Last weekend, Scheidt and I unexpectedly had a mini-vacation in Columbus, Ohio. We ended up spending about 18 hours exploring the area of the city called the Short North, something of a cross between our Strip and Cultural District. Centered on High Street, immediately north of downtown Columbus and extending to the border of the Ohio State* campus, this artsy-foodie district is packed with curious boutiques, bars, restaurants and galleries.
I went to college outside Columbus, and when you are 19, or even 21, you can think you know everything about a city because you have been there six times. My friends and I knew how to find the downtown theater where Ballet Met performed, a hippie bar near Ohio State that had a Phish-y sounding band and $2 Rolling Rocks on Wednesdays, and the Bravo in Worthington that none of us realized (or would have cared) was a chain restaurant. And that was the full city as far as I was concerned.
Well, I stand corrected. Chain restaurants were studiously avoided this weekend, and instead, we feasted on sushi, sampled delicious (and cheap!) wines, gobbled a fantastic brunch and wandered through an awesome market. Here’s where we went.
Haiku Poetic Food and Art
800 North High Street
We were more than happy to enjoy our first outdoor meal of 2010 at this swanky-yet-approachable pan-Asian eatery that features both adventurous sushi and familiar dishes like pad thai and spring rolls. The bar featured house-infused vodkas (which, for the record, go down like Kool-aid) and a tasty Cava for just $7 a glass. We started out with the lettuce wraps ($8.50), which were so intensely flavored with garlic and hoisin that you could smell across the patio every time a plate came out. Our dining companions ordered the pad thai ($10.50) and General Tso’s chicken ($12.95), both of which provided standout examples of these frequently overly-Americanized dishes: complex sauces, expertly cooked meat and/or tofu, and surprisingly large portions given both the price and the atmosphere. And even though we were stuffed by the time it appeared, we also tried two sushi rolls – the creamy jumbo shrimp tempura roll ($11.50) with avocado and cream cheese, and the “Over the Rainbow” roll ($14), a massive conglomeration of shrimp tempura, hamachi, avocado and even more stuff I can’t remember. These were the big rolls that won’t fit in my mouth whole.
789 North High Street
My first and largest Pennsylvania complaint is liquor laws that prevent businesses like this wine store from setting up shop near my house. This wine store and tasting room claims to offer 100 great wines at less that $25 (and several for more than that, as well), and we found no reason to disagree. Upstairs in the loft, you can do a flight of wine samples ($10 for 4 wines) in a cozy space that seemed to attract people with great brunch recommendations (more on that in a minute). Have no fear, we availed ourselves of several bottles to bring home, including an effervescent Argentinian white blend called New Age for just $9 a bottle. Eat it, PALCB.
680 North Pearl Avenue
Scheidt and I never get tired of breakfast food, so we were only more than happy to accept those brunch recommendations. We got several options – including Skillet and North Star – but Tasi, a family-style café tucked away on a side street, was the standout favorite. Our new friends at Vino 100 seemed to melt just thinking about it, and Saturday morning, we found out why. Our fruit platter was a chopped salad of apple, pear, orange and grapefruit garnished with a few of the season’s first strawberries. My huevos racheros ($7), served with a crispy black bean quesadilla, were topped with a spectacular homemade salsa, while Scheidt’s biscuits and sausage gravy ($7) were literally the best either of us had ever had (and we know Scheidt knows sausage.) Our table-mate – it’s family-style seating – was a true Tasi evangelist, relating the cafe’s relationship to the nearby fine dining restaurant Rigsby’s, telling the story of their bakery, and even securing Scheidt an egg for his biscuits. (“You didn’t get it with eggs? Get this guy an egg!”)
59 Spruce Street
And finally, my largest source of Columbus jealousy: North Market. I admit that I’m someone who can go into a grocery store to browse, but I think just about anyone would be enchanted at North Market. It’s a true, old-fashioned, indoor market, with 35 vendors selling everything from handmade ice cream (salted caramel! honey vanilla!), to sustainably raised meats (triple-smoked bacon!) to flowers to beer to hot sauce to cakes to stunning raviolis. It’s a two-story brick building that felt about the size of a football field inside, with an eating area upstairs and vendor booths on the ground floor. Most of the vendors sell for both on-site consumption and takeout. And now, I officially can’t wait until our own Public Market opens this summer!
*Buckeyes are delicious cookies… and that’s the end of nice things I can say about Buckeyes. I am from Michigan, after all.