Restaurant review: The new Knotty Pine can be naughty but also nice

G.A. Benton, Columbus Alive

You've got to hand it to Knotty Pine Brewing: When it does something unusual - which is often - it does it with flair.

For instance, it seems unusual for a brewery open since March to offer only one housemade draft beer (during my multiple visits). Here's the flair: On one occasion, it was an extremely bitter brew called Mirror Lake IPA; on another occasion, it was a fruity-sweet beer called Mirror Lake IPA. Both were cloudy, but otherwise, nothing alike. Given these inconsistencies, maybe this beer should be renamed "The Naughty Pint."

In addition to its own limited supply, Knotty Pine offers a large selection of Ohio craft beers and refreshingly inexpensive cocktails ($7) that sound alluring on paper. But when I sampled the Grand Vu (with Watershed gin and Lillet Blanc) and the Calypso Cooler (Brugal rum, bitters, lemon and pineapple juice), I found both sweet and diluted.

From Knotty Pine's new seasonal menu - which exhibits appreciated size restraint - the crispy Jalapeno Corn Fritters ($7.50) were appealing, knobby golden-brown balls studded with corn and chilies. The downside: While my companion and I waited a long time for plates (which we had to ask for repeatedly), the pancake-like fritters became soggy from sitting in a substantial pool of honey - not the menu-described "drizzle" - in their serving bowl.

Another appetizer, Mirror Lake Mussels ($10), had a lot going on, much of it good. The plump bivalves sat amid a tangy tomato broth spiked with housemade beer and spicy andouille sausage coins. On top were addictive hand-cut fries sprinkled with rosemary and Parmesan. Though the molluscs were dominated by their heavy sauce and upstaged by the spuds, I'd still rate this a thumbs up.

The kitchen must be proud of its sometimes-crisp fries, because they accompany nearly every entree and sandwich on the menu (usually with tangy-sweet homemade ketchup). This includes the satisfying, hand-pattied House Burger ($11.50, in a fine but too-large bun) and a Knotty Pine highlight, its Cajun Shrimp Po' Boy ($9). The latter was a wealth of good shrimp clad in a light, spicy and crackly batter. These are packed into a proper, toasted baguette-type roll slathered with zesty mayo and dressed with romaine lettuce, plus sliced onions and tomato.

The Lake Erie Perch Dinner ($14) further demonstrated Knotty Pine's facility with fish. Greaseless curls of lightly battered perch arrived with fries, tartar sauce and fresh and flavorful coleslaw (oniony, celery seed-flecked).

This was served on the cross-section of a tree. While I understand bark-intact "platters" remain popular in some gastropubs, for me, eating off logs would only makes sense if stranded in a forest. And I don't find creamy coleslaw appetizing when spilled onto a stump. The same woodsy plating affectation and the exact same sides - plus a partially blackened corn coblet - marred an otherwise all right Dry Rub Half Chicken ($14).

Flaunting a puffy, stout and obviously scratch-made crust, the Pine Pizza ($15) is topped with milky housemade mozzarella, fresh basil, rich sauce and sliced tomato. Though mine also included paled-in-comparison commercial mozzarella and so much sauce it was sloppy, it was nonetheless a cuts-above pie.

The Smoked Pork Salad ($13) sounded promising. Maybe because the delicious meat was so dry, the kitchen paired it with water-logged lettuce. In any event, the contributions from corn, black beans, onions and a creamy avocado-lime dressing became inconsequential.

With its nice patio, knotty pine-rich interior and laudable aspirations to restore and upgrade an old neighborhood favorite (the original - and unrelated - Knotty Pine occupied the same site for decades), this place has lots of appeal. I just wish its execution could keep pace with its ambitions.

Photos by Meghan Ralston

Knotty Pine Brewing

1765 W. Third Ave., Columbus