Music, food share center stage at high-performing Natalie’s Grandview
This terrific spinoff of a Worthington favorite features good Neapolitan-style pizzas, plus impressive appetizers, cocktails and notable happy-hour discounts
Between beguiling songs that obliquely address the toll of the pandemic with ambivalent lyrics like “raise a glass in a season of ash,” Cate Le Bon — the Tilda Swinton of avant-pop music — smiled diffidently at the crowd in Natalie’s Grandview during a recent concert and deadpanned, “Here we are, all together.”
Similar to Le Bon, I no longer take being “all together” for granted. Because Natalie’s Grandview is a restaurant/music club at the local forefront of vaccine requirements — as is Natalie’s fun Worthington sibling (not reviewed here) — COVID-cautious types such as me have been able to enjoy food and music all together again with increased peace of mind for months.
That vaccine requirement led to my renewed acquaintance with Natalie’s Grandview (I barely got to know the place before the pandemic struck) and it has consequently become an oasis of COVID-isn’t-over-yet entertainment. But the place’s food, service, ambience and music will bring me back often as COVID further subsides and eventually (fingers crossed) peters out.
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Walls displaying records and images of musicians attest to the importance of music in Natalie’s stylish but casual and roomy space. Ditto for a large bar where captivating music videos, audible through good house speakers, by the likes of Howlin’ Wolf and Sharon Jones contribute to a great restaurant soundtrack.
In addition to the concert venue where Le Bon played, there’s a dining area “corner” stage with nightclub-style lighting — and some of the best free live music around — that borders an open kitchen sporting a fancy Italian pizza oven.
The impressive pizzas that emanate from that domed behemoth feature thin but puffy, Neapolitan-style crusts with a fine toasty flavor. About 10 predesigned pies are offered, including the crowd-pleasing Casanova ($18), with crumbled fennel-seed sausage, Ohio bacon, crisp pepperoni, fresh mozzarella, lively crushed-tomato sauce and chiffonade of basil.
For something without meat, the alluringly earthy Funky Funghi pizza ($17) was a flavor-fest of various mushrooms, gorgonzola, roasted garlic, mozzarella, herbs and truffle oil.
Skill and panache often shine in the sizable appetizers, many of which are half-price during happy hour (5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Friday through Sunday).
The butternut squash ravioli ($15) might outshine them all. Firm-yet-springy house-made pasta, a mushroom-miso broth, plus garnishes of goat cheese, arugula, pickled onion and a lemony walnut gremolata merged into a busy but triumphant vegetarian creation.
Meatballs seem to be popping up all over lately, but the big, juicy, chile-kissed and tender ones ($12) Natalie’s serves with bold tomato sauce and house-baked bread are worth seeking out. So are the likewise Italian-influenced arancini ($12): two wonderfully crunchy fried rice balls, with goat cheese-enhanced interiors, presented atop that delicious house tomato sauce.
Pub-grub staples are distinguished, too. An order of Music Hall house fries ($5) brought a gargantuan serving of crispy, fresh-cut delights boosted by garlic, herbs and a side of addictive “spicy soy catsup.”
Smoky, fall-off-the-bone meat elevated by a thick and kicky “roasted poblano Buffalo” sauce with mustard notes propelled Natalie’s chargrilled chicken wings ($15) higher than most.
Already miss Mardi Gras? My seafood gumbo ($11) with a dark rich roux and sneaky, nuanced heat lacked abundant seafood but delivered abundant, compelling flavor.
To further “laissez les bon temps rouler,” Natalie’s offers happy-hour deals on its strong roster of Ohio-brewed beers, small-but-food-friendly wine list and creative cocktails. Among the latter, Persephone’s Plight ($12) evoked a deceptively potent aperitivo made with two rums, Averna, Chartreuse, pomegranate nectar and lemon bitters.
Whiskey sour fans will enjoy the excellent company of Mr. Jones ($12): bourbon, citrus, pineapple, Cynar, huckleberry, ginger, rosemary and cream sherry. This easy-drinking but formidable libation can prime imbibers gathering — yes, all together — for an evening of memorable entertainment, while also assuaging more-variants-are-inevitable anxieties.
Natalie's Grandview Music Hall & Kitchen
945 King Ave., Northwest Side