Behind Bars: Jessie Hooks at Basi Italia

Erica Thompson

Victorian Village restaurant Basi Italia takes its name from the Italian word basilare and strives to embody its meaning: basic or fundamental. The philosophy is reflected in the decor — basic cream and brown tones dominate the cozy indoor space and a new, sleek, black-on-black look for the patio area — and on the menu.

“No sauces overtake a meal and no syrups overtake a drink,” said bartender Jessie Hooks, who joined the Basi team five years ago.

However, there's room for flourishes, like the lightbulbs mounted in whisks behind the bar outside. Similarly, Hooks is able to take liberties when designing the cocktail list, which changes each season.

“Here you can make a lot more creative drinks rather than just vodka tonics and vodka cokes,” Hooks said. She often incorporates fresh ingredients in unique offerings like a strawberry and basil vodka cocktail or a beet and cucumber tequila drink. Right now, the house sangria, made with fresh juice, is a hit.

“We're [also] doing a barrel-aged Negroni,” she said. “It has been soaking in the barrel for about three weeks. Then we'll also do … a barrel-aged Old Fashioned.”

Wine is also popular among guests, who file into the charming patio area for “Vino on the Veranda,” a wine-tasting event each Wednesday. “A lot of times you'll see a group of people sitting at [the center table] that didn't all come together,” Hooks said. “It's called the communal table for a reason; everybody gets to know each other. … It's just a really nice, comfortable atmosphere.”

Patio season has been extremely busy, even though the bar relies more on word-of-mouth than traditional advertising. And Basi has become a cherished favorite among neighborhood customers.

“The nice part about it is we do have a lot of regulars,” Hooks said. “On any given night, half of the people here [I've] known or waited on or seen before, which is really nice because you can get to know them.”

While the beverages would be enough to bring people to the restaurant, Hooks rarely encounters a patron who won't order something to eat. The zucchini pronto is the most commonly ordered appetizer, though Hooks prefers the pan-roasted mussels. “[The chef] cooks them with pancetta so that smoky bacon flavor just takes it to another level,” she said.

Regarding main courses, Basi is known for its eggplant parmesan and rigatoni salumeria, but Hooks' favorites are the prosciutto-wrapped scallops and mustard-crusted golden trout.

“I enjoy coming to work,” said Hooks, a Columbus native who almost became a paralegal. “It's not sitting behind an office desk … or seeing the same five people every single day. We have a lot of variety.”