Restaurant review: The new Crest Parsons is A&R's best restaurant yet

G.A. Benton, Columbus Alive

In just a few short years, the A&R Creative Group has dotted the local landscape with popular, modern restaurants such as The Crest Gastropub in Clintonville, Ethyl & Tank and The Market Italian Village. The group has primarily accomplished this by moving into "transitioning" neighborhoods and building - or rehabbing less-than-desirable spaces into - chic hotspots featuring terrific beer lists and eclectic menus

There is much to like about A&R's creations, but I've found kitchen consistency to be a recurring issue. So while dining in the group's ambitious new restaurant - The Crest Gastropub on the South Side - I kept waiting for the other fork to drop. It didn't. Welcome to A&R's best restaurant.

The new Crest looks the part. It's spacious and sleek, open and airy, snazzy but casual, with a patio and several discrete dining areas.

"We are dedicated to green, sustainable practices," it says on The Crest's website. The eatery is also dedicated to green as a decoration theme, as it appears in a profusion of plants, a distinctive "moss wall" and the T-shirts worn by its well-trained servers. Wood, gray and the play of vertical forms against curvy elements likewise feature prominently in the dynamic design.

This is a great place to sample unconventional beers, such as Jackie O's (from Athens) seasonal Paw Paw Wheat ($7). The ale is dry but with significant malt and pleasant hints of its namesake tropical-tasting native-Ohio fruit. Also to its credit: The complex quaff doesn't taste nearly as odd as that description might sound - plus it masterfully hides its 9% ABV.

Bonus: It's an intriguing match for entree-sized "shareables" like General Tso's Vegetables ($12) and the Taco Trio ($12). Offering the former, a vegetarian version of the American-Chinese take-out classic, is an inspired idea in a hip, beer-centric establishment. Especially when reinvention yields a simple yet delicious medley of roasted carrots with crunchy, tempura-battered cauliflower and broccoli livened by a vinegar-spiked sweet sauce tickled by chili flakes.

I liked the tacos even more. They're warm, soft corn tortillas alternately embracing creamy-and-zesty-garnished Lake Erie walleye, seared Ohio-sourced pork belly with zingy chimichurri, and juicy, Ohio-sourced beef kebabs with ancho salsa. These rate among the best non-traditional tacos in town.

Fans of healthy salads aren't left out in the cold, but are rewarded with a chilled plate and - if ordering the Quinoa and Avocado ($12) - fresh greens dressed in an assertive lime-forward vinaigrette balanced by creamy avocado and a puck of quinoa sweetened with pineapple.

Burgers take up a good deal of menu space and arrive with excellent fries (try them "seasoned" - mostly with thyme and cayenne - or made with sweet potato planks). The housemade Falafel Burger I tried ($12) was big, crisp and good-tasting, but dry.

If the comically enormous Americana Burger ($16) is a comment on America, it's an amusing one. Fueled by caffeine (two coffee-rubbed patties) and booze (bourbon barbecue sauce), it's breezily indulgent (melted cheddar, bacon, onion rings) but not as cohesive as it should be.

For about the same price, you can try the restaurant's most impressive dishes: entrees. Displaying the kinship between classic French-style cooking and the contemporary American palate, the refined-yet-comforting Whole Roasted Game Hen ($20) offers gravy (intense, skillfully strained), carrots and potatoes (darkly roasted to sweet) and a juicy bird with beautifully blistered skin.

The equally delicious Seared Rack of Lamb ($18) was two meaty, tender and thickly crusted grilled chops with a potent garlic soubise and a lovely (if not perfectly compatible) shiitake salad with fresh English peas and diced asparagus.

To leave smelling like a rose - or at least tasting one - finish with the pretty and accomplished Mille Feuille ($7), showcasing rosewater pastry cream.

The Crest Gastropub

621 Parsons Ave., South Side