Year-in-Review: Restaurant trends of 2012

By Columbus Alive
From the December 27, 2012 edition

Let’s apply Taylor Swift’s end-of-her-rope lyrics to 2012 by informing this Mayan-cursed, dying year that, ”We are never getting back together again.” If you get nostalgic by this, just tune in to the inescapable deluge of “year that was” retrospectives, and see how drowning under another wave of Psy dancing “Gangnam-style!” makes you feel. If you’re like me, you’ll be ready to jump off a cliff — whether fiscal or not.

Moving from insidiously earworm-y 2012 tunes I’m trying to forget onto establishments I reviewed last year worth remembering, here’s a little unscientifically assembled list of notable newbies.

Perched together at the top of the 2012 class are Till and Veritas, two stellar-in-any-city eateries serving delicious dishes that, even when familiar-sounding, will excite diners by getting them to rethink how America eats. So you can get a burger at Till — a freaking great one — but it’s gonna be completely built by hand (expect in-house-baked buns plus manually chopped beef or, even better, lamb). Additionally, Till fare is rigorously sourced from meticulously selected organic farms, many employing complicated biodynamic techniques. As a bonus, you can enjoy that burger with, say, good wine from a tap (Till’s not light “green,” it’s dark forest green) or a rejuvenating shrub (drinkable gastrique).

Brilliant but casual, fun but serious, Veritas dabbles in molecular gastronomy. So this Delaware delight might make you a shrimp cocktail, but it’ll arrive as a single, translucent sheet/tile. Fabricated by steaming and compressing shellfish into a “mosaic,” instead of paired with jarred cocktail sauce, expect garnishes of lemon powder and blots of a concentrated horseradish-y condiment. To sip, how about a martini-like shot that’s an evanescent, capsule-like “globe” of flavored vodka bobbing in vermouth?

Pies aren’t square, they’re round — and hot if they’re found in scratch-cooking pizza joints also pouring craft beers. Witness the impressive NYC-style crowd-pleasers from Worthington’s Pies & Pints. If the intriguing pizzas take a backseat to cheffier stuff at Pies Gourmet Pizza Bistro, this quaint, converted old house is still quite the Reynoldsburg find. The pies that take the cake at the best new pizzeria, though, are the more delicate beauties from Natalie’s Coal Fired Pizza and Music Club.

Speaking of fancy beer, while Curio at Harvest (natty nouveau/retro cocktail parlor), Columbus Food League’s Grass Skirt (nutty looking, wildly fun, libation-accomplished tiki room) and the Scotch-centric Manifesto (good and good-dealing pseudo-Italian) might disagree, suds are moving to the top of the trendy new food chain. For evidence, I present 101 Beer Kitchen, The Olde Towne Tavern and Gallo’s Pit BBQ. All three jumpin’ joints feature mighty, food-friendly microbrew lists; the first two are raising the bar on pubby grub, while Gallo’s is moving similarly with barbecue.

Obviously the food trend that keeps moving — literally — into more and more neighborhoods is meals-on-wheels. The mobile restaurants I tried last year that most captured my attention — and taste buds — were the Italianate Per Zoot, the homemade tots and slider-slinging Swoop!, and the local-ingredient-driven That Food Truck. Occasionally, you can catch these vehicular chefs at Dinin’ Hall, our city’s first permanent “food truck pod.” Who knows, perhaps one day, they’ll establish a brick-and-mortar address too, as did the fabulous crew from Freshstreet, who moved from a cart to a parking lot to the uber-cool Brewery District music club/bar suitably called Double Happiness.

I can only hope 2013 brings a comparably distinguished list of premiering restaurants — but, please, better music (tantalizing teaser: the new Nick Cave debuts in February!).