Megan Ada's restaurant brings an eclectic Short North vibe to Uptown Westerville.
The first thing you might notice walking into Asterisk Supper Club is the floor-to-ceiling bookcases lining the walls. Next, you'll see a long, wooden community table in the center of the restaurant. And finally, you catch sight of the multiple chandeliers that make the place feel cozy. Asterisk, owned by Westerville resident Megan Ada, feels as if the now-gone Surly Girl grew up, elevated its food and moved to the suburbs. On a street filled with more casual restaurants, Asterisk's décor is a pleasant departure, like something more likely to be found in the Short North than Uptown Westerville.
The menu, a grab-bag of disparate choices, contains mostly hits. The combination of tea selections (the restaurant doubles as a teahouse during the day), Mexican cuisine and traditional American comfort food may seem odd at first, but once your order arrives, this mashup seems to work. For the most part, prices are higher than diners and chain restaurants that serve similar comfort dishes, but they're competitive with Short North pricing and traditionally come in bigger portions. Service is good, but not excellent. Greater attention to timing between courses could be improved. It's worth noting (and applauding) that the female servers are no longer required to wear the French maid get-ups they sported in the early days of the restaurant.
While the atmosphere makes Asterisk feel like a hidden gem, there are a few points of unease. The communal table—an increasingly ubiquitous piece of restaurant furniture in the urban core—is typically the last table to be seated, alluding to possible discomfort with the concept of eating elbow to elbow with strangers. In addition, the books on the shelf are not curated and appear to be yard sale castoffs. Dining next to “Fractures and Joint Injuries” may not be for everyone. And then there's a curious new addition to the restaurant: Parallel to the real bar at the front of the restaurant is a second bar, presumably for lunch or single diners who prefer the atmosphere of bar dining, but don't want front-row seats.
Among the menu's starters (or “Food Before Food,” as its cutely called) are deviled eggs ($8), chicharrónes and shishito peppers ($5) and Giant Cauliflower ($8). While the deviled eggs are a little overpriced, and the chicharrónes and peppers make for an odd combination, the Giant Cauliflower is just right. This starter (I haven't seen one like it in the city) is half a head of cauliflower batter-dipped, deep-fried and served in a pool of lightly spiced tomato sauce. The entire head is cooked consistently, just a tad beyond al dente.
Diving into the main courses as a repeat customer is difficult; it's tempting to re-order previously tried dishes. But branching from a favorite is worth the risk. With dishes like open-faced sandwiches and a low-priced chicken and Amish noodles ($11), Asterisk gives a peek at what it would be like if Bob Evans sourced locally and served booze.
Take the beef short rib stew ($17), a hearty dish that's perfect for cold weather. Generously portioned, chunks of tender beef and mirepoix join a sprig of fresh sage atop a bath of rich, wine-based broth. Just beneath the surface is a layer of mashed potatoes that act as a sort of roux in the stew. There's a care in the assembly and flavors of this dish that adds elegance to the Midwestern staple.
The meatloaf ($15) is some of the best I've had, and it's the onions that bring the plate together. Topped with a sweet barbecue-like ketchup (always a point of controversy among the gravy folks), the meatloaf slice is loosely assembled with sweet white onions that work well with the sauce and give the whole assembly a hamburger-like experience. It's clear that protein—and not bread—is the main ingredient to this dish. Served alongside it are mashed potatoes covered in a lightly colored, scratch-made gravy and perfectly cooked Brussels sprouts topped with an ample covering of thin and crispy red onions.
Asterisk's open-faced turkey sandwich ($16) tastes like Thanksgiving on a plate. A fork-and-knife endeavor, the sandwich starts with a layer of thick white bread. Next are mashed potatoes, a celery-heavy stuffing with kisses of sage and a mixture of dark and white roasted turkey. A tangy cranberry relish predictably cuts through the heaviness of the dish. The sandwich far surpasses any attempt at post-Thanksgiving sandwiches I've ever made.
Papi's Burrito ($14) is Chipotle-sized (or bigger) and served with tortilla chips, a doctored sour cream and a watery (yet spicy) salsa. Tightly packed, the combination of perfectly seasoned ground beef, a delightfully crunchy red cabbage, black beans and fresh cilantro makes it feel like you're in an entirely Mexican establishment.
Comfort food doesn't end at dinner. The dessert menu includes a daily butter cake made by Asterisk's in-house pastry chef and several coffees and teas. Coffee service includes at-the-table pour-overs that are awkwardly yet masterfully assembled by friendly servers. And all hot drinks come in a variety mismatched of teacups, saucers and pots, mirroring the salvaging theme of the bookshelves. Some drinks are curious, like the Earl Grey Latte ($5), which seems more like black tea with milk than the frothy creation the name suggests.
With a year and a half under its belt, it looks like Asterisk has staying power in the tough location that can be Uptown Westerville. This is an area where passersby will share their secrets to $6 dinners (by splitting a large dish at the Greek restaurant across the street). A neighboring upscale restaurant, 8 State Bistro, opened at roughly the same time as Asterisk and lasted less than a year. In short, high-end dining is new to the area. (Those of us with longer memories recall that alcohol is new to the area as well.) I'm excited to taste what the future holds for this teatime and dinnertime destination.