Unique Comfort Food

Photo By Brian Kaiser

Fresh Tastes

Numerous new bars, breweries, or restaurants opened up in the last year, signifying a legitimate boom for the Columbus food & drink industry.These are just a few of the standouts:

 

Trillium

2333 N High St.

Location is everything in real estate, especially in the restaurant business. Bradley Balch is the  former executive chef at The Sycamore. His new restaurant, Trillium, recently opened in the space occupied by the venerated Alana’s Food and Wine for nearly two decades.

Named for Ohio’s official state wildflower, Trillium is equally local and approachable, mixed with Midwest hospitality. Generous portions and a range of price points make “upscale” entirely accessible.

Happy Hour includes Pork Cheek Mac & Cheese with cavatappi pasta and white cheddar topped with crispy breadcrumbs, and Chicken Wings with a watermelon-chipotle barbeque glaze. (Think sophisticated comfort food.) Small plates of Lump Crab Wontons with sweet and tart rhubarb barbecue, avocado crema, pickled red onion, and napa cabbage, or Duck Confit Vietnamese Spring Rolls with Serrano black vinegar dip, sambal aioli, and sesame salad.

The aesthetic is also new, with a more prominent bar than Alana’s and a larger kitchen. The Oak floors revealed under the carpets, and the overall openness of the reimagined interior help ground the entire restaurant as the refined gathering place Trillium was intended to be.

Photo By Megan Leigh Barnard

Ray Ray’s
5755 Maxtown Rd.,
Westerville

After all the market analysis that could go into finding the right balance of random and regular clientele, there are really only two kinds of barbecue—you want it, or you don’t.

James Anderson, owner of Ray Ray’s Hog Pit, opened a surprise second location in Westerville in the same space that used to be The Barbeque Shack. Despite his demanding attention to detail for nearly two decades, the stakes are higher than they may seem. With his wiry white beard and unmistakable attire, he’s practically become the Santa Claus of smoked meat, working throughout the night to bring barbecue to good boys and girls at a massive scale with magical precision. Like all legendary reputations, it was hard to earn and remains challenging to maintain.

Anderson knows his brand, and anyone who thinks barbecue is just swine, Cheerwine, and a bunch of picnic tables oversimplifies the cultural complexity that comes with any expansion of a beloved business.

Westerville patrons may recognize some familiar faces. To ensure the new Ray Ray’s matched more than just the menu, Anderson split his existing team in half, then hired at both locations.

Columbus is a city built on reputations, which is why Anderson isn’t concerned about eating into his own customer base by opening a second location. Folks already come from Michigan and Kentucky to stand in line. That isn’t likely to change.

Drunch Eatery + Bar
995 N Fourth St.

Thanks, Drunch, for opening the doors to a place that is unabashedly tugging at the few spare dollars we had left over from the rest of the city’s food and booze selections.

Look—breakfast any time of day can be had many places all around town, but no one is committing to it the way Drunch is, becoming the first place to serve brunch all-day (and night)—every day (and morning). But your gaze—and your gut—will be drawn to a few intriguing items right off the bat. The avocado fries are a nice starter that takes a trendy health food and gives it a good old-fashioned Midwest batter bath; and the potato skins, another staple of the Heartland, get a little extra pop from a fried egg atop each.

And that’s not even getting to the sweets. With a healthy cocktail list and the requisite craft beer selection, you may be tempted to drink your dessert, but you’d be missing out on a few signature items.

The banana bread French toast with rosemary chocolate will blow your hair back, a seemingly stoner conception carried out with culinary class. Same goes for the Fruity Pebbles cheesecake.

A novelty? A niche? To be certain. But then again what isn’t in the current Central Ohio restaurant landscape, where it takes a little something different to draw in the crowds. And no one in 2017 would be smart to bet against nostalgia.

Did we ever even know we wanted a restaurant with arcade games, where we can also order cereal and a baked cookie?

Now we do—and we can’t stop thinking about it.

South Village Grille

197 Thurman Ave.

South Village Grill is the newest addition to restaurateur George Tanchevski’s lineup of establishments that includes Aladdin’s, Old Skool, and all the Local Cantinas. But the Grille seems to be a new motivation for Tanchevski: remain familial and accessible while ascending to a new level of culinary sophistication. In that aim, SVG is a rousing success.

It’s a small space—room for maybe 50 at most—yet it doesn’t feel at all cramped. It’s a soothing, muted décor that is at once sophisticated and cozy. It exemplifies German Village, actually, in that it feels decidedly grown-up while not being intimidating.

Go-to neighborhood spots are often on the louder side, both in ambience and character, where South Village Grille has many elements of a destination restaurant: a tight, professional menu, a scratch bar, bistro seating. Yet despite the thoughtful style of the menu and the space, there’s something pleasantly home-y about it all. (Being on the same block as German Village Coffee Haus may have something to do with that.)

Recommendations are high for the meatball starter, the sausage pizza, and the halibut (with radicchio, asparagus, and a lemon caper crème fraîche). The pizza is balanced, neither too saucy nor too cheesy. Fontina-based with a lightly spiced sausage and candied jalapeños, it was a recommendation well-received. Their chipotle-glazed confit wings were cooked perfectly: crispy exterior, juicy meat that pulls away clean from the bone, and crunchy, crackly cartilage at the ends. They were accompanied by a peach salsa—a cool compliment to the glaze.

Date night or family night (or just solo shorts-and-t-shirt night), the Grille is an easy win for all.

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