Category Archives: Restaurant Review

Restaurant Week Fall 2009: The Top Steakhouse

I can’t tell you enough how much I love The Top – basically because it hasn’t changed for 50+ years. Same menu, same retro ambiance, same great service, same wonderful food. I always know that I’ll go there and have an awesome experience. So I’m so very psyched that they’re part of Dine Originals Columbus and take part in Restaurant Week.

The door at The Top Steakhouse

The one benefit to Restaurant Week being held in September vs. being held in March is that almost all of the restaurants we’ve visited have their patios open. The Top was no exception – I love eating out there because inside, it’s so dark you can barely see your food. Outside, you get to see how beautiful the presentation is under the full spectrum of daylight.

The Patio at The Top Steakhouse

The Top’s menu for Restaurant Week is virtually unchanged from March’s menu – with the exception of one of the desserts, it IS the same. Not a problem, since we were so incredibly pleased with our meal in March. And in a twist of fate, we had the same server, too. We were thrilled that Emily remembered us, along with some of our preferences during that meal.

The Top Steakhouse Restaurant Week Menu

Every meal at The Top starts out with a relish tray. We love this, as unusual as this seems.

Relish Plate at The Top Steakhouse

We loved, loved, loved the bread basket that night – fluffy pillows of honeyed yeasty deliciousness that we couldn’t get enough of. This may be part of the reason I filled up so quickly, even though we only had 2 rolls each. They were served with a soft whipped butter that spread so easily and melted slightly into the still warm rolls.

Dinner Rolls from The Top Steakhouse

For his appetizer, Paul chose the escargot. Neither one of us had ever had escargot before, and we both absolutely loved them. The snails themselves are reminiscent in taste and texture of a really earthy mushroom, and they are swimming in a garlic-butter-cheese combination that totally rocks. Once you’ve plucked the escargot out, you dip the accompanying toast into the garlic butter to soak up the evilness that is the combination of all the flavors.

Escargot from The Top Steakhouse

I went with my eternal favorite at The Top, the French onion soup. I’ve been known to stop in for this soup alone. Imagine a slightly boozy, beefy broth, chock full of sweet caramelized onions and croutons, and topped with melted cheese. Theirs is easily the best version of this dish I’ve had.

French Onion Soup from The Top Steakhouse

For the salad course, Paul went with the House salad, which tops salad greens with all manners of veggies, blue cheese, and an Italian dressing. Simple, but delicious.

House Salad from The Top Steakhouse

My Caesar salad could easily be an entree unto itself. Mounded high on a dinner plate (yes, that is not a salad plate!), the crisp romaine lettuce is tossed in a mayonnaise-based creamy Caesar dressing, croutons, and Parmesan cheese. With the addition of a little salt and pepper, it was very satisfying. So satisfying that I got full about halfway through eating it. I realized then I should have passed on seconds on those rolls. 😉

Caesar Salad from The Top Steakhouse

We both went with the Surf & Turf for our entree – in both cases, the lobster was slightly overdone and the steak was very underdone (I like mine still mooing, essentially, and it was less done than that). Paul sent his back to the kitchen to be refired, which they did without question, and it came back out perfectly the second time around. Since I was taking my steak and potato home to eat later, I chose to have mine boxed as is, so that when I reheated it later, it would be done to medium rare.

Surf 'n Turf at The Top Steakhouse

Not part of Restaurant Week, but my husband absolutely had to have the Potatoes au gratin side – he’s had this before at Taste of the Independents and loved it.

Potatoes au Gratin from The Top Steakhouse

For his dessert, he chose the Funnel Cake with ice cream and fresh strawberries. Fair food kicked up a notch, this was like an ice cream sundae on steroids.

Funnel Cake from The Top Steakhouse

I went with a classic creme brulee, and found it amusing that Emily had remembered what I said last time around about the sugar not cracking properly if you do it in advance of dinner service. This time around, it was absolutely perfect.

Creme Brulee from The Top Steakhouse

I’ll never, ever turn down a meal at The Top – and to dine there with a discount? Bonus!

If you’d like to go: The Top Steakhouse, 2891 E. Main Street, Columbus (just east of Bexley), 614-231-8238

Top Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Week Fall 2009: Katzinger’s

I love the way in which Katzinger’s embraces Restaurant Week. We were thrilled to death with the 3 sandwich sampler they had during the spring edition, so it goes without saying that we were going to try out their offerings this time around. Since our focus this week was on keeping it on the cheap, Katzinger’s deal that feeds 2 people for $20.09 seemed like one we couldn’t miss.

Katzinger's Restaurant Week Menu

Unfortunately, just like spring, we didn’t have much luck with the free pickles – this is usually my favorite part of eating at Katzinger’s, but this time around, the dills were way beyond salty, and the garlic pickles were barely pickled at all.

Pickles from Katzinger's

The deal this time around was 2 Sandwiches + 2 Salads + 2 Desserts from the choices on the menu for $20.09 (or $10.04 for one of each).

For what it’s worth, my sandwich was very good. Nice big pieces of turkey paired well with sweet caramelized onions, the tang of blue cheese, crisp slices of Granny Smith apples, all tied together with a balsamic dressing and then grilled. My salad, however good, was quite a bit underdressed, so Paul ended up eating since I have trouble eating salads that are on the dry side.

Oven Roasted Turkey Sandwich and Mesclun Mix from Katzinger's

I absolutely loved my dessert, a dense, almost ganache-like flourless chocolate bar with toasted pine nuts and fleur de sel sea salt. I love the combination of sweet and salty, and this was one of most successful executions of this that I’ve encountered.

Flourless Chocolate Bar with Toasted Pine Nuts and Fleur de Sel Sea Salt from Katzinger's

Paul chose the Pulled Pork Sandwich with caramelized onions and white Vermont cheddar on an onion roll. This was a great sandwich, and the roll added texture that it definitely needed. Paul also opted for the mesclun mix, and his was dressed adequately. His dessert was a pumpkin pie bar with caramel pecan topping, which tasted just like Thanksgiving.

Pulled Pork Sandwich, Mesclun Mix and Pumpkin Pie Bar from Katzinger's.

Before we left, we got the one sandwich that we hadn’t tried a la carte. The Roasted Eggplant sandwich, which pairs roasted eggplant slices with fresh mozzarella and house made tomato jam which is then grilled on fire bread. Quite savory and spicier than expected, this is the perfect choice for vegetarians, because it doesn’t compromise flavor for a second.

Roasted Eggplant/Fresh Mozzarella Sandwich from Katzinger's

We weren’t disappointed with our choices at Katzinger’s – it’s somewhere we don’t eat at nearly enough. I’m hoping we’ll return soon – with all the celebrations for their 25th anniversary coming up in October, hopefully it will be sooner rather than later.

If you’d like to go: Katzinger’s Delicatessen, 475 S. Third Street, Columbus, OH 43215, 614-228-DELI

Katzinger's Delicatessen on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Week Fall 2009: Pistacia Vera

We had just enough room (and time) after our visit to Banana Bean Cafe, that we decided to stop at Pistacia Vera in German Village to try out their Restaurant Week offerings. We’re absolutely in love with their space there, even though it’s been a year or two now that they’ve been in that location.

Outside of Pistacia Vera

I’ve always been impressed by the beauty and simplicity of the store. Everything looks so darn appetizing that I guess it’s a good thing that the Restaurant Week menu is a set one. 🙂

Display Case at Pistacia Vera

And what a menu it is – a sampling of almost all the great stuff on their menu for $20.09, designed to be a dessert and hot beverages for two (or one very hungry, very sugar tolerant person).

Restaurant Week Menu at Pistacia Vera

And here’s a picture of the selection. You get to choose what macarons and pate de fruit you want – since their menu will be changing for fall in a couple of weeks, we picked summer flavors like Strawberry Rose and Raspberry. For the pate, we chose Cherry Kirsch and Strawberry Lychee. Everything here is so decadent and rich, I had a hard time finishing my portion of the dessert.

Restaurant Week Selection at Pistacia Vera

So, if you’re on the way home from one of your other Restaurant Week visits, don’t hesitate to stop in, even if you’re not hungry at the moment. Because if you’re not in the mood to eat in their charming boutique? You can have the lovely ladies pack it in a package to take home with you instead. 🙂

If you’d like to go: Pistacia Vera, 541 S. Third Street, Columbus, OH 43215, 614-220-9070

Pistacia Vera on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Week Fall 2009: Banana Bean Cafe

We’ve been semi-regulars of Banana Bean Cafe since their fabulous showing during spring’s Restaurant Week, so we were more than a little surprised when by late Tuesday afternoon, there was no Restaurant Week menu up yet for Banana Bean. After a phone call where I was given bad information and a swift correction of that bad information via Twitter, I did find out that they are, in fact, offering a special for Restaurant Week, even though it’s not listed on the Dine Originals Columbus site – their deal this week is 2 Brunch Items + 1 Starter for $20.99 – considering the fact that the brunch items go for $9-$15 each (with the majority being $12 or $15), and the starters ranging from $5-$11, it’s one heck of a deal, especially if you’re getting 2 $15 brunch plates and an $11 starter ($41 value for $20.09).

Since our last visit, Banana Bean Cafe got a bit of a paint job – the exterior is now brightly painted, in colors reminiscent of South Florida.

Banana Bean Cafe Sign

And they’ve really fleshed out the back patio, it’s got loads of character now. Love the outdoor grill.

Banana Bean Cafe's Patio

And I love the tables they built, the decorations, and the paint job that matches that on the front of the building.

Another View of Banana Bean Cafe's Patio

As an aside, one thing I don’t love is the fact that the Ohio smoking ban doesn’t extend to the back patio of the place – when we started our meal, there was no one else out there, but by the time we left, there were 3 cigarettes and a cigar going at a table near ours, and we had to get out of there because the stench was really starting to get to us. I’m usually fairly tolerant of smoking, but not so much when there’s so much of it going on that it affects the taste of my food.

Banana Bean Cafe has great drink deals – they offer $2 margaritas all day long, and I always get one or two when I eat there. Although not the best margarita I’ve ever had, it’s pretty solid, and pretty strong.

Margarita from Banana Bean Cafe

And if you get there during happy hour (4-6PM), one of the perks is a free basket of freshly fried chips and a nice spicy salsa.

Chips and Salsa from Banana Bean Cafe

Even though it’s not part of the Restaurant Week menu, Paul opted to get a cup of their Cuban Black Bean soup ($3) a la carte – he enjoyed it so much during the last Restaurant Week, that he wanted it again today. This is a hearty, stick to your ribs, full of flavor soup, which if one had gotten as a bowl, would be a meal unto itself.

Cuban Black Bean Soup from Banana Bean Cafe

For our starter, even though there are tons of new appetizers on the menu, we got one of our old favorites – the YaYa’s Eggplant Fries (normally $7). You can’t really tell these are made out of eggplant, as they’re just savory and crunchy on the outside, while moist and non-descript on the inside. They normally come with a spicy but sweet chile dipping sauce, but we love tempering the heat of the chile sauce with a small cup of the creamy Ya-Ya sauce.

YaYa's Eggplant Fries from Banan Bean Cafe

For my brunch item, I went for one of the new menu items, the BB Ranchero (normally $12), which consists of two fried eggs, grilled tortillas, house potatoes, black beans, sweet fried plantains, avocado mash, Mexican crema, and red hacienda sauce. While the serving size was substantial (but mostly potatoes, unfortunately), and the flavor fairly solid, this one didn’t quite resonate with me – I’m not sure if it’s that it seemed to be missing something (meat? heat? not sure), or because the potatoes seemed to overwhelm the dish and drown out the other flavors, or if because the tough tortillas made eating it unwieldy, but I probably wouldn’t order it again.

BB Ranchero from Banana Bean Cafe

Paul’s choice, the Lobster Hash (normally $15), another new brunch item, absolutely was the bomb-diggity. An almost insurmountable mountain of griddled lobster, red bliss potatoes, two poached eggs, and a green chile hollandaise, this dish was flavorful, spicy, and downright decadent. We did notice, after the fact, that it was completely missing the simple salad it was also supposed to come with. Not that he would have had room for it in his belly, mind you. As it was, he had to take a good portion of the hash home with him.

Lobster Hash from Banana Bean Cafe

There are tons of new dishes on the new menu, which has only been in effect for a few weeks. With the spectacular bargain that Restaurant Week offers, run, don’t walk, to give one of the 7 new (in addition to the 8 existing) brunch items a try at a great discount. We’ll probably be going back ourselves before the week is up – I have my eyes on the North Shore Seafood Omelette (an open faced griddled omelette with scallops, gulf shrimp, and blistered vegetables sauteed in a garlic butter tomato sauce), while Paul is all geared up to try the Grandaddie’s Chicken and Waffles (buttermilk fried boneless chicken breast with an almond scented Belgian waffle and apricot honey syrup).

If you’d like to go: Banana Bean Cafe, 340 Greenlawn Ave., Columbus, OH 43223, 614-443-2262

Banana Bean Cafe on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Week Fall 2009: Black Creek Bistro

In foodie circles, Black Creek Bistro has always had a stellar reputation, and has always come highly recommended. So I was fairly sure that my less than ideal experience during Restaurant Week in the spring was an anomaly, and I had all intentions to go back and try it again when food was seasonal. Lucky for me, Restaurant Week Fall Edition was scheduled for right when the best produce would be available, so returning to Black Creek Bistro for a follow-up visit this week was a no-brainer.

Black Creek Bistro Sign

As they did in the spring, Black Creek Bistro is one of the only participating restaurants that is offering four courses instead of three, but with the addition of a couple of new chefs since then, it inevitably was going to be a much easier thing to pull off. I had already made my choices before we even walked in the restaurant door.

Restaurant Week Menu from Black Creek Bistro

I was glad to be able to take a couple of minutes to catch up with Chef Kent Peters, who I had not seen since Taste of the Independents. As I’ve mentioned before, he’s one class act. I have the utmost of respect for the sustainability he incorporates between farm and restaurant – to know that most of the vegetables eaten during the meal were grown on the farm made my little locavore heart happy.

Bread service (not pictured), were run of the mill dinner rolls, but they were nicely warmed and crispy on the outside, and served with a rather delicious compound butter.

To start, I chose the chili relleno, which was a fiery, roasted hot banana pepper stuffed with melted queso fresco, dipped in what tasted like a beer batter and fried until crisp, served on top of a cold ragu of tomatillos and other veggies which added a sweetness, tempered the heat of the chile pepper, and just paired wonderfully. Although the dish was at the very edge of heat level I can tolerate, it still was a starter that I’d look forward to ordering again if it were on the regular menu.

Chili Relleno from Black Creek Bistro

Paul chose the Tri-Color Seafood Carpaccio, in which raw tuna, scallop, and salmon was pounded thin and given a treatment similar to ceviche (with lime juice and olive oil). The roasted garlic was an especially nice touch, but I think the crostini was a bit of a distraction and not even necessary to pull this dish together.

Tri-Color Seafood Carpaccio from Black Creek Bistro

For the salad course, I went for the Heirloom Beet Salad, which topped farm fresh mixed greens with roasted red beets and 4 different kind of heirloom tomatoes. A nice crumble of goat cheese and feta, a flavorful pesto, and cucumbers just made this a perfect example of the farm on a plate. It doesn’t get much better (or fresher) than this.

Heirloom Beet Salad from Black Creek Bistro

Paul opted for the Bistro Salad, which was a nice simple composed salad of mesclun mix topped with strawberries, gorgonzola cheese, red onion, walnuts and a slightly sweet balsamic dressing. While not the least bit complex, it was absolutely delicious.

Bistro Salad from Black Creek Bistro

My entree was a perfectly seared red snapper, paired with a triangle of au gratin potatoes, fresh spinach, and balsamic roasted red pepper relish that was studded with olives. Although I’m not a huge olive fan, the flavor wasn’t overwhelming, and just added a bit of brininess to the dish.

Snapper from Black Creek Bistro

Paul’s entree was the most unusual dish of the evening, a Peanut Butter and Jelly Duck. A perfectly seared breast of duck is sliced, and topped with a slightly sweet berry sauce. The noodles are tossed in a slightly sweet peanut sauce. Combined, the sauces truly do taste just like peanut butter and jelly. The portion size was perfect, because this dish could easily get cloying in a larger quantity.

Peanut Butter & Jelly Duck from Black Creek Bistro

We both opted for the Bacon Apple Tart for dessert – it was a simple apple tart, served with house-made buttermilk ice cream, and sprinkled with crispy lardons of bacon. I love the combination of salty and sweet, and this did not disappoint. I especially loved the ice cream.

Bacon Apple Tart with Buttermilk Ice Cream from Black Creek Bistro

In short, our experience this time around was the polar opposite of our last experience, and I can now see why it’s both a media and local foodie darling. I can see myself visiting much more often, especially during the growing season.

Our server, Katie, was absolutely awesome. Engaging, friendly, non-obtrusive, and anticipated our every need without us even needing to ask.

If you’d like to go: Black Creek Bistro, 51 Parsons Ave, Columbus, OH 43215, 614-246-9662

Black Creek Bistro on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Week Fall 2009: Milo’s Deli

As part of our desire to do Restaurant Week recession-style, more than half of the places we visit this week will be $20.09 or less for the pair of us. This is one such place.

Milo’s Deli is located on West Broad in Franklinton, just a few blocks west of Mt. Carmel West Hospital. Franklinton is a much-maligned but underappreciated neighborhood, chock full of history. I happen to think it’s a diamond in the rough, similar to the Short North circa 1995. I’m hoping that due to it’s proximity to downtown, like the Short North, it will eventually show some revitalization. Places such as Milo’s will go a long way toward making that wish a reality.

Easily accessible since it’s on Broad Street, there is no shortage of parking, as there is both plenty of on-street parking and Milo’s also has it’s own lot off to the side.

Milo's Deli Sign

Upon walking in, we saw that the Dine Originals special was prominently displayed. We went around the side to order, talking to the slightly standoffish but otherwise helpful cashier. After paying for your order, you seat yourself, and wait for them to call you.

The special this week is 2 Milo’s Reubens, 2 side salads, 2 drinks and 2 cookies for $20.09. While this is very similar to their regular price (you can buy the sandwich/side/drink combo normally for $9.75), it is one heck of a value for the amount of food. Both Paul and I left there absolutely stuffed. The Milo’s Reuben that was the centerpiece of both of our platters was one of the better ones I’ve had – good meat to bread ratio, nice combination of meats (corned beef, turkey and pastrami), nicely grilled, hearty rye bread that had properly chewy crust, and good balance among all the other toppings. It is very similar to the sandwich offered by a well known deli in town, but at a fraction of the price. The sandwich is a static offering during Restaurant Week, but there are quite a few other choices otherwise – about 6-8 different types of drinks including fountain soda, several different potato and pasta salads to choose from for your side, and about 6 different types of cookie.

Special Menu at Milo's Deli

I went with the combo of Reuben, Redskin Potato Salad, Chips and Sugar Cookie. The redskin potato salad is sour-cream based, with a bit of dill, and the generous portion was quite enjoyable. The requisite dill pickle was crunchy and had good flavor. And the sugar cookie was the size of a softball, and extremely moist.

Reuben, Potato Salad, Chips & Sugar Cookie at Milo's Deli

Paul went with the tortellini salad, which is cheese tortellini with fresh veggies and an Italian dressing, and an oatmeal raisin cookie, which was also huge and full of traditional oatmeal raisin flavor.

Reuben, Tortellini Salad, Chips, and Oatmeal Raisin Cookie at Milo's Deli

The regular menu at Milo’s is huge, and we hope to go back soon to experience more of it. I was surprised that such a deli existed in Franklinton, and can see why it’s extremely popular with hospital employees. I can only hope that people won’t be put off by the location and venture over to give it a try. It certainly is worth a visit.

If you’d like to go: Milo’s Deli & Cafe, 980 W. Broad St, Columbus (Franklinton), OH 43222, 614-224-0104

Milos Deli & Cafe on Urbanspoon

Restaurant Week Fall 2009: G. Michael’s

Let me just first start by saying that I’m thrilled to death that Restaurant Week is back for the fall. I enjoyed my experiences so much this spring (as did others) that it was a win-win situation for both the restaurants and customers alike. Our choices this time will be a bit lower cost, but that doesn’t mean we won’t get a fewer higher end ones in there, like this one.

Let me just put it on record that I’ve never, ever had a bad experience at G. Michael’s. It’s easily in my Top 10 list of best restaurants in Columbus, and we’ve had absolutely stellar food and service each time. So this was the first place on our list for Restaurant Week, and we didn’t want to wait until the end of the week when word of how great it is got to everyone else making it impossible to get in there. 🙂

G. Michael's Bistro in Columbus, OH

The three-course menu at G. Michael’s will run you $30.09 per person, making it one of the more expensive options for Restaurant Week, but given the quality of the food, the atmosphere, and the listed menu prices for the components of the meal, it truly is a great value.

G. Michael’s hasn’t changed its bread service in like, ever; but the bread here is so good that I can see why they stick with something that works. As usual, the hearty sourdough and what I believe to be a wheat bread are served with a nice, soft, pepper and onion based compound butter.

Bread Service at G. Michael's

For my first course, I chose the Pan-Fried Crab Cake with sweet corn butter sauce and house-made guacamole. This was a very nicely composed dish, where the flavors really played off of each other. Not to say that each individual component wasn’t good on it’s own, especially the guacamole that had a nice flavor to it (which I later found out was lime zest) that you don’t usually find as a component. The crunch of the breading on the crab cake, too, lent a good contrast that I found to be well-balanced.

Pan-Fried Crab Cake from G. Michael's

Paul went with the Summer Tomato Bisque, which was a thick, creamy, extremely savory but not overly spiced hot tomato soup, which captured the flavor of the seasonal fruit beautifully. This was an extremely hearty offering.

Summer Tomato Bisque at G. Michael's

The entrees, though, is where it was at, especially Paul’s choice of Spinach-Stuffed Golden Trout, served with a fingerling potato, bell pepper, green tomato and apple-smoked bacon hash with leek cream sauce and pecan pesto. Oh, this dish was absolutely beautiful in every way, and I’m so glad it’s a regular menu item, because we WILL return for this one before the menu changes over next month. The skin-on trout was crispy on the outside, stuffed with a nicely seasoned creamy spinach, on top of a concoction of absolute evil that was swimming in some of the best creamed sauce ever. The pecan pesto just brought the entire dish over the top. The flavor? Beyond describing in words, you’ll have to try this one for yourself.

Spinach-Stuffed Golden Trout at G. Michael's

I was equally pleased, however, with my choice of Veal Osso Bucco with sweet pea, shiitake mushroom and roasted garlic risotto, in a saffron-scented jus and candied tomatoes, if for no other reason that you rarely see this on any menu, and I’m a huge fan of anything with marrow. It was tender, flavorful, and sat upon a risotto which although not the traditional preparation for Osso Bucco (a Risotto Milanese), went together perfectly. I think that’s why they used the jus to bring those saffron flavors in. I’m not so sure about the candied tomatoes, though – they seemed just like chopped regular tomatoes to me.

Veal Osso Bucco at G. Michael's

Paul’s dessert choice of Lemon Gingersnap Tart was a good one – the lemon filling was super creamy, tart but not too tart, in a candy-like crust. I’d order this one again myself.

Lemon Gingersnap Tart at G. Michael's

I really enjoyed my Buttermilk Panna Cotta with crumbled maple-oat streusel and blueberry-vanilla sauce. The streusel is what elevated this dish above being “just a panna cotta”, and was probably my favorite component in the dish.

Buttermilk Panna Cotta at G. Michael's

There’s a good reason we keep on going back to G. Michael’s – excellent food (they are especially artful at fish/seafood, we’ve found), understated but extraordinary service, great atmosphere. If you choose just one place to visit this Restaurant Week, this is a winner.

If you’d like to go (and a link to their Restaurant Week menu): G. Michael’s Bistro, 595 S. Third Street, Columbus, OH 43215, 614-464-0575.

G. Michael's Bistro and Bar on Urbanspoon

Review: Gallo’s Tap Room

I admit, for the longest time, I wouldn’t set foot into Gallo’s Tap Room. For all intents and purposes, it looks like a dive bar in the middle of a concrete wasteland nestled deep in suburbia. And maybe at one time, it was exactly that. But little birdies have been whispering in my ear for a while now, telling me to give it a chance, that the food was actually good despite the questionable choice of location.

Color us surprised that we had misjudged Gallo’s Tap Room all along. Our first clue that things would be different was when we spied the beer list, and saw that they had several good imports (including my beloved Lindemann’s Framboise lambic) on tap. Plus an impressive selection of bottled imports and microbrews as well.

The menu is on the small side, which allows them to focus on quality by using fresh ingredients (their wings are fresh, never frozen, for instance), making their own sauces and sides, etc. It’s a fusion of Italian and pub grub, with plenty to choose from among soup, salads and paninis. Their wings are reputed to be some of the best in Columbus.

The ambiance is typical dark sports bar, with plenty of tables about to enjoy your meal, but we chose to eat outside on their small patio. While it wasn’t an oasis surrounded by concrete, it did provide us the ability to eat outside in relative peace and quiet, with a nice breeze blowing.

We started with an order of their Fried Pierogies ($6.50), which were a half dozen potato and onion pierogi deep fried to a nice golden brown. While this isn’t a typical Midwest preparation, to displaced East Coasters like my husband and me, it was a nice slice of home. Served with sour cream (and the caramelized onions we asked for on the side), they were a thing of beauty, and a perfect start to our meal.

Pierogies from Gallo's Tap Room

For his main, my husband went with the 4 O’ Clock Panini ($7.25), which tops a Rustic bread with thinly sliced home made meatballs with a wonderful red sauce and aged provolone. The whole mess is grilled on a panini press to crispy perfection. Despite him taking darn near a half hour to finish it, it remained crispy and warm throughout.

4 'o Clock Panini Sandwich from Gallo's Tap Room

Sandwiches come with your choice of fries, an apple cole slaw, half and half (half of fries, half of cole slaw), or a salad. Or you can opt for soup for an additional charge. He chose the apple cole slaw, which is a traditional cabbage slaw with shreds of apple in it. The slaw was a lot less dressed than most I’ve had, and much less sweet (it seems if the sweetness comes primarily from the apple). A light sprinkling of salt helped bring out all the subtle flavors of it.

Apple Cole Slaw from Gallo's Tap Room

I went with their Angus Burger ($7.95), which is their best-selling sandwich. It puts a half pound burger (cooked to order) on a ciabatta roll, and then tops it with lettuce, tomato, and onion (and cheese if you desire). Unfortunately, when they first brought it to me it was woefully overcooked (well done when I had ordered it medium rare). When I brought it to our server’s attention he seemed genuinely mortified, and whisked it away and had a fresh burger to me in a matter of minutes. The second time around, the burger was just about perfect – nicely seasoned, cooked exactly medium rare, and juicy as all get out. The ciabatta roll stood up well to the juicy bloody onslaught. Opt for some of their homemade mayo to be served with it for a true taste treat.

Angus Burger from Gallo's Tap Room

I got fries with mine, and if they’re not fresh cut, they’re indistinguishable from fresh cut. Deep fried to golden perfection, and delicious with salt and some malt vinegar.

French Fries from Gallos Tap Room

Service was flawless. Our server (who I also believe is one of the brothers who owns the place) was engaging, helpful, and extremely attentive. Even though we were seated outside (away from the main dining area) we didn’t want for a single thing during our entire meal.

One would hardly expect to get outstanding food in a sports bar, but this is the exception to the rule. If you’re in the area, toss all your preconceived notions out and stop in. You won’t regret it for a second.

If you’d like to go: Gallo’s Tap Room, 5019 Olentangy River Rd (in the Micro Center Plaza, between KMart and Micro Center), Columbus, OH 43214, 614-457-2394

Gallo's Tap Room on Urbanspoon

Review: Basi Italia

When I ask those in the know where to get good Italian in Columbus, an answer that inevitably comes up time and time again is Basi Italia. Unbelievably though, although it’s been on my radar for ages, I never got around to eating there until a couple of days ago. Part of that is because it’s hidden away in a part of Victorian Village that I don’t normally travel. It’s that sort of blink and you’ll miss it place that you have to know about to notice, and it’s not the type of place you’ll stumble upon going about your day. I can imagine it is wildly popular with neighborhood folks, because it looks right at home among the quaint houses in that area.

We’ve heard lots of things about their beautiful patio, and when we had an unseasonably cool day recently, we decided to stop for lunch and experience it firsthand. Although it was well after the normal lunch rush, they still had a good crowd there, and not one person was sitting inside – it seems as everybody had the same desire to eat al fresco that we did. Although not a huge patio, it’s laid out well, and can fit more people out there than one would think at first glance.

Their lunch menu isn’t huge, but there are plenty of options to choose from. For a starter, I went with one of their specials, a watermelon-goat cheese salad ($5) that was served with some well-dressed arugula and a nice drizzle of balsamic vinegar. The watermelon they chose was at the height of sweetness and juicyness, and the red chile flake marinade it had soaked in lent a bite to the finished dish that was unexpected. The whole dish was extremely well balanced, and super light and refreshing.

Watermelon Goat Cheese Salad at Basi Italia

My husband chose a Baby Wedge Salad ($5) as his starter, which was essentially an entire cored & cleaned head of baby crisp lettuce on a plate with perfectly cooked bacon, red onion, grape tomatoes, gorgonzola cheese and a really creamy Green Goddess dressing. While it was a bit messy to eat, my husband found it to be extremely filling – almost a lunch unto itself, and a great value. He stated he’d go back for this alone.

Baby Wedge Salad at Basi Italia

The Pasta Pomodoro ($9) that my husband chose as his main was a simple dish, but prepared to perfection. The serving size was just right, and it was cooked to the perfect level of al dente. The simple tomato sauce wasn’t overly fussy, and the shaved Parmesan cheese it was served with helped bring out the sweetness and acidity of the tomatoes. It just goes to show that a dish need not be complex to be good.

Pasta Pomodoro at Basi Italia

The lump crab and sweet corn risotto ($12) that I ordered as my entree was among the best I’ve had in town. Once again, the risotto was prepared with a skilled hand, and all the flavors worked together wonderfully – the inherent sweetness of the crab and the corn and caramelized onions, the textural contrast and crunch of the sunflower spouts on top. The serving size was quite ample, and just the right amount to fill me up completely.

Lump Crab and Sweet Corn Risotto at Basi Italia

Service was super-friendly and on the ball. Our server was more than happy to answer the numerous questions we had on various components of the dishes and preparation methods without batting an eye. And since we went in mid-afternoon, on street parking on Hubbard was a breeze. We can’t wait to return!

If you’d like to go: Basi Italia, 811 Highland St, Columbus, OH 43215, 614-294-7383

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Review: Dirty Frank’s Hot Dog Palace

Well, it really would be unfair of me to call this a review, since it’s virtually impossible for me to be impartial. I’m lucky enough to count co-owners (and soon to be spouses!) Liz and Harold among my friends, and because of that, will naturally lean toward wanting to see them succeed in all of their endeavors. However, that doesn’t mean I’m above doling out a little constructive criticism, so we’ll just call this a quasi-review with the qualifier that I do have an established relationship with the owners.

I’ve been super excited about the opening of Dirty Frank’s, if for nothing else that it was a long time coming. Numerous unexpected delays and additional hoops to jump through meant that the opening didn’t come for nearly a year after its projected opening date. To say that it was one of the most anticipated openings in Columbus history would be pretty accurate, and it had built up a cult following and considerable buzz before even opening its doors. Part of that is due to the way that the Betty’s Family of Restaurants (BFR) has embraced social media with a vengeance, keeping interested parties up to date via Twitter, Facebook, Columbus Underground and more.

They opened for business on July 1st, with limited hours (they’re on a normal schedule now, open 7 days a week from 11am-2am). They’re located at 248 S. 4th Street (right near Rich, in the old Queen Bee space), and after extensive renovations (and one heck of a pretty ketchup-and-mustard colored paint job), became the cozy kitschy spot it is now. The walls are decorated with paintings of 80’s pop and metal stars, like Michael Jackson, Metallica, etc. done by Liz’s brother Thom Lessner. The music which fills the space is that of unsigned local bands. Every last detail has been thoughtfully put in place, and it shows.

We had stopped in the first time on opening night – it had been a complete madhouse that day, so we decided to wait a bit until things settled down to visit again. Fast forward to almost two months later, when we stopped by midweek in mid-afternoon. We took a seat in the window by the front door.

The first time we visited, they had been out of slushies because the demand for them far outweighed their supply. This time around, we were psyched because there were slushies to be had. I went with the cherry ($2), and Paul went with a more interesting variation called the Hot Rod Slush ($2), in which a habanero-lime syrup is swirled into a lime slushie. Both were quite refreshing, and Paul’s Hot Rod slushie had a nice kick to it, which appeared as a bit of a burn in the back of the throat.

Cherry & Lime Slushies at Dirty Frank's

Both the dogs (at $3 each on beef or veggie dog) and the sides ($2) are priced quite reasonably, making a visit to Dirty Frank’s well within just about everyone’s budget. On our first visit, we had tried the Chicago, the Whoa Nellie, the Nikola, the Razzle Dazzle and the Seoul Dog, of which the Chicago and the Razzle Dazzle were our favorites. In an effort to try everything on the menu at least once, we picked entirely different dogs this visit. We both tried each others dogs, too – so after this visit we’ve tried 9 dogs total. For what it’s worth, given the choice between the regular beef dog and the jumbo beef dog, go for the jumbo beef. It gives a nicer meat to bun ratio, and is well worth the cost of the .50 upgrade. In the future, I’d love if Dirty Frank’s offered toasting/grilling of the buns as an option. While I can appreciate a nice soft bun, I prefer a toasted one.

The Ohioana ($3.50 w/ jumbo beef dog) tops the dog with a spicy corn relish (made with sweet corn, jalapeno and pickle relish) on one of their dogs, which is then sprinkled with a touch of celery salt. While it’s a nice crunchy relish, I would love to see a little more kick to it (maybe more jalapeno?) so that the sweetness of the other ingredients would stand out more instead of blending into the background. As is, this topping is a definite safe choice for just about everyone.

Ohioana Dog at Dirty Frank's

My favorite of all the dogs I’ve tried so far is the Fancy Pants Dog ($3.50 w/ jumbo beef dog), which tops the dog with some Dijon mustard and nice sweet (and slightly “warm” spiced) cornichons. It’s a combination of flavors that I didn’t think I would enjoy, since I’m not particularly fond of pickles, but it somehow works really well.

Fancy Pants Dog at Dirty Frank's

The Tater Tots ($2) are a perfect side for hot dogs, and even more so when prepared “Alex Style” (topped with chili and cheese).

Tater Tots "Alex Style" at Dirty Frank's

I have to admit, the Fried Leeks ($2) stumped me a bit. I mean, I get the concept and what they’re going after (think blooming onion), but I don’t think it works quite as well in execution. While there were some crispy tasty bits, for the most part, it ended up being a bit greasy and soggy, way messy and confusing to eat (do you use your hands? or a fork and knife?), and way too much waste of perfectly good leeks. It was cool to order it once to try it, but I don’t think that we’ll get this one again. That being said, it does seem to have very vocal fans who order it every time they visit, so it could be a matter of personal preference on my part.

Fried Leeks at Dirty Frank's

Paul opted to get the Beano Dog ($3.75 w/ beef brat), one of their vegetarian offerings, on a beef brat rather than the veggie dog it usually comes with. To both of us, it was reminiscent of really tasty nachos, and we both enjoyed it thoroughly. Our only wish was that the cheddar cheese on top be melted a bit, which would have made a good dog even better.
Beano Dog at Dirty Frank's

Paul, the olive lover, really enjoyed the True Love Always dog ($3.50 w/ jumbo beef dog), which pairs the combination of green olives and cream cheese. I wasn’t a fan (because I don’t like olives very much), but Paul said the cream cheese cut the brininess of the olives perfectly. It was the right amount of olives with the right amount of cream cheese, and struck a needed balance that pulled it all together.

True Love Always Dog at Dirty Frank's

The french fries ($2) here are fresh cut, and were a great receptacle for some added salt and malt vinegar (if you don’t see it on the table, ask for it – they’ll be more than happy to bring you over a bottle). These would also be awesome topped with chili and cheese.

French Fries at Dirty Frank's

The sport-pepper studded macaroni and cheese ($2) was nice and creamy, and perfectly al dente. I would love to see leftover mac and cheese reused the next day in the form of mac and cheese balls rolled in panko and deep fried. A girl can dream, right? 😉

Macaroni and Cheese at Dirty Frank's

We finished things with a shared funnel cake ($2). While it was a bit flatter and more symmetrical than any funnel cake I’ve had before, the flavor was all there and I really appreciated the light hand with the powdered sugar (too often, you end up wearing more than you eat!). Plus, it’s fun to eat fair food in a restaurant.

Funnel Cake at Dirty Frank's

Cocktails at Dirty Franks are fun and imaginative. I really enjoyed the Alabama Slammer on my first visit – it reminded me of hot summers in the late 80’s, back in the days when I did far too much partying for my own good.

I can see why they have such a following – it’s a fun atmosphere, where you ALWAYS see someone you know, it’s affordable, it’s accessible, casual, unpretentious and it’s good. We’ll definitely be back. Often.

If you’d like to go: Dirty Frank’s Hot Dog Palace, 248 S. 4th Street, Columbus, OH 43215, 614.824.4673

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