Beyond BrewDog: Guide to Canal Winchester

Erin Edwards
Jonathan Woodruff and Kelley and Nathan Doerfler of Loose Rail Brewing

Canal Winchester (population 7,101 and growing) is embarking on a fascinating time in its nearly 190-year history. It's a place where small-town traditions and sensibilities—the corner barber shop, the greasy spoon diner, the local church's annual pork and sauerkraut dinner—increasingly coexist with modern trends, economic development and the growth of establishments catering to millennial tastes.

Seated at the bar of Shade on the Canal restaurant in historic downtown Canal Winchester (and later, across the street at Village Wines & Bistro) in February, the buzz from my bar-mates was BrewDog. The Scotland-based brewery, known for its IPAs and belligerent approach to marketing, handpicked Canal Winchester for its entry into the U.S. market.

It's a potential game-changer for Canal's economy. Beer aficionados have already begun the pilgrimage to visit BrewDog's brewpub DogTap Columbus, which features 12 taps (24 in the near future), a full pub-food menu, views into the brewery, classic arcade games, a “dogs are welcome” policy, a whole room of BrewDog merchandise and, eventually, a patio bar constructed out of a shipping container. Whew!

If that's not enough, BrewDog recently made national news when it announced plans to open The DogHouse, “the world's first craft beer hotel and sour brewery,” next door to the brewery.

Indeed, BrewDog is destination-worthy, but when you visit take some time to explore these other local businesses.

Located where the Ohio and Erie Canal once ran, Shade on the Canal is that casual neighborhood sports bar and restaurant that every town needs. The atmosphere is lively and brightly lit with TVs on every available wall, and friendly, T-shirt clad servers. The menu includes an insane array of starters, salads, sandwiches, pizzas and wings. The real winning combo here is draft beer and wings—big and juicy, with steam coming off the bite and a nice crispy exterior.

Village Wines & Bistro, located just across the street from Shade's, is its polar opposite: intimately lit, sophisticated and wine-driven. Past an ample patio that hugs High Street, the front door leads to a wall of wine bottles for sale. Wines by the glass are on the affordable side, and the menu leans toward salads, pastas and steaks (with the occasional taco night).

Just a couple of doors down from Village Wines (but many decades away in look and feel) is the iconic Canal Wigwam. One of the oldest continuously operating restaurants in Central Ohio, it opened in 1899 as a bakery and restaurant under the name “Wigwam,” meaning “gathering place.” The diner, owned by Mark and Angela Savino, sports black-and-white checkered floors with retro red-and-chrome chairs. Here, cooks hover over flat-top grills, flipping classic omelets, fantastic country potatoes, breakfast meat and more. If you're looking for classic diner food, this is your place.

A coffee shop for its first 10 years, Harvest Moon Craft Kitchen has evolved into a hip craft beer and burger joint with Edison bulbs, exposed-brick walls and weekly live music. Owners Nathan and Kelley Doerfler place an emphasis on quality ingredients and have found their niche by specializing in bison and elk burgers. They source 100 percent grass-fed meat from Northstar Bison in Wisconsin. The husband-and-wife team considered expanding Harvest Moon with a second location in another town. Instead, they decided to help grow the Canal community—and the idea for a downtown microbrewery was born.

Harvest Moon's new sister brewery, Loose Rail Brewing, is set to open May 5. It's located just a few hundred feet away from the restaurant in a lovely old building that once housed a railway power substation. Head brewer Jonathan Woodruff says the 3,600-square-foot, seven-barrel brewery and taproom will seat almost 50 inside with another 50 seats outdoors. The taproom will open with five beers on draft: the Freight Hopper (an IPA made with local honey from Honey Run Farms), a stout called the Coal Burner, an amber named Ash Cat, the Full Steam saison and another yet-to-be-named IPA. Customers will be able to order food from Harvest Moon or grab a pizza from Renaldi's Pizzeria across the street.

Finish off your trip to Canal with a visit to Fantasy Cupcake. Open since June 2011, this small operation sells artisanal cupcakes ($3 each, with gluten-free cupcakes offered on Saturdays), cakepops, cakes, ice cream and coffee. Check out “happy hour” on Wednesdays when regular cupcakes are only $2 from 5 to 7 p.m. Worth seeking out: the Snickerdoodle cupcake, a cinnamon-lover's dream with cinnamon-sugar frosting, or the Cookie Monster, a chocolate cake topped with vanilla buttercream rolled in Oreos.