The best restaurants in Columbus have this in common: their dishes reflect the vivid personality of a creative chef embellishing excellent ingredients. For more than a decade, the terrific G. Michael's in German Village has qualified on all accounts.

The best restaurants in Columbus have this in common: their dishes reflect thevivid personality of a creative chef embellishing excellent ingredients. For more than a decade, the terrific G. Michael's in German Village has qualified on all accounts.

And now that it's springtime, the generally rich cuisine at G. Michael's - which is rife with the pork, seafood and brash SouthernstylingsChef David Tetzloff learned to love in Charleston, South Carolina - has lightened up some.

So anew menu is in place from whichyou can expectof-the-moment green things like fiddlehead ferns, ramps, peas and asparagus, along with Ohio-raised pork and chicken, Lake Erie walleye,rabbit from Westerville and beef from Lancaster.

Unsurprisingly, the very fair prices for the hefty portionsat G. Michael's - orG. Mike's to its many regulars -are not necessarily on the low side. Unless you know the "secret" I'm about to divulge.

During happy hour, G. Mike's enticinglist of can't-misssmall plates are sold for a song - plus $6. This applies only inside the festive, orange-and-purple-tinged,kindaMardi Gras-inspired front room which, for my bargain-hunting money, has the best seats in the house anyway. Characteristically, happy-hour-discounted small platesloadin lots of ingredients, textures and flavors and ain't actuallysmall.

For instance, the Lamb Lollipops ($11) were basicallya meal in themselves. A quartet oflovely "pick-upable" chops with tender, rosy meat and an exterior sear were partnered with shards of Romano, roasted red peppers anda bright, wonderful and full-sized local greens salad. Fried chickpeas and cumin lent that great plate attractive Middle Eastern accents.

A tsunami of P.E.I. Mussels ($8) was awash in a sea of rich, thick and complex sauce. That viscous, killer liquid was hopped up on chorizo plus a "charred tomato-brandy broth" and was joyously sopped up with crunchily grilled bread.

I also loved the dynamic Grilled Asparagus small plate ($8). Sprinkled with thickly grated parmesan, an arsenal ofthin spears was draped over a crispy and surprising veggie fritter. Resembling a crabcake, the fritter's julienned peppers and squash were made earthy by shiitakes and alternately lightened by a vinegary touch. Supplying lush and fruity counterpoints were a perfectly poached egg and "candied roma tomatoes."

Those same diced and tangy-sweet tomatoes combined with a tangle of sauteed arugula and a punchy pancetta vinaigrette to give a fancyBLT-like bent to the Honey Mustard Glazed Scallops ($12).Yet another G. Mike's showstopper, that appetizer starred two mammoth caramelized scallops and the honey mustard was more like a cameo than a main player.

Two outstanding main courses from the new menu were a Duo of Ohio Pork ($24) and the Golden Trout ($24). Pig-wise, a giant pile of slightly sweet and smoky, melt-in-your-mouth pulled shoulder meat squared off with a couple of lightly crusted, pan-fried loin pieces capped with a red onion marmalade. I was the winner of that battle.

Adding vegetal ballast were coarse-salt-crusted diced redskins and plain-old cabbage elevated to graceful with a Boddingtons cream sauce.

For the trout, two fabulous ruby-colored filets sandwiched mashers infused with ramps. On top was a pecan-pesto nut bomb and underneath were more greens in the form of sauteed spinach. Like many dishes here, it had refracting tart and especially sweet angles, this time provided by a bacon vinaigrette.

A palate-rejuvenating last act was the knockout Lemon Gingersnap Tart ($6.50). I loved both its custardy, Key-lime-pie-type filling and its moist, thick and brimming-with-ginger crispy cookie crust. But I'd expect nothing less from one of the best restaurants in Columbus.

G. Whiz

More restaurants should be like G. Mike's during happy hour, because their 4:30 to 7 p.m. martini special isn't limited to a list of syrupy pablum. No, you can concoct your own $5 cocktail using any top-shelf liquor (like a Bombay Sapphire martini or a Woodford Reserve manhattan).

Small plate vittles, like G. Mike's justly famous Shrimp and Grits, are discounted to $6 from 5 to 7 p.m. (down from $8 to $12).

Insider alert: There's also a wonderful ground-in-house burger special served on weekends. It comes on a glossy pretzel bun, with sauteed mushrooms, gruyere cheese and a hard-to-stop-eating side of hand-cut truffled fries.