Restaurant review: Till Dynamic Fare

By Columbus Alive
From the February 23, 2012 edition

Inhabiting an enchanting handcrafted bowl, it appeared familiar, yet unknown. Using my spoon as a key, I moved in to unlock its secrets. Soft, snow-white, warm and custardy, it dissolved along my tongue with a yogurty tang. As my brain caught up with the eureka sensation, ol’ gray matter made me say, “Wait ... that was tofu?” Welcome to Till, the most exciting restaurant to premiere in Columbus in a long while.

Here everything, including tofu, is painstakingly handmade. Here, an insanely superior, profoundly fresh-tasting “BD” hamburger is created by hand chopping (!) astoundingly top-quality beef (BD stands for biodynamic — think super-duper organic) procured by a tireless, meticulous and talented chef who will visit even far-flung farms to personally inspect prospective wares. Considering its hard labor, rigorous ingredient sourcing and non-stop procession of culinary revelations, you might expect to pay high prices at Till. You’d be wrong.

You’d also be wrong to assume Till still operates like its previous incarnation — the special-occasion vegan enclave called Dragonfly Neo-V. No, Till — which will equally wow vegans and meat eaters — is not only much cheaper than Dragonfly, but it now offers lunch service, alluring happy hour deals and even late-night specials. Put simply, no one in Columbus — and I mean no one — is doing all the incredible things Till is.

It starts at the bar, where Till’s spare, rustically elegant and “artist’s loft” visual aesthetic is expressed in handcrafted wooden tap handles — some of which dispense wine (good wine; characteristically ahead of the curve, Till participates in NYC’s forward-looking Gotham Project). Ever in love with a no-shortcuts/pre-industrial type authenticity, Till also shakes to order distinguished quaffs like uncommonly refreshing “shrubs” ($5, try the blood orange tangerine, spiked with Oyo Stone Fruit vodka for an extra $4) and fruity and boozy punches — which predate cocktails. There’s also pour-over coffee, an enlightened beer list and zippy cocktails, like a spicy and orange-crushing Old Fashioned served with a gigantic ice cube — only $4 at happy hour.

Happy hour also brings jaw-dropping half-priced (meaning $3-4) starters like: beautiful, gougere-like “cheese puffs,” last week pooled with molten Vacherin cheese and served atop a pristine chopped beet salad; warm, milky, salty and soft egg-enriched cod Brandade; brilliant, sauteed spinach-capped, tamale/polenta-riffing seared Scrapple with Mole (a must!); a recent lean and lovely squash soup; plus Vegan Poutine made with crispy fries, a salty little pseudo beef gravy and curds of that game-changing tofu.

Speaking of tofu, when ordered as a “plate,” that fantastic and fresh stuff ($14) is served with lively “festival rice” made with pickled carrots, nori, edamame, ginger and sesame oil. Eating healthfully never looked so pretty or tasted so great.

And man, that BD Burger ($14) is flatout spectacular. Served with knock-out potatoes du jour, this beauty comes sandwiched on a crusty artisanal bun and dressed to the nines — make that the 11s — with bitter, rich, sweet and tangy homemade sauces and veggies. It’s my new local hamburger champ.

As with any ingredient-driven menu, Till’s selections are altered daily. But there might be lovely, thin and yeasty-crusted pizzas (called “pies”), terrific house-smoked ham dishes, a killer BD beef tongue cheese steak, handmade pastas and remarkable under-$10 lunch specials.

In short, if you’re serious about food and drink, get to Till.