Restaurant review: MoJoe Lounge Downtown

By Columbus Alive
From the July 12, 2012 edition

“What a week. Car gets broken into, and now the power goes out on a scorcher of a day. Good things gotta be coming my way.”

The sweltering heart of this hard-luck entry from chef David MacLennan’s Twitter account — whose avatar stars a decapitated hog’s head the chef cheekily holds in front of his own noggin — will surely resonate with Central Ohioans forced to endure the cruel and unusual days that ushered in a firecracker-hot early July.

Though irony might’ve spiced his last Twitter sentence up there, I’d like to think that “powerlessly” suffering Columbusites were able, like MacLennan, to find reasons to believe their sweaty setbacks were signs of good things to come. Then again, MacLennan seems like an optimist forever anticipating upcoming projects.

Fans of MacLennan and his recently concluded tenure at Latitude 41 — count me in that company — will be glad to learn he’s turned up at MoJoe Lounge Downtown. There, his new project has been to offer food far exceeding coffee shop/ bar expectations. He and MoJoe have achieved that with a just-released summer menu.

It’s a smallish document whose featured drinks ($7.50) are sweet lemonades spiked with Watershed vodka and mojitos similarly scented with, say, jalapeno, basil or ginger. Foodwise, the lunchtime menu is filled with great-looking and great-priced seasonal items that are supplemented with richer and more ambitious fare during evening hours.

MoJoe’s summertime soups have included a lush and cool Habanero Gazpacho ($6). Viscous and spoon-clinging like custard, its big, round mouthfeel accompanied a thrust of bright tomato echoing with teasing hints of chili and cumin.

Even better was a warm and extra-impressive Ohio Corn Bisque ($5). Its velvety smooth broth offered sweet swallows of concentrated corn flavor punctuated by corn nuggets plus other Ohio field staples presented in the form of an inspired “edamame and crispy hominy salad.”

Cooling off with the huge Heirloom Tomato and Burrata Salad ($8) is another fine option. It balanced a crowning bush of lemony arugula and tart little tomatoes with a hefty mass of burrata (that magical merger of fresh mozzarella and cream) mashed into crispy herbed croutons.

A simpler Wedge Salad ($7) distinguished itself with meaty lardons and striations of a thick, mayo-based house dressing. I’d call it a solid rendition.

Though I didn’t detect any cauliflower in it, I’d call MoJoe’s Beet and Cauliflower the prettiest new $6 sandwich in the city. Radiant slivers of sweet gold and red beets were stacked thickly on warm and crinkly toasted herby focaccia. This was sharpened by sprinkles of feta, enriched by basil aioli and ballasted by hard-boiled egg.

Two dinner-only dishes were equally indulgent if unevenly priced. In the more-bang-for-your-buck category was the Fried Chicken and Grits ($9). That entree-worthy winner was three juicy and tender deboned thighs packed in a puffy, fish-n-chip-style beer batter and placed atop a generous pool of multi-textured grits mixed with corn. The nifty grits sorta recalled an all-veggie sausage gravy.

Weighing in at $17 was an appetizer-sized Lamb and Gnocchi. Unctuous strips (but not a lot) of mild, pot roast-y meat played extremely nicely with plenty of melt-in-your-mouth gnocchi enhanced by vegetables like excellent fresh peas, carrots and mushrooms.

Sound like things you’d eat in a bar/coffee shop? No, I didn’t think so. And that thought has me already anticipating MacLennan’s next MoJoe specials — I only hope those good things aren’t preceded by some kind of hardship.

Photos by Tessa Berg