—all available at local markets like Four Seas Emporium and Saraga International Grocery. “It made so much sense. One thing in Vietnamese cuisine that I don’t see in any other kind of Asian cuisines: You go out and there’s always a big bowl of herbs,” he says.
3. Pho-rench Onion Potato Gratin: This stroke of genius started out as a joke. Service Bar took its excellent French onion soup broth and added ingredients found in pho: star anise, cinnamon, onion, clove and Vietnamese cardamom. When combined with thinly sliced potatoes, it made for an unforgettable French-Vietnamese twist on the classic, with a cheeky nod to chips and French onion dip.
4. Banh mi bread: Service Bar proudly bakes all its breads in-house (save Martin’s brand potato rolls for burgers). “It’s something that we’ve grown to appreciate a lot, having access to whatever bread we want,” Barua says. In its ode to the banh mi, the Vietnamese sandwich, Service Bar adapted a Mexican bolillo recipe, swapping in rice flour for a closer approximation of a mini banh mi roll. Customers had the option of lathering on house-made pâté or building their own steak and herb sandwiches.