This casual Upper Arlington restaurant might not be trendy or flashy, but it can hold its own against many top-tier local eateries
Ogling a generous portion of assorted fish peeking through a scarlet broth redolent of stewed tomatoes, mirepoix, zesty spices and the ocean, I knew my day was about to improve. That’s because I was staring down the barrel of a great dish I’m always eager to eat: Seafood Creole from Gallo’s Kitchen and Bar.
Gallo’s Kitchen and Bar — a casual, upmarket sibling of Gallo’s Tap Room — might not be a buzzy restaurant, but it can hold its own against many top-tier local eateries. I’d be tempted to call it “Upper Arlington’s best-kept secret,” but the unpretentious spot with “the heart of Italy, the soul of New Orleans” (how the Gallo’s website alludes to its two-pronged aesthetic) is too popular to be considered a secret.
Reservations are strongly suggested since Gallo’s reopened its clubby dining room to about half its capacity during the second week of June. The reconfigured tables and bar stools are reassuringly spaced apart, but if you don’t feel like dining inside, Gallo’s provides exemplary curbside service and is about a five-minute drive from lovely little Fancyburg Park.
If it seems unusual for an eatery to showcase foods associated with both New Orleans and Italy, the companionable manner in which the cuisines coexist at Gallo’s makes me wonder why more establishments don’t embrace the same theme. And that killer Creole Seafood ($29; big enough for two) makes me wonder why Gallo’s doesn’t hybridize the cuisines more frequently rather than — as is its wont — usually treating them as separate but equal.Get restaurant reviews delivered to your inbox: Sign up for our daily newsletter
Gallo’s Seafood Creole is essentially cioppino — an Italian-American seafood stew — jazzed-up by New Orleans-style spices. The dish is further elevated by a daily selection of impressive fish that recently included sweet shrimp, plump diver scallops and mussels, plus hunks of grouper and walleye.
A bold tomato base likewise enhances huge-yet-tender Meatballs ($12) and flavorful, house-made Italian Sausages ($12). Econo-minded diners can enjoy one of each by ordering the highly recommended Gallo’s Half & Half ($12). I also liked the substantial wedges of Roasted Polenta ($7.50), but would request the dominating tomato sauce on the side next time.
Heading back to the Crescent City, Gallo’s Gumbo with Rice ($8.50 for a hefty bowl) lacked the traditional okra, but is a solid rendition with a rich and silky, dark-red roux and loads of smoked sausage, chicken and ham. And the excellent market-priced Fried Oysters ($14 recently) do the Big Easy proud with crunchy but not-greasy cornmeal shells, soft centers and vibrant house dipping sauces.
Skillful frying also distinguishes the first-rate chicken wings ($9). So does their extra-large size, brining and inspired house sauces, such as the buttery-yet-fiery “red eye gravy habanero.” Pro tip: Adding a Caesar Salad ($6) — Gallo’s makes a good one with a vinaigrette (no mayo) — to these or any aforementioned appetizer makes a fine meal.
You needn’t add a thing to the enormous Chicken Mushroom Marsala ($24) to have a fine meal. It starred a sizable golden-brown, fork-tender, crisp and lightly breaded cutlet bathed in a creamy sweet-wine sauce supplemented by button mushrooms. Sides of expertly roasted broccoli and redskin potatoes completed the feast.
Craving something spicy? The tongue-tingling Jambalaya ($18) had plenty of seared sausage, chicken and ham and was also massive. Another New Orleans classic — the delicious Shrimp Po-Boy and hand-cut fries ($15) — got everything right except the should-be-crustier bread.
If a cocktail is calling, the Grapefruit Gimlet ($9) combines fresh citrus, Aperol and Tito’s vodka into a refreshing, food-friendly beverage. For something stronger, try the bourbon-spiked “The One With The Strawberries.”
The latter nicely complemented a slab of creamy Pear Cheesecake ($7). That pairing generated a feeling that was fleeting, but for a few short and sweet moments, my day became just a little bit better.