Restaurant review: The Crest has lots of promise

By Columbus Alive
From the May 30, 2013 edition

This was a hard review to write. See, throughout a month of dining at the rebooted and usually packed Crest Gastropub (nee Tavern), every visit was a different experience — but an uneven one. Also, like all Clintonvillians, I want this transformed-from-crusty-old-dive-to-sparkling-new-“gastropub” upstart to succeed — hell, thrive — as an alternative to driving to all those Short North fun spots. Yet the only consistency I can report on is that eating here always reminded me of window-shopping at a stylish clothes store where all the stuff looks great, and you know it’s well-made, but when you step inside and try things on, nothing perfectly fits.

Excavated original brick walls, a large centerpiece rectangular copper bar (with enclosed sporty HDTVs) and an unearthed, ductwork-flaunting ceiling contribute to a handsome, rustic and masculine ambiance. Add in decent tunes plus a rollicking patio scene, and the Crest is currently THE PLACE TO BE in Clintonville.

A genre-surpassing wine list, about 50 Ohio-centric craft taps (heavy on fashionably heavy beers but lacking in seasonal pilsners) and trendy cocktails also make it THE place to drink. Libation-wise ($10), if you must have a barrel-aged quaff (i.e. the most overrated fad going), pass on the shot-like Margarita in favor of the more nuanced Negroni. Even better were made-to-order drinks such as the refreshing Cucumber Crutch and the clever, like-scotch-without-the-iodine-hints Smoke and Syrup.

On the starter-front, I was impressed that the Sausage Sampler special ($10) was housemade, even if its seared wild boar (seductively gamy and sweet), lamb (chorizo-like) and distinct duck links had soft casings and nearly raw centers. Though its spuds were mostly hard, I enjoyed the real-deal tapas-y look and flavor of the Spanish Chorizo appetizer ($11).

A generous if unfocused Tuna Tartar ($13) was also pretty, but overly rich (aioli, avocado, sesame oil), and its lost-in-the-process fish needed more contrasts than a semi-crispy wonton chip and seaweed bits. An attractive, smoky char and flirty botanical heat made the Grilled Rustic Caesar a more interesting salad ($8-$9) than the eye-catching and beet-flanked but blah Quinoa and the not-bad Organic Lentil (with feta and an aggressive vinaigrette). Like most items, that enormous Caesar was served on an exceedingly butch, if unwieldy, butcher board.

Ditto for the Crest’s steak knife-stabbed burgers ($9-$10), which currently comprise the bulk of its entrees. It’s a testament to the quality of those well-crusted and charred burgers — they’re ground in-house then cold-smoked — to say I’d order them again even though all four I tried were overcooked, messy and sometimes missing key toppings (e.g. no cabbage and little housemade corned beef on the not-very-ruebeny Rueben Burger).

My favorite was probably the flagrantly fresh minted and tzatziki-leaking lamb, though the namesake burger (with havarti, not-there mushrooms and “caramelized beer onions”) also rocked. All sandwiches come with top-notch (usually) fries or sweet potato fries or, for about a $3 upcharge, a replacement side like creamy, tangy and pretty damn terrific mac ’n’ cheese.

Early in its game, the explosively buzzy and vibe-rich Crest has gotten most of the big things right; and its bold DIY commitments extend to growing its own herbs and vegetables. Plus, except for one disastrous night, the overtaxed service has been personable and professional. So I’m going to keep my mind, eyes and mouth wide open here, and when the Crest gets everything else right — by focusing on attention-to-detail kitchen consistency — I’ll be glad to write another review. That one should be easy! Stay tuned.

Photos by Meghan Ralston