Why You Should Eat, Drink, and Get Merry in Columbus, Ohio
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Are you like I was, wondering why you should eat, drink and get merry in Columbus, Ohio?
Perhaps a lobster cone and a black orchid cocktail from M, Cameron Mitchell’s marquee restaurant and bar, will persuade you.
Last month, I received an invitation from Weirick Communications to pal along with a group of colleagues, (food writers, travel writers and bloggers) on a food press tour.
Excitement to bewilderment might describe my feelings when I found out the destination was Columbus, Ohio. In my former career as a national accounts manager, I had visited just about every city in America, including Dayton, Cincinnati and Cleveland. Columbus was never on my radar, but that has changed.
When I visit a city, I look for two things right way. Food and architecture. I first ventured into Goodale Park in Victorian Village, near our hotel and was captivated by unusual period architecture with tile roofs. This house had a matching carriage house and a lot of history in a neighborhood that has enjoyed a comeback. My eye traveled from Spanish tile roof tops to handsomely laid historic brick. I quickly noticed a sophisticated sense of aesthetics and style in what I had wrongly considered a middle American city with a lack of personality.
By the time my trip was finished, I dubbed Columbus as the darling of the Midwest.
Nashville is the darling of the South right now with its up and coming restaurant scene and notorious ability to create celebrity. As Nashville is music and food, Columbus is design, food and let me not forget drink.
It’s the headquarters for the Limited and Abercrombie and Fitch, resulting in a culture of creative people with a high sense of fashion and design. This type of corporate culture lends itself to entrepreneurs stepping out with a good idea and taking it to market in style.
Local Talent and a Commitment to Local Sourcing is Fierce
Like Nashville, there is a throbbing city-centric pride for all things Columbus, with a strong penchant to support the local farmer, artisan and craftsman. In fact, Nashville and Columbus have something special in common.
Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream, a stop on the tour, has a very sisterly relationship with Nashville, contracting with Tennessee farmers for their earlier harvest of fruit which is then taken back to Ohio and blended with local fruit to make summer flavors, such as sweet corn and black raspberry, or peach buttermilk.
My all time favorite is the Goat cheese with red cherries on the left. Jeni’s busiest store happens to be in East Nashville, and many of the flavors proudly contain Tennessee produce.
It’s Green in Columbus
The Franklin Park Conservatory sits on 88 acres in the heart of the city, combining the love of edible gardening, botanicals, art, and food making the park a premier cultural center and a dream “event” venue.
When we entered, I noticed the modern and magnificent, hand-blown glass floating from the ceiling, one of many pieces of glass art by Dale Chihuly.
The Park has a live fire oven. I would be the first to sign up for the hands-on wood fire pizza workshop.
On a separate cultural excursion, we stepped into a famous George Seurat painting, A Sunday Afternoon on the Isle of La Grande Jatte at Topiary Park, located downtown.
Val Jorgensen of Jorgensen Farms is very passionate about what she grows. She supplies many of the herbs in the local restaurants and in Jeni’s Ice Cream. We marveled at her willingness and commitment for long hours to preserve her dream. Once a month on Sunday nights, they host a farm to table dinner. An inspired pesto recipe will be coming using seven herbs.
Val Jorgensen believes “farming should be sexy.
I think Chef/owner of Skillet, Kevin Caskey, would agree. He strictly sources locally and he might even say breakfast should be sexy. His lamb hash breakfast took my breath away and I want it again.
Columbus is Spirited
Curio at Harvest is a great example of showcasing style, as vintage cocktails meet modern culinary creativity. We swooned over the Waylon Margarita made with kale, ginger and smoked salt. We conversed, and watched in awe , as
co-owner and mixologist, Travis Owens, wowed us with an array of bitters, clear ice cubes, and unusual combinations.
Middlewest Spirits, uses a one of a kind copper distillery to craft small batches of OYO Whiskey, Vodka, Honey Vanilla Bean Vodka, and Stone Fruit. OYO (pronounced Oh why Oh) is one of those examples of ex-corporate talent stepping out to produce a great local product in a stylish setting.
On a tour at Watershed Distillery, we were able to see how vodka is made. We tried to guess which botanicals and spices went into their gin, and I learned to play Hammerschlagen, proving I can hit the nail on the head. They changed a non-gin drinker into a gin drinker in one sip.
I tried my first mead at Brothers Drake, but you won’t be able to unless you take a weekend to Columbus, (which you should) because they don’t take their product outside the greater Columbus area. We happened to be there for International Mead Day and got to experience the celebration and a tour.
Columbus Eats Well
Our breakfasts were incredible, and the stand out place was Pistacia Vera, an authentic french bakery and dessert boutique. I’ll take you back into the kitchen so you can see what a real bakery should look (and taste) like.
Columbus is Fired Up
I had the best in-house smoked salmon of my life on a bagel at Tasi Cafe, and no kidding, the best pizza crust at the Harvest Pizzeria, (located next to Curio at Harvest). Maybe its the combination gas/wood burning stove that makes the crust chewy and crunchy.
We got knocked out by a very rare treat, Yakitori at Double Happiness, authentically prepared nose to tail with a side of the best french fries I ever ate, and I’m planning on getting that recipe so look for it.
I watched twenty people gobble down roasted zucchini with Pecorino like it was their last meal at Basi Italia, a small quaint place located in Victorian Village, with an even more charming outdoor patio. An inspired recipe for zucchini pecorino will be coming.
I ventured into new ground eating head cheese, spicy souse and tongue at Thurn’s Speciality Meats, a fourth-generation, local meat company, and loved every bite. The smoked beef jerky and proscuitto would pair great with Rockmill Saison, an organic farmhouse ale.
Beer Pairing Dinner
Did you know that good water is the secret to beer and that bad water enhanced its popularity?
When water contamination was a problem, farm workers were given beer, (liquid bread) to get through the day. In fact, in the middle ages, even kids drank beer because water wasn’t safe and it was a common beverage made by the housewives.
The minerality of the water at Rockmill Farm is nearly identical to the water used in belgium beer. Rockmill Brewery has the right water and understands beer.
G. Michaels and Rockmill Brewery teamed together to offer an outstanding meal with dishes like shrimp and grits that tasted like they came from the South, and my favorite dish of the night, the cocoa rubbed, bacon-wrapped Venison Loin with spinach and brandy poached figs. My favorite beer of the night, the Cask Aged Tripel, tasted like whiskey and accompanied the vanilla-infused Panna Cotta with a local melon compote, Gorgonzola cheese, and grilled local peaches. I don’t usually like modern desserts with four different components, but the addition of the beer made it work and brought all the flavors together.
G. Michaels is next door to the Book Loft, which happens to be open until 11:00 p.m. making it a perfect dinner ending. They really do have 32 tiny rooms, each containing very unique puzzles and I couldn’t leave without a shark puzzle that was 3D.
Dinin’ Hall – A Classy Way to Eat from a Food Truck
I met a woman who was bold enough to step out and rock the food truck scene by providing a sit down place called the Dinin’Hall, where I had my first yak farm burger and a salad with duck confit. The food trucks rotate the spot which is genius and brings excitement to lunch, which might end up being the new “dinner” if food trucks have their way.
Take a Food Tour and Experience the Diversity of Columbus
Did you know that Columbus boasts the second highest population of Somalians?
Columbus is diverse and there is a way to scope out this diversity with Columbus Food Adventures. They will take you to about 5 places in a 14 passenger van for a comfortable price of $60. We discovered the underbelly of strip malls, and their hidden jewels of ethnic food as we traveled to Somalia, Nigeria, Southern India and Viet Nam authentic eateries. We were on Adventures Alt Eats, but they offer many other food tours.
Speaking of ethnic food, the long over-looked Polish cuisine reigns supreme at the North Market. Hubert’s Polish Kitchen serves a pierogi that steals the show, made with potato, cream cheese and onion. It’s as big as my small hand and dangerously delicious.
The North Market is a dream shopping destination for a home cook/foodie. My purchases included Sicilian bread from the Omega Artisan Bakery (which we ate in one day). There is a distinct Italian flavor in Columbus and there were several vendors selling Italian food. I also came home with candied lemon dill Sonoma sea salt, compliments of North Market Spices.
On Saturday’s, the outside becomes the Farmer’s Market.
Columbus is a town for city walkers. We resided in the Short North Neighborhood, another revitalized area that was in decline a few decades ago. We could easily walk to several restaurants and bars, coffee houses, including the newly opened One Line Coffee and take in a few hours of shopping vintage, browsing art or perusing the North Market.
One Line Coffee, is a father/ son operation that is committed to clean, sustainable farming and knowing where the coffee comes from. They tell their story at their retail store with passion, hoping you will not just love their coffee, but will have a greater appreciation of the people, land, and farms behind the beans. Don’t expect big vats of coffee. Coffee cupping, one cup at a time delivers the freshest coffee experience.
When a neighborhood is as charming as German Village is, you know the food will be good and so will the drink!
German Village was built by immigrant Germans in the 1800’s, but faced grave decline as anti-German sentiment took over during World War I. Frank Fetch moved into German Village and established the German Village Society and in 1960 hosted the first Haus and Garten Tour. Today German Village is a historically preserved, prestigious neighborhood.
Helen Winnemoore’s Shop, established in German Village in 1938, will serve you tea and let you browse through drawers looking for unique, usable, wearable art.
This hand carved nativity set is even more gorgeous in person, but I think the giraffe has wondered into the wrong set.
The houses are storybook wonderful.
I loved these streets and I tried to envision a little of their history as we walked.
Frank Fetch Memorial Park in the German Village exemplifies community spirit as residents have taken care of this .2 acre park even years before a garden society was formed (and they still tend to walk over and lend a hand).
Columbus is Community
There is a piece of art work hanging on the outside of the Dinin’ Hall and I chose to put it at the top of this post.
Civitas Now means coming together in community. This describes my experience of Columbus perfectly.
Columbus, the 15th largest city in America, has city sophistication I look for, yet hasn’t sacrificed small town charm and community.
I think I love Columbus, and it seems our travel group felt much the same way.
To write or to tweet. Laura and Sarah from EatPGH, know food and will be releasing The Food Lover’s Guide to Pittsburgh in September.
Tell me, have you been to Columbus and do you have a special place I need to visit on my return?
Basi Italia, Feels Like a Neighborhood Dinner Party
great nice work
Great article….it is great to see our city thru new eyes. Proud to call Columbus home.
I enjoyed reading your article about Columbus. I have never been, but I have to say, your lovely photos show it would be a grand place to visit for a summer holiday.
Good read. And very cool to see an apartment in German Village I use to live in in the mid 90’s. Place I was living in when I met my wife. Thanks for the trip down memory lane 🙂
I have to second the suggestion that next time you check out Bananna Leaf. Specifically, you have to do the Grand Buffet, where you get to eat all sorts of different appetizers and suck down as much lassi as you please.
Don’t forget to try Explorer’s Club on S. High St in Merion Village. They have a great mix of cultures represented on their menu. I reccomend stopping by on Hungarian night!
Thanks. I’ve gotten so many good recommendations, I’m going to have to make a list.
I grew up in Ohio and we lived in the Columbus area 9 years ago. Love where we are now yet still miss C-town. This article makes me miss it more! Thanks for showcasing what so many natives take for granted and so many visitors don’t realize.
Next time – hit Mac’s tavern in the Short North and do yourself a favor and indulge in a Scotch egg! I don’t live in Ohio anymore – but when I go back – Mac’s is a must!
I was born in Columbus, and don’t get back as often as I would like… But when I do, I always head to Jeni’s and a lovely scrumptious “dessert boutique” called Pistacia Vera. Must go: Divine!
Pistacia Vera is my next review. I agree, it’s divine.
Okay so now I am totally convinced that we have to vacay together…I loved this article…one word…..Sweeeeet…and I just love how you took a side line of the architecture…stimulating. Visually interesting. May I just say…YOU ROCK.
Great write up Angela! You’ve really captured that “foodie spirit” of the city. And if there’s one thing I’ll remember form today’s post it’s that zucchini with pecorino! Yum!
I heart my city. Viva Columbus!
You know what I love? That there are SO MANY awesome places you visited, and there are SO MANY MORE in the comments, with few overlapping! Glad you loved our delicious city.
I would recommend for your next visit the Shadow Box Cabaret in the Brewery District or a drag show at Wall Street Night Club in downtown Columbus or Axis Night Club in the Short North. The West Family shows at Axis are production shows and extremely entertaining!!!!
I want to go on the next trip…amazing…
You hit so much of the good stuff! The other place I’d add to the list is 3rd and Hollywood in Grandview. It’s the upscale cousin to the Northstar restaurants mentioned…local, organic focus in the food, plus a skillet of cheese biscuits that is not to be missed.
Glad you enjoyed our city! 🙂
Like the others, I agree this is a fantastic review of Columbus….there are so many things locals take for granted, if they even know about them. Alana’s is my favorite, Cafe Bella is hyperlocal. Next time you are in town, I will be happy to pick you up from the airport in an artcar, as Columbus is home to the largest collection of artcars in the midwest. http://www.flickr.com/photos/thatcar/7254861644/
So glad you loved Cbus! I love it too, I’m very proud to be a native.
Next time you venture into German Village, you have to stop by Schmidts! It’s a neighborhood institution!
I am so glad you loved my city as much as I do.
Hands down one of the best reviews of Columbus!
Thank you so much for checking out my hometown!
If you love old fasioned diners gotta try Chef O Nette in Arlington!
For adventurous sushi the best is Sushi Ting between 315 and OSU!
Korean, Japanese and Chinese under one roof: Japanese Oriental
Dim Sum: Sunflower – North of 270 on Sawmill
Indian: Banana Leaf – you can not leave hungry! The course of 4 appietizers before the buffet course is sooo filling!
Best Hot Dog: Dirty Frank’s Hot Dog Palace – Kim Chee Slaw and all kinds of wack combos, My fav: Doginator – pure sin and a heart attack on a bun. You die happy!
Kate, thanks so much, I always fret stepping into someone else’s city. The Columbus people have sure shown me a lot of love. Now I need to include that aspect in the next few posts.
Great post about columbus. I second Kate that you need to check out Dirty Franks next time you’re in town. Surprised no one steered you to any of the Liz Lessner resurants (of which Dirty Franks is one) including Surly Girl Saloon, Betty’s, and Tip Top!
This is a great review and collection of all things good in Columbus. I’ve been here my whole life. You captured my city beautifully. Thank you.
You’re so welcome. I am not just loving Columbus food. I love its people.
Thanks for a great write-up! I have lived in Columbus for about ten years, and I think you did a fabulous job of summing up some of the city’s great qualities. If you come back, I have to second Brian Lawrence’s suggestion to explore Olde Towne East. I moved to the neighborhood this past fall, and it does indeed have the best architecture in the city. Also be sure to check out Yellow Brick Pizza, The Tavern, and the Angry Baker – all clustered on the same corner in Olde Towne – and the wonderful Black Creek Bistro on Parsons Ave.
+1 for Yellow Brick Pizza. the best pizza in town, to me.
And on the west side, Starliner Diner has been a favorite of mine, with cuban food. The Cheeseless Veggie Pizza keeps me coming back there.
Food trucks I especially enjoy this year are Street Thyme, Hungry Monkey Food Truck, and Foodfetti. I am glad to see you spotlight the Dinin’ Hall, which has earned a spot on my list for lunch downtown.
Columbus is best seen by bicycle, I would say. Perhaps you will have a chance to see these neighborhoods up close on two wheels and appreciate even more of the architecture and scenery that way. The annual Bike The Cbus ride last weekend was great for this purpose. Lots of fun neighborhoods close in to downtown, full of history and various stages of potential.
Thanks for your thoughtful and colorful article about good food and our wonderful city of Columbus. I’m glad to see we Cbusrs, aren’t just partial. 😉
Great article. If and when you do come back, visit Uptown Westerville. A surburb on the NE side. A historic area on a liberal arts univeristy campus with a very diverse population. Let me know and we will give you a personal tour of the area with fine food and spirits.
You’ve certainly opened my eyes to what Columbus (and perhaps similar, unexplored cities) have to offer. Great post and photos.
Thanks for such a thorough article about all that Columbus has to offer. I agree with you that Columbus does not get the attention it deserves for its restaurants, architecture, and atmosphere. We love Northstar Cafe (Short North and Clintonville) and some of the restaurants in Grandview (just east of Victorian Village) like Figlio, Trattoria Roma, and the coffee shop Stauf’s.
I’m excited to come and try all these places.
Angela, we were in Columbus in May for the big golf tournament and we were totally impressed!
That’s how I felt about Columbus. Impressed!
Great article! You hit many of my favorite places in Columbus.
We live in the Clintonville neighborhood and there are two great food trucks. Ray Ray’s BBQ is a local legend, and I think that at least his brisket is way better than any other place in the city. A new food truck that’s been making lots of headlines is Mya’s Fried Chicken. The honey glaze chicken is insane and the biscuits and sides are made fresh.
I also really like the Scottish Ale at Barley’s, but I don’t claim to know much about beer.
Ray Ray’s has the best brisket in Columbus hands down! Also, if you get a chance, try the Swoop truck. Incredibly good, inventive sandwiches.
I’m all about food trucks. Nashville has a great food truck scene, and the one experience I had in Columbus was excellent at the Dinin’Hall.
I live in columbus, but have not been to some of these places. I will have to change that…
Thanks for the lovely article!
Angela, next time in Columbus make sure you check out “TFT”, That Food Truck, at the corner of Gay and Grant many evenings, W – Sat. Try the Big Bad Wolf and other wonderful items.
I love Food trucks. Thanks for the tip. I’ll pass it along to some of my friends that go to Columbus too.
Great post! <3
As one of those “twenty people gobble down roasted zucchini with Pecorino like it was their last meal” I have to say that this is one heck of a write up. GREG
Next time be sure to try Alana’s. Some of the most amazing food anywhere. Also for one of the best Japanese restaurants in America, go to Kihachi.
I’m really excited to get back to Columbus and venture into some other places, although I know I’ll return to a few on this post!
Check out the sites, sounds, and culinary activities in Grandview! http://www.GrandviewToDo.com
Thanks for the great article about Cbus. I think this has been by far one of the best reviews I have read. You really captured the small, but important things that I love about living in and walking the streets of this city. So many reviews are the standard drive by of Jeni’s, German Village, and the North Market. All great places, but your photos and comments show that you took the time to notice/appreciate the finer details. Next visit spend some time in Old Towne East. It’s a rougher historic neigborhood on the way up, but by far the best architecture in the city. I look forward to reading your other reviews and learning about great places to visit.
I feel honored by that comment. It’s not just about food or drink. It’s always the personality of a city that captures me and I’ll be sure to visit Old Towne East on my next visit.
That was a wonderful cyber tour of Columbus! I’m inspired to go! Great photography and writing, Angela. Thank you!
Excellent post Angela! We had an amazing time in Columbus with ya! And, thanks for the shout out!
Sarah + Laura
This is a Great article that makes me proud to be native. Next time you’re in the “Bus”, try House Beer on High Street in the Short North. The place reminds you of a Belgium style bar/carryout where you pull a very hard to find craft beer out of the cooler, pop the top and enjoy in an interior draped in old wood pulled out of an actual speakeasy. Really cool atmosphere. Ask them about the “Gypsy Beer”.