Restaurant review: Asterisk

G.A. Benton, Columbus Alive
Spicy burger with side of carrots and Her Ball n Chain cocktail

When I think "asterisk," multiple meanings come to mind. As a symbol, the asterisk can denote a footnote promising supplemental information, or stand in for letters of a naughty word. When spelled out to indicate the Asterisk Supper Club, the Greek-root meaning of Asterisk - "little star" - fits best.

As the bright new hot spot in the bustling Uptown Westerville dining scene, Asterisk is a lot of fun - if you don't mind an often loud and crowded ambience. And if you enjoy a place that's fashionable but casual and embraces contemporary style while honoring the past.

Underlining its drastic renovation of the former Pasquale's Pizza and Pasta House (which has opened two locations elsewhere), Asterisk brought in a bar carved in the 1800s. The elaborate wooden structure with oversized mirrors signals that this business takes its libations seriously.

So try some inspired cocktails ($8). My favorites were the fruity-and-frothy Liquid Luck (egg whites shaken with house-infused blueberry gin balanced by lemon juice and black pepper) and the perfect-for-summer Her Ball n Chain (strawberry shrub, mint-infused vodka, lime juice, vanilla syrup, spherical ice "cube"), an exceedingly refreshing punch also available in huge, cut-glass bowls ($40).

Whereas the bar recalls a vintage saloon, Asterisk's dining room resembles a rowdy library in which revelers are surrounded by books stacked from floor to ceiling. The main chamber is also decorated with glass chandeliers, paint mimicking an old-fashioned, feathery wallpaper pattern and a multi-tasking, door-sized wooden plaque engraved with Asterisk's fanciful monogram that celebrates Westerville and the end of Prohibition.

Menus - they're presented by servers either wearing suspenders and bow ties or black cocktail garb - are delivered inside books, too. This enabled me to bone up on the Anatolian Peninsula, industrial design and Lady Diana while I scanned Asterisk's curious collection of dishes and listened to its similarly eclectic soundtrack, which bounced sharply from electronic dance music to singer-songwriter tunes.

Overriding the fact that Asterisk's menu is a jumble of comfort-food and Southern favorites, plus Latin-inspired and gastropub fare (English-style mid-afternoon tea is served as well) is the fact that the disparate dishes were consistently well-executed. Because appetizers are generally large and the á la carte entrees are modest-sized, starters are highly recommended.

I liked all that I tried: the non-greasy, Parmesan-enhanced, crisply battered, golden-brown Giant Cauliflower (thankfully not raw underneath) countered by a spicy tomato sauce ($8); an enormous Chargrilled Caesar Salad ($8), smoky as Texas brisket and slathered in a creamy-yet-tangy dressing accessorized with Parmesan cheese shavings and fried capers; and warm, crackly homemade Chicharrones ($5) partnered with unusual and unnecessary dipping sauces that tasted like spicy beef broth and zesty Thousand Island dressing.

I enjoyed every main course I sampled, too: excellent Shrimp and Grits ($15) - four plump, sweet shellfish and an addictive, chili-sparked tomato gravy atop wonderful, cheesy grits; Chicken and Amish Noodles over Mashed Potatoes ($11), a meal so convincing I was momentarily transported to Holmes County; the simple but flavorful Papi's Burrito ($10) with tender ground beef, whole beans, rice, cabbage strands, cilantro and salsa; and the uncommonly juicy and expertly seared Blazen Spicy Grass-Fed Burger ($11), jacked up with onion straws, candied bacon, zingy aioli, jalapenos and "ghost pepper cheese." If seeking a side dish, the stem-on, buttery baby carrots ($4) are perfectly roasted and seasoned with cracked black pepper.

Based on its reticent menu description - "banana bread, local ice cream, ganache" - I didn't expect my dessert ($10) to be an inverted riff on a great banana split, with long plantain chips crowning an immense and delicious, over-the-top construction. But that's the kind of treat you can expect from this bright, new restaurant star in Uptown Westerville.

Asterisk Supper Club

14 N. State St.,