Great Columbus food freebies

By Alive staff
From the September 27, 2012 edition

What better way to say “welcome” than to offer a tasty snack to a guest? We do it at home all the time, but we love it even more when restaurants do it. An unexpected treat at the table or bar is a friendly gesture that invites us to relax and enjoy, and it helps curb our hunger while we order something bigger. This week we’re stoking your appetite with some of our favorite food freebies in Columbus, as varied as pickles and popcorn. —Kristen Schmidt

Bread & butter

Bread service, once a ubiquitous part of any meal out, has begun to fall out of favor. Many restaurants have dropped it altogether, while a few will provide bread baskets upon request only. And too often bread is an afterthought — not much more than a couple of stale slices served with cold butter pats.

This is understandable — much of that bread goes to waste, especially in this increasingly carb-conscious world — but nonetheless disheartening for carboholics.

However, there are a few places around town that still put some thought (and love) into their bread baskets. Here are our favorites. —Shelley Mann

Rigsby’s Kitchen

698 N. High St., Short North

614-461-7888

rigsbyskitchen.com

No contest, the best bread in town. Rigsby’s has its own bakery, Eleni-Christina, and every meal at the Short North mainstay starts with a little burlap sack filled with still-warm slices of sourdough or walnut-and-raisin-studded multigrain. Spread liberally with softened butter and devour immediately.

DeepWood

511 N. High St., Short North

614-221-5602

deepwoodrestaurant.com

DeepWood offers a well-rounded basket, with moist date-walnut bread, hearty country white and a crumbly flatbread. But it’s the butter that’s really special — big triangles sprinkled in coarse red sea salt.

Basi Italia

811 Highland St., Victorian Village

614-294-7383

basi-italia.com

This neighborhood gem goes against the flow in many ways, including its bread. Rather than the typical Italian breadstick, diners get little glasses filled with savory shortbread sticks made with cheese, herbs and plenty of butter.

Barcelona

263 E. Whittier St., German Village

614-443-3699

barcelonacolumbus.com

At the European-inspired German Village restaurant, a half-loaf of crusty white bread is served with a ramekin of the most remarkable dipping oil. It’s olive oil mixed with an almost creamy seasoned tomato puree rather than the typical balsamic.

Café Istanbul

Multiple locations

cafeistanbul.com

The Turkish restaurant, with locations at Easton and in Bexley and Dublin, serves up big baskets of warm chargrilled pide bread with a spicy infused oil dipping sauce. It’s sorta like naan, but thicker, fluffier and with a crispier crust.

Figlio

3712 Riverside Dr., Upper Arlington

614-459-6575

1369 Grandview Ave., Grandview

614-481-8850

figliopizza.com

The wood-fired pizza spot’s homemade bread is what every restaurant should aspire to. It’s nice, big hunks of lightly toasted focaccia served with a shallow dish of olive oil loaded with fresh herbs.

Amuse-bouches

Amuse-bouches are a chef’s gift to the diner, a little thank-you for gracing the restaurant with your presence. Or, as Chef Alana Shock puts it, “an offering of love.” They’re much smaller than small plates — just a bite-sized hors d’oeuvre designed to showcase the chef’s artistry. This is the most expensive of the food freebies, really, because you’re shelling out for a multi-course meal to get it. But it’s also the most delicious. —Shelley Mann

Alana’s

2333 N. High St., North Campus

614-294-6783

alanas.com

Alana Shock is this town’s amuse-bouche queen. The chef does strategic sweeps of the dining room all evening long, meaning she personally bestows every single diner with a special gift (not that she’s, you know, busy cooking or anything). It’s just one reason why Columbus diners regard Shock as not just a talented chef, but a dear friend.

Worthington Inn

649 High St., Worthington

614-885-2600

worthingtoninn.com

Chef Thomas Smith is another one who doesn’t leave amuse delivery duty to the servers. When he’s working, he’ll likely be the one to bring out the amuse — often a lovely Hawaiian raw tuna preparation called poke.

Refectory

1092 Bethel Rd., North Side

614-451-9774

therefectoryrestaurant.com

As he does with everything on the menu, Chef Richard Blondin takes great pride in his amuse du jour, using it as a way to introduce the diner to his distinct French cooking style. So you may get a sliver of pate, or a bit of alpaca—the starring ingredient in his famed Alpaca Terrine.

M at Miranova

2 Miranova Place, Downtown

614-629-0000

matmiranova.com

Everything is beautiful at Cameron Mitchell’s most upscale dining experience, including the amuses. Whatever the offering that night, it’ll be served like a small-scale work of art — I loved, for instance, a tiny mound of glittering tuna tartare served in a soup spoon.

DeepWood

I always love to see what a chef as imaginative as DeepWood’s Brian Pawlak dreams up for an amuse. He’s a master with meat, so get excited if the night’s offering is a carnivorous one (a tempura short rib holds a special place in my heart).

Pickles

We found three places with awesome complimentary pickles, so we gave them their own category. Then we thought, hey, pickles should be in a category of their own more often. They’re also a tad old-fashioned, which makes them even more endearing. —Kristen Schmidt

The Top Steak House

2891 E. Main St., Bexley

614-231-8238

thetopsteakhouse.com

The relish tray has been part of the dining experience at The Top since it opened in 1955. Pickles, sauerkraut and olives are the steady stars, but the kitchen adds goodies from its garden when it can.

Ted’s Montana Grill

191 Nationwide Blvd., Arena District

614-227-0013

tedsmontanagrill.com

A little dish of addictive half-sour pickle discs land at your table at Ted’s just after you’re seated, but they typically don’t last long. Patriot Pickle Company makes these treats for the national chain — a spokeswoman pointed out they’re unique and healthier than bread.

Katzinger’s Deli

475 S. Third St., German Village

614-228-3354

katzingers.com

There are deli pickles, and there are Katzinger’s pickles. It’s downright fun to dip a pair of tongs in a barrel at this German Village mainstay — just obey the signs and take only what you need to accompany your sandwich.

Bar snacks

A little nibble to help absorb whatever you’re imbibing is always a welcome sight at the bar. Don’t be surprised, though, if the innocent litlte bar snack arouses your hunger and compels you to order something off the menu at these restaurants. —Kristen Schmidt

Sidebar 122

122 E. Main St., Downtown

614-228-9041

Bacon! You need us to say more? It arrives in crispy strip form at the bar periodically. If you’re smart, you’ll have a Manhattan or Old Fashioned or just a glass of bourbon in front of you. Get it while it’s hot, friends.

Pie’s Gourmet Pizza Bistro

7601 E. Main St., Reynoldsburg

614-863-5600

piesgourmet.com

Chef Bill Fugitt loves to smoke and cure things, and he doesn’t stop at meat. Fugitt sometimes smokes popcorn kernels with bacon, then pops it to make — yes, gentlemen — smoky bacon popcorn. Bar patrons might also find duck-fat popcorn or salty caramel popcorn or candied nuts at the bar.

The Top

A classic for a classic: Enjoy a zingy pretzels-and-bagel-chips mix at the bar along with your martini (dry, gin, shaken, up).

Rigsby’s Kitchen

Happy hour really hops at Rigsby’s, where the bar is scattered with cocktails, glasses of wine — and tiny dishes of olives and, sometimes, charred bread rubbed with tomato and garlic.

Free popcorn

This snack’s star has popped far above its days as an overpriced-something to crunch on at the movies. Yesterday is to bowl of nuts on the bar as today is to popcorn machine in the bar’s corner brimming with the salty stuff. We even found some at a car wash in Grandview. —Jackie Mantey

Villa Nova

5545 N. High St., Worthington

614-846-5777

villanovacolumbus.com

This Italian restaurant has a comforting, homey charm. Case in point: Man, will they feed you. Patrons of the bar can indulge in free popcorn and an occasional free appetizer — wings, pizza, subs — that the staff sets out on the countertop.

Zeno’s

384 W. Third Ave., Harrison West

614-294-9158

zenosbar.com

Zeno’s is a great place to watch a football game this fall. Belly up with an appetizer of free popcorn from behind the bar and then order a few pizzas. This is for your own good; you’ve got four quarters of drinking away the misery induced by being a Browns fan ahead of you.

Hal & Al’s

1297 Parsons Ave., Olde Towne East

614-375-4812

halandals.com

This divey-but-hip bar is known for its vast craft beer selection and vegan food (check out the vegan-friendly sushi nights every Thursday), but saving some cash (for more craft beer, we assume) with a basket full of complimentary popcorn is always an option.

Plank’s Cafe

743 Parsons Ave., South Side

614-443-6251

plankscafe.com

Plank’s has been around since 1939, which means it has both free peanuts and popcorn for those imbibing at the pizza place. No denying the classics here.

Sax Car Wash

1319 W. Fifth Ave., Grandview

614-486-9093

saxcarwash.com

The washes at Sax take about 15 minutes, so snag a bag of free popcorn while you wait. The popper is right beside the shoe shining station. Also among this car wash’s offerings o’ random are a few stands of greeting cards and a wall of NFL car window flags.

Free samples:

ZenCha

Multiple locations

zen-cha.com

Navigating the tea menu here is like taking a voyage around the world. It’s fascinating, and it makes decisions difficult. Start with the daily sample of one variety of tea offered at ZenCha. Not your cup of tea? They’ll offer something different the next day.

Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams

Multiple locations

jenis.com

One way Jeni’s introduces “avant garde” flavors like Goat Cheese with Red Cherries to the masses is by letting customers try before they buy. Columbus’ ice-cream palate has thusly matured, teensy spoonful by teensy spoonful.

The Hills Market

7860 Olentangy River Rd., Worthington

614-846-3220

thehillsmarket.com

The Hills always features something to taste, but Ohio Market Day events, featuring items made in Ohio, are the motherlode. At the next Ohio Market Day, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 13, try grain-based salads from Little Eater (a pop-up restaurant at The Hills), Sweet Tooth Cottage cookies, Tasteweaver sauces and more.

The North Market

59 Spruce St., Arena District

614-463-9664

northmarket.com

Work your way around the market, keeping your eyes peeled for tasty samples at the many vendors inside. A few reliable stops: Brezel, Omega Artisan Baking, CaJohn’s, Pam’s Market Popcorn, Taste of Belgium and Kitchen Little.