When it comes to new Columbus restaurants, the loud-and-clear message is: Economy schmeconomy. See, especially during its last months, 2013 was one of the busiest-in-memory for high-profile openings. Here are a few standouts that, when viewed like spots on a map, illustrate the ever-changing landscape of our ever-better-eating city. Happy New Year everyone, and I can’t wait to see what kind of restaurants 2014 will bring us!
PS: I grouped a few together because they’re technically not “full-on” or Columbus restaurants. PPS: What’s a list without an asterisk? (If you don’t like it, then make your own damn list.)
Best new spot to catch up with a top chef: Chez du Bon
I haven’t even reviewed this flamboyant-looking, huge Downtown ex-Wendy’s yet, but based on a few whipped-my-head-into-a-double-take dinners, it clearly belongs on this list. Incontestably talented if itinerant Chef Bill Fugitt’s impressive resume reveals its exalted Thomas Keller influences through modern and deconstructed versions of Cassoulet, Salade Nicoise (aka Coriander-Encrusted Tuna) and Pineapple Upside Down Cake.
Chez du Bon
122 S. High St., Downtown
Best new chance to sample blood sausage: The Table
If you balk at “blood sausage” without ever tasting it, then try using its more-alluring French handle of boudin noir. Anyway, this charcuterie-happy, France-by-way-of-Brooklyn au courant bakery/all-day restaurant makes what few local joints would dare serve — and does a helluva job with it. If you’d still prefer playing it “safer,” The Table — an elegantly understated, chic, smart and affordable Short Norther related to Bodega — likewise excels at rustic-refined soups, stews, pastas and pastries.
21 E. Fifth St., Short North
Best new sleek-but-casual, homemade beer-slash-blue-ribbon-scratch-cooking palace: Wolf’s Ridge Brewing
This long and narrow, energetic Downtowner is like “Zeitgeist Central.” It sports a large and beautiful farmhouse/industrial space, microbrews its own distinct and accomplished beers and employs a Culinary Institute of America graduate to cook terrific, often-ale-accented gastropub fare. Try the killer curried pickles, lovely corn bisque, crackly-skinned duck and habanero cheesecake.
Wolf’s Ridge Brewing
215 N. Fourth St., Downtown
Best new upscale cuisine in a downscale lounge: Swoop at Hey Hey Bar and Grill
The charmingly divey Hey Hey (now armed with a for-real beer list) is becoming a go-to incubator for ambitious food truckers whose fancy chef’s chops merit more stable audiences. On the heels of The Coop’s triumphant residence comes Matthew Heaggans of Swoop — and he’s killing it. Serving more impressive but less expensive grub than any self-proclaimed “gastropub” in town, his Yak Burger-starring, prettily-plated, it’s-all-good food is simultaneously fun and serious.
Swoop at Hey Hey
361 E. Whittier St., German Village
Best new German Village rebirth: The Sycamore
Flaunting a tasteful makeover that retains a vintage-celebrating past while propelling itself forward into a hip and raucous present, Harvest Pizzeria’s successful venture into artsy bar food feels as if it’s been like this forever. The guac and poutine are top-shelf and the bold bison and innovative quinoa/chickpea burgers come with wonderful fries, but the trout and banana tart rule.
262 E. Sycamore St., German Village
Best new reason to go vegan: Portia’s Cafe
Meat and wheat can momentarily seem superfluous even to a hoggy omnivore like me when I’m eating the creative and fabulous food at Portia’s. The bright and cute Clintonville no-boozer (try a smoothie instead — you just might live longer) makes sensational soups, a killer bruised kale salad and rolled-into-homemade-teff-based-“tortilla” burritos so healthy-yet-rich-tasting that, in a better world, they would put Chipotle out of business.
4428 Indianola Ave., Clintonville
Best new do-over: Si senor
Yessir, the third (or is it fourth?) time’s a charm for this delightful Downtown Peruvian-leaning eatery. Finally inhabiting a large and lively space more commensurate with its great food, Senor serves jazzed-up, inexpensive sandwiches that shame most of its bread-bound competitors. Senor’s new digs have also brought destination-worthy weekend specials like ceviche and arroz con pollo y papa a la huancaina. Hint: do NOT leave without scoring some crazy-great tres leches cake!
72 E. Lynn St., Downtown
Best new pseudo-outlaw saloon for lapping up low-dough margaritas and terrific tortas: Bakersfield
Sure it’s an often-jammed, mini-chain link based outta Cincy. And, yeah, its movie-set-Western-tavern vibe is kinda kitschy. But hot damn if Bakersfield isn’t fun, cheap and freakin’ good eatin’. Start with a $3 shot du jour (it’ll be good whiskey or tequila), then move onto amazing-bang-for-your-buck Mason jar margaritas slurped with garlicky guacamole, the “Johnny” (as in Cash) Salad, housemade-tortilla-wrapped tacos (go cochinita pibil and huitlacoche) and incredible, must-have tortas. Yee-haw!
733 N. High St., Short North
Best new excuses to cruise the ’burbs: Plate and Lomonico’s
With Italianate Plate, New Albany has joined the “best area pizza” conversation. But from stupendous starters (oil-poached tuna, portobello carpaccio, polenta fries) to beautiful desserts (e.g. Ricotta Torte), Plate has plenty more to offer.
Lomonico’s, another smile-inducing and bustling Italian, is putting Pickerington on the restaurant map with terrific Cris Dehlavi-designed cocktails and top-notch pizzas. Other irresistible deals include luscious meatballs with polenta, lobster rolls, very solid (if creamy) pastas plus charred Caesar salads.
1506 Stonecreek Dr. S., Pickerington
29 S. High St., New Albany
Best new pie in the Columbus sky and best new cupcake movement redux: Sassafras Bakery and Kittie’s Cakes
Forget sugar-plums. Visions of cinnamon rolls, scones, brownies, cookies, near-perfect pies, remarkable quiches and imaginative muffins dance in my head, because I’ve visited Sassafras Bakery — an endearing 16-seater in cute Olde Worthington. Bonuses: Brioso coffee and (sometimes) gotta-have-it hot chocolate.
I was a longtime avowed cupcake skeptic until I stepped into Kittie’s — a tiny, smart and stylish German Village marvel. See, Kittie’s inventive, buttercream-frosted dreams eat like actual artisanal cakes. Try the semi-brilliant Chocolate Chip (with crushed potato chips), lush and spicy-with-red-hot-cinnamon-candy “Hot” Chocolate and Oreo-endowed Cookies and Cream. Mmmm.
495 S. Third St., German Village
657 High St., Worthington
*Best new-in-late 2012 restaurants I didn’t review until 2013: Hae Paul’s and Siem Reap
Co-owned by former Barcelona chef Paul Yow, Downtowner Hae-Paul’s excellent and inexpensive Korean/American food is evidence that “fusiony cuisine” needn’t be a bad phrase.
The delicious and cost-cutting (Thai-like) Cambodian food — plus a few drinks — you’ll get and love at tropically-tricked-out little Siem Reap can be a short-term remedy for ill-advised bets placed at nearby Hollywood Casino.
79 S. Fourth St., Downtown
375 Georgesville Rd., West Side