Do I have to worry about DeepWood? That distressing notion crossed my mind because neither the seats in its deeply stocked bar nor its creative, scratch-cooking and handsomely "woodsy" restaurant seem to enjoy the kind of business and crowds they clearly deserve. And we all know the toll this wicked economy is taking on local eateries.
I suppose I was momentarily relieved last December while attending one of DeepWood's specially discounted dinners (every first Saturday, three carefully crafted courses go for $25) when not only was the joint jammed and jumping, but it was actually running out of food.
Yet last week while I was eating and drinking my way through what has to be the single most intriguing and yet one of the lowest-priced happy-hour menus in town, I was unnerved to notice the bar was less than half-full.
So consider this a wake-up call to all you early-evening partiers continually scrambling for tavern real estate, cut-rate suds and unimaginative pub grub at been-there, drunk-that loud and overcrowded hotspots: why not give DeepWood's inspired - and cheap! - happy hour a chance?
On the HH tippling front (Monday through Friday 3 to 7 p.m.), DeepWood features an elbow-stimulating selection of smartly chosen wines sold at can't-get-lower retail prices when purchased by the bottle (several food-friendly vinos can be had in the $12-$13 range).
Likewise, the excitingly wide import- and micro-deep beer selection is another bargain bonanza (among the dozens of deals: a bottle of Samuel Smith's mouth-filling Imperial Stout for $2.25 or a pint of bitterly refreshing draft Cascazilla from Ithaca for $3.25).
But spirits get due attention here, too. First of all, there's more than the usual top-shelf suspects - like several sets of Scotch tastings (such as a Johnnie Walker flight for $16 that includes the very pricey Gold and Blue labels).
But the libations that recently caught my eye - and tongue - were the "Signature" and "House Specialties," which can be had for the price of a song - just $4 or $5. These cocktails feature good hooch plus house-made mixers like ginger beer, lemonade, sour mix and fig puree. And not only are these cocktails cheap, but they are well-designed to go with DeepWood's happy-hour-only menu of snacks.
I'm guessing you too are well-designed for DeepWood's happy hour. So check it out and do something good for yourself and this place. Because I have better things to do than worry whether a sincerely deserving top-flight Columbus original is flourishing or not.
Into the Woods
DeepWood's happy hour food list doesn't include predictable things like nachos and wings, and can't be seen online.
Country Ham and Bacon Terrine ($5) Three thick, triangular slabs of aromatic forcemeat - call them fancy cold cuts - don't taste fatty and come with complementing foils of a potent grainy mustard, cornichons and crunchy rye-seeded melba toast.
Mozzarella-stuffed Risotto Fritters ($5) A trio of golden-brown fried golf-ball-sized zeppelins have saffron-scented rich and crispy rice shells and melty mozzarella centers. When dipped into the smoked paprika aioli, the result is an uplifting flavor explosion.
Sliced Raw Tuna ($6) Identically colored (salted and peppered) fish strips and supremed grapefruit segments are assembled with a bright and punchy cranberry confit and hearts-of-palm spring rolls to look like a jewel-toned smiley face. You'll have that same expression after tasting this.
More rib-sticking fare
Pear Sandwich ($7) Lots of poached, warm, sliced fragrant fruit is combined with tart goat cheese, bits of pancetta and a balsamic reduction on huge slices of good "panini"-toasted white bread.
Cauliflower Bacon-Onion Gratin ($4) An outrageously rich, delicious and irresistible casserole that uses cooked-to-soft cauliflower to anchor bubbling hot, sharp cheese and plenty of smoky bacon pieces. More gourmet mac and cheese than veggie dish, this thing's a killer!
Cassoulet ($8) This dish is all about the great meat. Two big hunks of absurdly delicious seared garlic sausage and a surprisingly generous amount of duck confit outshine a pile of baked white beans lying underneath.