When I tell people that my husband and I are visiting Columbus largely to explore the food, I get two reactions. From those who have never been to the city, there are raised eyebrows and puzzled expressions. From people who have been, there are knowing smiles and a rattling off of recommendations that has me frantically taking notes.
Whether we are getting a buzz on with coffee or cocktails, scurrying through North Market at a frenetic pace so we don’t miss anything, or settling in for a relaxing meal designed to highlight exceptional local products, the quick one hour flight from Baltimore lands us squarely in a city that’s well worth discovering.
Columbus is serious about coffee. The Columbus Coffee Trail features thirteen participating coffee shops, each exhibiting a dedication to quality and collaboration. Visit four cafes and score a free T-shirt. Tip: Allow time in your schedule to retrieve your T-shirt at one of the designated spots. We earned the shirt; didn’t save time to pick it up.
Fox in the Snow Cafe is easy to miss. The renovated garage is marked only by a small fox painted on the side of the building. Once inside, the scent of fresh-brewed coffee and baked goods is scintillating. Coffee beans are from Tandem Coffee Roasters in Maine and pastries are made in-house. A cinnamon bun thickly slathered with icing perks us up for an afternoon spent meandering through galleries in the Short North arts district.
Short North is distinguished by independent shops and restaurants, including One Line Coffee situated on High Street, the main thoroughfare. The cafe emphasizes small batch roasting and sourcing.
Tip: Don’t miss the popular honey latte.
Columbus has an abundance of independent casual restaurants and artisanal food merchants. It also has passionate residents who are eager to share their opinion of what’s best. Take their advice.
North Market, with more than 30 vendors, puts me in a feeding frenzy. The outstanding Short North Food Tour by Columbus Food Adventures provides an overview, with samples from Brezel for Bavarian pretzels and Little Eater for freshly prepared salads, and an education at North Market Spices about their intriguing spice blends.
I’m smitten by Hot Chicken Takeover, which offers some of the best hot chicken outside of Nashville, which is where it derives its inspiration. The cayenne paste-rubbed fried chicken is available according to preferred spice level- cold, warm, hot, or holy. The vinegar-based Ma’s Slaw helps cool things down, if you overshoot your capacity to tolerate the heat. Hot Chicken Takeover brings tears to my eyes, a result of the redolent crisp and juicy chicken and the knowledge that HCT is a second chance employer. Those who need a fair chance at work- including the homeless or previously incarcerated- make up more than 70% of the workforce here. We visit HCT twice in one weekend. Need I say more?
North Short Food Tour also includes stops at Le Chocoholique for expertly-crafted chocolates, The Pearl for kick-ass Jalapeño Corn Spoon Bread, Forno for a taste of their sought-after stone-fired pizzas, and last but certainly not least, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams. Jeni’s is nationally known for rich and creamy ice cream made with milk from Ohio farms. After much deliberation and angst, I select a scoop of goat cheese with cherries. Creator Jeni Britton Bauer can be credited for helping put Columbus on the food map.
The North Short Food Tour is the most fulfilling food tour I’ve ever experienced, notable for the high-quality/high-profile restaurants that participate. It’s an absolute must for food-lovers.
Brassica is a leading player in the Columbus fast-casual game. Assembly line restaurants are nothing new, but this Mediterranean-inspired version goes over the top with its unexpected flair. Sandwiches and salads are topped with falafel, shawarma with slow-roasted chicken, glazed lamb bacon, harissa rubbed brisket, or vegetables. Fresh, local, organic ingredients – can this phrase ever get old? It’s a mantra in Columbus. Between the bright interior and the friendly staff, it’s hard to leave here without catching a case of the warm fuzzies.
Tip: Don’t overlook the vegetables in a place that’s named after a genus of plants in the mustard family. Pickled veggies, marinated eggplant, and roasted carrots and cauliflower are among the standouts with a surprising level of complexity and detail.
The motto for Katalinas is “the little café with lots of local goodness.” Katalinas is small- most of the seats are outdoors- but it’s mighty good. What attracts hordes of customers are pancake balls filled with Nutella, dulce de leche or pumpkin-apple butter. The balls are served with pure local maple syrup and sweet ‘N’ Spicy Bacon™ which rivals the pancake balls as a reason to stand in line here. Like Fox in the Snow, Katalinas is located in a former gas station, making me wonder why more gas stations aren’t transformed into funky eateries.
Tip: Katalinas is more than a pancake ball house. The menu has a Mexican flair, featuring tacos (try the housemade chorizo), migas, Latina sandwiches and much, much more.
I’m told that a visit to Columbus isn’t complete without dining at a Cameron Mitchell restaurant. The prolific restaurateur owns 12 unique spots in the city, making it difficult to choose just one. The Guild House, situated within the lovely Le Meridien, The Joseph Hotel in the Short North is one of his newest establishments. The décor is a successful meld of rustic and elegant. It’s a case of repurposed wood and high ceilings meets glass chandeliers and modern art. Dishes favor local, seasonal cuisine- a unifying thread in every food establishment we visit in Columbus. Tomato salad with watermelon and feta makes the most of the late summer harvest. Scallops with English peas, baby carrots, parsnip puree, and orange vinaigrette shows off the chef’s artistry, an appropriate reflection of the guild referring to culinary craft.
Tip: Columbus is richly rewarding when it comes to sweets, and it’s tempting to skip dessert after a satisfying meal at The Guild House. But then you would miss out on honey cake dressed up with lemon quark cream, pickled blueberries, spiced cookie butter mousse, and honeycomb candy. It’s not worth the sacrifice.
Craft breweries abound in Columbus. The Columbus Ale Trail- with 28 breweries- is a boozy alternative to the Coffee Trail. Wolf’s Ridge Brewing is a family owned brewery and restaurant. The owners are so dedicated to local craft that they list sources for food, as well as furniture, on their website. A proliferation of communal tables represents the dedication to community, which is another theme that weaves throughout the city’s restaurants and cafes. Succulent lamb chops pair well with roasted garlic mashed potatoes and grilled vidalia onions. The dish is enlivened by a toss of cherries and pea tendrils. Sesame crusted halibut is a contrast in texture with a crusty exterior and pillowy soft inside.
Tip: Say cheese. An assortment of local cheese is dressed up with blackberry gel, nasturtium leaves, emerald crystal lettuce, white balsamic ice cream, and Marcona almonds.
With so much beer around, it’s easy to ignore cocktails. Denmark on High is a “Euro-style cocktail bistro” with a real dedication to creative libations. It’s well worth a visit. “Endless Summer” blends muddled cucumber and watermelon with plantation pineapple rum, ginger liquor, honey, lemon juice, egg white, and a Jamaican 5 spice blend. Ask owner Garry to mix you up something smoky, and then sit back and enjoy the show.
Art abounds on plates throughout Columbus, but it’s also on the walls both indoors and outdoors. The Short North Arts Districts showcases the work of emerging and nationally known artists. There is also a Short North Temporary Mural Series featuring art works that are printed on vinyl and heat-adhered to buildings. The Short North Gothic Mural puts a humorous twist on a classic painting.
The Columbus Museum of Art has an extensive permanent collection, as well as impressively curated rotating exhibits. We caught Picasso: The Great War, Experimentation and Change on its last weekend.
FRESH. LOCAL. CRAFT. ARTISAN. COMMUNITY.
The fact that Columbus is such a richly flavored city is a revelation. Fresh, local, craft, artisan, and community are embraced and expressed with passion. Locally grown – and brewed- food and drink is everywhere, and truly merit more than a weekend of discovery. But it’s a start….
*This trip was sponsored by Experience Columbus. We selected all of the restaurants where we dined.
Brassica, 680 North High St, Columbus, OH 43215
Denmark on High, 463 North High, (2nd floor), Columbus, OH 43215
Forno Kitchen + Bar, 721 North High Street, Columbus, OH 43215
Fox in the Snow Cafe, 1031 North 4th St, Columbus, OH 43201
Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, various locations
Katalinas, 1105 Pennsylvania Ave, Columbus, OH 43201
One Line Coffee, 745 North High Street, Columbus, OH 43215
North Market, 59 Spruce Street, Columbus, OH 43215
The Guild House, 624 North High Street, Columbus, OH 43215
The Pearl, 641 North High Street, Columbus, OH 43215
Wolf’s Ridge Brewing, 215 N 4th Street, Columbus, Ohio 43215