At some point in the last several months, I lost track of the Short North.
Maybe I’m dozy. Or maybe I’m not as wired in as I thought I was. Whatever the case, it feels a bit like I fell asleep and woke up to a new neighborhood, one that has grown up—not in maturity, but literally up, as if on a new axis, perpendicular to the ground.
It’s no Miracle Mile. We’re not there. One could certainly argue, however, that the patina has changed. That it’s shinier. Swankier. Taller. And you know what? That’s okay.
“You can go out the front door and see three of our restaurants from where you stand.”
Brian Hinshaw knows how it looks. From the doorstep of the newly minted The Guild House, two other Cameron Mitchell hotspots—Marcella’s and The Pearl—are right within eyeshot. Tack on The Barn in New Albany and Upper Arlington’s Hudson 29, and that’s three new major CMR operations sprouted in the last calendar year. It is not what you would call conservative expansion.
But can there really be too much of a good thing? The Pearl remains packed to the gills, running 300 brunch covers in a day and shrugging its massive shoulders, Marcella’s still serves up a dynamite ball of veal whether the big bay windows are open or not, and the service is top-notch wherever you go. What is there to complain about?
Somewhere in Columbus, someone is stewing about it, looking sidelong at the towering entryway to the new restaurant like it’s the apex of a Bermuda Triangle, like CMR is the Big Bad Wolf come to huff and puff and lock the shit down.
It’s the ballad of the runner-up, the same sad song sung by the band that never quite made it, still embittered by the fact that someone else did it both bigger and better.
Well, I’m here to say that it certainly looks like that is what The Guild House has done.
Understand that at the cellular level, Hinshaw—whose many titles include vice president, acting partner, and executive corporate chef—still just loves food. Every chef wants to be given the golden ticket, to be allowed to trot the globe and stuff his face until he finds inspiration. After sixteen years with CMR, Hinshaw is no different. Just ask him about his carrots.
“We were in New York, at one of these incredible markets in Eataly, and we just came across these carrots. Well, we got a lot of things, but I knew we had to do something with these carrots. That’s what we do: we take a beautiful carrot and turn it into something fun.”
The first time he used the word we, I assumed he was referring to CMR’s chef brass, the people whom he says The Guild House is meant to represent. A “culinary homage,” as he puts it, “to our top chefs.”
When he used we the second time, I knew he meant chefs in general, that specific strain of artist that gluts itself on its own work and endeavors tirelessly to improve. Not that having a hand on the throne doesn’t have its advantages. “This is the restaurant we’ve always wanted to do. When you’re given $10,000 and told, ‘Just go to San Francisco and eat as much as you can,’ when you’re sitting at The Slanted Door just being amazed, thinking about what you could ever do to match it—this [restaurant] is what that’s meant for.”
Before tasting the food, the most complimentary thing I could say about The Guild House was that it was clear that they were putting their resources to good use. The space is cavernous but bright, rustic but chic, with sky-high ceilings and white leather banquettes that could probably seat 30 apiece.
It’s a complete restaurant— the first in the CMR family to serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The bar feels like a bar, and the dining room feels like a dining room. The decorative accoutrements are both glamorous and thoughtful.
But as Hinshaw indicated, The Guild House is not for interior decorators (though I’m sure they’re welcome). It’s for people who love food.
And then, delightfully, there was the food.
The menu is ingredient-forward, listing most dishes simply as their showcase ingredient: Greens. Agnolotti. Carrots. The prices range significantly, but appetizers and “market” dishes (small plates) hover around $10 with entrées averaging just shy of $25.
The carrot salad ($7) is beautiful to look at and pleasant to eat. Three different colors of carrots carry their own raw flavors while roasted faux tourné pieces break up the texture, making each composed bite soft and creamy. Add in a pop of house-made granola every now and again for a sweet crunch.
The bao buns ($8) are fried for a crispy and sweet nod to Chinese cuisine. With a little bit of barbecue braised pork in the middle and a ramekin of sweet condensed milk dipping sauce, they’re begging to be eaten at the bar.
House-made ricotta gnocchi with fava beans and forest mushrooms ($15)—the gnocchi are bouncy, not gluey or thick, and a shot of lemon juice in the sauce balances everything just right.
The vegetarian lasagna got the silver medal in this hot competition. Also a $15 dish, it fills the plate like lasagna should, but that’s where its similarities to the ordinary end. There’s almost no oiliness, and without an overabundance of cheese, the other ingredients shine. The pasta is thin and delicate, and the combination of asparagus, artichokes, and fried fingerling potato chips is the perfect topper.
My personal favorite was the pork ($24). Duroc pork blade steak, pan-seared with brown butter, sliced and served on a bed of bright cabbage and fresh honeycrisp apples with some of the leftover juice from the poached apricots—I’m not ashamed to say that I dominated the plate, fast and unabashed, standing at the expediter’s station.
Perhaps the boutique hotel crowd (the new Le Méridien, The Joseph just opened right next door) will keep the seats of The Guild House filled with people just passing through, but locals need to get in line and get a table.
“We’re making everything in-house,” Hinshaw said. “What we’re not, we’re sourcing as locally as we can. Blue Jacket Dairy cheese, Snowville cream, Dan the Baker bread. It’s me, Ian [Rough], Jamie [Kline], and Jon Paul [Iacobucci] just cooking and having fun. You’re going to get to come in here and have a new experience every time.”