First look: Herb'n Cafe in Pickerington

Beth Stallings, Columbus Crave

Like a proud mom, Terry Carter eagerly shares her son's story to any customer who wants to listen.

He always loved to cook, she explains while leaning over the large granite counter that runs nearly the length of the restaurant. He attended Columbus Culinary Institute at Bradford School and worked his way through a variety of kitchens, including a go at an upscale national chain. But the corporate life wasn't for him-he wanted to get back to honest cooking; to source products locally and free of GMOs.

To test his dream, and the market, Taylor Carter did what many young gun cooks did nearly three years ago-he opened a food truck. Herb'n Cafe still lives on in mobile form, but most days it's parked behind Taylor's brick and mortar with the same name. Taylor opened Herb'n Cafe in Pickerington earlier this year with the backing of his mom and her business partner Scott Marvin.

The 1,600-square-foot restaurant is proof that some of the best finds in Central Ohio are shoved into boxy spaces between Bed Bath and Beyond and movie theaters. The setting is sparse but warm with accents that inspire a connection with nature, from rough-hewn wood to art made of bundles of branches. Oblong Edison bulbs in mismatched glass fixtures hang like point lighting over an exaggerated white and gray granite bar.

For the last eight months, Taylor has been testing the Pickerington market with breakfast and lunch fare. The response has been so warm, breakfast has been nixed and recently replaced with an evening small-plates menu. Dish descriptions are marked with buzzwords: cage free, wild caught, grass-fed, sous vide.

The lunch menu is a collection of salads and burgers, all of which sound fresh and inviting, such as the Blue Pears ($13) with grilled Bartlett pears, Point Reyes blue cheese, apple, candied walnut, red and golden raisins and mixed greens topped with blue cheese dressing; and Red Leaf Lettuce & Adobo Shrimp ($13) with lime avocado yogurt dressing.

Focus your first order on the center of the menu and the grass-fed burgers, such as Blue and Candy ($14) with blue cheese and candied bacon, or Mushroom Soy and Rosemary ($13) topped with asparagus and rosemary mushrooms.

Start with the Pork & Jowl ($15)-a smash-style patty cooked to a juicy medium well. It's topped with mild Tillamook cheddar, crispy onions and a fried egg. Crisped jowl is a playful stand-in for bacon, adding texture and saltiness to every bite. The guajillo barbecue sauce is smoky and a touch sweet.

Pair burgers with crispy fries that get a bumpy texture from Parmesan shavings adhered to each fry after a bout in hot oil.

The dinner menu will continue to develop over the coming weeks. Look for dishes including seared Korean short rib with soy ginger dressing ($12), seared scallops with bruleed banana and mango curry ($12) and lobster ravioli with soy braised short rib and Sriracha butter.