Welcome back to Strip Mall Surprise, where we identify the hidden gems that make Columbus shine. The only requirement? They have to be in a strip mall. In this edition, we will celebrate the 1950s diner culture, neighborhood gathering places and good old fashioned American fare with a modern twist. This story takes place in a defunct pharmacy and a patio happens to be involved. Don’t lie, you’re already interested.
It’s difficult to manufacture and produce a brand-new concept with soul and depth. Some can pull off this feat and close for reasons out of their control (RIP Betty’s) and some fail to produce character but thrive regardless of product or circumstance (I’m looking at you, Easton Town Center). The world is an unfair place and opening and running restaurants can prove as daunting and exhausting as getting the local MLS Soccer Club to not leave town.
Fourteen months ago, Molly Rice and her managing partners found the energy and stamina to match their vision of opening a retro diner with modern touches. Located on (way) North High Street—where Clintonville kisses Worthington, Over The Counter the neighborhood gathering place, watering hole, and restaurant is all character.
The original plan was to name OTC “The Pharmacy,” as Rice and company wanted to pay homage to the Nicklaus Pharmacy, a local drug store with a fountain jerk (Google it, millennials), that was the building’s original tenant. However, the Pharmaceutical Board of Ohio didn’t think this was a good idea and fought Rice to block the name. Lighten up, Pharmacy industry.
Still, OTC stays true to its roots and has centered its energy, layout, and decor around a bar that could easily pass for a fountain soda counter. This bar runs almost the entirety of the south side of the restaurant while the remaining portion of the restaurant is outfitted with retro looking tables and booths. Towards the front of the restaurant is a retro chic lounge area that 1950s hipsters would feel at home in.
Behind the bar, 10 taps are available (I enjoyed a Rockmill Pilsner), nine serving craft and one tap keeping it real with PBR, as well as a fully stocked bar available to make in-house craft cocktails. The selection is impressive, and unpretentious, which is the vibe Rice was aiming for. She wants you to come in and feel at home whether you are with a group of friends, eating dinner alone, sipping a whiskey quietly in the corner, or enjoying happy hour with the regulars.
Speaking of enjoying happy hour with regulars, on my particular visit I ran into neighborhood residents and OTC regulars Mike Shehata and Shelley McCoy, both of whom I occasionally claim as friends. Upon entering, both were warmly greeted by Rice who immediately grabbed a Michelob Ultra for her and a Watershed vodka and Soda for him. Soda jerk: upgraded.
Who can blame regulars for coming in for the occasional happy hour when it is such a bargain? Running from 2–7 p.m. DAILY (come on Columbus bars and restaurants, get on the daily happy hour train) drink specials half-off most beers, $1 off house liquor and $4.50 select wines. Food specials start at 8 p.m. when appetizers are half off.
As more regulars trickled in, we moved our party to the patio to accommodate our growing group. On our Wednesday night visit, the patio contained a family of three enjoying some quality time together, a retired couple having an early dinner, and two 30-somethings enjoying the sun and some suds. Diverse, family-friendly, and welcome to all—just as Rice planned.
For dinner, I decided to go with the Pulled Pork sandwich. Topped with crispy and juicy onion rings, the pork was succulent and tender. I subbed out chips and upgraded to the mac & cheese (the diet starts next week) which contained provolone, cheddar, swiss and cream cheeses and was topped with breadcrumbs. A nice addition to this platter was the rich and creamy coleslaw. Full disclosure: I could eat coleslaw with every meal, which according to my wife makes me the world’s oldest 41-year-old.
OTC also serves brunch on the weekends. Beginning at 9:30 a.m., the building fills up quickly and it’s not uncommon to have a small wait for a table by 10:30. One reason? The homemade donuts. Another reason? The chicken and waffles. A third reason? The service, quality and ambiance. A fourth reason? You don’t need any more reasons.
Lunch specials have also been recently introduced. For $7.49, you can pick two items from a list of salads, soups and sandwiches. I believe I can speak for all the north Columbus educators out there when I salute OTC for a budget- and time-friendly, yet high quality lunch.
For the music aficionados in the crowd, it should be noted that Rice has started booking bluegrass bands, too. Bands play in the front lounge area and although there is no set schedule as of yet, Rice received great feedback from patrons and is looking to make live music a regularly scheduled event. I would recommend the American Mule (Tito’s vodka, lime juice, ginger beer) for an evening of enjoying local music at a new local hot spot.
Speaking of local, OTC partners with local distributors whenever possible. Lucky Cat Bakery, One-Line Coffee, Petali Teas and Scherer’s Potato Chips are all represented and help OTC keep its local appeal.
OTC has a little something for everyone and more restaurateurs would be well served by adopting Rice’s philosophy and commitment to quality food and drinks while simultaneously supporting and involving the local community. Get your fix for local filled at Over The Counter. And maybe your donut, prescription too.
Over the Counter is located at 5596 N High St. For more, visit overthecounterofworthington.com.