Branching off from the successful Pat and Gracie's eateries, Matt and Tony's offers a mostly well-executed menu that is built for comfort more than adventure
Question: What kind of new restaurant opens in a bustling modern dining hub like Columbus with a menu that, except for its notably high prices, could practically be from the 1980s?
Answer: In the case of Matt and Tony’s Wood Fired Kitchen, a pretty good restaurant that, should you be in a mood for comforting food and order to the place’s strengths, might be a fun place to enjoy a relaxing date on Valentine’s Day.
The restaurant is the latest project from Matt Rootes and Tony Wildman, who are partners in the Pat and Gracie’s Kitchen and Tavern eateries — two strong operations primarily known for their burger-joint fare, but that offer more than just burgers. At Matt and Tony’s, the restaurateurs delve deeper into the “more than just burgers” aspect of Pat and Gracie’s.
The new eatery prominently displays an amusing painting of glamorous, old-Hollywood-type swells drinking and dining in a snazzy restaurant with a Columbus skyline. Matt and Tony’s shares a geographical setting, but otherwise doesn’t resemble the fancy place in the picture.
Landing on the upscale-casual end of the restaurant spectrum, Matt and Tony’s has mostly preserved the distinctly curved contours of the space it has assumed, which formerly housed the Columbus Brewing Company Restaurant. Past the familiar covered patio and largely unchanged bar, the clubby newcomer features abundant wood, some brick, potted plants, red leather booths and upbeat servers.
The decent wine list offers some appealing French and Italian bottles in the $35 to $55 range. If a cocktail is calling, the Black Walnut Manhattan ($11), made with Watershed bourbon and nocino, is a dark, potent and nuanced delight.
I wish I could say the same about the French Onion Soup ($7). Unfortunately, my bowl of salty broth, soggy bread and nearly melted cheese was underwhelming. Salads are more interesting starters — they’re large, multi-faceted and presented with good house dressings in chilled metal bowls, a la Pat and Gracie’s. For example, the Spinach Salad ($10) engagingly combines crisp bacon, chopped egg and plenty more with a kicky, sweet-and-sour sherry emulsion.
A tricked-out house salad (try the honey-lime vinaigrette) comes with the expertly seared Prime Ribeye ($30). Beneath a smokily grilled dark crust, I was rewarded with the perfectly medium-rare meat of a good — not great — steak. The juicy beef is also served with a baked potato, which I subbed out for scalloped potatoes that were curiously amorphous and would’ve benefited from their own high-heat crusting.
The open kitchen’s expertise with that steak wasn’t a fluke. On another visit, the wood-fired grill was again put to skillful use for the highly recommended Fork N’ Knife BBQ Ribs ($24). A slow-cooked then alluringly blistered huge slab arrived with fall-off-the-bone, smoke-scented meat enhanced by a tangy, lightly applied barbecue sauce, plus fine sides of mac-and-cheese and a good slaw tweaked with blue cheese.
More succulent pig meat is showcased in another highlight: Pork Osso Buco ($19). The flavorful, slow-roasted, hearty shank is enriched by demi-glace and attractively plated with solid sides of risotto, plus a “seasonal vegetable” — in my case, buttery broccoli florets rimming the rice and pork like the bright-green edge of a tiny forest.
I was expecting more botanical heat from the piled-high Habanero Spiced Chicken Sandwich ($11, with golden-brown fries that could’ve been crisper), but the jaw-challenging assembly I received was still pretty good, albeit messy: a thick fried breast flattered by a crunchy coating, melted cheddar, zippy slaw and a toasted bun.
Whether it’s Valentine’s Day or not, the understandably popular, server-recommended, aptly named Giant Chocolate Cake ($9) is the dessert to order here. It’s the kind of sharable splurge that tastes as good now as it did in the 1980s.