The terrific new Gallo's Kitchen has hit the ground strutting. Named after the same family responsible for my favorite Columbus sports bar - Gallo's Tap Room - Gallo's Kitchen (in Italian, Gallo means rooster) serves some of the best food I've had from a recently opened restaurant. This place is a home run.
And you can watch playoff homers being hit on several TVs near Gallo's highly polished, zig-zaggy bar in its smaller room, though overall this version of Gallo's is clearly more ambitious than the sports, snack, sandwich and beer-oriented Tap Room.
In fact, this restaurant proudly features a small wine list compiled by a business partner with experience at places such as Lindey's and Hyde Park (all bottles are priced between $20 and $26, though there are also daily specials).
The mid-sized main dining area - which has less of a sports TV focus than the bar and has been packed every night I've been there - is a nice-enough space with lots of upholstered and comfy, benchy banquettes. There's also a few rust-tinted, boldly rendered paintings alluding to the family's name and heritage.
But it's the music - which basically alternates between the soundtracks of "Big Night" and "Treme" - that clues you into the flavors of Gallo's Kitchen.
Those tastes are also explained on a restrained two-page menu, where beneath a rooster is written: "The heart of Italy, the soul of New Orleans." Well, from the food I've eaten here so far, I'd say Gallo's Big Easy soul and big Italian heart are both in the right place.
I'll start with the homemade Italian sausage appetizer ($8.50) - and so should you. Two huge, high-quality "links" of mild, fennel-seeded and black peppery-tasting sausage were super juicy yet not fatty. The big boys were draped with a colorful array of sauteed sweet peppers and onions that played nicely off a pool of lively, tart tomato sauce.
Sea Salt Brined Chicken Wings ($7.50) came either Italian or Creole style - I went with the Creole and loved 'em. Their crispy skins had a zesty and salty spice rub, and the wings were placed atop a thick and addictive barbecue sauce with a mustardy tang.
Other top-notch starters were a cup of gumbo ($4, with layers of authentic flavor), the Caesar salad ($5, one of the more believable Caesar vinaigrettes out there) and the house salad with an inventive Pernod-buttermilk dressing.
Entree-wise, a nightly special Walleye with Louisiana Crawfish Sauce ($17) touched all bases. A particularly fresh-tasting, spice-dusted filet was plopped above a dairy dreamy, rich and thick sauce rife with good, firm crawfish. The sauce was the same color as a polenta raft (asparagus-threaded) floating on it.
Nugget-like chicken chunks swamped in a deeply peppery, roux-built sauce also spoke fluent Louisianian (Chicken Etouffee, $14). I recommend requesting extra white rice to slurp up every last delicious drop of this.
Local restaurants rarely get winey, carrot-inflected Bolognese sauces correct - they're usually just meaty variants of red sauces. That made Gallo's highly impressive, tomato-restrained Pasta Russo ($17) as authentic a Bolognese as I've tasted in Columbus. Unfortunately, the cavatelli pasta was underdrained, thereby slightly diluting what would have been an even more terrific sauce and dinner. But minor opening-week errors such as that were relatively scarce for this rookie of the year contender.
By the way, if you're in for extra innings, Gallo's smartly serves Jeni's all-star ice creams for dessert.
For more local food news and reviews, click to G.A. Benton's blog at blog.columbusalive.com/underthetable