Soda-pop-music cuisine: Rambling House is one-stop shopping for good food, drinks and music

G.A. Benton, Columbus Alive

If you only know Rambling House as the local artisanal soda company, I recommend you acquaint yourself with the food, music and other drinks it offers. That's what I did recently, and now I have a new hangout in my repertoire.

Enter Rambling House's unassuming little headquarters just south of Clintonville, and through dusky lighting, you'll see a layout that's authentically rustic - not "rustic-chic." There's a modest bar, simple wooden tables, wooden barrels, posters extolling sustainable agriculture and the Ohio Paw Paw Festival, plus a stage for live music.

Music is a huge part of Rambling House's identity; it usually skews toward Americana and bluegrass. But one evening, I stepped into a room packed with instructors and students from the local Creative Strings Academy, several of whom (both adults and kids) began playing Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" on the suddenly crowded stage. An Ornette Coleman song followed. When a precocious teenager started sweetly singing "I can't give you anything but love," I thought I'd been transported into a Woody Allen movie.

On another evening, prior to a Woody Guthrie tribute concert, the sound system was playing The Smiths, Husker Du and The Replacements. In other words, the tunes can be pleasantly surprising.

Ditto for the food and beverages. About a dozen draft beers from Ohio are offered ($5 each), but so are intriguing and inexpensive cocktails ($6) fabricated with Rambling House's nuanced, top-notch soda pops ($2.50 without alcohol). I was especially enamored with the refreshing Rambler (aromatic cola, whiskey and lime) and the summery Melon Ball (watermelon soda with vodka).

Rambling House's kitchen is run by the Paddy Wagon food truck folks, who have created special "Appalachian Shareables" for this culinary operation, which Paddy Wagon calls Jailhouse Roots. I call it "better than that description probably sounds."

I've surfed a viscous ocean of undistinguished molten cheese dips lately, so diving into the sharp, boozy and obviously homemade IPA Beer Cheese ($8, with a swarm of warm, puffy soft pretzel sticks) was a welcome immersion. To cut its intense richness, eat it with the kicky Pickle Jar ($7), filled with fresh, aggressively vinegary, homemade vegetable pickles. Want a sweeter snack? The lightly spicy Homemade CrackerJack ($5) is a grown-up-friendly version of that childhood treat.

The Prisoner's Pierogi ($5) hands Eastern European ravioli fans something good to sink their teeth into. Order them "with everything," and the mashed-potato-jammed pockets (locally sourced from Sophie's Gourmet Pierogi) will arrive with squiggles of sour cream plus sauteed mushrooms and onions - and sitting in an inspired "basket" molded from crisped-up shredded cheese. Talk about an irresistible mess.

Can you remember the last ham sandwich that made you sit up and take notice? The sweet, salty, big and meaty Honey Ham and Cheese ($8) on griddled toast will join that exclusive company. Its main ingredient makes the difference: thick slices of roasted, glazed Ohio ham - I'm talking real holiday-style pig - flattered by melted Swiss cheese, caramelized onions, greens and "5-OH sauce" (tastes like a spicy mustard, honey mustard and horseradish sauce amalgam).

The Millersport Sausage Sandwich ($7) takes advantage of more fresh Ohio pork. Greaseless crumbles are generously loaded into a nicely toasted hoagie roll, but with nothing else - so request garnishes.

Abundant toppings are standard issue with the Bourbon-Glazed Brisket tacos (2 for $8). With sweet and tender meat, fresh slaw, pico, sriracha-sour-cream and an excellent grilled treatment for flour tortillas, they outpace many other pseudo-Mexican efforts.

Crawdads and Cobs ($9) was crawfish in desperate need of seasoning and cold-yet-overcooked corn. Still, one misfire among ample on-target dishes - plus a convivial atmosphere and fun cocktails - show Rambling House has a lot more to offer than just excellent soda pops.

Rambling House Soda

310 E. Hudson St., Old North Columbus