A Feast for the Eyes
Art-focused Ella brings Short North dining experience to New Albany
By Chris GaittenPublished August 1, 2012
Close your eyes and imagine a restaurant where a freshly sliced Brandywine tomato arrives on your plate just hours after being picked from the vine, and while enjoying the meal, you find yourself enthralled with a particular piece of art on the wall, only to have the artist himself install it in your home a few days later.
Open your eyes and you may be surprised to find you’re not in Napa – or even the Short North; you’re in New Albany, and you’ve stumbled upon Ella (eat local. love art.), which combines a restaurant and gallery to showcase the best local food and artwork in one space.
“This is one of the few corners of Columbus where there’s not a restaurant like this,” said Travis Hyde, Ella’s executive chef and first employee. “And I think New Albany really needed a place like this.”
Ella opened to the public last December, after nearly four years of concept development by two New Albany residents – Amy Schottenstein, general manager of the restaurant, and Hayley Savage, founder of the adjoining Hayley Gallery.
A mutual friend put the two in contact, and Savage describes Schottenstein and herself as “kindred spirits” because they were both compelled to open a restaurant in New Albany by a desire to be closer to home.
“We were committed to opening a restaurant in New Albany. We have children, and we felt there was a great opportunity in New Albany to feed everybody,” stated Schottenstein while seated in Ella’s dining room, a refined and welcoming space with dark wood accents complemented by alluring paintings.
The gallery, only a few strides away down the corridor, is open and spacious with lots of vibrant, colorful art adorning tall, white walls. It features a range of emerging and established contemporary artists, most of whom have a connection to Ohio. Ella’s patrons are encouraged to grab a drink – local liquors OYO, Watershed, and Tessora are always stocked – and peruse the art while they wait for an open table.
“There’s a lot [of art] that’s representative of Ohio,” Savage asserted, pointing out that several of the artists are from New Albany.
Savage’s inspiration guides the artistic choices for Ella’s dining room, and she pulls pieces from the gallery’s regular shows to suit the changing seasons. Dazzling blue skies are a common theme in the space currently.
“We don’t force things,” she said. “[The pieces] actually just kind of choose themselves.”
The menu is also seasonally driven. Hyde sources everything he possibly can from Ohio farmers and serves different features once or twice per week to capture each local ingredient as it hits its seasonal peak. The most popular selections on the current menu are scallops, cornmeal dusted calamari, and the mac ’n’ cheese, which is made from local cheeses.
“Our macaroni and cheese is the best damn kids macaroni and cheese you will find anywhere in Columbus,” Hyde boasted.
As for the marriage of fine dining and fine art, it makes perfect sense to everyone involved.
“It gives us more freedom to play with our plating and our presentation styles,” Hyde said. “You’re eating with your eyes.”
Ella Restaurant & Bar
266 E Main St., New Albany