The Keep

23_the_keep_restaurant_bar_columbus__hotel_le_veque-1500x1001Last night Kish and I and Mr. and Mrs. JV had dinner at The Keep, one of Columbus’ newest restaurant options.  It’s located on the mezzanine level of the Hotel LeVeque, smack dab in the middle of downtown Columbus.

Given the name, I thought The Keep might have a medieval castle theme, with a wait staff carrying crossbows or broadswords.  There was no jousting or armor plating visible during our visit, however.  We first had a drink — well, actually two, since none of us were going to be driving home — at The Keep’s bar, which was packed with people and hosting at least two separate holiday parties.  We knew we were in a cutting-edge spot when we learned that the people next to us were both out-of-towners who had arranged their first meeting via Tinder.  The bar offers lots of different cocktail, wine, and beer options, as well as a limited bar food menu.  We skipped the food, since we were going to be eating at the restaurant next door, and enjoyed our drinks and the lively, bustling urban vibe of the place.

The restaurant is a few steps away from the bar.  It is modeled as a modern French brasserie, and — to this uneducated wine fancier, at least — it has a very solid selection of French wines, as well as domestic labels.  Given the brasserie setting, I felt compelled to start my meal with the French onion soup, which was good and served piping hot, without the overload of bread and cheese that you frequently get with that order.  You could actually eat the soup without having to use your spoon to saw through an inch-thick layer of bread and cheese and having the soup splash out of the bowl as a result.   My entree was the Guajillo pork cheeks, served with black-eyed peas, collard greens, and corn nuts.  It was very tasty, too.  As JV observed, the portions are kept to moderate size, so you can be a member of the Clean Plate Club without having to waddle out of the joint, groaning with a mixture of satiation and discomfort.  The reasonable portion size also left room for Kish and me to split a really good dessert consisting of a kind of miniature spicy Bundt cake with ice cream.

The ambiance of The Keep restaurant is appealing and has definite brasserie elements, with a central dining counter area and tables and booths spread around.  One other thing:  as we looked around, we realized that we were by far the oldest folks in the room.  That was true in the bar area, too.  How often are fun-loving 60-year-olds the senior citizens in a downtown restaurant?  Maybe the younger crowd is attracted by the brasserie setting, or the central downtown location, or the prices, which I thought were very reasonable.  In any event, it was nice to know that we oldsters had stumbled upon a hip place where the cool kiddie set hangs out.  We’d go back, if they let us in.

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Neighborhood Wish List

The spot in the middle of German Village where the original Max and Erma’s once operated for four decades has been vacant for a few months now, without any apparent signs of activity. Recently, though, stickers that look like those irritating “My name is” name tags that always fall off your suit coat appeared on the front windows. Yesterday Kish and I took a closer look, and the stickers represent some people’s wishes for what business should now occupy the property. I’m not sure whether the stickers were filled out by neighbors, former employees, Trader Joe’s shareholders, or somebody else who likes comics. Seriously . . . a comic book shop?

I’d like to see a restaurant in the spot. Something ethnic, perhaps. Maybe a good Szechuan spot?

The Random Restaurant Tour (IX)

Yesterday Kish and I met for lunch. We try to get together for lunch about once a week, where we can eat in peace and talk without an aging dog hoarsely barking at us to give her people food. We try to pick a spot somewhere between home and the office, and we’re always game for something new.

Yesterday we checked out the Blind Lady Tavern on Mound Street. It was a bitterly cold day, with a sharp wind that chilled to the bone. It felt good to finally reach the Blind Lady, which has a warm, welcoming ambiance complete with a cool pressed tin ceiling and a single room shared by the bar and lots of wooden tables.

After my walk through the arctic wind tunnel, I decided to warm up with the fried chicken sandwich and chips. The sandwich was excellent, with fried chicken that was crunchy but moist, with a nice sauce and tasty coating that wasn’t overly breaded. I also want to commend the chips, which looked to be homemade and were crisp and blessedly not over-salted. I left nothing behind. And because I knew I would be venturing back out into the brutal chill, I decided to end the meal with a cup of very good coffee that was served piping hot in a huge cup that was just begging for a shot of cream. All in all, it was a completely satisfying meal. Kish got the blackened fish sandwich with an enormous pile of greens and also said her food was very good.

According to our pleasant waitress, the Blind Lady — the name of which refers to the blindfolded depiction of Justice, in deference to the nearby Franklin County courthouses — has been around for two years, in a building that has housed the Jury Room lounge and other courthouse-related spots. We can attest that it is now a first-rate place to have a beagle-free lunch.

The Random Restaurant Tour (V)

I’m not sure exactly why, but the Arena District has never been a regular stop on the workday lunch caravan.  We’ll walk past the Arena District to the North Market, or head east to the Flatiron, but we never seem to stop in that little cluster of buildings adjacent to Nationwide Arena, even though we know there are food places back there.

Last week the Jersey Girl and I decided to cross into No Man’s Land.  Our destination was the Three-Legged Mare, an Irish pub.  It’s been there eight years, located just a few steps away from the Arena, but neither of us had been there – which is kind of embarrassing when you think about it.

I don’t think it will be another eight years until we go back again.  The TLM has all of the classic Irish pub woodwork, wall inscriptions, and other trappings — including a sign, below, that made me laugh as we walked out — so it’s a visually interesting setting that has both indoor and outside seating.

We ate at a high top in the bar area and got good service from the bartender.  He recommended the corned beef sandwich, shown above, so I owe him a debt of gratitude.  It was excellent, with a mound of lean, succulent, juicy corned beef served on a pretzel roll, with just the right amount of fries.  The Jersey Girl raved about the beer cheese soup and couldn’t finish her Irish Burger, so she boxed up half of it.  The bartender highly recommended that we try some of their traditional pub fare next time, so I guess we’ll just have to go back for the bangers and mash.  

Now that we’ve decided to break the barrier and dine in the Arena District, we can do just about anything.

The Random Restaurant Tour (IV)

Last week the Jersey Girl and I continued the random restaurant tour by leaving the friendly confines of downtown Columbus and heading north to the Italian Village area.  Our destination was a converted brick barn called Cosecha Cocina.

Italian Village is one of the areas of Columbus where the redevelopment wave is rolling along at tsunami-level strength.  Every time I visit, there is a cool new restaurant, brew pub, or breakfast joint in the neighborhood.  That’s because you can find two key components of redevelopment there:  inexpensive buildings that can be refurbished into cool spaces for your use, and a population of people in the immediate vicinity ready to frequent your establishment.  In the case of Italian Village, businesses can draw upon both the downtown crowd, who need only drive, walk or bike a few blocks up Third, and the flood of people moving into new condos and apartment buildings in Italian Village.

Cosecha Cocina is a happy addition to the Italian Village ‘hood.  It definitely satisfies the cool building requirement, with its cavernous internal space and outdoor eating area, and its menu of traditional and modern Mexican fare will keep that flood of people coming back.  During our visit the Jersey Girl and I split some brussels sprouts — served piping hot with melted cheese — and I tried the pork meatball torta with esquites, a traditional Mexican street corn dish, on the side.

The fact that brussels sprouts and meatballs are on the menu at all tells you that Cosecha Cocina isn’t your Daddy’s kind of tacos and enchiladas Mexican restaurant.  Another clue is the quality and delicate flavoring of the food itself.  The pork meatball torta, which features chipotle tomato sauce, cilantro, black beans, avocado, and cheese and is served on airy, crunchy bread, was succulent and a reminder that Mexican food doesn’t have to be overpowering on the spice scale.  The brussels sprouts were terrific, and the esquites corn salad was a perfect, light accompaniment to the meal.  The Jersey Girl, who tried the chicken tinga tacos, raved about her food, too.

The zone of lunch places for the lucky workers in downtown Columbus continues to expand, limited only by their willingness to get out and try someplace new.  With options like Cosecha Cocina only a bridge and a few blocks away, the incentive to experiment with a new lunch spot keeps growing.

The Random Restaurant Tour (II)

Yesterday the Unkempt Guy, the Bus-Riding Conservative and I ventured a few blocks north and east of the firm.  We were heading into what is now called the Warehouse District.  As the name suggests, it’s an area of old brick storage buildings — some rehabbed and occupied, some not — and surface parking lots, tucked into the corner of downtown between the old fire station museum and CCAD.  For a part of downtown, it’s definitely off the beaten path.

It’s the kind of area you would never see unless you had a specific reason to visit — and yesterday we did.  Our destination was the Warehouse Cafe, a small breakfast and lunch place located on Fifth Street in the corner of one of the rehabbed warehouse buildings.  Its space is very cool, with the charm of old wooden warehouse floors and big windows.  Be sure to check out the great, multi-story staircase just inside the front door that heads straight up into the guts of the building.  To our amazement, the Warehouse Cafe has been quietly serving good food there for 15 years.

You order at the counter from the offerings on a pre-printed menu and a chalkboard, pay up front, and then have a seat until someone on the friendly wait staff brings your order to your table.  I had the Warehouse burger and some piping hot crinkle-cut fries, the UG polished off a reuben, and the BRC enjoyed an Albanian panini.  We all liked our very reasonably priced food and also appreciated the vibe of the Warehouse District, which seems to be home to lots of small firms and start-up businesses with compelling names.

Don’t be surprised if the Warehouse District becomes the next big focus of downtown Columbus development, but be sure to check out the Warehouse Cafe when you are scoping out the real estate.

The Random Restaurant Tour

I’ve worked for 31 years in downtown Columbus, but there are always new places to discover.  Until we moved to German Village, and I started walking to Main Library from the firm to pick up books after work, I had no reason to walk down the section of State Street between 4th and Grant.  But when I did, I discovered a restaurant called Cafe Illyria.  It looks like it’s been there for a while, but I’d never even heard of it.

Yesterday the Jersey Girl and I checked it out.  As the sign indicates, it’s a breakfast and lunch joint, with a pretty extensive set of lunch options.  (It’s also got a dedicated group of regulars, which is a good sign.) I got a gyro — if you go to a place called Cafe Illyria, you’ve obviously got to try the gyro, right? — and fries and a Diet Coke, and it was really quite good.  Reasonably priced, too.  The JG and I agreed that we’ll be back.

The Cafe Illyria experience also made us wonder:  how many other lunch places that we haven’t tried are within reasonable walking distance?  We don’t know, but the JG and I vowed to go to some new places every now and then.  We’ll call it the Random Restaurant Tour.