Restaurant review: Grandview fine dining spot, “Spagio,” deserves fresh look

By Columbus Alive
From the July 25, 2013 edition

I guess it’s not shocking that a metropolis with a strong German heritage would have two Teutonic chefs help define its modern era of fine dining. Though he’s no longer running any restaurants here, Certified Master Chef Hartmut Handke’s influence can still be felt through his many proteges (e.g. Phil Gulis at Plate) or, heck, anytime a daily shopping Columbus cook fusses over procuring the best ingredients.

Handke’s Germanic partner in Euro-classical techniques, Hubert Seifert, also helped develop some of our current generation’s top toque-donners (e.g. Alana Shock). Yet though Seifert’s Spagio is still flourishing after 30 years, it’s — rather unfairly — saddled by some with a reputation as a sorta old-fogey and too-expensive kinda place. Well, hopefully an every-dish-costs-$3 happy hour rife with snazzy “sliders” will help dispel such notions.

Offered — and this is big! — seven days a week from 4-7 p.m. in the bar area (which includes a few tables), Spagio’s happy hour easily qualifies as one of the best everyday values in town. So though Spagio’s nifty Grandview patio is my preferred perch, the granite bar — with its whimsical vibe, wreck-crunched and inverted real Bobby Rahal red racecar near a colorful portrait of Seifert stirring a pot — is a fine and relaxing spot to get your super-discounted feedbag and drink-trough on.

Speaking of beverages, several good ones are half-priced. This includes a beer list not succumbing to the hegemony of fashionably over-the-top quaffs (but you can get a highfalutin Samuel Smith’s organic ale for $3.50), a great margarita ($5.75) and a glass of sparkling Gruet for a “hell yeah!” $4.25.

Since the price is right — and I’m looking out for you — I tried all nine items on the $3 HH menu. From these, I liked both the Mediterranean Olives and the Assorted Nuts, but they’re the kind of nibbles sometimes laid out for free at fancy bars and restaurants, and not among the best bangs for your buck.

No, better values would include Spagio’s tiptop Veal Meatballs. A trio of springy, herby, juicy and not-teeny globes were delicious with real-deal veal flavor highlighted by Parmesan cheese shavings and an acidic tomato sauce.

More sharp formaggio topped a generous cone of extra-crispy, flour-crusted fries. They’re another must, especially dunked — in true Euro-style — in a no-BS aioli.

Most of the best deals arrived via sliders, which come on glossy, toasted and excellent brioche rolls. At the top of my heap were: large, livery and complex mosaics of currant-speckled Country Pate (exhibited rare slider craftsmanship and went great with counterpoints of mustard, sweet onion jam, bitter arugula and cornichon) and the Tuna (stacked-high thick slices of clean-tasting pink meat with mild Asian accents).

This doesn’t mean the other mini-sandwiches aren’t worthy — they most certainly are. I’d rank the rest in this descending order: Sliced Beef Tenderloin (think good shaved cold roast beef with crispy onion straws, pickle, horseradish, mustard and a balsamic reduction); the simple but fresh, meaty and well executed Hawaiian Chicken Salad (big chunks of mayo-bound, Ohio-raised poultry with a nice little crunch from nuts and celery, all blending harmoniously with a hint of pineapple-derived sweetness); and the steaky Kobe burger (my only qualm with this cheese, mustard, cornichon and mayo-armed nosh was that it was on the small side).

Moral of this story: You deserve these tremendous HH deals, and Spagio deserves a fresh look.

Photos by Tim Johnson