Restaurant review: New small plates at The Crest deliver big flavors

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

The crowds ceaselessly streaming into The Crest Gastropub since its inception two years ago remind me of the postal service: Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night have kept them from swarming in. When it comes to kitchen consistency, though, the trendy Clintonville eatery has had problems delivering.

After reading about recent chef changes and menu overhauls, I decided to reinvestigate The Crest for improvements. Spoiler alert: Some old bugaboos persist (unfocused flavors and execution, missing and incorrect ingredients), but its new emphasis on small plates was a great idea.

Owned and operated by the burgeoning A&R Creative Group (The Market Italian Village, Ethyl & Tank, Alchemy), The Crest was one of the first self-professed “gastropubs” to burst onto the Columbus dining scene. Like other gastropubs and A&R businesses, The Crest is rustically chic and handsome in that renovated, dive-to-hotspot fashion, and it offers an amazing array of draft beers.

Among a slew of new “sharables,” the Shrimp and Grits ($12) is the best dish I’ve ever sampled at The Crest. Six sweet, tender and ample poached shellfish arrived embedded in rich, tangy and excellent stone-ground cheese grits. “Green harissa” (think zesty pesto) and grassy micro-greens complete the entree-sized triumph.

My Seared Sirloin Tips ($10) were less successful. Underneath a salted tuft of arugula with negligible dressing were overcooked and occasionally stringy beef chunks. A sprinkling of herbs helped; a “blue cheese creme” sauce with meager blue cheese character didn’t.

The Hay Smoked Chicken Drumettes ($14) are witty and delicious. They’re six little drumsticks treated to chef’s tricks to mimic Buffalo wings.

Chicken legs are “Frenched” to remove pesky cartilage around the narrow end. The meat at the bulbous end is so fall-off-the-bone tender, I believe the legs must be confited. Gilding the lily are pickled onions, sesame seeds and a sticky-yet-irresistible “hoisin chipotle glaze” similar to Korean gochujang.

Two other small plates scored high, too. With their crackly shells, fennel salad, bright vinegary broth and jalapeno garnish, the abundant and attractive Crispy Tofu ($11) might even convince bean curd skeptics.

Though sloppily plated, my Caramelized Halloumi ($12) was a conceptually clever, sweet-and-salty treat. Three browned slabs of brined cheese were flavored by “plan bee”: fresh honey, honeycomb and sugared bee-pollen pellets.

The best thing about my haphazardly presented Sous-Vide Airline Chicken entree ($16) was a hockey puck of cheese-bound purple potatoes. Also on the plate: meat with unbrowned and squishy skin, unseasoned asparagus spears and a sauce that tasted like bottled Italian dressing.

I admire the bravado of offering a Black Garlic Pasta dish made with spelt noodles ($16). And I enjoyed that dish’s creamy, sweet and pleasantly pungent sauce. Too bad I received uncredited asparagus instead of the menu-promised Romanesco broccoli and leeks.

The House Burger I was served ($14, with above-average fries) provided more proof that ups and downs here can resemble a roller coaster ride. I enjoyed its chargrilled beefy flavor, not-too-dense texture and sharp cheddar cheese. But I would’ve preferred a seared crust and a lighter hand on the good-tasting, but slammed-on “ancho aioli.”

Most disappointing was the burger’s overwhelmingly large and untoasted bun. While I normally wouldn’t call attention to pale pink tomato slices on a sandwich during April, since The Crest routinely touts its ingredients, I will. Because The Crest, which has alluded to the good produce it honorably grows on premises with a billboard reading “Eat your zip code,” clearly knows better.

I live within The Crest’s postal designation. Though the restaurant can still seem like a work in progress, by sticking with its rewarding new small plates, I am more apt now to “eat my zip code” at The Crest.

The Crest Gastropub

2855 Indianola Ave., Clintonville