Some locations seem like a revolving door for restaurants. A place will open, start offering its wares, and then before you know it a new restaurant has replaced it. The location at 72 Lynn Alley, in the heart of downtown Columbus, is one of those locations where dogged restauranteurs keep trying.
The new eatery at that location is called Aroma, and Dr. Science and I went there yesterday to check it out. Aroma is a Mediterranean venue with an extensive menu of appetizers, entrees, sandwiches, and pizzas made with a cauliflower crust. The Doc and I opted for handheld lunches—no cauliflower for me, thank you very much!—and I got the braised lamb wrap. It was quite good, packed with tender and juicy lamb that was delicately seasoned, and came with a mound of crisp and crunchy fries that were a lot more than I could eat. All in all, it was a considerable lunch at a reasonable price point. The server was pleasant and professional and the seating area is spacious, allowing Dr. Science to gesture freely as he lectured me on the delta variant in authoritative tones.
In short, Aroma looks well-suited to giving it a go, undeterred by the ghosts of Si Senor and other former residents of the space. I’d definitely go back for another one of those lamb wraps.
Here’s some tangible evidence that the entrepreneurial spirit in America remains strong — a new restaurant has opened up in our neighborhood. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, with all of the extraordinary challenges it poses for food service establishments, some people had sufficient confidence in their food and their business model to give a new restaurant a go. It’s great to see, and naturally we had to check it out.
The new restaurant is called Chapman’s Eat Market. It’s open for business in the old Max & Erma’s location on Third Street in German Village. If you ever visited the place when it was Max & Erma’s, you won’t recognize the interior of Chapman’s. All of the kitschy Max & Erma’s bric a brac has been removed, leaving a very clean, spare look. The space never looked better, or felt roomier — which is a good thing when you’re setting up tables that are appropriately distanced for your diners.
Chapman’s serves a set tasting menu that is a nice change of pace from the normal “order off the menu” restaurant. When we went on Friday we received an eight-course meal that included two dessert courses. Every one of the dishes, from the smoked salmon fritters that began our culinary adventure to the yuzu key lime pie that ended our journey, was excellent. My favorites were the pork shoulder lettuce wrap, pictured above, which included grilled pork shoulder, nuoc cham, cucumbers, jicama, peanuts and mint, the khao soi, with yellow curry, shrimp, chicken, fried noodles, pea leaf salad, banana, tomato, and peanut, and the duck confit leg and mole rojo, with cowboy beans, Carolina Gold Rice, pickled chayote, and roasted squash. I ate it all with relish, even though the dishes included more vegetable matter than I would ever have ordered for myself.
Three things stood out from our Chapman’s experience. The first was flavor; this is not a restaurant that is fearful of adding a nice kick to its dishes and laying out some creative spice and seasoning combinations. The second was texture; most of the dishes featured a very interesting and enjoyable crunch as part of the package. And the third was variety. In one eight-course setting, the offerings touched the bases of classic American, Chinese, Italian, and Mexican cuisine, sometimes in delightful combination. And the key lime pie, pictured below, was a beautifully tart way to bring a fine meal to closure.
If you want to try a new place and get a meal that might just make 2020 a bit more palatable, put Chapman’s on your checklist. You may well see us there — from an appropriate distance, of course.
This summer we have been trying to support all of the local businesses around Stonington — especially restaurants, which really need the traffic to stay in business and which face unique challenges in achieving appropriate social distancing and sanitation in the coronavirus era. Every week, we’ve tried to go to at least one local-area restaurant for a hearty meal and a very generous tip for our server. This week, as our stay in Stonington is coming to a close, we’re looking to complete a final circuit of all of our summer options.
Last night we went to the Fin & Fern, which has become a mainstay this summer. It’s located next to the mailboat dock and features a really good and diverse menu. It also made the decision to open when a lot of restaurants were still debating their options and resolutely stayed the course all summer, offering fine, and safely served, meals. I’ve become very fond indeed of the F&F short rib and mashed potatoes, and Kish swears they have an amazing Caesar salad. (I wouldn’t know, because when it comes to salads, I came to bury Caesar, not to praise him.)
Last night, though, I went for the lobster stew, shown above, and a bacon cheeseburger with fries. The lobster stew was a creamy treat, served piping hot with lots of big chunks of lobster and accompanied (of course!) by oyster crackers. And the cheeseburger was a grilled-to-perfection medium rare, with thick pieces of smoked bacon and just the right amount of fries. It was a fine way to bid the Fin & Fern adieu until next year.
We’re all going to try to forget 2020, and for good reason. But there are some parts of the year that I will remember, and the restaurants that opened up and offered patrons a dash of normalcy amidst the craziness will be one of them. Thanks to the Fin & Fern for some great food and a friendly atmosphere when we really needed it the most.
Sometimes you can find a pretty good place to eat where you might least expect it. Yesterday, with all bars and restaurants in Ohio temporarily closed due to the coronavirus outbreak, I put that prospect to the test and tried a place called the Webner Family Kitchen.
The WFK is a no-frills place that makes no pretense of offering haute cuisine. It follows a serve-yourself approach, and there’s only one item on the menu. In short, it’s a take-it-or-leave it proposition. Yesterday, the lone item on the menu was a dish called “all-in stew” prepared in a small crock pot. You grab a bowl, dish out some stew, and pair it with a freshly baked Pillsbury buttermilk biscuit. Drinks are serve yourself, too. I opted for some water with ice and a lemon slice.
The all-in stew didn’t look like much, but it was quite good, very hearty, and piping hot, to boot. The stew featured beans, spinach, onion, chicken, sausage, and some quinoa, oddly, thrown in for good measure. It was a pretty random assortment of ingredients, but they worked well together, and the stew sauce was great. In fact, it was so good that I had a second helping, and it was just as good as the first. I scraped the bowl clean both times.
The Webner Family Kitchen didn’t look like much, frankly, but my visit for dinner last night exceeded my expectations. I’m pretty sure I’ll be eating there again.
Yesterday the Soprano Litigator and I went across the street to Due Amici for lunch. Due is one of the cornerstone restaurants in the food corridor that makes Gay Street the coolest street in downtown Columbus. It’s a more high-end lunch spot than some of its Gay Street brethren and, come cocktail hour and dinner time, is a place to see and be seen.
I normally don’t have pizza for lunch, but yesterday pizza sounded like just what the doctor ordered. I opted for the sausage and onion pizza, whereas the Soprano Litigator went with the veal meatball and pasta — which also looked very tasty, indeed. When my pizza came, it was great, with a flavorful sauce, big chunks of sausage that had a snap when you bit into them, and a golden brown, crunchy crust. I attacked it with gusto (and with knife and fork, incidentally, so as to avoid unsightly spotting on my suit, white shirt, and tie).
But here’s the thing: the pizza is just too big for lunch. Even for someone who is hungry, as I was, a pie with eight pieces is a lot. Long after the SL had finished her meal I was still carving away at the remaining pieces until my plate was empty. I suppose I could have asked for a to-go box, but I don’t like lugging them around. In my view, when you order lunch you should receive a meal that is reasonably consumable by one reasonably hungry person over the noon hour. In short, careful portion control is key. Due’s pizza stretches the outer boundaries and is geared more to someone with the appetite of a truck driver rather than one of a nearby office worker. Perhaps the name Due Amici — “two friends” in Italian — means the portions are intended to be shared.
Due isn’t alone in this. How often have you gone to a restaurant and received a plate that is groaning with two much food — typically, an oversized mound of french fries to accompany an already sizable cheeseburger? Even those of us who proudly boast of being charter members of the Clean Plate Club can’t possibly down so much food. We leave some on the plate and then feel guilty about it, knowing the food will be wasted. It’s an area where I think the great restaurants in Columbus could become even better.
In downtown Columbus, East Town Street is a bit of a no man’s land. It’s a zone of generic three-story buildings filled with trade association offices and what may be America’s last functioning Holiday Inn. But The Woodbury, a restaurant that opened recently in the Town Street food desert, is a sign that the direction of Town Street may be changing for the better. Earlier this week The Red Sox Fan and I made the walk over to Town to check it out.
The Woodbury offers a pretty interesting menu that left the RSF and me thinking very carefully about our choices. It serves breakfast all day, which is always welcome, because sometimes during the noon hour breakfast feels like the right option. However, The Woodbury’s breakfast menu isn’t exactly traditional — that is, unless your idea of a traditional breakfast includes options like deep-fried PB&J or French toast casserole. Its lunch menu is also delightfully quirky, offering choices like Ohio ravioli lasagna, Bulgogi, ratatouille — which is fun to say, even if you never order it — and a kimchi meatloaf sandwich.
The RSF went for the Bulgogi, which is served with kimchi and steamed edamame, and raved about the beef and the kimchi as he happily squeezed the edamame beans out of their steamed pods. I opted for the brisket and biscuits and gravy with Texas toast and eggs over easy, shown above. It really hit the spot, and it was easy to assemble delicious forkfuls that included shards of brisket, pieces of biscuit, shredded hash browns, and bits of egg, bound together with a very smooth and rich gravy. I note that the hash browns were shredded, which is the way hash browns should always be served — a rule that, alas, is too often observed in the breach — and that brisket and biscuits and gravy is the perfect transitional dish to order when your stomach is on the cusp between breakfast and lunch. I left the plate spotless
The Woodbury interior offers a clean, bright setting with an open kitchen area, which I like. The RSF and I were very impressed with the setting and the food, and vowed to return to help support the welcome changes to the Town Street trade association corridor.
When it comes to lunch, I tend to be a creature of habit. I like to walk and try to go somewhere where I can get some walking in as part of the lunch hour. I think that probably explains why, until Friday, I’ve never tried lunch at Tiger + Lily, which is just down the block from our offices on Gay Street.
Tiger + Lily is an Asian-themed bistro, from the items on its menu to the Asian version of MTV playing on its TV screens during the lunch rush. You can choose from a variety of entrees served over rice, or opt for noodles with or without broth. If you go for one of the entree dishes, you choose between white and brown rice, and also can add intriguingly named sauces to add some zing to your meal. According to our waiter, YumYum sauce is the most popular option, but there’s also Tiger Salsa, Gomayo, Tso Good, and K-Town. (I’d say the person in charge of menu item naming at Tiger + Lily has a sense of humor.)
I opted for the Korean BBQ chicken, a mildly spicy combination of chicken and onion served over white rice. I asked them to hold the pickled vegetables and add a fried egg as topping instead, and paired the food with K-Town sauce, which I think is the spiciest sauce T+L offers. The result was a delightful and filling lunch that had a very pleasant kick to it. And even though I didn’t get my lunchtime steps in, I burned a calorie or two wielding chopsticks in my quest to consume every last grain of K-Town dappled rice.
Tiger + Lily has a devoted following at our firm, which is how I ended up there on Friday. The T+L fans all seem to have a personal favorite on the menu, and now I do, too. Who knows? Now that I’ve broken the ice, I might even try that YumYum sauce next time.
When a neighborhood restaurant closes, you want to see another dining venue move in so ample nearby lunchtime food options remain. Those of us who toil in downtown Columbus therefore were happy to see that when Oliver’s on Lynn Alley closed its doors, it wasn’t long before another restaurant took its place.
The new restaurant is called Belly Burger, and the B.A. Jersey Girl and I paid it a visit on its opening day. I’m not sure that Belly Burger is the greatest name — it definitely made me wonder whether, from a fitness, weight, and waistline perspective, I should really be gobbling down another lunchtime burger — but if Pot Belly Sandwiches can be a thriving business, having “Belly” in the name clearly is not a barrier to restaurant success.
Belly Burger offers a limited menu, so you’re not overwhelmed with choices. There are burgers, and there is a chicken sandwich, and you can get fries — and that’s about it in the food category. You can also order a Cheerwine slushee (Cheerwine being a southern soft drink that tastes somewhat like a Dr. Pepper), milkshakes, or soft drinks in the beverage category, and Belly Burger has a full bar, too. In fact, you can combine the slushee or milkshakes with a liquor of your choice to make them “boozy.”
The BAJG and I passed on any boozy beverages and went straight for the burgers and fries. The Belly Burger burger was large, juicy, cheesy, and excellent in every respect. I particularly want to give B.B. a hat tip on the bun, which was buttery and soft on top, well-toasted and crunchy next to the meat, and very flavorful in its own right. The fries similarly were crunchy and well-textured and in a reasonable portion. And the friendly bartender offered us a taste of the Cheerwine slushee, in its unboozy form, so we could toast Belly Burger’s grand opening. I’m not a fan of slushees generally, but if you like them I’d guess you’d enjoy the B.B. Cheerwine version.
Welcome to the ‘hood, Belly Burger! The burger fans among us are glad you’re here.
Yesterday Kish and I legged it over to the Franklinton part of town to catch a matinee performance of a play by Red Herring Productions. We decided to do a little exploring of the area and to grab lunch, too. We ended up at BrewDog — which was jammed for a Sunday afternoon and even had some overflow people braving the cold but sunny weather and sitting outside by a fire pit.
BrewDog would fall squarely into the gastrobrewery tranche on the restaurant spectrum. With gastrobreweries, you never know if the focus is really on the brew, and the gastro is more of an afterthought. I’m happy to report that while BrewDog is clearly serious about its beer — it offers 48 options on tap for its thirsty patrons — it doesn’t give short shrift to the food part of the menu.
I was interested in something lighter than a burger, and the BrewDog menu offers an array of solid non-burger choices. It’s been a while since I’ve had a hot dog and, well, BrewDog does have “dog” in its name, so I tried the bacon chipotle dog. It was excellent. The dog was juicy and beefy, with just the right snap when you bite into the casing, and the toppings added lots of great flavor and texture. After carefuI analysis, I decided the best and least messy way to attack the dog was from the top. I needed two bites to get fully through each segment of the dog and the toppings, with the first bite taking care of the toppings and part of the dog and the second bite polishing off the rest of the dog and the bottom of the bun. The fries were great, too — nice and crunchy.
It was a very satisfying meal, indeed, and the transitioning Franklinton area, where new ventures are next door to old-time welding shops, is an interesting setting. BrewDog is well worth a visit.
When a new place opens up downtown, you’ve got to try it. But the first time I stopped by Nosh on High for lunch, it had a 20-minute wait and I was in a hurry, so we went to a nearby establishment instead. A 20-minute wait, for lunch! Is that because it’s getting the new restaurant rush, or because the food is really good? I had to find out, so yesterday we tried again — and persistence paid off. There was a 15-minute wait for tables, but there was room at the bar, so I finally got to sample what this new joint has to offer.
I asked our friendly bartender for a recommendation, and she suggested the Philly dip or the duck BLT. I flipped a mental coin and went for the Philly, pictured above. It’s a terrific, hearty sandwich, with plenty of shaved beef on a crunchy french roll, covered in a delectable moray sauce that is cheesy and bursting with all kinds of flavor. And if you want even more kick for your sandwich (and who doesn’t?) you can dip it in the mini-soup bowl of sauce that Nosh generously provides. The sauce has a delectable, subtle flavor that works well with the sandwich — because when you’re eating a dip, the wetter the better — but also with the spicy Nosh potatoes that are part of the meal. In all, you get a lot of high-quality chow for $12.
The Philly dip is only one of several enticing lunch-time options, the dinner menu looks very strong, and they’ve done a good job of kitting out the old Cup O Joe space to look like a kind of upscale Manhattan bistro. So Nosh is posh, to be sure, but it hits the spot with its food fare. I’ll be adding Nosh on High to the lunchtime rotation.
It’s a tough assignment when a new restaurant occupies the space of an old, beloved, now-closed restaurant. It’s even tougher when the space being occupied is so iconic that both the new restaurant and the old restaurant took their name from the space itself.
That’s the challenge for the Flatiron Tavern, which opened this month at the northern edge of downtown Columbus. It’s located in the Flatiron building — a skinny, multi-story brick structure — and it replaces the Flatiron Bar & Diner, which was one of my favorite lunch spots and also a pretty good place to have a beer on a Friday afternoon after work. The old Flatiron was known, by me at least, for its interesting, Cajun-infused menu and specials and its consistent ability to deliver one of the very best cheeseburgers in town. It was a sad day indeed when the old Flatiron suddenly shut its doors — but my great experienced with the old venue also made me eager to give the new spot a good early look.
The Bus-Riding Conservative and I legged it over to the Flatiron Tavern yesterday for lunch. I was glad to see that the space looks pretty much the same — with the exception of a some TVs added to the walls, which thankfully were not playing at high volume — and that at least one of the old Flatiron staff members was manning his familiar station behind the fine old wooden bar. When the BRC and I got there the place was packed, which was a good sign, so we sat at the bar.
The Flatiron Tavern menu is a bit more limited than the old Flatiron carte, and there wasn’t the blackboard with specials that the old restaurant featured. So be it! Not surprisingly, I ordered a cheeseburger, which is served with chips. In my book, the cheeseburger is a pretty good test of a new restaurant. This cheeseburger didn’t reach the exalted level of the prior Flatiron burger, but it was perfectly good — and the next time I’m going to get a double. It’s pretty clear, too, that the new restaurant is still working out the kinks, with the staff hustling like crazy and things taking just a bit longer than they will when routines are established.
Still, it’s good to see an iconic space filled again, adding to our downtown dining options. I’ll be back.
We just got some significant restaurant news in Columbus — the long-empty space that once was occupied by the Deepwood restaurant, directly across from the Columbus Convention Center, is going to become a huge new Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse.
What’s the big deal, you ask? After all, there are Ruth’s Chris Steakhouses spread across the land. So who cares if one comes to Columbus?
The answer is this: with the addition of this new steakhouse, there will be four premium steakhouses in the core downtown Columbus area — Mitchell’s, the Hyde Park Grille, Jeff Ruby’s, and now Ruth’s Chris, all within easy walking distance of each other. And if your taste runs to Brazilian-style steakhouses, there’s one of those in the core downtown area, too.
The better question is why Columbus seems to have such an appetite for steakhouses. Do Midwesterners just crave a good steak as a matter of course? Or, as I suspect, does it have something to do with the hotel and convention and business traveler activity in downtown Columbus, and the notion that travelers looking for a place to have dinner figure a top-end steakhouse is a good, safe option — especially if they are traveling on an expense account? If Ruth’s Chris is coming to an area that already is well-served with steakhouses, they must think there is a demand for even more dry-aged beef.
As a steak lover, I’m all for steakhouse options, but four seems like too many. Whatever the reason for the steakhouse overload, I’d like to see some new restaurants that give us a bit of a wider range in the downtown dining options — like a really good Chinese place, or an Ethiopian joint. Steak is great, but diversity is even better.
Jack’s, located in Lynn Alley only a block from the Ohio Statehouse, has been a downtown dining staple since 1942. It’s been a fixture in the lunch rotation for me and many other Vorys lawyers ever since I started at the firm in the ’80s. You always saw the same regulars perched on the counter stools and in the booths at Jack’s, and everyone seemed to have their own favorite order from the unchanging menu and daily specials that offered classic American diner fare. Some of the wait staff had worked there for years, and they would remember your face and your order. It was a special place that always made you feel like home.
According to the Columbus Underground article, the demise of Jack’s was caused by the ever-ongoing construction around the Rhodes Tower, with its dark, looming scaffolding that has interrupted vehicle and pedestrian traffic. If that is the real cause, it’s a ridiculously high price to pay for an ugly, featureless modern office tower. Joints like Jack’s don’t come around every day.
How many good barbecue joints should a downtown area have? The correct answer is: you can’t have too many. I’m pleased to note that Columbus has added another BBQ option with Buckeye Chili & Smokehouse, which joins Pecan Penny’s and Smoked on High in the downtown/near downtown area.
Yesterday the Unkempt Guy, the Bus-Riding Conservative, and New Granddad and I legged it over to BC&S to check it out. It’s located a few blocks east of the Ohio Statehouse and is an easy walk from Gay Street, even on a hot summer’s day. In fact, some might argue that walking to a barbecue place is a good idea under any conditions, to help the hungry patron build up even more of an appetite.
Buckeye Chili & Smokehouse has a compelling menu and poses a tough initial choice for the arriving diner: chili, or barbecue? Once I decided barbecue was the way to go, I zeroed in on the mac and cheese with brisket option. The UG and I both got it, and it was an inspired choice on our part. The brisket was tender and juicy, the mac ‘n cheese was creamy and had just the right cheddary bite to it, and we added a little smoky barbecue sauce to complete the flavor sensation. The result was absolutely delicious, and the UG and I also remarked that the portion size was just perfect — substantial enough to be filling, but not the kind of overwhelming amount of food that you find at some places. We both could be members of the Clean Plate Club without feeling like we’d made pigs of ourselves — although of course pigs would fit right in at a barbecue place.
The New Grandad went for a pulled pork sandwich with onion rings, which he polished off with alacrity, and the BRC tried a pork slider special with mac ‘n cheese as the side and gobbled down his food as well. The service was splendid, the manager checked in on us to make sure we were enjoying our meal, and as we left he came out after us and gave us all a 10 percent-off card we can use on our next visit. And there will be a next visit, for sure. We need to make sure that the Buckeye Chili & Smokehouse is properly welcomed to downtown Columbus, and there is chili that remains to be tried.
I freely admit that I’m a sucker for New Orleans cuisine. So when Dr. Science and the G.V. Jogger suggested that we check out a new joint that specializes in Creole and Cajun cuisine last night, they didn’t need to twist my arm. Our destination was Way Down Yonder New Orleans Finest Restaurant, located a few miles south of German Village on High Street in the Great Southern Shopping Center.
W.D.Y. easily passes the crucial “menu test” that I automatically apply to any restaurant that serves New Orleans food. The menu test is as follows: when I look at the menu, are there so many obvious, mouth-watering traditional choices that it’s impossible to make a selection? After a few minutes of careful analysis, I was still debating between the Louisiana crawfish etouffee, red beans and rice, and fried catfish with mac ‘n cheese and dirty rice. After Dr. Science gently reminded me that red beans and rice is a core component of any New Orleans restaurant, that’s where I landed. Dr. Science went for the gumbo, which comes with actual crab claws, and the G.V. Jogger tried the crawfish etouffee.
Way Down Yonder offers red beans and rice in medium and large portions, and I’m glad I decided on the large. The dish checked all of the crucial red beans and rice boxes — a deep, rich sauce with a good spicy kick to it, plenty of sliced sausage, well-cooked red beans, and just enough white rice to allow for mixing. It was excellent. The cornbread it comes with is excellent too — slightly sweet, with a crunchy top, and baked to a perfect consistency, so that it holds together when picked up to be eaten but also is easily crumbled to mix in with the entree. Way Down Yonder offers an impressive menu of desserts, but I didn’t try any because after polishing off every last part of the red beans and rice and cornbread, I was full to the brim.
“Way Down Yonder New Orleans Finest Restaurant” is a mouthful, but that’s appropriate because so is their food — a flavorful, tasty, mouthful of some of the best regional cuisine the U.S. of A. has to offer. I expect that we’ll be heading back down south for more. Having tried the red beans and rice, I feel the fried catfish calling.