Why the hell would I travel clear out to Canal Winchester just to grab a drink and a meal when we have so many great options here?

Why the hell would I travel clear out to Canal Winchester just to grab a drink and a meal when we have so many great options here?

The answer is simple: 1) I was bored; 2) I convinced someone else to drive; 3) Harvest Moon Cafe makes the best bang-for-your-buck summer cocktails in Central Ohio, created by Columbus mixologist Cris Dehlavi (there’s also an excellent beer list which includes the best deals on Rockmill I’ve ever seen); and 4) a lot of Harvest’s engaging new food items strike a skillful balance between healthy and delicious. All of which makes the not-that-bad drive out to this quaint yet sophisticated small-town cafe a nifty little diversion from my everyday routine.

I gotta admit Harvest’s website made me wince a bit when it mentioned its owners (they’re certified herbalists) had a “dream” to provide its community with the “education needed” (ouch!) to live a better life. That sorta preachy speech generally has me running away, but when I walked into the absolutely cute cafe, I was so instantly charmed I wanted to — and certainly did — stay.

Harvest Moon Café’s smart decor — let’s call it artisan chic — features an exposed brick wall holding foodie photos attached to clipboards or mesh and bordered by shiny black-painted wooden frames. Naked vintage-style filaments encased in oversized jars hover above Harvest’s simple, sleek blond wooden tables and black ladder-back chairs. Most prominent is a large rectangular bar that evokes an old soda-jerk shop except for its voguish “pipe-fixture” stools. It’s here you’ll place every food and drink order, including those killer cocktails — which in part excelled because of a restrained hand on the simple syrups (why can’t more places get this right?).

Speaking of which, try the crisp and refreshing (and, despite its name and pretty-in-pink appearance, not sissified) Waterloo Straw-cumber with Hendrick’s gin and muddled fruit and cukes. Also terrific was the Oddfellow, which expertly balanced Maker’s Mark, ginger, lime and mint. Those quaffs — and a decent margarita — are only $6 ($5 during happy hour!).

Here’s a peek at Harvest’s newer menu items (sandwiches come with either a fresh little salad or coarse, cumin-y and clearly housemade hummus and chips):

• Asparagus Flatbread ($7.75): Small but quite appealing. A toasty, soft pita-like base was veggie-fied with a creamy, nutty, tangy and goat cheese-fortified “asparagus pesto,” snipped asparagus spears, red onion and big, fruity, chewy oven-roasted tomatoes.

• Wild Idea Bison Burger ($10): Lean yet thick and juicy, with a pleasant whiff of gaminess, it’s alluringly equipped with aged white cheddar, turkey bacon, spicy chipotle aioli and a fine pretzel roll

• Chicken Salad Sandwich ($7): Huge and intriguing. A croissant-enveloped, sweet-edged (honey?), homemade, super-meaty, pulled chicken and smoked paprika salad enlivened by crisp cucumber slices, it’s thoughtfully unencumbered by the typical gallon of mayo

• Wild Caught Salmon Sandwich ($8): Chilled sockeye, flavorful tomatoes, wide slices of turkey bacon, lettuce, onion, a dill-lemon aioli and a toasted, cornmeal-dusted kaiser roll made for another healthful winner

• Thai Peanut Chicken Salad ($8.25): A too-thick, unspicy, DIY peanut-buttery dressing dumped onto semi-soggy grilled chicken, lettuce, shaved carrots, sugar snap peas and a wealth of dry-roasted peanuts added up to underwhelming

• Gluten-free Chocolate Brownie ($3): Dense, chewy, maple-y, homey and comforting

Photos by Tessa Berg