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Jul 1, 2003 08:51 AM

Columbus, OH is a Great Food Town! - REPORT

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Had an excellent food weekend in Columbus this past weekend. I was in town for our annual trip to Origins, a gaming convention (board games, role playing games, etc). We've been going for several years, and had some okay food experiences along the way, but this time I did some research in advance and we were all happy with the results! Thanks to all you hounds for all your great suggestions.

Thursday night we hit City BBQ, proclaimed in several places as having the best smoked beef brisket to be found. And it was really pretty darn good. So were the ribs, chicken and sausage. My favorite of the sides was the corn pudding, although the hush puppies were exactly what hush puppies should be. And my friend Scott was thrilled that they served sweet tea. 4/4 thumbs up. Cheap.

Friday Scott and I visited Tapatio for lunch. Subtitled "the hottest spot in town" or some such, they specialized in spicy food, with a focus on seafood. Wanting to try a bunch of stuff, we ordered more food than we really needed for lunch. The salt cod fritters with habenero tartar sauce and fruit salsa were as good as my preliminary research had indicated, which is to say great, and the shrimp in chipotle butter with corn and scallion cake was also excellent. Mains were less good - the tuna was fairly bland and tasteless and pink rather than red (but what do you expect for $11), but the lentil cake that came with it was really interesting. The smoked trout on the spinach salad was the best I've ever had, but the rest of the salad left me unimpressed. I'd go back just for the appetizers. 1/2 thumbs up. Expensive.

Friday night we went to Betty's, a spot we'd discovered last year. It's a thin, crowded little bar, that serves some excellent food. Unfortunately, it being a bar, there is no non-smoking section. We split two apps - crab cakes and a salad of mixed greens with warm mixed mushrooms and goat cheese in balsalmic vinaigrette. Both were very good. For mains, I got the meatloaf with mashed potatoes and green beans, which I adored then, and as leftovers for breakfast the next day. Sue got the portabella mushroom tower, which had too much rosemary. I can't remember what Scott and Eric ordered, unfortunately, but everything was pretty good. My husband Eric doesn't like this spot as much as I do - he doesn't think the food is good enough to make up for the noise and smoke. 3/4 thumbs up. Moderate.

Saturday was the day for food discoveries this year, when we wandered over to North Market for lunch. This is a foodie paradise!!! I can't say enought about how wonderful it is. At least 10 different lunch stands, selling everything from Indian to sushi to Middle Eastern to New York Deli (with NY bagels flown in daily). There is an ice cream counter (Jeni's) selling an ice cream version of the Vosges Naga truffle - chocolate ice cream with curry and coconut - awesome. As was the salty caramel, and pretty much every other flavor we tried. They had a cucumber-piesporter sorbet that was only available by the pint, so I didn't get to try it, but I did taste a cucumber-saki sorbet that was really interesting and would make a fabulous intermezzo. Other highlights include a meat counter specializing in game and specialty meats (frozen ground bison for $3.95/lb), a tiny little wine shop with a pretty good selection, a cheese counter, a chocolate shop, and the piece de resistance - Pastaria - selling a huge array of pastas and sauces. They must have had at least 15 different raviolis - we went back on Sunday to bring some home with us and my purchases included Jamaican Jerk Chicken in a Lime Cilantro shell, Goat Cheese, Smoked Salmon, and Portabella with Proscuitto and Pinenuts. I haven't made any yet, but I have full expectations that they'll be wonderful. A must visit on any trip to Columbus, and if at all possible, bring a cooler so you can bring stuff home. 4/4 thumbs up. Cheap eats for lunch, although you could spend lots on all the goodies.

Saturday night we got out to dinner late and wanted something quick and easy, so popped right across the street from the convention center to Barley's Brew Pub. Another place with no non-smoking section, this had booth seating that made it a little less obtrusive than at Betty's. My shrimp with peanut sauce appetizer was great, as were the hot wings. The red pepper bisque was okay, but overwhelming in its amount of butter and cream. The entrees included crab ravioli, a burger, and a tuna melt. Amusing story about the crab ravioli - it was supposed to be served on a bed of spinach, which was missing when it arrived to Scott. When we finally managed to grab our server, she agreed that it was a problem and went to the kitchen to see what she could do. Comes back to ask if getting spinach on the side would be okay, and Scott says that's fine. Well, you can probably see where this is going. Sure enough, she delivers a bowl of raw spinach. Which probably wilts quite nicely under the hot pasta, but was quite useless as a side. Fortunately, thanks to the excellent beer, properly made Long Island Ice Teas (ie. 5 oz of alcohol), and the house hard lemonade that I had been drinking, we all found this utterly hysterical and much merriment was had. The chocolate creme brulee for dessert was da bomb. 3/4 thumbs up. Moderate.

Sunday we hit North Market again for lunch and to stock up on pasta and some other goodies, then headed back home. I had several spots on my to-eat list that we didn't make it to this year, but we'll be back for the same convention next year and hopefully I'll have another great chowhound weekend to report!

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    Dave Feldman

    I don't know when Columbus, Ohio will be in my future, but this is the kind of post I love to read. Thanks mucho.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Dave Feldman

      Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it.

    2. s
      Sweet Willie


      Thanks for the report, I've got 4 nephews in Columbus and I'm trying to train them to be Chowhounds.

      In regards to the brisket, have you been to Texas and had beef brisket in Texas? If so, how does the city BBQ compare?


      2 Replies
      1. re: Sweet Willie

        I have not been to Texas, so can't speak to the brisket. I'm very fond of the brisket at Smokehouse Blues in Ypsilanti, MI, and found the City BBQ version to be a little less flavorful, but more tender.

        1. re: Tammy Coxen
          Sweet Willie

          Appreciate the quick reply. I will try it out in a couple weeks when I go to Columbus.

          On a side note, eating pulled pork in the Carolinas or beef brisket in Texas is an epiphany. I used to think that we in Chicago did BBQ well, I now know we do ribs great and there are a few places that do a pork shoulder well. The rest is junk.

          However I did find a really good brisket in Cincinnati (though different from TX), so the hope remains that perhaps Great BBQ has traveled further north to Columbus.

      2. l
        Laughing Goddess

        Tammy, when you try the ravioli, will you report back? I go to Columbus once or twice a year, but I might make a trip soon for the ravioli you described....

        1 Reply
        1. re: Laughing Goddess

          I tried the portobello/prosciutto/pine nut ones, and they weren't at all what I was expecting. I was thinking they'd be mostly mushroom, and instead they were mostly prosciutto. They also unexpectedly had some cheese in them (I think) so they were very rich. Not expecting that I made a cream sauce and it was really too much.

          One of the friends I was with got the smoked mozarrella ravioli, and we had those with a red wine tomato sauce and they were incredible! So we're 50/50 so far, and still have 6 more varieties between the two of us to try.

          I'll keep you posted.

        2. Thanks for the tips! Going to Columbus in a couple of weeks on business, and this helps.

          5 Replies
          1. re: ekolodinski

            might want to start a new thread, as this one's 6 yrs old & some of these places might be closed/no longer tasty. i'm sure the columbus hounds would love to help you out, though!

            1. re: soupkitten

              Yes, my beloved Tapatio, with margaritas we dubbed "quaaludes in a cup", closed many moons ago. Everything else mentioed is still up and going. Columbus is all non-smoking now, with outdoor patio exceptions.

              1. re: soupkitten

                I recently made a list of the 100 best foods in Columbus - myself and some other local food bloggers came together and made the list. If anyone is interested I'd post it.

                1. re: DELICIOU5

                  I was not included in this list making. :-) I'd like to see it, though.

                  1. re: DELICIOU5

                    I would like to see that 100 best list as well. I just moved here and I can't wait to try out more restaurants.

              2. Seems like Betty's is exempt from the statewide ban on smoking in bars or restaurants in Ohio. I'll avoid it myself and tell the folks I know who still smoke.

                1 Reply
                1. re: kaschalk

                  There isn't smoking in Betty's, and hasn't been as far back as I can remember (I started going there in 2006). You're responding to a review from 2003. I'd hate for you to avoid a great restaurant/bar based on incorrect information.