Restaurant review: MoJoe Lounge

G.A. Benton, Columbus Alive

Hooray for us, because just like bonafide, real-deal, cosmopolitan cities, Columbus is getting its Downtown mojo back. So where once desolation ruled as soon as rush hour traffic cleared out, now pretty new public parks and plucky new restaurants are attracting evening-long Downtown crowds.

Speaking of getting your mojo back, the historic old Lazarus building has gotten repopulated by governmental offices, a contemporary arts facility, and most recently, a MoJoe Lounge combo coffeeshop/bar/full-service restaurant.

There's lots of reasons to get juiced about this newest MoJoe, including: a relaxing patio right across from gaze-tastic Columbus Commons; a retrofitted contemporary, roomy, curvy, airy and tall-window filled, white-on-white interior space that's a great -and much-too-rare - Downtown place to watch a ballgame (or the U.S. Open) with a drink and a snack; and an actual chef with an impressive pedigree commendably adhering to a locally raised and scratch-made aesthetic (William Fugitt, who's done time at The French Laundry and Rigsby's).

Grouped by snacks/starters, salads and sandwiches, MoJoe's smallish menu delivers big flavors. In general, that food leans toward the comforting side of dining.

For instance, MoJoe's handmade gnocchi ($7 - a steal) might make you swoon into its beautiful pool of shroomy and truffly cream sauce (Fugitt ostensibly gathers truffles locally). Seductively, the pillowy pasta pockets here are those elusive, melt-in-your-mouth types. Sure, the rich and intense sauce was too much of a good thing by at least double, but the dish still rocked.

Ditto for the seared Ahi Tuna entree salad ($10). Delightful dominos of crunchy, sesame-crusted rosy fish rimmed a bowl of good mixed greens and veggies (like thinly sliced onions, radishes and carrots) tossed with an inspired ginger-pear aioli.

Sandwich-wise, I suggest you have a cow because beef was featured in three of my favorite bread-bound munches (each served with a side). I suspect the explosive Mojoe Burger ($12) - made with locally raised and grass-fed meat - will deservedly attract an army of fans. Loaded on a good toasted bun, that juicy and messy behemoth arrived with a salty and terrific crust plus simpatico allies of sharp cheddar and caramelized onions. A real favor bomb, it tasted like it'd been detonated with garlic and Worchestershire sauce.

Continuing in the key of red meat, the Reuben ($12) was a low-toned symphony of richness. Here, house corned brisket was only lightly spiced, making it mostly about the fabulous tasting fatty beef. Still, contributing to the melody were modest amounts of red cabbage slaw and gruyere cheese.

More top-notch pot roasty stuff and gruyere arrived on a nice baguette with the Short Rib Sandwich ($10). That juicy jumbo torpedo was complemented by sauteed onions and mushrooms.

If you get to MoJoe early enough, you might be able to snag a too-quickly vanishing daily special. One evening, before 7 o'clock, I scored the last off-menu chicken dinner. Like a Thanksgiving preview, it was a huge quarter bird served with roasted sweet potatoes and squashes plus an upstaging mound of killer stuffing packed with confited duck, celery and carrot. Gilding the lily was a grapey brown gravy cum barbecue sauce.

I found out desserts are brought in by great purveyors the hard way - when my waitress oddly brought me a wedge of wonderful Carnegie Deli cheesecake as a free appetizer after bungling my order. So meal sequencing could improve here, but otherwise, this smart coffee shop shows terrific promise as a full-fledged restaurant.

Photos by Jodi Miller

MoJoe Lounge 149 S. High St., Downtown 614-732-4899