App Hop

I have a confession to make: I love food, and more specifically, dining out. I know, big surprise seeing as how I make a good portion of my living photographing food, beverages, and restaurants. But really, I would rather spend a several hundred dollars (or more) at a 3 Michelin Star restaurant than be on the sideline of a Buckeye game.

My wife, Meredith, feels the same way. For my 30th birthday, her big gift to me was reservations at Chef Achatz’s Alinea in Chicago. Nineteen courses and a bottle of wine brought our bill to more than twice my car payment that month (for two cars!) but the experience was worth every single penny.

When we started dating, our favorite date night was dining out. We went to places like The Bistro on Main in Kent, Moe’s in Cuyahoga Falls, and Daveed’s in Cincinnati. The day I knew I had fallen completely and madly in love with her was at Wolf Creek Winery in Barberton over a couple bottles of wine and a long walk down to the water’s edge. Sitting at a table with each other, talking, enjoying a drink and anxiously awaiting whatever creative dish came out of the kitchen was then, as it is now, our favorite thing to do when we go out.

That’s why we’ve upped the ante on our date nights.

After getting married and moving to Columbus 10 years ago (Happy 10 years, babe!) we had a whole new collection of restaurants to explore with a lot of ground to cover. When we couldn’t decide between three restaurants one night, I came up with a solution: why not start at one place, order a couple small plates, maybe some drinks, pay our bill and move on to the next?

Then, repeat.

It was awesome. We got to spend time walking around the city in between restaurants, the change of atmosphere kept the conversation fresh and exciting and the best part was getting to experience three distinct types of food by three completely different chefs. We knew it then, “app hopping” was going to become our new favorite date routine.

The “rules” for doing a Hop are simple enough, but over the years we’ve come up with some tips and tricks to making the most of our evening:

Stay in one area. You want to maximize the amount time you’re at a table, not spending time in the car driving all over the place. Bonus points if you can quickly walk to all of the places you want to go to that night. For instance, pick a neighborhood like Grandview, German Village, or Olde Towne East, etc and stick to establishments in that area for the night.

Hopping is best done on a weeknight when the restaurants aren’t as likely to be crazy busy. You’ll get a better representation of a chef’s skills if he/she isn’t in the weeds on a Saturday night. Plus, if you’ve young ones like we do, it’s easier picking for sitters.

Give your bartenders/serve a heads up that you’re only ordering one appetizer to share and then heading out to another restaurant. Setting that expectation lets them know what kind of experience you’re looking for, and you’ll usually end up with faster service. This isn’t to say that you should feel like you’re in a rush; take your time and enjoy yourself.

TIP WELL! I can’t stress this enough. Servers survive on tips and since your bill will be smaller than average, make up for it by tipping more than you normally would. This will go a long way the next time you come back to that restaurant—trust me.

Challenge yourself to find the appetizer that the chef is most proud of (not necessarily the best seller) and give it a go.

Don’t over order. This isn’t about seeing how much you can eat and drink in one. It’s about experiencing the best of what the city has to offer. So take it easy! You don’t even have to order a drink at each stop.

Now, on to the good stuff. Our most recent App Hop took us over to the Short North area. We started at Basi Italia, sat out on the patio each with a glass of wine, and shared the Arancini Caprese and the Parmesan Creme Brulee. The wine was good, the arancini was fantastic, but oh man, that Parm Creme Brulee was like nothing I had had before! Imagine creme brulee, with it’s luxurious and silky texture, but with parmesan as the forward tasting note instead of vanilla. Then, spread that over black olive crostini and I promise you you will be in heaven.

After Basi, we headed over to The Table for Round Two. This time we split a cocktail, and ordered the Caramel Lacquered Pork Belly. It’s served with a quick pickled melon and crushed peanuts, and drizzled with a house made chili oil that does a really nice job of balancing the sweetness of the melon. Sweet, salty, and spicy in one dish that has pork belly on it? Yes, please.

Next up was a new one for us, Tastings on High Street, where we tasted several wines, and shared an order of their Filet Mignon Skewers. The food was fantastic, but the real fun was tasting the various wines they have on display in their wine dispensers. With 72 bottles to try, it’s like my favorite part of Giant Eagle Market District, but on steroids. Charge up one of their wine cards with however much you want and taste away ’til you find that one that you just have to have a full glass of. Needless to say, we’ll be back.

To round out the evening, we walked right next door for one last round of drinks at Mouton. Honestly, we had planned Mouton because they normally serve Laughlin’s desserts, but apparently Laughlin’s was closed that week so no desserts for us. See, this is why the unexpected is part of the fun. What we did get though, was friendly service and 2 delicious drinks. Meredith ended up chatting away with the bartender about our kids and I with the only other customer there who happened to be the chef at Light of Seven Matchsticks. (Which ends up on the list for a future Hop. It was a fun way to end the night before heading home to relieve the babysitter.

Four restaurants in one night, four different environments, four different experiences, one incredible evening. Give it a try next time you go out. You’ll be surprised to find how unique and fun an evening it can be, and eventually you’ll get to try all of those restaurants you’ve been meaning to get to.