Mostly scratch-cooked contemporary fare with a little flair is served in this pleasant, relatively new and casual establishment
The interior of Soulshine Tavern & Kitchen is predominantly gray. While not a particularly thrilling tint, the neutral tone can convey tranquility and stability — hardly bad qualities, especially when it comes to a restaurant.
Open since last summer in the New Albany space formerly claimed by Ella Bistro, Soulshine offers a casual atmosphere and well-prepared, familiar fare with a pinch of flair. Taste buds might be occasionally nudged by the tweaking of popular dishes, but the place seems designed not to ruffle many feathers. It mostly achieves this — until, sometimes, when the bill is delivered.
In addition to shades of gray, the eatery features numerous TVs, wood, a prominent bar area with small tables and non-ideal stools, plus more-comfortable seats and tables in the dining room. During a less-enlightened culinary era — a couple years ago — Soulshine's setting and often-indulgent spins on crowd-pleasing cuisine might've provoked its owners to designate the place a “gastropub.” Those days are largely behind us, so “tavern & kitchen” it is.
Nine beers are on tap; most are produced in local breweries. The highlighted craft cocktails ($8 to $12) are nearly all powered by Columbus-distilled OYO liquors.
True to form, Soulshine's appetizers are popular snacks enhanced with a twist, so wings are pickle-brined ($12) and deviled eggs ($8) get candied bacon. A conceptually more entertaining entry on this list is the Reuben Scotch Eggs ($8).
Flavored like the American deli sandwich but made like the famed British tavern treat, two commendably hard-cooked eggs (no gray on the yolks) are each wrapped in corned beef, coated in breadcrumbs and deep fried. The crunchy, golden-brown, grease-restrained spheres arrive atop beer-soaked warm kraut, are lashed with Russian dressing and, although not structurally sound, are fun to eat.
I could say something similar about the Pretzel Crusted Chicken Sandwich ($14): The messy construction doesn't hold together, but tastes great. Crackly batter encases a thick slab of breast meat whose juiciness and tenderness suggest it's been brined. Roasted tomato, melted smoked Gouda, chopped lettuce plus a heavy slathering of roasted-red-pepper aioli contribute depth, richness and a little sweetness.
Sandwiches are served with crisp fries dusted in flour spiked with spices. For another dollar, diners can substitute the creamy and garlicky mac-and-cheese fashioned with farfalle pasta or the huge and clearly scratch-made onion rings — mine were oily but good-tasting and featured far more onion than batter.
If “The Burger” ($15) seems a bit pricey, it comes with fries and stars cookout-worthy, grilled-and-seared locally sourced fresh beef purchased from the Butcher & Grocer. Served on ciabatta bread, the smoky, juicy and delicious patty could stand on its own. Instead, it's propped up with good accessories that, together, come off as rather heavy-handed: inspired bread-and-butter zucchini pickles, grilled red onions, oven-roasted tomatoes, melted white cheddar, “honey-cup dijonnaise” and lettuce.
Without question, the most impressive item I tried was also the most ambitious: Walleye & Sweet Corn Risotto ($24). As pleasing on the eye as it is on the palate, the entree centers an almost-crisp, pan-fried, Lake Erie-caught fillet atop a comforting risotto studded with corn. The bright citrus-and-soy butter sauce forming a moat around the risotto provides a terrific foil for the creamy rice. Pickled cucumbers and carrots sprinkled with sesame seeds serve as a bridge between the dish's Italian and Asian influences. The only problem: At this price point, I expect a piece of fish larger than a glorified garnish.
For a smooth and soothing finish to any meal here, I recommend slurping dessert by ordering the Strawberry Blonde cocktail ($10) last. Sipping the potent, sweet and creamy beverage made with OYO vanilla-bean vodka, New Albany-sourced Tessora limoncello and fresh fruit is like having your strawberry shortcake and drinking your martini, too.