Restaurant review: 101 Beer Kitchen

G.A. Benton, Columbus Alive

101 Beer Kitchen sounds like the best college course I never took. Actually, it's a self-described gastropub inaugurated because chef Thad Kittrell jumped off the corporate restaurant treadmill to run with his own - and wife/ business partner Jessica's - indie ideas. 101, which assumes the old Hoggy's space in Dublin, is also my favorite new place to rip through cheffed-up comfort food with a craft brew or four while watching sports. Based on the bustling crowds it's already attracting, I'm not alone.

Embracing an artisanal rusticity, 101 (the name doubly honors 10/1 - the wedding anniversary of its founding couple and the restaurant's opening date) is a huge eatery with an understated, smart interior. It features fireplaces, stylish signage on frosted glass, chalkboard specials flaunting accomplished graphics, bountiful blond wood and a tasteful collection of beery and antique-y things.

I'd call it "ale-loving upscale-modern Amish" if I were the kind of person who coined oxymoronic terms for design schemes, which I am. Anyway, two spacious chambers flank a large and lively bar area, with the latter containing communal seating and 101's two unobtrusive - but easily viewable - game-tuned TVs.

This setting is a perfect fit for 101's cold one-compatible, easy-on-the-wallet and scratch-made vittles. So order some high-falutin' micro-suds from 101's carefully curated and crisply menu-described 20 taps (and/or pick from approximately 100 bottle options), then get your feedbag on.

Starter-wise, I suggest you get twisted-up in the terrific Housemade Soft Pretzels (two semi-biggies for $6). Arguably the best in town, they're warm and fresh and offer light and airy puffs beneath dark and crackly, salt-and-caraway-seed-encrusted shells. On the side comes a whipped "beer cheese spread" - mine tasted more oniony than beer-inflected.

The Loaded Housemade Tater Tots ($6) were equally rockin'. Though initially crushed by an apparent absence of menu-promised "pork croutons" (about which I'm still fantasizing), I was won over by their golden-brown craggy crunch, concentrated spuddy flavor, zesty sriracha cream and cheese sauces.

An over-performing 101 Wedge Salad ($5.50) provided more illustration of this place breathing life into tired forms. Crisp hearts of romaine were layered with a rich yet buttermilk-tart, onion-scented homemade dressing rife with chunks of pungent blue cheese. Gilding the lily were extra-crispy and super-smoky Nueske bacon bits plus oven-intensified roasted tomatoes.

I was also fond of an over-the-top, crispy, pounded-thin Pork Schnitzel Sandwich ($10). Its big and pretty piggy paillard was enriched with a fried egg and further flavored by garlic, lemon, mustard and arugula; dark and blocky, honest handcut fries came on the side (replaceable by, say, 101's addictive beet chips).

Piquant and spicy, 101's huge bowl of tomatillo-based, Mexicanish Green Chili might've been my favorite dish here. Served with nice warm corn tortillas and grilled lime, its tangy broth was bobbing with hefty chunks of tender pork shoulder and yellow rice.

If not quite in that league of deliciousness, I wouldn't dismiss the fine Shrimp and Grits ($16, with exemplary shellfish, smoky sausage and a thin, salty broth) or an inventive and surprisingly compelling Harvest Pizza ($11). That savory tart - it'd be a nifty appetizer - was "sauced" with mashed butternut squash, toppped with gouda, prosciutto, grapes, figs and arugula and placed on a decent, thin sturdy crust.

No, 101 Beer Kitchen's not a college course, but if you've graduated from slobby pub grub, I recommend you attend it.

101 Beer Kitchen

7509 Sawmill Rd., Dublin Oh.