Restaurant review: Kraft House 5 is Powell’s number one new dining destination

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From the July 24, 2014 edition

Almost 20 Ohio craft taps offer hoppy distraction in a loud and rowdy room flaunting that trendy rustic-chic look. Cool instrumental mood music bounces insignificantly in the background. From a little chef-driven menu, bold-but-controlled and salt-envelope-pushing flavors burst out of creative-but-accessible dishes. No, this isn’t a hip restaurant in the Short North — all the kiddies here would’ve been a tip-off — it’s terrific new Kraft House 5 in Downtown Powell.

The chef driving Kraft House 5 is Marcus Meacham, former top toque at Bodega. Hired by owners Louie and Michael Pappas (of Milo’s and Tommy’s Diner fame), Meacham knows a thing or 200 about contemporary style — which KH5 is awash in.

Breaking up KH5’s predominantly slate gray, handsome and open space are gastropub-mandatory metal and reclaimed wooden accents (the host stand is a halved beer barrel).There are also butchering diagrams of a pig and cow. After eating, those sketches seem gratuitous, because clearly Meacham already knew his way around bovines and hogs.

In addition to highlighting local brews, KH5 offers a few smartly chosen wines, some innovatively available on tap ($8/glass). Among its impressive “House Original” cocktails ($10), the intensely refreshing Ginger 101 (Hendrick’s gin, Domaine de Canton, Green Flash’s West Coast IPA) is like a cannily reimagined Tom Collins. That bittersweet adult lemonade also bore smoky notes from a torched lemon garnish.

Smoke, a culinary-world “hot ingredient,” is popular here. While it dominated an intriguing and deeply savory tomato soup ($6), it lent a more subtle puff of magic to my Mini Smoked Lobster Roll ($13). Sold as an appetizer, this wonderfully buttery and toasted duo of miniature New England-style top-loading buns held smatterings of sweet lobster meat flattered by a crunchy, mayo-free celery-and-onion salad plus a whiff of vanilla.

Comfort comes hot and heavy — and in a cute little skillet — with the killer Mac and Cheese ($6). Supplying counterpoints to its five-cheese creaminess are toasted bread crumbs, chili flakes and summery herbs.

Silliness comes in lurid red — and in sweet-and-sour spears — with the cherry-Kool-Aid-dunked Delta Pickles ($1). Reinforcing KH5’s Southern-foods affinity, these whimsical jaw-poppers are a fun if acquired taste first favored in places like Mississippi.

More serious fare arrives with the superior Crispy Kale Salad ($8). Unlike chewy, bitter and funky kale salads, this graceful take tossed both crinkly oven-baked and tender baby leaves with spring greens, bourbon-marinated dried cherries plus pistachios in a refreshing “pickled spring onion vinaigrette.”

Equally interesting if less successful was the entree-sized Chop House Salad ($13), a sorta chef salad made by an actual chef. Still, its ingredients of lettuces, gargantuan croutons, smoky bacon lardons, plentiful real turkey chunks, cucumber puree and an almost mustardy peach vinegar dressing read a little better than they ate.

Conversely, the knockout Double Chop’s ($20) menu description didn’t do that huge, thick and succulent piece of beautiful pork justice. Contributing crispness and intermittent sweetness were a maple glazing and “almond-walnut brittle” crust. Balancing these major chord-type flavors was a hashy chorus of scorched Brussels sprouts, bacon and spuds plus a ring of toasted garlic oil.

The umami-bomb Hanger Steak ($22) was another homerun. Resembling an open-faced sandwich, tender and juicy edge-seared beef crowned with onion straws was fanned-out atop an ingenious and prettily browned potato-and-truffle cake. A lusty, shiitake mushroom and roasted serrano pepper compound butter made it even more memorable.

And don’t forget dessert. “24 Karrot Gold” is a three-fer, and a witty essay on carrot-sweetening. A wiggly slab of bruleed carrot marshmallow “frosting” tops minced-carrot-threaded tangy cheesecake yielding to a super-moist and nutty carrot cake. As advertised, it’s good as gold.

Photos by Meghan Ralston