Restaurant review: Dependable Ted's Montana Grill is an Arena District hit

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

As I settled into a make-believe piece of Montana, I heard Waylon and Willie lovingly sing about going to Luckenbach, Texas. Since I was raptly enjoying my meal, I was happy staying put.

I was visiting Ted’s Montana Grill in the Arena District, the originating restaurant of a chain that now claims over 40 links. If you (not unreasonably) think any company this size is unlikely to offer high-quality food, service and drinks, then you haven’t been to the Arena Ted’s lately.

Ted’s, which takes its name from founder (and cable news pioneer) Ted Turner, boasts that it features “the biggest bison menu in the world.” Here’s where I explain the difference between physically similar bison and buffalo. For Americans, there is no de facto difference. Scientifically, though, what people call American “buffalo,” are actually all bison, because biologically precise buffaloes are endemic only to Asia and Africa. Let that sink in for a second, and mosey on.

Along with country and western tunes, Ted’s uses a room-defining wooden bar and Frederic Remington-style paintings to suggest an old west saloon — albeit one that’s sleek, hygienically faultless and environmentally friendly (strong recycling program, paper straws, energy-efficient lighting). Staying on theme, the well-trained staff tucks their button-down shirts into blue jeans.

Upon being seated (I like the roomy booths), fresh and excellent, salt-cured and garlic-scented pickles will be laid onto your placemat — which will resemble an old prospector’s map. Snack on them and order a beer (drafts from CBC and Mt. Carmel are on tap) or Ted’s Signature Margarita ($8). Pulpy from fresh citrus, it outperforms the margaritas served at most local Mexican restaurants.

The light and refreshing Caesar salad ($5) is one of the better renditions around, too. Starring a proper vinaigrette with garlic, lemon and a little anchovy, it didn’t provoke me to quote “Then fall, Caesar!” as I do after tasting one of those ponderously gloppy affairs.

Karen’s “Flying-D” Bison Chili ($5) will make you feel at home on the range enjoying the familiar flavors Ted’s skillfully achieves with its stampede of bison dishes. Showcasing good bison meat — which is deeply beefy-tasting, but leaner — the chili is tomato-y and chunky, and garnished with cheese, onions and jalapeno.

Burgers dressed in stylish fashions occupy prime territory on the menu. These can be made with beef, but since you’re at an accomplished bison specialist, stick with that herd mentality.

The excellent New Mexico ($16) — which tops a big, juicy and flavorful bison patty with roasted Anaheim chili pepper, loose guacamole, pepper jack cheese and tangy “spicy tomato jam” — sounded fiery, but only delivered a pleasant sting. Opt for the sweet, dark, hearty and nice “oatie wheat” bun. For sides, my good-tasting fries and onion rings weren’t greasy, but weren’t crispy either.

If you’d like to stake your claim to a huge piece of bison, try the hulking Delmonico ribeye ($30). Incorrectly served rare instead of my requested medium-rare, the fat-trimmed and sear-crusted steak was juicy, delicious and nearly indistinguishable from beef. Also on the plate: real mashers, intriguingly smoky broccoli, a good biscuit and pot roast-type gravy.

Moving from field to stream, the Salt-and-Pepper Trout ($17) likewise offered impressively clean and straightforward flavors. The attractively browned and generous filet came with a perky corn-and-tomato salsa, decent tomatoes and a lively kale salad (my substitution for asparagus).

With the Columbus Clippers baseball season in full swing, dependable restaurants only a few long foul balls from Huntington Park are convenient. This fact, plus a terrific dessert I bet you can’t get in Luckenbach, Texas — the Jack Daniels-spiked Salted Caramel milkshake ($10, created with Haagen-Dazs ice cream) — makes Ted’s a winning destination.

Photos by Meghan Ralston

Ted's Montana Grill

191 W. Nationwide Blvd., Arena District