Restaurant review: The Worthington Inn

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

On the back of the rock-tour-apt black T-shirts worn by bussers it says: "Local, Fresh and Natural since 1831." On the restaurant's Twitter feed - near notices for its just-released spring menu and a wine dinner featuring grilled quail, ramps and morel mushrooms - was this: "I cook with wine, sometimes I even add it to the food. (W.C. Fields)." What cheeky eatery could I be speaking of? Oh, hell, you already know because you've seen this article's headline and photos.

But do you take my point? Mention the extraordinary Worthington Inn and too often people say "great Sunday brunch" and then, as the image of an expensive and vintage joint visited with parents takes hold, the conversation sputters. And that is sad.

Yes, the great-ingredient- and creative-chef-driven Worthington Inn exists in the uppermost echelons of Columbus restaurants, so it can be pricey. And yeah, it's housed in a museum-quality 19th-century country mansion. But the Inn offers some damn good values, and isn't in the least lagging behind our local-ingredient focused fine dining scene. If you doubt these things, you're likely the one lagging.

Part of the Inn's 2011 spring menu is its revamped pub offerings available in the casual bar area (where terrific jazz bands play on Friday and Saturday evenings) and the front-porch-like patio. From that short food list, the Ohio-raised, grass-fed beef Lights Out Burger ($13) was a knockout.

Arriving on a toasted, locally baked Stan Evans sesame-seeded bun was a lean and mean heavyweight-champion patty with a killer grilled crust. This juicy mauler is brilliant, robed in thick-cut, super-crispy bacon, fun "tobacco onions" (like ungreasy onion straws), arugula, cheddar cheese and a zingy and sweet barbecue-type sauce. In the burger's corner were terrific, fresh house-made pickles and nifty hand-cut fries.

Some extra cheap selections from the pub menu are the thin and snappy-crusted Grilled Flatbreads. These come in either a surprisingly spicy meat version (with hot Italian sausage and banana peppers) or a rich and pungent veggie (with Point Reyes blue cheese, shiitake mushrooms, spinach and caramelized onions). Both are half-priced during happy hour (3-7 p.m. Monday through Friday), setting you back about $5.

At $2.50, the clever Cucumber-Chili Ceviche is always cheap and bursting with light, lively and refreshing flavors. Here, big hunks of cuke are treated to a fresh lime bath, a habanero zest heating up and cooling off sprinkles of cilantro.

The new dinner menu frequently - and winningly - unites Mediterranean cuisine with Asian flavors and French techniques. Thus a lovely duck appetizer special ($14) presented beautiful, fanned-out pink fowl gently "black tea smoked." Accompanying the meat was a neat peanut-buttery noodle salad (with slivered veggies and spicy nuts) plus an not-gloppy sweet chili sauce. Ginger and sesame oil tied together the plate's clean flavors.

Also great was the Spring Lamb ($32). Perfectly grilled, succulent chops were outfitted with fluffy couscous topped with a racy artichoke and harissa ragu, plus the yin and yang of minty tzatziki and sriracha sauces

If you think chicken, mashed potatoes and green beans sound humdrum (they do), try them here and you'll think again. A black-peppery crusted, locally raised free-range half bird (with a deboned thigh) arrived with a rich demi-like morel gravy, tangy spuds and a buttery and pretty succotash of haricots verts, squash and tomatoes.

Dessert-wise, the shortcake-like Strawberry Molly ($8) similarly added cheffy verve (and white chocolate mousse) to another spring-flinging favorite.

The moral (and morel) of this story: the Inn is in.

Go for dinner:

The Worthington Inn

649 High St., Worthington