I hereby decree Columbus to be New Patiotown. This is because not long ago, prime al fresco settings were a semi-rare commodity around our parts; these days, they're as prevalent as backyard barbecues in July.
Speaking of cooking out, you can add the smoke-tastic Flatiron to the burgeoning list of pretty and cushy Columbus patios. See, just a few weeks ago, this 'cue-happy and Big-Easy-fluent Arena District staple unveiled a dramatic outdoor makeover that provides you with yet another reason to eat at this breezy, sophisticated and jazzy place.
The first thing you'll notice out there is the alluring aroma of meat sizzling over charred hardwood emanating from a nearby smoker. Then you'll see the flowers, greenery and handsome urban-park-like scenery that distinguish Flatiron's patio.
Specifically, multiple planters rim its perimeter, flashing with electric purple and pink petunias. Just behind these are lush shrubs and shade trees. Also standing out - once you're seated - is a neat close-up view of the eccentric Flatiron building, an unusual thin brick wedge built in 1914.
Flatiron's Southern-style comfort food frequently announces itself in crackly fried cornmeal. This is the case with calamari ($9), an appetizer item overplayed in the entire nation but still worth ordering here. Flatiron's were crispy, tender, not too greasy, awakened by chili flakes and scallion bits and served with a tangy remoulade. Mondays are Red Beans and Rice nights in New Orleans, and you're likely to find that special here at the beginning of the week, too - but Flatiron's ($11) actually outshines many Crescent City versions. It stars a seriously spicy, crisply seared, XXL-sized housemade smoky andouille sausage that recalls a huge link of devil-red Mexican chorizo minus the grease. On the side are flavor-bomb soupy beans fragrant with green peppers and onions and ladled near very nice chicken-stocky rice.
If you don't know about the incomparable Oyster Po'Boy here ($11), you should enrich your knowledge and life by ordering one. That beauty of a messy sandwich starts with a crispy, chewy and first-rate Eleni-Christina sourdough baguette. This gets packed with expertly flash-fried cornmeal battered mollusks with lots of lovely oyster liquor still intact. The delicious ensemble gets dressed with a healthy smear of Flatiron's remoulade sauce plus all the expected fixins. Awesome.
If meat more suits your mood, try the terrific Pulled Pork Sandwich ($9). Its layers of big and bold flavors - from wood smoke and tender pig meat, from assertively vinegary and mustardy barbecue sauce and a rich slaw - will have you squealing like a happy hog.
Your snout will also be aroused by the Half Slab of St. Louis Cut Pork Ribs ($15). Mine were a Flintstones-big serving of juicy (if not super tender) meat slathered in a deep, dark and complex sauce - a thick and spicy glaze made with cooked-down cola, jalapenos and bourbon.
The massive slab platter was further filled out by the finely chopped house slaw plus homemade fries. Flatiron regulars know to upgrade those potatoes to the Sweet & Hot fries. Other insider tips: The pulled-porky green beans are fantastic, as are many of Flatiron's recurring daily specials - like a lusty Catfish with Tabasco Cream Sauce. For dessert, the enormous, cinnamon bun-like Custard Bread pudding ($5) has a lot of warm and gooey love to offer - and can easily feed three ever-more-happy people.