Top-notch pub grub shines at this Spartan strip mall gem
In a refreshing instance of not overthinking the name of a restaurant mixed with honest labeling, Chef Rich's Kitchen — which is in a Westerville strip mall — is all about a kitchen. In fact, it's little more than a kitchen. But the food served in the sliver of an eatery that abuts this cooking space outpaces numerous higher-profile places that offer visual appeal and creature comforts.
Seating a couple dozen at utilitarian tables in a room that resembles a hallway lined on one side with windows, eight-month-old Chef Rich's lone eye-catching fixture is a wall made of reclaimed wood where you'll find the menu on a chalkboard. That menu is far from expansive, but every dish I sampled from it was scratch-made, strongly executed and relatively inexpensive.
Fleshing out contemporary, tavern-style favorites with Mediterranean fare — the high-quality shawarmas and such are fashioned with recipes inherited from The Grapevine, the space's previous tenant — Chef Rich's cuisine is similar to what you might encounter in a nice sports bar. The primary differences: Chef Rich's cooking consistency exceeds most players in the pub-grub game, and neither TVs nor alcohol are currently on hand. (I was told both might be available soon.)
But there are fryers, and they are used with expertise. Fans of Chicken Wings (six for $6) will rip into appealingly crisp and meaty pieces with house-made sauces. If you enjoy a serious capsaicin kick, try the nuanced spicy garlic Parmesan sauce.
The Falafel ($6) is top-notch as well. Five nearly grease-free disks arrive with crunchy brown textured shells that lead to a zippy and delicious, bright-green interior. Like many items from the Mediterranean side of the menu, they're served with the irresistibly bold, rich and garlicky mayo-based house Greek dressing.
I enjoyed the meat so much in another fried delight — the Ghost Pepper Mac and Smoked Brisket Eggrolls ($7) — that I wish it reappeared in other dishes. As is, it makes a fine partner with the creamy mac-and-cheese sparked by chile that fills this lightly spicy, smoky and amusing fusion of barbecue and egg rolls.
Prefer a starter not bathed in oil? Then target the lively Greek salad with sliced leaf lettuce, feta, banana peppers, one lonely Kalamata olive, diced tomato and onion, house Greek dressing and — rimming the plate — sliced cucumber.
You can transform this into a main course by topping it with tender and terrific seared chicken shawarma meat ($3 extra) with a kicky and distinct herb-and-spice marinade offering cinnamon and oregano notes. Order the highly recommended Chicken Shawarma sandwich ($7) and you'll basically receive the same ingredients — but with more chicken and less lettuce — rolled into toasted pita.
Six specialty burgers made with a customized grind of sirloin, brisket and chuckcompose a large portion of the menu. Add-ons include thick-cut bacon, spicy mac-and-cheese, tongue-tingling chorizo, fried onion straws, jalapeno coins, roasted house salsa and peanut butter. The simple Good Ol' American burger with a choice of melted cheese ($7) demonstrates that Chef Rich's base burger — a medium-thick juicy patty seared to medium-rare presented on a nicely toasted bun — is extremely solid. You definitely want fries with that ($1.50), because the hand-cut spuds sprinkled with seasoned salt are outstanding.
If you like beef with a little Philly-style flair, try the Buckeye Cheese Steak ($10). Assembled with griddle-seared onions, peppers and sliced steak garnished with house horseradish-beer-cheese sauce, it's more flavorful than most of its ilk.
Don't leave without a piece of the excellent house-made Baklava packed with minced nuts flattered by a touch of chocolate. Characteristically, it's made with care and is a steal at merely $3.