The food scene in Ohio’s capital is incredibly eclectic, with a cadre of creative chefs and restaurateurs competing to make their mark in an amazingly diverse and daringly experimental culinary climate. Fifty years ago, Columbus was a meat and potatoes kind of town, but its young and increasingly international residents are now clamoring for much more, particularly since fresh foods from literally just outside the city’s borders make “farm to table” a simple matter. From tapas to tournedoes and from pancake balls to pistachio dukkah, there are flavors to please every palate in Columbus.
Ambrose and Eve
The New York Times recently labeled Ambrose and Eve’s proprietors, Matt Heaggans and Catie Randazzo, as “young upstart chefs” serving comfort food inspired by family recipes. The cozy space has family photos all over the walls and the menu is filled with comforting options like, chicken and dumplings, Beef-a-Roni, and even a fried bologna sandwich. But this isn't your average comfort food. Unique touches like celery root curry in the pork ribs, pistachio dukkah in the Hearts of Palm, or whipped maple and pimento piled high on top of cornbread make the food extra-special. Ambrose and Eve is type of place where you'll find yourself longingly looking at what’s on neighboring tables and thinking “What’s that? Can I have some?”
With stained glass windows and a turret on top, the building housing Barcelona is as historic as the German Village neighborhood surrounding it. In a past life, it was a bar named Deibels sporting a couple bowling alleys and a legendary accordion player named Esther. The massive oak bar, tin ceilings, and exposed brick walls from those days remain, but nowadays Barcelona is an upscale establishment serving riffs on Spanish cuisine. The ever-changing menu has tapas, more substantial entrées, and several hearty paellas. With frequent events such as wine and sangria tastings, cooking classes, and live music, Barcelona is a lively spot to have dinner.
A meal at Basi Italia feels like a dinner with an Italian grandmother’s huge extended family, and with only 38 seats, intimacy is guaranteed. A shady patio and outside bar gives seating for 66 more patrons in the warmer months. Owners John Dornback and Trish Gentile have been creating Italian and Mediterranean-inspired cuisine since 2003. “Basi” is their take on the Italian word for basic, and that’s what they serve—simple, unpretentious dishes that are nevertheless flavor explosions. The parmesan crème brulée is a case in point as is their popular Zucchini Pronto, which is simply julienned zucchini served with toasted almonds and pecorino. Italian stalwarts like eggplant parmesan are always on the menu but what’s served is heavily dependent on the bounty coming from Ohio’s farms.
Co-owners Joe Galati and Brook Maikut opened Comune hoping to create an establishment where like-minded individuals can come together to enjoy vegetarian cuisine, or “plant forward” food as they like to put it. On the restaurant’s highly philosophical website, Galati and Maikut talk about “the power of food to connect us to each other … and to the world.” But it’s flavor and not philosophy that’s usually on patrons’ minds as they dig into the huge plates of mouth-watering food made from seasonal ingredients like a roasted root sandwich, sweet potato torta, or Pantry Love: a collection of pickled vegetables. Even the simple Bread and Spread is far from simple, with its fermented dough baked into a Naan-like consistency. The drink menu is just as enticing, with “elixirs” that have healing effects like the Comune Tonic with cinchona bark to promote better digestion or their field blend Pet-Nat: called “champagne’s cool kid sister” by Maikut.
Fox in the Snow
On any given morning, crowds gather at a converted auto garage in the Italian Village neighborhood but they’re not there to admire the industrial ambience. It’s the delicious—and beautiful—pastries piled on high that have put Fox in the Snow on the map since it opened in 2014. The artful concoctions include muffins, croissants, galettes, and sticky buns, all prepared on site in a baking space that can be viewed behind a long line of windows. Savory items on hand include an egg sandwich with bacon and a ham and swiss tart with Dijon cream sauce. Caffeinated drinks include all the usual suspects and other treats like New Orleans iced coffee. This astounding bakery has proven so popular so fast it’s already opened up two sister locations in German Village and upscale New Albany.
Katalina’s is known for its pancake balls: treats filled with your choice of Nutella, dulce de leche, or pumpkin apple butter and served with thick-cut bacon. The concoctions are so irresistible that Katalina's has sold more than 1 million in their 10 years of operation! However, don't miss out on everything else on the innovative menu, described on its website as “Latin-leaning and Southern slanted” with choices including Chile Relleño À Go Go, Pimento Please Toast, and the award-winning Mazatlan Slow-Roasted Pork and Egg Sandwich. Housed in a renovated century-old gas station, Katalina’s original location in Victorian Village is such a popular breakfast and lunch destination that lines usually go out the door of the tiny establishment, even in the dead of winter. A just-opened and much larger second location in the Clintonville neighborhood is already proving to be just as popular. Be forewarned—go to Katalina’s for breakfast and you may well want to return for lunch—the same day!
M at Miranova
M, as locals call restaurateur Cameron Mitchell's flagship fine dining restaurant downtown, deservedly carries a AAA Four Diamond designation with a mix of contemporary American and Pacific Rim cuisine. The swanky dining area has sheer curtains between many tables and high ceiling-to-floor windows with one of the best views of the downtown skyline and Scioto riverfront in the city. The strikingly decorated bar area offers one of the best happy hour deals in town, with innovative cocktails that might be served in a lightbulb or have a spherical ice cube with a wild orchid embedded in it. M's just reopened after an extensive remodeling with a completely revamped menu. Crowd pleasers like the King Crab Jar and lobster and sea bass entreés remain, but plentiful new items have been added that are both distinctive and delectable.
Momo Ghar is a tiny Nepalese dumpling restaurant next to the seafood counter inside Saraga International Supermarket. It's no more than two tables and a tiny counter facing the kitchen. Nevertheless, it’s won accolades from Food & Wine, been visited by Guy Fieri, and is wildly popular. Its insanely tasty fare includes best-selling jhol momo, with handmade dumplings shaped like little purses and filled with ground chicken, cilantro, and aromatic spices, swimming in a vibrantly colored, spicy broth. Other choices include a lentil pancake and a dish featuring spicy grilled chicken, black-eyed peas, and crispy rice. A second, equally small location can be found inside the downtown North Market.
The Refectory Restaurant and Bistro
For more than four decades, the Refectory has been the go-to restaurant for fine dining in Columbus. Housed in a former church, the Refectory’s elegant main dining room sports stained glass, brick walls, and a soaring ceiling. For more than a quarter century, Chef Richard Blondin has been dreaming up dazzlingly plated haute cuisine innovations. Combined with one of the best wine cellars in the country and an attentive wait staff that will re-fold napkins when guests step away, it’s no wonder that the Refectory is one of less than a hundred restaurants in the nation honored with Wine Spectator’s Grand Award. In addition to its white tablecloth dining experience, the restaurant offers less formal fare in its bistro, has popular “10 for $10” wine tastings, and an ongoing dinner music series that pairs fine food with jazz bands.
Service Bar is restaurant associated with Middle West Spirits and puts the distillery’s gin and flavored vodkas (your choice of stone fruit or honey vanilla beans, both will make you swoon) to good use in its imaginative cocktails. But it’s chef Avishar Barua’s mashup of the bold flavors of his Bangladeshi roots with comfort and downright junk food that keeps folks coming back. His Cheese & Poof—pork rinds topped with roasted pimento spread and barrel-aged hot sauce—is a case in point, as is the Cheesy Brisket Crunch, a taco served on Bengali fry bread. Pan-Asian flavors sprinkled through other dishes include tikka masala and raita in the smoked wings and Tianjin chili oil and ginger soy in the lamb dumplings.
Veritas is one of the Top 100 Wine Restaurants in the Country as attested in the August issue of Wine Enthusiast. Chef Josh Dalton and his enterprising staff are acclaimed for the lengths they’ll go to find the best ingredients and recipes—reading, sampling, traveling the world—then bringing it all back to their kitchen where they experiment and play in a spirit of cooperative competition, creating a tasting menu that changes frequently according to what they’ve uncovered and created. The whimsical course names don’t do justice to the heavenly combinations of flavors, all painstakingly described by knowledgeable servers and combined with the best of the world’s wines from Portugal’s Alentejano region to Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley. Begin or end your evening in the Citizens Trust bar upstairs with cocktails in a former bank lobby complete with soaring ceilings and hand painted friezes.
Wolf’s Ridge Brewery
Wolf’s Ridge Brewery is a brewpub with swagger. Its swanky streetside main dining room features lots of exposed brick and ambient lighting, a tin ceiling, and long communal tables to accommodate parties of all sizes. Its almost-hidden taproom in the back has an industrial feel to it, with 20 of its ever-changing array of beers on tap. Both the main room and the taproom offer hearty and imaginative dining fare, with the taproom serving up a variety of items “between the bun” and starters that include a mac and cheese prepared with the brewery’s prize-winning Clear Sky Cream Ale. The seasonal fare in the main dining room is both chic and cheeky, ranging from duck with nasturtium leaves to a pork chop prepared with a Dr. Pepper gastrique. Cocktails and wine are available, but the real star of the show is the wide array of beer brewed on site.