Restaurant review: Harvest Pizza grows its vanguard brand in Clintonville

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From the March 27, 2014 edition

The Harvest Pizza restaurant family has grown from indie upstart to ambitious juggernaut in less than three years. This sort of progress can augur diminished quality and/or we-loved-you-as-an-underdog backlash. But, as the bustling new Harvest Bar & Kitchen in Clintonville demonstrates, this budding company — which includes edgy-cocktail-sloshing Curio, retro-mod Sycamore Cafe and the original brilliant pizzeria — seems too smart to screw up. In other words, I’m already considering HBK for my 2014 list of Best New Restaurants.

Stylishly overhauling the old Mozart’s space, great-looking HBK has a sorta rustic-chic, past-streams-into-the-present thing going on. It’s smallish-but-efficient, with flattering lighting, comfy booths and “Hi neighbor!” tables. There’s also a muted-TV-equipped bar with abundant seating.

File HBK’s decorating theme under “time-spanning celebration of agriculture.” Here, bygone-era-bucolic-scene-depicting wallpaper is a backdrop for pop arty-bright color photographs of harvest-time wheat. Vintage-looking French Farmhouse-style cabinets, white tiles and specials-trumpeting chalkboards embellish a modern bar. HBK’s terrific food and drink — an inspired mashup of Curio, Harvest and Sycamore — similarly links traditional to contemporary.

Along with a nice little wine list (econo-alert No. 1: $6 glasses of Dr. Loosen riesling and Breca garnacha), plus 10 well-curated taps (including a hoppy/citrusy namesake pale ale made by Elevator, $4), there are sophisticated cocktails ($10). From the latter, I lapped and loved The Ferretti (a complex, “Chinese bitters”-enhanced spin on the Manhattan), a bitter, orange-kissed and root beery Dapper Dan (with Cocchi Torino, Cynar and Watershed Bourbon) and a refreshing Sensual Peelings (fresh citrus, Chartreuse, Cocchi Americano and Watershed Four Peel Gin combine for quinine-biting lemonade).

Food-wise, unsurprisingly, HBK’s local-ingredient-sourcing, yeasty, thin-crusted and edge-charred handmade pizzas are spectacular. Try the chorizo-and-jalapeno-ignited Spicy Yuma or the vibrant, San Francisco-honoring Geary Street (with chopped clams and fresh mozzarella). Pies are fair-priced ($11-$14), except 11-4 daily, when (econo-alert No. 2) slightly smaller, $7 versions offer one of the best lunch specials in Columbus.

Enhance that lunch deal with a side salad for $2 (biggies are $9). Because, from the gussied-up Italian-like House Chop (with ricotta salata, pepperoncini and chickpeas) to the blessedly un-creamy, parmigiano-reggiano-showered Kale Caesar (its tart dressing semi-tamed by roasted hazelnuts), to the dynamic, healthier-than-thou Mean Green (local lettuce, sprouted veggies, avocado and “green goddess” dressing), they’re all excellent.

Appetizers — unlike German Village, there’s a huge kitchen here — also rock. Plus, I like how they range from fun (thick batter-fried Pickle Chips with an intense aioli and classed-up Ranch-like sauce, $6) to unusual (huge Portobella Fries — mine were greasy — with I’m-not-convinced “banana ketchup,” $8 ) to elegant (cloud-like, must-have Ricotta Gnocchi, $7).

HBK also expertly sears impressive — if expensive — burgers that arrive on beautiful glossy buns and are sided with killer fried “smashed fingerling potatoes.” I appreciated the mild Duck ($15; orange marmalade and a spicy slaw fought the patty to a standstill), dug the grass-fed, elaborately garnished juice-bomb Harvest ($14), but was floored by the best Turkey Burger ever ($13, with addictive house pimento cheese, leeks, Laurel Valley Cloverton and more).

There are whopping-sized sandwiches too ($12-$15). Arriving with nice housemade sweet potato chips, and on crusty-soft-chewy “Dutch crunch rolls,” they’re hearty and crafty. Try the wonderful (jerk cauliflower puree!) Roasted Veggie.

And try dessert ($6-$7), because they’re also great. My favorite is the pudding-like Butterscotch Budino, but the large-and-in-charge Buckeye Pie, homey Mama’s Seasonal Pie (baked by the owner’s mother), and classic Affogato (coffee and ice cream) likewise wow.

My only question: What can the Harvest restaurant family wow me with next?

Photos by Meghan Ralston