Though now hinting they're not set in stone, last week the Big Ten Conference "distinguished" itself with these remarkable new division names: Leaders and Legends. I mention this because as far as sports-bar restaurants go, the surprising Buckeye Hall of Fame Grill is clearly a Leader.
Unrelated to its (also OSU-licensed) predecessor, this recently christened BHOF is situated in a new development called Grandview Yard. Likewise unlike the previous BHOF, the newbie doesn't resemble Ohio Stadium, but rather is a less-kitschy brick edifice with lots of big, natural-light-transmitting windows.
Outside, a giant, smile-inducing Woody cap hangs on the stout building's long, vertical sign. Inside, the Hall is open and airy, rather tastefully loaded with Buckeye memorabilia and approximately the size of a football field. Sliced up into several rooms (one a semi-private space with an immense projection TV) and equipped with a large bar, this BHOF is considerably better looking than your standard sports-watching establishment. And its food is far, far better.
In fact cheffy touches abound, like in the stuffed Jalapeno Poppers ($8). Transcending the industrial cream-cheesy battered blobs you usually get, these were unfried, heat-blistered peppers cored out and stuffed with good housemade chorizo and jack cheese.
The presentation - bacon capped, roasted peppers protruding like tiny ice cream cones from holes in an elevated metal Block "O" tray - was as impressive as the potent flavors.
Also not masking over the taste of its higher-quality ingredients with excessive batter, grease and cheap cheese were the Brutus Bites ($7). Little, roasted-whole, salt-and-pepper-crusted potato globes were understatedly stabbed with bits of bacon and cheese.
Other excellent starters were the colossal Shrimp Cocktail (three "look at those!" lobster-tail-size specimens for $12); Wings in a tangy, spicy and thoroughly addictive housemade barbecue sauce ($7); and the sweet and tart, baconed and blue-cheesed ("55"-like) Yard Street Salad ($4).
Mildly spice-rubbed rotisserie chickens are big here - you can see them spinning near the bar. Sliced and chopped, they grace salads and sandwiches or dress up dinners like the excellent, two-toned Enchiladas ($15).
The latter were alternately slathered with a roasty and smoky red chili sauce and an innovative, toasted-corn-tasting sorta tortilla gravy. The enchiladas also came with good black beans distinguished by sweet sauteed onions plus nice, veggie-studded Spanish rice.
Two sandwiches I tried were less restrained. In fact they were layered with a ton of messy toppings. But guess what? Yep, both were delicious and their more-is-more garnishing approach absolutely worked.
The juicy, handmade big boy Buckeye burger ($10) satisfied in a manly manner with its caramelized onions, pungent blue cheese and sauteed mushrooms. But the kick-ass Carnitas Sandwich was an all-conference all-star ($10). On a baguette roll, big chunks of fragrant, slow-cooked pork were showcased with cilantro, pickled onions, jack cheese and avocado. A must! (Note: Sandwiches come with a side like crispy shoestring fries or an inspired peanut cole slaw.)
As I bit into dessert - a wonderful apple cake made using the chef's great-grandmother's 75-year-old recipe - I thought this BHOF might be a Leader now, but it seems destined to become a Legend.
For more local food news and reviews, click to G.A. Benton's blog at blog.columbusalive.com/underthetable