Restaurant Review: On The Fly

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

As it is now, a few short weeks into its pupa stage of existence, On The Fly - the little sib to the renowned Dragonfly Neo-V - is one of the most exciting inexpensive eateries to premier in town in a while.

For starters, most things cost only about $5 or $6. Secondly, nearly everything is made in-house using as many local and organic ingredients as possible. Thirdly, the food is not only flavorful (I swear), but it's all healthy vegan cuisine - do not doubt me, that really can happen.

The reason I preface the above with "as it is now" is because On The Fly is still largely being heavily steered by Dragonfly's chef and owners, and I don't see how that can continue forever.

But until workers can be trained to run the small operation to their exacting standards, observing those pros (Magdiale Wolmark and Cristin Austin) show infectious enthusiasm for their little restaurant might lead customers to believe it's a firstborn business. Yet just on the other side of Fly's single tiny room lies Dragonfly, one of the most prestigious and high-end vegan eateries in (at least) the Midwest.

On The Fly clearly seeks to reinvent a few fast-food staples and quickie, big-city vendor fare for ingredient-aware eaters. This creates some ironies. Like a vegan menu that invokes populist meaty favorites while also trying to be informal, yet formally spelling it all out to diners by offering a "Street Food Salad" ($6 - a tart and sweet Asian-y sesame oil dressing on noodles and veggies) and a "Rowdy Burger" (not yet available). And then there's the famously fussy and accomplished chef occasionally doubling as a short-order cook.

For me, that only added to my enjoyment of this place, and anyways, the bottom line is always the food. Well, after sampling the entire small menu here, I can vouch that it all pretty much rocked. For example, I was shocked at how many comforting flavors and textures could be gleaned out of seaweed, brown rice and tofu (Sesame Roll, $5 - a large, seed-encrusted log served warm with vinegary rice and marinated tofu).

And On The Fly's outstanding rich, thick and hearty Lentil Chili would delight even the most meat-addicted pot-roast lovers out there (i.e. me). It was perfectly spicy (threatening, never overwhelming); topped with a lovely, lemony stand-in for sour cream (soy yogurt?); came with a sweet, excellent cornbread muffin - and was an outright steal at $4.

Vegan baking is a serious challenge, but it's also where Fly really shines - even when its super-high-quality bready goods are sometimes marginally drier than those from great butter-and-egg-equipped bakeries.

And so Fly's superlative, soft and chewy homemade warm pita bread almost steals the show on the falafel sandwich ($6 - with a muscular hummus, pickled veggies and spicy, nutty if uncrunchy falafel), as does the terrifically crusty French-style roll of the Philly-style Portobello "V" steak sandwich ($8 - with meaty, smoky mushrooms, tons of thin sauteed sweet onions and an effective Cheez Whiz substitute).

Both of those sandwiches are highly recommended, as is the more portable, samosa-like White Bean Empanada, but so saucy and messy they'd be rather impractical as actual street food. So though On The Fly seems designed to accommodate to-go orders, I'd advise diners to consider eating those two right in the restaurant.

If so, patrons will park their ever-healthier bottoms at one of five tiny tables. There, in a simple small room with pleasant canary-yellow walls, diners can also enjoy epiphanically low beer and wine prices (glasses of vino start at $2.50), listen to some bouncy iPod selections (everything from the Flaming Lips to anything electro-hip), engage with the exuberant owners and super-friendly workers, and eat some of the best cheap food this city has to offer.

On The Fly

249 King Ave., Victorian Village



10 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5-7 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday

(subject to change)