by Tommy Feisel

App Hop: Top Notch

When I first moved to Columbus a decade ago, it seemed like every six-to-nine months a new, exciting restaurant would open.

Oh, how times have changed.

With a slew of new and exciting gastropubs, microbrewers, distilleries, and aprooms we’re in a constant tornado of options.

Feel like tacos tonight? Condado went from one to five locations in Columbus in just four years.

Got a hankering for oysters? Check out the happy hour at The Guild House.

Want some pizza while watching a live sketch comedy and rock and roll show? Shadowbox Live is your answer.

It’s a fine problem to have, but, if you’re like me, you want to try it all—you want to find the all the new places and hidden gems. You want to taste the difference in how one chef prepares shrimp and grits versus another. That’s when an AppHop becomes
your favorite way to explore the city.

An App Hop is like a bar crawl, but without the hangover. This is all about the food. Choose a handful of restaurants in close proximity to each other, order a few unique appetizers (or share an entree), a round of drinks if you so desire, and move on to the next place.
It’s a great way to try new spots you haven’t been before, or revisit old favorites, all in one evening. And I can tell you from over a decade of experience, it’s a great date night idea!

This time around, we decided to go the high-end route. High-end doesn’t always translate to the most expensive, but it must be a calculated, well-executed experience. Where the food is as visually appealing as delicious. Where the ambiance sets the stage and the service is second to none. It’s when all three of these come together in some sort of harmonious dance that the customer walks away with a memory and not just a meal. With that in mind, on this Hop we decided to start our evening at Service Bar, followed by Gallerie Bar and Bistro, and ending at M at Miranova.

For the past year, Chef Avishar Barua and his team have been setting a very high bar for what a culinary experience in Columbus can be in the restaurant space of the newly remodeled Middle West Spirits. If the build out of Service Bar doesn’t impress you (and if it doesn’t I don’t know what will) then the food most certainly will. Avishar’s kitchen takes an unpretentious approach to modern cuisine, using techniques and equipment usually found in a lab more so than a kitchen, to serve up beautiful dishes that appease the eyes and the palate. We ordered the Cheese & Poof, Oxtail Gnocchi, Panang Scallops, and sipped on the Yozu Sour and Sonic Bloom. 

After losing of two of my favorite cocktail joints in the city in the past couple months (Curio and Blind Lady) I was so excited to see that cocktails in Columbus are alive and well. The Yozu Sour, with OYO Michelone Reserve Bourbon, Yuzu, and Orange Cream Citrate was citrus tart, but creamy and well balanced. The bourbon was just under the radar, so it was present, but not alcohol forward. Very nice, but as nice as that was, the Sonic and Bloom topped it. Vim and Petal Gin, Amaro Braulio (a herbal liqueur), St. Germain, Manzanilla Sherry, Lemon, Dandelion Molasses, Lavender Bitters, and Orange Blossom Spritz. That’s a lot of ingredients, but the showstopper of this one is the Orange Blossom Spritz which gets sprayed on a small flower and sat on top of a single cube of ice. The fragrance that it gives off is the first thing you notice before you even take a sip of this fantastic drink.

The Cheese & Poof is seriously the best pork rind that I think I’ve ever had. Clean in flavor, airy and crispy—these things were popping and crackling as they cooled down, or until we shoved them in our mouths. Served with a fire roasted pimento spread spiked with a barrel aged hot sauce, they’re like an elegant buffalo dip a billionaire would serve at a tailgate. I always appreciate a good gnocchi, but the elongated gnocchi that we had in the Oxtail Gnocchi has reinvigorated my love of them. An herbal, homey dish that will remind you of grandma’s pot roast—but so much better. (Shhh…we won’t tell grandma if you don’t.) That leaves my favorite of all three, the Panang Scallops, which are perfectly seared scallops that surround a ring of puffed farro, which in turn holds in a puddle of panang sauce—perfect for dipping the scallops in.

After a wonderful hour or so at Service Bar, we headed down High Street to Gallerie Bar and Bistro at the Hilton. Don’t let the idea of a hotel restaurant dissuade you from thinking this isn’t one of the top spots in the city. Because it is. Chef Glover and Chef de Cuisine Josh Kayser have been on top of their game ever since opening in 2012, and for good reason—the pair have known each other for 20-plus years. That kind of symbiotic relationship is gold for a restaurant. We ordered the Short North Sunset and the Four Peel Peat for drinks and the Shrimp and Grits, RL Valley Beef Tartar, and the Grilled 72-Hour Short Rib.

Gallerie is one of those places that really cares about its ingredients. When you start with top-shelf ingredients, sometimes you don’t need to do much to them in order to let them shine. For example, the shrimp in the Shrimp and Grits is caught, flash frozen, and flown to Columbus the next day. They’re cooked in just butter. Nothing else. And they’re fantastic. Paired with a crispy polenta and you have one hell of a take on the traditional southern dish. Gallerie sources their beef from RL Valley Ranch down in Athens, which they break down in house into primal cuts for a variety of different plates. They use what’s left over to make the tartar that’s served with a fried quail egg, soy pearls, togarishi, and delicate rice crackers, made in-house (of course). You could order four of these for a table of two and still want to order more. That being said, the favorite at Gallerie was the 72-hour Short Rib. Short ribs need a low-and-slow cooking process in order to soften the otherwise tough meat. No better way to do it than to sous vide it, allowing it to braise in its own juices until it’s perfect. Gallerie does it for 72 hours…72 hours! They artistically serve it up with a Thai chili glaze, sunchoke puree, fried kale, demi-glace, tempura sweet potato, smoked almond and cilantro. I especially enjoyed the sunchoke puree under the meat, as well as the smoke and crunch of
the almonds.

To end the night we headed over to Cameron Mitchell’s M at Miranova. You can’t talk about a high-end experience in Columbus without bringing up M. We ordered the Three Cones and Foie Gras to eat and the Peach Bourbon and Black Orchid to sip on. The Three Cones are a trio of lobster salad in sweet waffle like cones topped with various caviar and a small side of salmon gravlax. The Foie, a tasty morsel of foie gras served on a toasted brioche with a wonderful pairing of black pepper honey. The Black Orchid was delicious and elegant with it’s presentation of an orchid frozen into the ice. We ended up with the Strawberries Under Glass, which was my favorite at M that night. Fresh strawberries sit on layers of vanilla panna cotta and strawberry gelee, with poppy seed cake. Sugar glass sits on top of the glass, holding up a dollop of lemon curd. A very cool presentation for a very satisfying desert.

Who says you can’t have it all—even when eating high-end. That’s exactly what an AppHop is for.