Fairly interesting menu focused on Caribbean-leaning small plates could use a bit of fine tuning, but the rooftop views available in this new operation are just about perfect
Visitors often arrive in droves to soak in the dramatic setting and stunning Downtown vistas offered at Juniper, a buzzy new restaurant located on the rooftop of the 1920s-era Smith Bros. Hardware building near Italian Village. With so many scenic photographs snapped up there, I wonder if plans are being made to install cellphone charging stations into every table.
Then again, that might clash with Juniper's minimalist aesthetic. A roomy, spare, airy and modernist establishment with glass walls, transparent “ghost” chairs, a retractable glass roof and a frequently teeming glass-walled patio, Juniper's blueprint could have been patterned after a huge greenhouse.
Juniper's name comes from a major flavoring agent in gin, the place's featured spirit. Half the drinks on its small cocktail menu — modest wine and beer lists are also available — are fashioned with the excellent gins produced by Watershed Distillery in Columbus. Included in this group is the pleasant, Four Peel Gin-fueled “Elvis” ($11), which receives refreshingly bitter support from grapefruit juice and an IPA “floater.”
It's a fine match for the Conch Fritters ($11), an easy-to-share, good starter on Juniper's Caribbean-leaning menu of mostly small plates. Evoking fish-flecked Jamaican hush puppies, the puffy-yet-crisp, golden-brown fried dough balls are a little sweet and a little oniony. Interesting dipping sauces and a tiny kale salad accompany the five herb-kissed orbs.
Crisp-skinned chicken with almost-tender meat and juicy, unctuous pulled pork are seasoned with an OK jerk sauce in two popular tapas-style preparations. The former (Jerk Chicken Breast, $13) comes with tangy fruit chutney plus chewy plantains and rather dry Jamaican rice and peas. The abundant pigmeat (Johnny Cakes, $12) is served with Juniper's homey johnny cakes — dense, moist, semi-sweet fried mini cornmeal biscuits — plus a kale salad-like “slaw.” Overall, I enjoyed both jerk dishes but wish the not-cheap items hadn't arrived lukewarm.
Salad fans and healthful eaters should target the chilled, refreshing and attractive Tomato and Artichoke Stack ($9). It's a molded cylinder of chopped artichoke hearts and tomatoes concasse (i.e. peeled, seeded and diced) elevated by a bed of thin French-style green beans and a crown of pristine frisee. Speckles of black pepper plus a lemon vinaigrette with a hint of sweetness provide zip and tie the elements together of the well-conceived, well-constructed and surprisingly substantial vegetarian creation.
Considering this menu description — “house-crumbled pork sausage, arrabbiata, mozzarella, pepper, and onions on a hand-pulled artisan crust” — I was surprised how much of a shrug the Sausage Flatbread was ($10). The thin and bready, not particularly crisp crust couldn't compensate for a lackluster sauce or somewhat bland sausage.
The Duck Breast ($17) could've used some fine tuning, as well. One of the larger dishes I tried, it featured good-tasting rare meat that could've been more tender and could've had a crisper rim of fat. And while the appealingly salty duck played off the sweet creamed corn with which the bird was presented, a colorful but texturally disappointing garnish of “crispy matchstick vegetables” was far from crispy.
It would take more than fine tuning to rescue the pasty and gummy Chickpea Cakes ($13). A nifty side of flavorful veggie strands did their best to help.
Juniper's food and friendly (if not particularly speedy or well-informed) service don't always live up to the place's setting — that would be a tall order for any eatery. But the best dishes here can give you a reason to linger just a little bit longer up on a rooftop with spectacular views.