Excellent food and cocktails are served from often-playful menus in one of the year's best new restaurants
I recently dined at one of the best new restaurants to open in Columbus in 2017, and here are a few things I tried: a Big Mac, a Cheesy Gordita Crunch and Johnny Marzetti.
I'm only partially kidding.
That's because the menu at Service Bar — the dining arm of Middle West Spirits (of OYO liquors fame) — offers upgraded versions of those downscale “classics.” This playful attitude is accompanied by serious cooking from chef Avishar Barua, whose resume includes stellar New York restaurants WD-50 and Mission Chinese Food, as well as top-notch Veritas Tavern, formerly in Delaware.
At Service Bar, Barua has a modest-sized, starkly handsome setting with white-tile flooring, a high wooden ceiling and excellent lighting to show off his dishes. The most distinctive design elements in the casual space equipped with distillery tanks are, rather fittingly, a marble bar and an elaborately carved, huge wooden back bar dating to the 1800s.
A large and versatile selection of classic and creative cocktails showcasing the house spirits lives up to these surroundings. Uncommonly fragrant barrel-aged negroni ($11)? Check. Nuanced barrel-aged manhattan ($12)? Of course.
Something rich, thick, spicy and sweet named “Hard Pour Corn” ($12) that's made with whiskey, bourbon, mezcal, plus “roasted corn-and-pepper syrup” and literally arrives smoking inside a little swing-top bottle? You bet. A flavor-layered, lemony libation that finishes on a bite of spice and smoke, and whose name — All the Best Words ($13) — is both funny and sad? You're in.
The cuisine is eclectic and frequently smoke-scented as well. Returning to those teasers in my lede, that old Big Mac jingle that starts with, “Two all-beef patties, special sauce, etc.,” is invoked in the menu description of the MWS Burger ($15, with extra-crisp potato wedges). Instead of fast food, though, this is a carefully made sandwich starring two “mostly beef” patties enriched with bone marrow and smoky bacon.
Taco Bell's notorious gordita is gloriously reimagined with tender and juicy, oak-smoked beef strands and crisp-yet-puffy, fried Indian roti bread in the addictive Cheesy Brisket Crunch ($16 for two huge ones). And Johnny Marzetti is redressed with a giant, herby, falling apart meatball and delightful, house-made creste di gallo pasta (rooster crest-shaped) — some pieces deep-fried to mimic crispy casserole corners — in the enormous, if not-so-dynamic Michelone Marzetti ($21, with Olive Garden-riffing house breadsticks).
Reuben sandwich fans, meet your new local champion: The Pastrami Rachel, enhanced with standout, melts-in-your-mouth, house-smoked meat and “kimchi kraut” ($17, sided with thin-and-crisp, oil-saturated house chips). Even General Tso gets a promotion in the accurately named and terrific Crispy Ribs ($18), drenched in hoisin sauce-based “Commander Tso's sauce” and presented with crinkly fried broccoli, plus contrapuntal pickled daikon and watermelon radishes.
Carrots are a popular canvas for talented chefs nowadays, and the Carrots ($15) served here “from root to stem” and “prepared 10 different ways” (including smoked, pickled and pureed) is an entertaining and very pretty plate.
The delicately wrapped, potent-flavored and straightforward Lamb Dumplings ($15) are pretty great even if their “numbing oil” wasn't so numbing, as mine lacked much Sichuan peppercorn character.
The citrus-kissed but far-from-straightforward Service Bar Caesar ($7) flashes aspects of the ubiquitous salad — creaminess, crunchiness, a funky anchovy undercurrent — but does it with tahini, red cabbage, cereal-like puffed buckwheat and what tasted like fish sauce.
Expect Service Bar to grow its menu soon to include more Chinese influences (Barua recently ate his way around Sichuan, China) and even more ambitious fare. Hopefully, though, most of the current offerings will stay.
Like the cherry-accented Cinco Leches Cake ($7), a successful take on tres leches cake. Typical of many dishes here, this nails the alluring qualities of its inspirational model, but does so with something new.