Good prices and good, mostly scratch-cooked food lend distinction to a bustling new pub
That play on the name of Ayn Rand's famous, money-worshipping book, Atlas Shrugged (I am not a fan), occurred to me upon seeing a depiction of the eponymous mythological dude shouldering a vast glass of beer, rather than the heavens, on the awning of Atlas Tavern. This would be the first time the new pub would make me smile.
My next grin happened when I walked inside Atlas Tavern and noticed the basketball Buckeyes were beating UC on a TV while Iggy Pop plaintively mused over the sound system, “Calling Sister Midnight/What can I do about my dreams?”
Located in the Polaris area, Atlas occupies a trendy, often-bustling, sometimes-cacophonous space with rugged accents such as big brass lampshades, leather booths, stout overhead beams and a concrete floor. An eye-catching, backlit bar offers a slew of craft brews, plus a few house cocktails such as the not-bad Resting Boulevardier ($10 — essentially a negroni made with Four Roses Single Barrel bourbon rather than gin). Note: Although you can certainly watch a game here, Atlas doesn't have nearly enough TVs to function as a sports bar.
Unlike many other pubs, though, its refreshingly affordable food is mostly scratch-cooked. Chalk this up to owner Patrick Daly, who also co-owned The Carvery until it closed recently. Fans of The Carvery — count me in this group — will notice similarities in the house-roasted meats that elevate several Atlas menu items.
Warm, Thanksgiving-worthy breast slabs grace the Carved Turkey Club Salad ($11). Served in a huge metal bowl, the entree with Swiss cheese is further distinguished by crisp bacon, romaine lettuce, radicchio, onion straws, crunchy toast points, plus an impressive house-made Thousand Island dressing.
Because the house-roasted pork loin is good enough on its own and its $10 price is hard to beat — as with all sandwiches, that cost includes a generous side such as righteous waffle fries, rich-yet-tangy Mexican street corn or oniony slaw — I didn't really mind that I couldn't detect much whiskey or mustard in the large, decked-out Whiskey Mustard Roast Pork heaped into a toasted baguette roll.
Another thick, toasted baguette comes stacked with thinly shaved tender and flavorful prime rib in the recommended French Dip Au Jus sandwich ($12). Melted Swiss, caramelized onions and a side of robust beef jus complete the recipe.
More good-tasting beef — ground brisket, sirloin and chuck — plus toasted, high-quality, locally baked Lucky Cat rolls make the burgers a worthy menu category, too. The seared, juicy meat even shines through a mile-high onslaught of garnishes that includes a preponderance of onion straws and lettuce, bacon, Swiss, plus house ranch dressing in the messy, if irresistible, Ranch Hand burger ($11).
Cinnamony house-made apple butter contributes controversial sweetness — my dining partner really liked it, I wasn't convinced — to the undeniably nicely prepared fried chicken starring in the Apple Butter Chicken Sandwich ($11).
Fried chicken wings are featured at Atlas, likely because Daly also owns the Wings Over Columbus chain. An order of “Best of All” ($13) brought five pretty good wings, even better and considerably larger boneless wings, plus a whole mess of those hard-to-stop-eating waffle fries. Be careful with the Buffalo sauce — it's one of many flavoring options — because a four out of five heat level sent me into “panic hiccupping” mode.
You should likewise be careful when ordering the Nachos, because the versions here come in jaw-dropping portions. A “large” ($11) — served on a pan about the size of a manhole cover — elicited giggles when it arrived at my table of four. The uncommonly well-made, toppings-rich nachos provoked smiles all around, too, as we eagerly tried to polish them off.