New Olde Worthington restaurant serves comfort with a twist

Beth Stallings, Columbus Crave

Olde Worthington gets a new dining destination today with the opening of The Whitney House (666 N. High St.), a rustic American bistro that promises comfort foods with a twist.

"We wanted to create a place where we would like to spend time and we would like to dine," explains owner and Worthington native Ian Brown. The name is a tribute to Brown's wife's family home on Whitney Avenue in Worthington. "[The house] became a family gathering place for extended members of family. It was the place that we went for familial gatherings. That's the place everyone was. Even for sad occasions. That's where we felt comfortable."

Comfort is the word The Whitney House seems to be built around. Dishes are familiar, but prepared in a way you maybe have never had them before, Brown says. Executive chef Maxwell Avon, who was most recently executive sous chef at Lindey's, calls this style rustic, but refined with emphasis on technique. "The menu evolved as Ian and I talked. It's our version of what we like to eat," Avon says.

For example, in the risotto, Avon subs in farro and adds wild mushrooms, asparagus and thyme. Other dishes include Chicken Pot Pie with winter veggies, house-made crust and broccolini, Amish Brick Chicken with winter veggies and pan sauce, and a Bone-In Pork Chop with shaved Brussels sprouts, winter veggies and apple-cranberry chutney.

The idea to open the restaurant began Christmas Day last year when Brown sat down to dinner with his family. Nonchalantly someone mentioned the old P.K. O'Ryan's space was for sale, and suggested Brown open a restaurant there.

"Then it just started to eat away at me," says Brown, who has worked in restaurant management for the Bravo Brio Restaurant Group for years. So he walked through with a few friends and quickly saw the potential. At the time, the 2,500-square-foot pub was two distinct spaces-a bar and a restaurant-with separate entrances. Now the two sides are connected by a hallway that leads past the kitchen. There's the 70-seater restaurant with porthole windows dotting a refinished brick wall, black banquets and wood floors. And then there's the 50-seat tavern side with a bar and working fireplace.

At the bar, expect eight draft beers with an emphasis on local crafts. Donnie Austin from neighboring House Wine helped design the small but smart wine list. And cocktails, Brown says, are kind of like the food. "They are twists on classic handmade craft cocktails," he says.

But if you want the best seat in the house, grab a stool at the counter in the dining room. This is where Avon will stand during service, expediting through the open kitchen window and interacting with customers.

The Whitney House will be open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Friday, and brunch and dinner Saturday and Sunday.