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(Credit: Megan Leigh Barnard)

Feature Presentation

Artful Experimentation At Central Ohio's New Culinary Playground

By Kevin J. Elliott

Published March 1, 2013
Veritas owner Josh Dalton.

Josh Dalton is more Blue Velvet than red velvet.

Much in the way David Lynch juxtaposes left-of-center characters against a backdrop of idyllic small-town America, Veritas Tavern chef /owner Dalton acts as foodie auteur by practicing molecular gastronomy and preparing surrealist dishes, along a quaint side street in – of all places – downtown Delaware, Ohio.

Delaware’s main drag is certainly as picturesque as any Midwestern burg stuck in time, with historic storefronts and churches dotting the landscape, but as a destination there’s not much to offer besides a plaque adjacent to a BP gas station commemorating President’s Rutherford B. Hayes’ birthplace. The facade of Veritas is just as unassuming, though what goes on inside the walls of Chef Dalton’s kitchen is the height of haute cuisine. His quirky spins on classic tavern fare have quickly made Veritas one of central Ohio’s best new restaurants – though again, it sits unassumingly, a good 45 minutes outside the capital city. As such, for the past few months, it has been word-of-mouth exclamations that have made Veritas a pilgrimage for discerning foodies.

“If I could, I’d run a shuttle bus straight down 23 and back to get people to come and try us,” said says Dalton on how Veritas has been attracting a crowd for a concept that would be a risky menu even embedded in the bustling Columbus food scene. “On the weekends I have noticed that a lot of our customers are coming from Columbus, but it’s hard to expect someone to come, have a few of our house cocktails, and then make that drive home.”

For now, Dalton – who has clocked endless hours in various kitchens across Columbus including Basi, Elevator, and the Burgundy Room – is content with the modest provisions and small audience he has to work with in Delaware. Going beyond the scratch-kitchen and tapas trend du jour with a menu that changes nearly daily, Veritas, in opposition to Dalton’s other restaurant, the 1808 American Bistro, has become an anything-goes Food Club for the chef and his devoted staff. Ultra-fresh sweetbreads unadorned, rabbit stew two-ways, or foie gras coupled with blood orange and hazelnut, wouldn’t fly at most small-town joints.

“The biggest misconception about what I’m doing up here is that it’s going to be scary or really expensive, and I think we are neither. We aren’t doing this for show,” commented Dalton on the early days of Veritas perplexing the people of Delaware. “But if you close your eyes and eat it, you’re going to be wowed by the flavor first and then you can look at it.”

A perfect example being the Potted Blue Cheese – a mix of blue and mascarpone served in a pull-top tin, accompanied by warm toast points, authentic chocolate tea biscuits, and an eye-dropper of port wine syrup. Served on a piece of black slate, it certainly appears as if Dalton is “doing it for show,” but it’s more interactive eating. Once the components are matched properly and those flavors coalesce, it becomes a functional and addictive starter.

Better yet are Dalton’s deftly crafted small plates, which usually consist of traditional dishes composed with that “playground” execution. His scallops, for instance, lightly grilled with puffed Spanish rice, are surrounded by a gauntlet of flavors, from fluid gels of jalapeño and cilantro to small mounds of powdered chorizo sausage. Truffle egg yolk, candied bacon, and onion marmalade accent a salad made from winter greens Dalton procures from local Amish markets. Even the house-made corned beef, not an easy recipe to perfect, is done so atop a puree of cabbage, corn, and garlic. While that sounds typical on paper, the taste and presentation are anything but.

In a balanced tandem, each plate is matched with an intricately mixed libation. Behind the bar, as in the kitchen, everything in your drink – from the falernum, the bitters, and even the tonic – is made in the tavern’s tiny space. The prohibition-era cocktails and kaleidoscopic menu is a testament to Dalton’s constant search for inspiration. He takes a progressive stance, and he takes it seriously, manifested in frequent trips to Chicago and New Orleans with his entire staff in tow, taking notes on new ideas and techniques. And while nothing about Veritas seems sketched out, it does feel like these noble experiments are just a precursor to Dalton’s next big move.

“I want to be in Columbus so bad I can taste it,” exclaims Dalton, like a undercard prize-fighter chomping for a shot at the title, “but it needs to be the right time and the right situation. When it presents itself, I’ll jump on it.” Chef Dalton, we are ready.

Veritas Tavern is located at 15 E Winter Street in downtown Delaware. They are open Tuesday through Wednesday from 5 p.m. to 12 a.m. and Thursdays through Saturdays from 5 p.m. to 1 a. m. More information can be found at www.veritastavern.com