Restaurant review: Lomonico's raises the bar on Pickerington restaurants

By Columbus Alive
From the November 14, 2013 edition

In a “chainful” restaurant city like Pickerington, the locally owned and two-chef-operated Lomonico’s is not just a breath of fresh air, it’s like a whole new atmosphere. Open only a few weeks, it’s already the best place to eat in town. That’s actually not much of a secret because this crowd-pleasing, solid-bang-for-your-buck place is frequently crowded.

It’s also modern, high-energy and prone to being loud. In fact, even though it’s minimalist and semi-industrial-looking (not unattractively so), Lomonico’s recalls a frenetic Cameron Mitchell Restaurant a la Marcella’s. There’s a what-comes-around-goes-around reason for that.

See, Lomonico’s Executive Chef Andrew Borenstein honed his chops at CMR in general and Marcella’s specifically. Turns out Borenstein not only learned how to run a fast-paced professional kitchen there, but he picked up a thing or two about “borrowing” from successful businesses.

Hence Lomonico’s has a CMR-like flair for the theatrical. Witness its open kitchen, in front of which Borenstein barks orders and expedites plates like he’s on the set of a chef reality show. More theater is generated from Lomonico’s big, open space, which includes a sorta lip-service “marketplace” plus a backroom area for cooking classes and demonstrations (I think these are wasted table opportunities, but given chef/owner Craig Lomonico’s culinary instructor background, I understand).

Drink-wise, there are a few fine taps and “everyday” best-buy wines (e.g. a Marius grenache/syrah blend or Riondo prosecco for $7/glass), but since the house cocktails ($8) are carefully crafted, I’ll highlight those. Made with good ingredients, these variations on classics achieve a winning balance. And from the tomato water-fueled Heirloom (a tomato-juice-less and refreshingly light Bloody Mary) to the blood orangey Sicilian Margarita to the Cherry Cobbler (with Bulleit rye and an upscale cherry) to the Gale Force (with Woodford Reserve and local maple syrup), I enjoyed what I tried.

Food-wise, I tried ignoring some of Lomonico’s confusing menu headers because many of the “Starters” (which include a nifty $12 lobster roll and a $9 taco trio), “Entrees” (like creamy and comforting Carbonara and Bolognese pastas for $13 each) and “Meats“ (e.g. bacon-wrapped and spork-tender $16 seared pork loin served with a nice spinach salad) equally eat like complete meals.

Take, for instance, the excellent Meatball starter ($9). Three pliant biggies arrived on plenty of rich, coarse polenta with a contrapuntally acidic tomato sauce. I’d munch those again right now.

The crackly and creamy Sicilian Rice Balls are another killer deal ($7). Here, I thought that same good tomato sauce — it’s on the side — was superfluous.

There are also good salads like the tricked-out House Chopped with a sweet vinaigrette ($6), and the even better Charred Caesar ($6). The latter featured a smoky and intact romaine heart and a pleasantly pungent dressing.

Two impressive pizzas — Roasted Vegetable with ricotta and arugula ($14) and Classic Meat (bacon, pepperoni and sausage, $15) — also rocked. They’re a heartier, cheesier and slightly oily boutique-style with snappy, thin artisanal crusts and great, charred, puffy edges.

Everything wasn’t hunky dory. A snack-sized, deconstructed Chicken Pot Pie ($10) arrived with homemade but cold gravy. Side dishes ($5) like addictive Roasted Poblano Gratin potatoes and stemmy but recommended Sauteed Broccoli Raab showed up after entrees were finished.

But with friendly, fix-it-and-comp-it service and made-in-house desserts (like a towering, aromatic and coconutty carrot cake, $6) and so many other enjoyable things I ate, my main complaint with Lomonoico’s is that it’s out in Pickerington instead of in my neighborhood.