Back to Basics

There were some rumblings when it closed. There were some rumblings when it re-opened. People fear change; it’s true. But fear not. Bodega is back, and it’s singing an all-new tune.

Bodega has been a fixture at its Short North spot for nearly a decade. It was responsible for some fine institutions: dollar grilled cheese Mondays, teamtim trivia Sundays, a very well curated beer menu, and – within the last couple years – delicious, dynamic food coming out of the kitchen.

Some elements remain. There is still a strong focus on craft beer (albeit more Ohio-centric than in years past). There is still trivia on Sunday nights. There is still food coming out of the kitchen.

The clear goal of Bodega’s re-imagining is to shed the restaurant-versus-bar confusion and be undeniably bar first, restaurant last. Forty-seven draft handles now adorn the north wall, and the middle of the space has been cleared of tables and other obstructions to make room for the longer, more accommodating bar. High-top tables with stools hug up the other side where the bar used to be, allowing patrons to sit or stand and enjoy their brews.

Some dining-room seating is still present, mostly by the windows facing the street, but the concept of a (somewhat) quiet sit-down meal is a thing of the past.

Before former executive chef and part-time ninja Marcus Meacham moved on to a new opportunity at Powell’s recent addition, Kraft House No. 5, he spent months pushing the boundaries of Bodega’s menu, from Benton’s bacon to blue corn grits, from the Bombay Burger to some pretty baller beignets. Pork trotter hot wings. Cold-smoked lobster rolls. Perhaps it was too much. Perhaps he gilded the lily.

Whatever the case, Meacham has a new canvas, and Bodega has a new direction for its food. Taking inspiration from the Brooklyn phenomenon Pies ‘n’ Thighs, the kitchen now specializes in Meacham’s final contribution: in-house smoked chicken, grilled or deep fried, and a selection of soulful sides. Quick and easy. But also pretty damn tasty.

There are a couple salads, too, for those who don’t care to use their fingers. Kale with bourbon-drenched golden raisins and blue cheese; Romaine with the same smoked chicken, kiln-dried cherries, roasted corn, and white cheddar. Make no mistake, though: the chicken is the star.

The smokiness sets it apart. The breading is crisp and flavorful. And, if you’re so inclined, a dousing of Bodega’s own hot sauce makes it all pop.

The old adage, “Don’t mess with success,” has merit, but it takes moxie to do it. There have been a lot of restaurants that refused to change, that never tried anything new. Some of them disappeared. Some turned into Paneras. Bodega might not be what it was, but what it is works. Good beer, good food. Hard to argue with that. •


Bodega (1044 High St.) may have done away with the beloved grilled cheese, but the happy hour still sits in the upper level of reduced-price revelry, with any of the 50 taps half-off from 4 – 8 p.m., Monday through Friday.