Restaurant review: Handsome new Westies outscores most sports bars

By Columbus Alive
From the February 13, 2014 edition

Beer-rich, gussied up sports-bar-esque eateries promising genre-surpassing food, drinks and hospitality have got to be the most popular restaurants in Columbus now. Unfortunately, few take their promises seriously. Fortunately, impressive new Westies does.

Calling itself a gastropub (remember when every place had to be a “bistro?”), sleek and modern Westies has two dozen craft taps, an airy semi-industrial space and copious televisions. But Westies polishes those cliches into something interesting, carves them into something distinct. See, enormous Westies — which sits on a residential block in the Brewery District and comprises two discrete areas — is about as handsome as a sports pub gets.

Across a hall from the more casual back room — which houses its own bar, a hearth and garage doors overlooking a little patio — Westies’ smartly designed main dining chamber has a soaring ceiling with rafters and low-light-beaming, Richard-Serra-scaled boxy constructions. These seamlessly mesh with wood, brick, a chocolate-brown-and-aqua-leaning color scheme plus genuinely friendly service to create a welcoming ambiance. As for the all-over TVs (including one devoted to the best table — a secluded booth in the southwest corner), they never feel tacky. Similar attention to detail elevates Westies’ food.

But first a drink, yes? Beer hounds will find happy hunting here ($6/pint), but cocktail dogs will sniff out winners too. My refreshing Bourbon Cider ($8) was a harmonious marriage of Woodford Reserve and Angry Orchard brought together by cinnamon in liquid, stick and powder form. And — here’s high praise — the rich, spicy and nuanced (Bulleit) Bourbon Bacon Mary ($8) was nearly identical to one I slurped in a Tom Colicchio restaurant.

Al Pastor Pork Nachos ($9.50) likewise demonstrate how Westies separates itself from the sports-telecasting pack. Warm and oven-browned tortilla chips were flattered by juicy, spice-rub-tingly and seared-yet-tender pigmeat. “Ancho creme sauce,” pico, cheddar and a creamy guacamole avalanche (get it on the side) complete the messy-but-delicious appetizer.

Gotta get the wings right too, and Westies did ($9). The big and crispy critters can be slathered in three zesty sauces: incendiary Buffalo, sweet and sour (perky with horsey honey mustard) or tangy, cumin-kissed “bbq.”

The spicy-yet-complex House Made Chili ($4) was killer. Its balanced, beanless and mirepoix-anchored tomato base was rife with uncommonly tender meat.

Sure, serious grass-fed hamburgers (like a sear-crusted, juice-leaking Maytag Blue Cheese, crispy bacon and onion-jammy beauty on an A-1 toasted brioche bun, $12) come with wonderful handcut fries, but don’t think everything’s “heavy” or carnivore-catering here. I also enjoyed a busy but attractively presented and large Quinoa Salad ($9; with corn, avocado, almonds, goat cheese, grape tomatoes, romesco sauce and an effective vinaigrette) so creamy, tart and nutty it put most other quinoa assemblies to shame.

A more modest quinoa-starring melange with arugula and sun-dried tomatoes was appealingly plated with vegetables bearing caramelizing evidence (shaved Brussels sprouts, edamame, carrot slices and onions) plus soy-sauced grilled tofu planks in the well-named Vegetarian Delight entree ($13). Though I’d prefer less oil and more seasoning, this winner was far from the drab-looking and flavorless afterthought too often thrown together for meatless eaters in sports-focused establishments.

Likewise lighter was the Seared Ahi Tuna pizza ($14). Actually a flatbread on a puffy little crust with some appreciated crispness, its rim-seared, ruby red sashimi-quality fish (and plenty of it) was garnished with creamy, extra-spicy, fruity-sweet and garlicky accents. The never-boring result was the kind of bold dish you only get in places that keep their promises.

Photos by Meghan Ralston