Restaurant review: The Social at Whole Foods might not get you excited, but the food’s good

  • Photos by Tim Johnson
By Columbus Alive
From the April 11, 2013 edition

On some level, I sorta wish I could get excited about a grocery store. I just can’t. That said, the huge new Whole Foods Market on Lane Avenue offers shoppers a lot of great stuff. Among its litany of well-thought-out options is a little restaurant called The Social.

Positioned on the northeast end of Whole Food’s packed and reassuringly hybrid-vehicle-studded parking lot, The Social occupies a smallish, many-windowed, cubicle-like space sectioned off from the grocery store proper. In there, amid all-over-the-place growlers screaming BEER HERE like an army of enablers (like I need that), are other accoutrements of the modern-era restaurant, such as the glass-cased fireplace, eclectic music and order-at-the-counter-and-take-a-numbered-card service — naturally that card is silhouetted with the state of Ohio. Overseeing this is a friendly crew in black T-shirts with “I speak fluent foodie” on their backs (I elected to ignore this).

Menu-wise, like many of its ilk, The Social cooks upgraded versions of casual classics. It distinguishes itself by, 1) selling an abbreviated list of dishes at fairly cheap prices; 2) leaning heavily on the diner aesthetic and serving breakfast all day; 3) presenting food in what look like paper-lined metal dog bowls; and 4) investing in a gimmick.

Here’s the gimmick: For a couple extra bucks, you can get The Social’s core, nonbreakfast items (hot dog/veggie dog, veggie/turkey/Ohio-raised beef burgers, fries, salads) loaded, meaning dressed up in an arsenal of garnishes. Ergo, you can get ’em Italian-ed (think sub), Paris-ed (brie, mushrooms, Dijon), Fireman-ed (Buffalo sauce, blue cheese, celery) or in about a dozen other guises.

After ordering a worth-it $3 glass of wine or $3-$6 local/craft pint of beer (eight taps change regularly, but Founders, Elevator and Fat Head’s pop up often) try a burger and fries because they rock. For instance, the impressive hand-cut fries ($2 for a shareable portion) were dark, crispy, not greasy and lightly salted.

The Fiesta-style burger ($8, with perfectly fine salsa and guacamole plus sharp cheddar) was two smallish, juicy patties with a great grill-crusting and excellent fresh beef flavor. They came on an OK, creased-in-the-middle bun.

An all-beef Jumbo Dog, Coney Island-style ($6, with shredded cheddar, onions plus a spicy, sweet and densely meaty “sauce”) was gargantuan, griddled, garlicky and greasy. In other words, all right with me.

Unconventionally specked with peas (it worked) and sporting a pleasant herb, bean, nut and grain flavor, the “handmade” Veggie burger ordered ocial-style ($8, with caramelized onions, cheddar and Thousand Islands dressing) was damn good and held together admirably.

Less admirable was eating a Big Farm Salad ($6) on wax paper — though by then, I’d almost warmed up to the doggie bowls. The salad itself was decent enough — nice fluffy greens (a lotta arugula), large cucumber chunks, unripe tomatoes and green beans unevenly tossed in an aggressive balsamic vinaigrette. Eccentrically replacing croutons were semi-scorched kernels of “heirloom” popcorn.

The enormous, more-vegetables-than-meat Corned Beef Hash ($9) was a highlight. Instead of pickled purple beef bound to small diced spuds, it was highly seasoned (salt, garden o’ herbs), candy-sized brisket lumps with a bunch of rustically hacked and sweetly long-roasted peppers, onions, and sweet and regular potatoes.

Elvis was in the house too, residing in the ridiculous — in a mostly good way — Buckeye French Toast ($6). That was a King-sized, house-ground peanut butter (could’ve used more) and banana sandwich sprinkled with chocolate chips, crafted with thick egg-y bread and topped with crunchy banana chips. “Don’t be cruel,” it sang. “Give a grocery store love!”