Photo by Chris Casella

Tasting Notes

“Food is music to the body,
music is food to the heart.”

— Gregory David Roberts

It’s hard for me to disagree. I’m watching Derek Trucks, Mavis Staples, Brittany Howard, Aloe Blacc join Stephen Colbert for a rendition of “Everyday People” during his first week as Late Show Host and I’m eating three different kinds of Donato’s pizza.

Pretty typical, really: on most days, there’s rarely a single moment where there isn’t a tune in my ear and/or a bite or a drink in my hand.

It seems, especially right now, in Columbus, that the food/drink/music scenes have all but folded into one another.

Jason Kusowski loves playing guitar and making probiotic beer.

Marcus Meacham makes the best food in town to the soundtrack of the Wu-Tang catalog. In Columbus, Salty Caramel is the name of a band AND an ice cream flavor.

It seems like half the active bands in town feature at least one bartender and one line cook, and several of our veteran musicians have “retired” into lives of coffeeshop maestros or urban gardeners.

And now, even some of our finest venues manage to both foster a great atmosphere for live music and turn out notable dishes and drinks.

And all that’s without mentioning the given connection between an artist and their craft. Demos to donuts—it all stacks up the same, so given that, Stock & Barrel offers a fun little local tour that involves all three. This doesn’t have to be a crawl—this isn’t analog—feel free to shuffle them up and take them in as you see fit this fall. 

Big Room Bar  – 1036 S Front St.

Photo by Chris Casella

Photo by Chris Casella

Justin Hemminger, in between stints belting out power pop alongside The Kyle Sowashes, is a revelation behind the line, pumping out an simple, yet inventive menu at CD102.5’s new Big Room Bar. Like any transcendent musician, Hemminger’s genre-bending some fine little items, particularly the bratwurst cheddar dip that appears on half of the menu. A man after my own slightly enlarged heart. It’s the only place in town where you can eat something called The Paul Westerburger and then belt out your own version of Can’t Hardly Wait with Parker Paul and his live karaoke band, featured every Tuesday.

Tequila Cowboy  – 1068 Polaris Pkwy

Tequilla Cowboy-15

Look, we’re not gonna lie: with so much constantly happening in the downtown core, it’s hard for us to tread the outer belt as much as we’d like. But that’s until we discovered Tequila Cowboy. We’ve been to every dive bar and punk rock joint in town 20 times over, so why not get real, real outta town at the Polaris joint that does a solid job replicating a night out on the Nashville strip. Hell, you could Uber to Rod’s Western Palace AND there AND back for 1/3 of the budget you’d need for The Music City. Giddy up, kids.

Yeah, Me Too  – 3005 Indianola Ave.

Don’t get all fussy about timetables: the show starts usually when the guitar bangs out that first power chord. Owner Jovan Karcic (who along with co-owner Sam Brown was in legendary Columbus band Gaunt) will dictate when they’re open or closed, which if you’re thinking right, is exactly what you want in an authentic neighborhood coffee shop. It’s all a part of the charm. Bring your favorite record and some cash, and soak up some of the coolest kids to move to Clintonville.

Rambling House – 310 E Hudson St.

Photo by Megan Leigh Barnard

Photo by Megan Leigh Barnard

Little Rock –  944 N Fourth St.

On opposite ends of the Fourth Street corridor sits two distinctly different music bars, tied together in taste by the Jailhouse concepts (Roots and Rock, respectively), indoor spin-offs of Zach James’ successful Paddy Wagon food truck. While Eddie “The Warden” Stoddard slings brisket and bacon from Jailhouse Roots and Nick “xxxxxx” xxxxx mans the original Jailhouse Rock, both bars carry their own distinctive crowds when it comes to music. Rare, solo performances from the likes of Lydia Loveless and Jessica Wabbit on Thursdays and the expertly-curated free jukebox ride the line between back stage and front stage at Little Rock, with Rambling House plying the laid-back weekend crowd with intimate bluegrass shows. You won’t get bored or go hungry at either place.

Colin’s Coffee – 3714 Riverside Dr.

On the other side of town, Colin Gawel (of Watershed fame) does keep regular hours, but if you get a few cups into a conversation with him, you’re gonna have to keep a tight watch on the clock. By the time you leave you’ll be buzzing with more rock and roll backstage stories, Cheap Trick Trivia, and national league baseball stats than you’ll know what to do with.

Sticky Fingers @cheezewheelz

Without the music connection, the name of this Columbus food truck would probably gross out, rather than have you humming “Brown Sugar” and thinking about meats, cheeses, and coffees sourced from Northeast Ohio. Like Hemminger’s Big Room slate, the menu is heavy on rock lingo, and like any good Stones song, the items are straightforward and tasty.

Skully’s Music Diner – 1151 N High St.

Yes, you know about Ladies ’80s. Yes, you know that the Black Keys played there. But, I bet you didn’t know that if you keep your eyes peeled you can find some excellent lunch specials during the week? Recently named “Best Diner in America” by Tabelog.com, it’s time consider Skully’s as a daylight option, too.

Natalie’s Coal-Fired Pizza and Live Music – 5601 N High St

Take note, all you over-marketing brandzillas out there: how about just putting the two things you wanna do damn well in your title?

Copius/Notes – 520 S High St.

Xxxx and xxxxx decided last year that there weren’t much in the way of large-scale dining operations, or mid-sized live music venues in the Brewery District—so they decided to launch Copious and Notes two distinct, yet connected brands houses under one massive space on South High. Like many listed here, you can come for either the food, the drinks, or the sounds, but in all likelihood you’ll find yourself checking out a little bit of everything over multiples trips. Patrons are still excitedly awaiting a full list of booked dates, but owners promise that the state-of-the-art sound and stage system in the basement setting of Notes won’t be just a dark jazz club, offering variety from singer-songwriters to opera (yep, opera).

The Walrus – 143 E Main St.

Down on Main Street (Seger!), where the (614) Media Group’s offices are parked, we don’t get a whole lot of music, save for the occasional Drake song wafting from the car wash next door or the O’Jays once a year at The Commons. Enter The Walrus, the latest venture from Brad and Krista Hobbs of The Tavern and partner xxxxx, which, while if it may not match Notes in size, their small stage still offers a cool, casual downtown bar where you can find a hidden gem hole-in-the wall singer or DJ—in a place that’s anything but.

Brothers Drake Meadery – 26 E Fifth Ave.

What more can you say about Brothers Drake? As far as venues go, they’re the equivalent of that band that even if they may not be everyone’s absolute favorite, they’re universally respected. In what used to be simply just a mead operation with a small tasting bar, now has turned into a full-fledged mid-sized music venue. In the past two years, patrons have been able to see a little bit of everything: from big acts looking to do something unique in a small space (Young the Giant) to powerful album releases from locals like Old Hundred and Counterfeit Madison) to this summer’s epic Elliott Smith tribute night from Columbus supergroup cover band The Liner Notes.

Lyric Donuts (Ace of Cups) – 2619 N High St.

Photo by Megan Leigh Barnard

Photo by Megan Leigh Barnard

You know that cool feeling where one of your favorite musicians just, all of a sudden, sits in at one of your favorite rock and roll venues? And also… donuts? Drummer Michael Patrick Murtha—when he’s not behind the kit for surf-rock stars Bummers, serving as barista at Impero Coffee, or shaping his sci-fi-strange outsider art—has been crafting a new career as an artisan donut man, finally unleashing his creations in the form of a pop-up shop in late August. Find that perfect lazy Sunday this fall to scoot down to Ace of Cups, where you should order a dozen, eat two, play some ping-pong and take the rest home with you. Or stick around for Ray Ray’s in the afternoon. We won’t judge.

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Travis Hoewischer

I've been working in journalism in central Ohio for more than a decade, and have been lucky enough to be a part of (614) Magazine since the very first issue. Proud to live in a city that still cares – and still reads.

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