Consistently solid if rarely memorable Italian food is served alongside a dizzying number of house-made wines
Camelot Cellars, a business that calls itself an “urban boutique winery,” isn't likely to be accused of standing pat.
Producing — and teaching patrons how to produce — wines from grapes often grown far from Ohio, Camelot was founded in the Short North in 2005. Since then, the operation has changed owners a few times and, about three years ago, moved to a bigger and better location in Olde Towne East. In its newer spot, Camelot has offered food cooked by at least four head chefs.
Perhaps no one ought to expect it'd be easy to keep up with a multifaceted establishment with about 70 kinds of house-made wine on its menu — including several infused with fruit, such as (these are among the better fruit wines I tried here) green apple riesling and peach apricot chardonnay.
Here's what is easy: relaxing under the high ceilings of Camelot's handsome confines, which serve as the setting for the Osteria, the winery's current dining arm.
Osteria's big and comfy space, where swing music often plays and the service is extremely friendly, extends across two rooms. A large bar anchors the front chamber, where you'll find brick walls, expansive wine racks and light bulbs in metal cages. Thick ropes fashioned into dramatic chandeliers are in the adjoining main dining area, which also features plants (real and fake), brash local art, old wine barrels and nice lighting. There's a good-looking, secluded alleyway patio accessible through the kitchen, too.
Your best, most affordable bet on wine is to explore several one-ounce pours for $1 each. You can also purchase flights ($14 and $20). If you decide to buy a bottle (most range from $17 to $24), be prepared to pay an extra $5 in corkage fees.
In the course of my visits, Osteria's largely Italian menu remained the same but the chef changed — Paul Yow (formerly of Hae Paul's and Barcelona Restaurant) recently replaced Ryan LaRose (formerly of Leone's Pizza). Throughout my meals, I found Osteria's food to be consistently solid if rarely memorable.
Keep an eye out for specials, which tend to be terrific deals. For example, the pleasant Pesto Flatbread ($8), with plenty of blistered mozzarella, artichoke hearts, pimentos and a crackly golden-brown crust, could be an entree for one or a hefty snack for three. The straightforward Chicken Parmigiana — spaghetti and tart house marinara sauce beneath tender breast meat sporting a crispy breadcrumb exterior and topped by broiled mozzarella — was nearly the size of an entree and cost only $6.
Seeking a bargain on the regular menu? The Meatball Parmigiana ($8) — six springy, house-made pork-and-beef meatballs presented between broiled cheese and marinara sauce — is better than the creamy and nice enough, but overdressed, Caesar Salad ($9) with crunchy house croutons.
Osteria's Lemon Rosemary Chicken ($16), which offered little lemon and no discernible rosemary flavor, was the only dish I wouldn't consider a decent deal. The good news: The small leg and thigh piece I received were nicely roasted and served atop a scene-stealing, lightly creamy spring risotto elevated by fresh and firm peas and asparagus.
Unlike countless other versions, Osteria's Vegetable Lasagna ($13) actually features plenty of good veggies: zucchini, red pepper strips and broccoli florets. Lest you think this is all about healthful eating, these are swamped in a creamy, sharp, garlicky and herb-kissed cheese sauce dotted with ricotta.
Garlic and cream also enrich the Spicy Penne Alla Vodka ($12), which lives up to its “spicy” billing. Sauteed onions, bacon and peas add depth and contrast. Like most items at Osteria, it tasted fine and was reasonably priced but — and this tendency may eventually improve under newly hired chef Yow — it wasn't anything to write home about.