Restaurant Review: The Worthington Inn
Despite a recent change in chefs, the historic Worthington Inn continues to serve up deliciousness wrapped in Colonial comforts.
The Worthington Inn has been around forever it seems, in the pretty old mansion on North High Street in Old Worthington. No longer an inn, the restaurant is still humming along with plenty of happy regulars and visitors from foreign parts like Clintonville and Upper Arlington.
With the departure of longtime chef Tom Smith more than a year ago, regulars surely worried that the food would decline. After all, Smith is a great cook and he created a true chef-driven menu that took advantage of the seasons and relationships he'd built with local farmers and purveyors.
I'm pleased to report that executive chef Mike Waters hasn't missed a beat running the kitchen that he once shared with Smith as his sous chef for about six years. The quality and creativity of the food has remained high.
The venue itself is both dated and lovely, if that's possible. The oldest portion of the Inn, which fronts High Street, was built in 1831. The three-story brick structure was first a private residence, and then eventually became a restaurant and inn. While the inn closed a few years ago to become condos, the original structure continues as a restaurant and special events venue. Upstairs is a ballroom that can accommodate up to 100 people, with two adjoining smaller rooms for weddings and events. The basement houses a cozy wine room. On the main floor are three dining areas plus a few more tables in the pub across from the long oak bar. In winter, the dining room closest to the kitchen is snug and warm, heated in part by a bright gas fireplace. The rooms are pretty enough, decorated in what might best be described as minimalist Colonial. The best feature is the building itself, from the beautiful wide plank floors to the rich oak woodwork.
One enters from the front door or side door on New England Avenue—the host station is at the top of the stairs on the side entrance. If Tom the bartender is on duty, you may wish to stop in for friendly conversation and one of his excellent cocktails. He can mix a perfect standard martini or a special concoction like an apple cider margarita, which sounded odd and tasted great. If you're looking for a lively atmosphere, eating in the pub is your best bet.
The Inn has carried on its relationships with a number of local providers, like Rock Dove Farm (wonderful greens and other veggies) and the dough experts at Sassafras Bakery just up High Street. In winter, what's local is rather limited, but there are still some greenhouse greens, local chicken from Covey Rise Farms and grains like polenta from Shagbark Seed & Mill.
The good burghers of Worthington might revolt if the Inn started serving avant garde cuisine—and so neither Smith's nor Waters' menus have ever strayed too far beyond the comfortable. But comfortable food can be very satisfying food, as in a crisply roasted breast of chicken served along with the thigh cooked separately in duck fat, garlic whipped potatoes and roasted Brussels sprouts with apple and pancetta ($28). It's almost a Thanksgiving meal, hearty and comforting—and as mentioned, that Covey Rise bird tastes like chicken should taste—full of flavor. Short ribs of beef are full of flavor too, and here they are treated to a slow braise “osso buco” style, and served with a roasted marrow bone (take your Lipitor, it's worth it) on top of creamy polenta and roasted root vegetables ($29). The beef is soft, a bit fatty, and perfect with the grainy corn meal and veggies. Two dishes I loved will be off the menu (which changes from time to time, not just each season) before you read this, too bad—but the kitchen did a great job with duck ravioli with mushrooms in sage butter, and a big bowl of bouillabaisse loaded with seafood. The dinner menu offers something called Spaghetti Cassandra ($23) with chunks of roast chicken, sun dried tomatoes, spinach, feta, garlic and plenty of dried chili flakes. It was quite spicy and very garlicky, if you're looking for a punch with your pasta.
Starters here range from fried blue point oysters ($16) in a crisp batter with ginger-lime mayo to black bean empanadas ($12) served with a tart tomatillo avocado salsa. Both are good. If that does not suit, the cheese and charcuterie board ($17) is great for sharing—prosciutto, salami, decent cheeses alongside some crisp pickled carrots and green beans.
On the salad list is one of heirloom carrots ($9). I had expected roasted carrots for some reason, but this plate was of greens and many strips of raw carrot—a little bland unfortunately, even with its tart yogurt coriander dressing. Caesar salad was better ($9) in a dressing advertised as “creamy” but was more oil-based. The roasted butternut squash bisque ($7.50; cup $5.50) was OK, but also a bit bland. A touch of spice and salt would help.
Sunday brunch, at least on one visit, was an unqualified success. Rich though they be, both the Smoked Salmon Benedict ($16) and Eggs Worthington ($13) were delicious. The first “Benedict” is salmon cakes topped with plenty of brightly flavored citrus hollandaise (yes, it's 70 percent butter, but go ahead) and the other is a riff on eggs Benedict using corned beef hash and spinach in a slightly spicy hollandaise pinked with tomato. I'd happily eat either every weekend, preceded, of course, by a run from Whetstone Park or something. If not running, the Breakfast Bowl ($13) is for you, a tasty and healthful jumble of farro, red rice, sautéed kale, sweet peppers, onions, crisp potatoes, poached eggs and cilantro sauce, with a bit of spicy aioli. We also sampled the big, crisp Malted Waffle ($11)—very good, even if the malt was undetectable.
Service here is also an unqualified success, from good-natured Tom at the bar to good-natured severs and busers, to the good-natured manager who wants to please. And one other feature that will bring me back—wine prices are quite decent. Maybe not the lowest in town, but the selection is solid, and prices are more than reasonable.
The Worthington Inn
649 High St., Worthington, 614-885-2600, worthingtoninn.com
Hours: 11 a.m.–3 p.m. & 5–9 p.m. Mon–Fri, 10 a.m.–3 p.m. & 5–10 p.m. Sat, 10 a.m.–2 p.m. & 5–10 p.m. Sun
Price Range: $12–$17 for appetizers, $22–$38 for entrees
In Short: Inside this stately restaurant in the heart of Worthington, executive chef Mike Waters follows his predecesor's penchant for using local and seasonal ingredients in approachable dishes. Brunch shines with its Benedicts and Bloody Mary bar.
3 out of 4 stars (Excellent)