Knead is easily one of the most exciting and intriguing restaurants to hit Columbus in a while. That it opened just in time to sneak into my farm-fresh article last week seemed like destiny, because Knead shows where the locavore movement can go. See, with its relaxed prices and breezy, self-described "urban diner" identity, Knead proves you needn't flash white tablecloths or charge high-end dollars to serve locally sourced, completely handmade, high-end food.
Red is Knead's theme color, and on a wall in that un-shy hue, a magnetic Ohio is traced out with each county concisely outlined. Upon this Buckeye surface, refrigerator magnets are placed celebrating local sources; nearby is written: "Eating locally since 2010."
The humor's also local, as teasing staff T-shirts suggesting you "Get Knead" show a figure enthusiastically ramming a leg-joint into another figure's groin. Chuckles echo in bathrooms, too - they're winkingly plastered with pages from straight-laced old cookbooks.
The red-embracing, bold aesthetic and penchant for yuck-yucks is reflected on the joke-peppered menu and in the brash flavors of Knead's restlessly creative, even eccentric, food.
Serving breakfast (which I've yet to try), lunch and dinner, Knead's cuisine might best be described as Mex-Italian fusion plus junk-food and diner-style classics classed up with outstanding ingredients and cheffy touches. Toss in a huge Ohio-based microbrew list and you have a flavor-packed playground for fun-loving locavores.
Salads have been ultra-fresh and interesting. I enjoyed the unexpected jumble of Minted Cucumber and Beets ($7, with firm garbanzo beans and blue cheese), the bright and lively simple salad ($5) and a rare, correctly conceived Caprese (Tomato Salad, $4) in which only good olive oil and no unnecessary dressing was used, allowing sun-ripened tomatoes to clearly shine.
Other starters were soft House-Baked Breads with Spreads (such as silky, sweet and spicy butter paired with a textured cheesy squash dip); soulful, stewy lamb in a thick fried corny shell served with cilantro-lime yogurt and resembling a Mexican eggroll (Lamb Taquitos, $7); a Beef "Osso Bucco" Tamale ($7) presented open-faced, its homey masa patty slathered in a meaty, almost jammy tomato sauce sparkling with a lemon-zest gremolata.
Veggie Enchiladas ($12) were simultaneously comforting and unusual. Three slightly sweet corn tortillas enveloped mushrooms and squash and were anointed with a homemade coffee mole sauce. The enchiladas were enriched with melted white cheddar and served with very nice al dente black beans in a sort of ranchero sauce. Ask for a side of spicy homemade salsa.
Lunch features playfully named sandwiches, like a four-fister "Brewben" ($8). That massive, messy, marvelous and meaty munch was made with ultra-tender beer-braised brisket plus "Three Island" dressing, caraway gouda, kraut and house-baked dark bread. Loved it!
I also enjoyed the oddball Slop V Joe ($8). On an excellent homemade, brioche-like roll was a melange that was nutty in every sense of the word. Walnuts, spelt, chickpeas and lots of shiitakes bound in a tomato base made up its quirky, vegan filling.
Dinner entrees included an impressive Chicken Saltimboca ($14) with tender meat, bright sauce and sharp cheese; Pork Crespelle ($14) - tender canneloni-like Italian crepes with Mexican flavors; and pillowy soft, real-deal gnocchi ($11).
Desserts were extra-large and lovely tarts (like the killer "Banoffee") and irresistible, remade kiddie favorites like Jinkies (olive oil cakes filled with lemon cream and shaped just like Twinkies) and a Nutter Butter-style peanut butter sandwich cookie that delivered a deep and intense jolt of peanut butter.
For more local food news and reviews, click to G.A. Benton's blog Under the Table at blog.columbusalive.com/underthetable