Orange Crush: Sweet Carrot food truck grows into a loveable restaurant

G.A. Benton, Columbus Alive

Carrots are everywhere at Sweet Carrot - except in the food, where they are rare. That's because, despite its vegetable-honoring moniker, this stylish new restaurant specializes in unconventional approaches to serving house-smoked barbecue.

Sweet Carrot, which began life as a food truck about three years ago (the truck is on a weather-related hiatus, but available for special occasions), got its catchy name from an anagram of "Two Caterers," owner Angela Petro's other business. Its brick-and-mortar presence commenced at the end of November in the former Rife's Market space in Grandview, which Petro has charmingly renovated.

The general character of the venerable building's exterior has been retained, but the interior has radically changed. The new, carrot-referencing design might best be described as industrial-rustic-chic meets Wes Anderson (the whimsical filmmaker of "Fantastic Mr. Fox" fame).

Carrot-orange lamps dangle above wooden tables embossed with amusing images, such as dancing hipsters with animal heads. There's a cartoony painting commissioned from cheeky local artist Adam Brouillette depicting a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat among a bunch of funny bunnies brandishing carrots. Next to that is a King Kong-like hare snatching an orange plane from the air while scaling the Empire State Building. There's a lot to look at, and it's all easy on the eyes.

Keeping true to its food truck roots, the fare is easy on the wallet and somewhat modest-sized. This extends to the drink selection, which includes eight beers on tap (most are $4.50 for 10 ounces), half from Columbus breweries.

Among the two white wine and two red wine options - which get the job done at "best buy" quality - are an Argentine malbec (Altos Las Hormigas, $3.50 for three ounces) and a pinot gris from Oregon (Walnut City WineWorks, $4).

Apart from a few items - such as the serviceable vegan, gluten-free pho with okay faux beef broth ($3) - to order at Sweet Carrot's counter entails making matches between toppings and delivery systems. The latter are: baby kale salads (tender enough but with stems intact) flattered by the sweet-and-sour house dressing; sandwiches in homemade, lobster roll-style buns that are buttery, sweet, toasted and wonderful; appealing corn cakes (cornmeal pancakes used in South American fashion); creamy mac and cheese; and a "boat," meaning served alone in one of the restaurant's metal containers.

The three smoked meat toppings - lean slabs of turkey breast, flavorful beef brisket and pulled pork with evidence of "bark" - were consistently juicy, tender and lightly smoky. Sweet Carrot's other two toppings are cornmeal-crusted fried artichoke hearts and "Ohio chicken meatballs" with a zingy Asian glaze but rather stiff texture.

For a meatless snack, I liked the perfectly fried artichokes in a boat ($4) or salad ($8.45). I was also a fan of the smoked turkey in salad form ($9).

If meatballs are calling, try them in a sandwich ($8). The comforting, stuffed bun comes with a side of kicky bread-and-butter pickles.

Moving into more rib-sticking territory, pulled pork works well in a corn cake ($7) that's "smothered" - meaning with vinegary slaw, zippy corn salsa and thick barbecue sauce I'd advise to request on the side.

If you'd like your corn cake "loaded" - smothered plus the wacky addition of mac and cheese - the brisket stands up best to that garnishing onslaught ($10). Yes, this results in messy food. And Sweet Carrot's menu offers a short range of flavors. But this place and its savory fare are undeniably fun.

Also fun: homemade sweets, such as the brownie-esque, terrific dark Chocolate Crinkle Cookie ($1.75) and Carrot Cake ($3). The latter is decidedly un-carroty, but if you like spice cake with thick, sweet icing and a fanciful carrot design, you won't care.

Sweet Carrot

1417 W. Fifth Ave., Grandview