Given its enduring and critical role in the maturation and refinement of the Columbus restaurant scene, Rigsby's Kitchen often seems to me to be misunderstood.
For instance, I'm always surprised when people ask me if I think it's stuffy or standoffish. It's not. And I'm always perplexed when diners express confusion over its cuisine, or even mild disappointment in its execution. For the record, Rigsby's is mainly Mediterranean, in the best spirit of genuine Italian (i.e. not a peddler of red-sauce-drenched spaghetti and meatballs, which is not eaten in Italy), and most of my many, many meals at Rigsby's have been excellent.
Anyway, when confronted with that brand of traducing comment, while suddenly wondering about the worldliness of the speaker, I always recommend a return visit to Rigsby's from the more relaxed perspective of its handsome bar.
And the perfect time to tavern-up there is at the tail end of happy hour (which runs from 5 to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday), because then you can extend a discounted sip-and-nibble session into an informal but delicious dinner.
Though it doesn't advertise its modest happy hour deals, Rigsby's offers discounted quartinos of well-selected vinos (like a refreshing albarino) for $5 and sells beers and well drinks for econo-prices, too. Foodwise, the bar sets out free snacks like good olives, top-notch pizzas or, say, palate-pleasing white-bean crostini.
And of course there's always Rigsby's accomplished homemade breads - a stout multigrain with raisins and walnuts, an herby soft focaccia, and a very serious sourdough. You might not fully fill up on these gnashers, but they will set the casually stylish mood for the fare to follow - which will be sometimes sourced, often local, and frequently seasonal.
Currently, a smart way to start the "hey, it's still summertime" ball rolling is with a "Chill" cocktail ($11). Made with Ciroc vodka and lavender-blossom-infused fresh lemonade, it's pretty in pink, bright with citrus and strikes a tight balance between sweet, tart and bitter.
For slightly more substantial swallows, I recommend ordering two ripely seasonal first courses that show off beautiful local farm products - the sophisticated and spicy (and maybe underpriced at $5) chilled Watermelon and Cucumber Soup, and the garden of earthy delights (that may be overpriced at $12) special Greek salad.
The salmon-colored soup had an attractive floral quality to it and was lovely, if a little unusual. Pureed but by no means a slushie, it smoothly used the juicy red fruit to bring out the melony aspects of cucumber. Taking it to a super savory place was a sharp hit of cayenne pepper slightly tamed by a gleaming stain of mint oil.
If on the small side, the lettuce-free horiatiki-like Greek salad was a giant in flavor. The explosive tastes emanated from produce picked at its absolute peak - primarily a variety of sweet peppers, heirloom tomatoes and cucumbers. Providing shape and sharpness were a few black olives, French feta cheese and a broken herby vinaigrette.
In its purity and simplicity, this impressive salad epitomized the "high-quality ingredients, plainly showcased" ethos of Mediterranean cuisine and it reminded me of the Duchampian notion that the artists of the future would simply point out where to find the new art.
Pristine summer veggies reemerged in the form of a sort of loose slaw decorating a golden-brown, pan-fried Filet of Sole special ($23). Julienned threads of peppers and squash served as a bed, topping and foil for the fish, whose treatment to heat and a generous amount of butter resulted in a persistent exterior crispness and a delicate texture and flavor underneath.
If you've been under the impression that Rigsby's might be too artsy or staid or just not for you, this upcoming deal-loaded Restaurant Week is the perfect time to find out that it just might be just right for you after all.
For a complete guide to local restaurants, click to ColumbusDiningGuide.com