When Erik Till returned to Ohio after a catering job in Utah five years ago, he took on some catering and consulting gigs and kept an eye out for the right space. He hoped to start a boutique-style restaurant — something small like you’d find in a Brooklyn storefront. Conveniently, around that time Till started dating Lisa Edge, a marketing professional looking to open a fashion boutique.
Edge threw her resources behind Till’s vision of “playfully gourmet” sandwiches like 3 Little Pigs (“roast pork shoulder, Nueske’s bacon, rillettes, pickled onion, farm fresh egg, port wine BBQ grilled on rustic Italian”) and Elvis Lives (“spicy coconut peanut butter, sweet cheese, banana, bacon grilled on rustic Italian”). By 2011, Commonwealth Sandwich Bar opened in a sliver of a storefront on North High Street a few blocks north of the Short North.
“We kind of did exactly what we wanted to do and prayed like hell that somebody would get it,” Till said.
People got it. Commonwealth attracted tons of buzz and helped turn its neighborhood into a viable hangout spot. Earlier this year, Till opened Commonwealth Kitchen at North High Brewing, serving dishes like “old-school artisan sausage” (per Till’s description) to North High’s DIY brewing clientele.
But Till’s real power move is coming this month, when his restaurant White Rabbit opens on South Front Street in the Brewery District in the former Tommy Keegan’s space.
“Now we’re back in the real game,” Till said. “Going from 10 seats to 150-plus is a massive thing.”
With White Rabbit, Till hopes to create a slightly surreal environment — hence the “Alice in Wonderland”-referencing name — a place to enjoy fine cuisine without white linens and whopping price tags. Menu items like buffalo-fried frog legs and burgers with black truffle brioche exemplify the blend of highbrow taste in a middlebrow environment.
“It’s going to feel like you’re walking into a really great whiskey bar,” Till said.
Opening in the resurgent Brewery District is somewhat of a pioneering move. Ultimately, Till’s vision is just as adventurous: “You can feel comfortable in a T-shirt and jeans doing five courses.”