The Random Restaurant Tour — XXXIV

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.

The Random Restaurant Tour (XXXIII)

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.

The Random Restaurant Tour (XXXII)

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.

Nosh on High is located in the space formerly occupied by Cup O Joe, in the old Lazarus building on High Street.  Its website emphasizes its tapas, which look tasty and quite elegant, besides, but the lunch menu has a more basic orientation — including sandwiches that Nosh calls “handhelds.”  

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.

The Random Restaurant Tour — XXXI

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.

The Random Restaurant Tour — XXX

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.

8-oz-strip-steak_medWhat’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.

The Random Restaurant Tour — XXIX

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While Kish and I were up in Maine, I got some unfortunate news from Columbus:  the Scotsman shared a Columbus Underground article announcing that Jack’s Diner would be serving its last meal on Thursday or Friday.  That meant I’ve missed the chance to grab the double cheeseburger special — with crinkle-cut fries and a chocolate milkshake, made with real milk and real ice cream, pictured above — for one last time.

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.

The Random Restaurant Tour — XXVIII

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.