The Revamped Sycamore is Complex Yet Comforting, With Notable Small Plates and Cocktails

The revitalized German Village restaurant wants to be all things to all people—a lofty goal that somehow works at this neighborhood spot.

Beth Stallings
Sticky roasted carrots at Sycamore in German Village are accented with blood orange and tahini and roasted to develop a caramelized char.

There’s a business adage that warns you can’t be everything to everyone. Try too hard to be the perfect thing to every customer who walks through the door, and failure is almost a guarantee.

The revitalized and reimagined Sycamore is living proof that not all such pearls of wisdom can be taken at face value. Like a true neighborhood bistro, customers can stop into this German Village spot almost any time of day. There’s a walk-up window for to-go Thunderkiss Coffee and pastry orders (and dog treats) in the morning. Café vibes with salads, sandwiches (including an herbaceous porchetta sandwich, $22, on crusty ciabatta) and brunch-style fare for lunch. And then it turns into a bustling dinner hang in the evenings—resting comfortably somewhere between casual neighborhood eatery and a destination worthy of a nicer night out.

Now, the brick building at the corner of Sycamore and Fifth streets in German Village has always served the neighborhood in one way or another. For roughly seven decades, it was a dark and hazy, Cheers-esque dive bar. In 2013, Chris Crader, founder of Grow Restaurants (including Harvest Bar + Kitchen), transformed it into a destination for high-end fare and excellent cocktails.

But what makes this iteration of Sycamore—led by new owners and siblings Tony and Jackie Heaphy of Good Food Restaurants—feel different is the way it seems to be there, ready for you at any time of day, like an old friend. While earlier versions felt a little one-note, the new Sycamore is complex.

Part of that is thanks to the design restraint that allows the historic character of the building to shine: exposed brick walls and hardwood floors, neutral tile and marble accents. The setting is sharp, comfortable. Though, with all those hard surfaces in a small space, it can get quite loud. The slim restaurant seats about 50 people at a mix of wooden booths and bar stools, plus an additional 20 or so on the street-side patio.

Some of the heaviest hitters on the dinner menu emerge from the small plates. The sticky roasted carrots ($11) with bright blood orange and tahini are roasted until kissed with caramelized char on their skins, but still retain some bite. And I appreciated the sneaky heat from chopped Thai chiles that kept my palate on its toes. Less elegant, but just as fun to eat, are the suppli al telefono ($12). Thick slices of mozzarella coated in cheese- and prosciutto-speckled risotto are breaded and deep-fried until cracker-crisp. Our server pitched it as adult mozzarella sticks. They’re not far off the mark. It’s got all the gooey, salty, crunchy appeal of the best kind of bar snack. The side of tomato sauce is smartly just sweet enough to cut all the richness.

Also worth a glance are the housemade focaccia ($7), crispy edged, fluffy and full of air holes, and the grilled artichokes ($11), a well-cooked dish carried by an addicting oregano butter.

The dinner menu consists of small plates, greens, a few seasonal selections and about nine entrées that vary from a spin on steak frites ($38) to black bass with potatoes and a Spanish brava sauce ($34) to a vegetable tagine ($22).

The ravioli ($26) read like a poem—housemade pasta, artichoke, mascarpone, saffron, sun-dried tomato, wilted greens and pine nuts. But ate like a tragedy. The first plate that arrived was ice cold and clearly hadn’t been cooked through. After sending it back, the second attempt was misfired, likely thrown too hastily into boiling water. What arrived were five split-open, waterlogged and unseemly pale raviolis missing much of their creamy filling.

Thankfully, none of the other dishes I tried fell nearly as short. I could quibble with the meager presentation of the branzino ($43)—a whole fish served with a few blistered tomatoes and wilted watercress. But it flaked with ease and was well-seasoned and herbaceous with punches of thyme.

The beef shank birria ($26) eats like a stew that’s been loved by a slow simmer on the stove, bursting with cooked tomato and chile flavor and just the slightest hint of earthy marjoram. It’s served build-your-own-taco style with corn tortillas, cilantro, onion, radish and lime. Chicken thighs ($26) are another winner, served crispy-skinned and with a rich, Parmigiano Reggiano-laden couscous. My only objection is that the plating is a little confusing, everything pocketed separately—a dollop of goat cheese, a few dried figs. I could have used more explanation on how it’s meant to be enjoyed together.

The wine list is smart and European heavy—not a cliché bottle in sight—with a hefty offering of by-the-glass options, all under $15. A tight draft list emphasizes local brews. But the cocktail menu is what’s worth a double take. The bar team has put their stamp on classics, such as a Negroni ($14) made with Thunderkiss Coffee-infused sweet vermouth. And an Old Fashioned ($14) with rye, bourbon and brown sugar. The Semester Abroad ($12) is a memorable, hot-day sipper: a riff on a margarita, but with lemon, lime and a splash of lavender syrup that adds just the right amount of freshness.

Sycamore

262 E. Sycamore St., German Village
sycamoregv.com

Hours: 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., 4-10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., 4-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; closed Sunday

Not to Miss: Whatever catches your eye on the cocktail menu, paired with bright, spicy, sticky roasted carrots and the adult mozzarella sticks (aka suppli al telefono).

This story is from the August 2022 issue of Columbus Monthly.