Year-in-Review: 2016 in a delicious nutshell

G.A. Benton, Columbus Alive

As a year fraught with turbulence, worry and strife sputters to an ominous halt, we can at least be sure of one positive thing: The Columbus restaurant scene is thriving.

Seriously, new eateries open up so often I can hardly count how many pounds I'll be losing as soon as my "portion-control/New Year's resolution" diet begins. I'm pretending to mean that.

While writing this glance at notable 2016 restaurant openings and the dining trends they imply, I was reminded how this freshman class is a staunchly casual group that enjoys a good drink or three and doesn't mind getting pretty damn loud as the evening hits its stride.

I suppose those traits describe most local diners, too. In any event, here's toasting to "season's eatings" and "carpe diem," because who knows what the hell 2017 will bring.

Beer Here

It's hardly news that Columbus is a craft-brewing boomtown. A more newsworthy trend: In 2016, successful beer-producers began producing food, too. The best among them is one of the year's best new restaurants -Rockmill Tavern - an inspired collaboration between Rockmill Brewery's Matthew Barbee, Chef Andrew Smith (Salt & Pine, The Rossi) and a handsome, revamped, two-level cubic space in the Brewery District. Some out-of-the-gate favorites: the kicked-up beet salad, addictive spicy chicken sandwich and the bold-meets-delicate fried branzino. Among other beer stars who started cooking (like Lineage and Pigskin), the most notable was funky-yet-cosmopolitanHoofHearted Brewery and Kitchen-try the shishito peppers, fried chicken and anything with house-made sausages.

Up in your grill

Delicious barbecue with a twist? I'm in. Frankly, there isn't a new local restaurant I'm higher on than surprisingRooks Tavern.Located, of all places, on Chittenden Avenue, it's a slyly sophisticated, western-inspired (as in movies, music and food) enterprise taking a chance on an underserved University District neighborhood. Rooks specializes in smoked meats, and smoke scents three of my favorite 2016-minted dishes: the huge-and-huge-flavored cowboy cassoulet (add on the killer steak) and two head-turning salads - the smoked trout and green beans, and the ash-seasoned, beet-tweaking, deconstructed ensemble called "Copenhagen Barbecue." Mod, massive and often-mobbed,Gogi Korean BBQ is a barbecue joint of a radically different type: LA-style, DIY-Korean. This entertainment emporium with kinetic K-pop videos and oceans of Korean hooch offers humongous feasts such as the highly recommended, grill-it-yourself "Combo C" with bulgogi, beef short ribs, pork ribs plus a stunning ton of sides.

Grand in Grandview

Is the overrun Short North metamorphosing from the main drag to just a drag? In 2016, the Grandview/Upper Arlington area becamethe neighborhood for top new restaurants. Leading the way is lively Bonifacio, a refined-yet-affordable take on home-style Filipino cuisine that features terrific tiki-esque cocktails, a delightful interior and pretty platings of dishes such as lusty lechon kawali (like chicharrones on steroids), refreshing kinilaw (think Filipino ceviche) and a multidimensional oxtail-and-peanut-butter stew called kare kare. Just a few blocks away are:Palle by Moretti, a fashionable, loud-and-crowded, design-your-own-meatball-meal overachiever (loved the chicken meatballs with mushroom-marsala gravy and polenta, the veggie balls with pesto, and the all-in-one "kitchen sink");The Avenue Steak Tavern - a Cameron Mitchell supper club where retro-chic meets casual-and-contemporary and beef is king (get the steak frites), but the irresistible hot chicken biscuit (hot chicken is trendy as all get-out) and accomplished cocktails also merit attention; andFukuryu Ramen, a splashy, booze-offering Japanese-style noodle-soup shop that serves flavorful, tricked-out bowls of ramen with a rock 'n' roll attitude instead of precious pretensions. Try the pork-intense signature tonkotsu, lighter yet perky shoyu and the fiery red dragon.


Two, umm, "out-of-the-box" pizza places also made great debuts - and both use fancy, made-in-Naples ovens.Paulie Gee's is a brilliant Brooklyn import with a tasteful ambience, serious cocktails, cuts-above wine list, alluring salads (like the breakfast-riffing Mary's Boon) and, of course, wonderful pizzas. The signature "Hellboy" features zesty soppressata and chilified honey, but every pie's a champion. Local-focused, rustic-chicGoreMade Pizzahas a small menu but big flavors.Try the charcuterie plate, the local-mushroom-celebrating Clintonvillain pizza and - if available - "Sally's apple tart" washed back with a smoked apple whiskey-spiked cider hot toddy.