By definition, a gastropub is any drinking establishment that also serves high-end food. Presumably, one could classify a place like Clintonville’s O’Reilly’s a “gastropub,” if only for the mammoth burgers covered in piquant peppercorns, a delicacy that’s arguably the best burger in town.
But in a food scene where the gastropub has ascended from trend to staple, it’s imperative that chefs and bartenders alike rise to the challenge of stretching the spectrum of average gastropub fare. Come for the barrel-aged, prohibition cocktails and craft beer, stay for the free-range chicken and lamb shank kebabs.
For Westies Executive Chef Jeremy Cook, the gastropub is defined “by being unique, with a chef who is passionate about the food and keeps things fresh, flexible, and constantly changing.” A simple order of nachos may seem an easy task, but with Cook’s al pastor nachos, it means pork shoulder marinated for days in anchiote, heaped with fresh pico and a kick of ancho crème. It’s a destination dish.
Fortunately, the Columbus food scene has embraced that next level, and any gastropub worth its weight in truffles aims for such quality. Since charcuterie and select cheeses have become commonplace, a destination dish for a gastropub must transform tavern classics into something rooted in tradition that offers surprising flavor. For the Sycamore, it’s prawns in a fresh horseradish-tomato relish that serve as peel-and-eat shrimp.
Still, for all the small-plate indulgence, a gastropub tends to be measured best by the quality of the burger. It’s something that places like Bar 145 and 101 Beer Kitchen have taken to heart, providing endless options, from cream cheese to artisanal bacon to the ultimate hangover sandwich.
No matter how the gastropub is defined, as long as Columbus diners crave upscale jalapeño poppers or cumin-fried chickpeas to pair with their sundry libations, the phenomenon will be a permanent fixture in our culinary landscape.
101 BEER KITCHEN, 7509 Sawmill Rd. Dublin
To understand the difference between a middle-of-the-road tavern and a gastropub, look no further than 101 Beer Kitchen’s update on seven-layer dip – ancho-rubbed shrimp, chorizo refried beans, smoked pico, and house-made chili-lime chips. If you do look further though, you’ll discover craft beer – loads of it.
BAR 145, 955 W Fifth Ave.
The Toledo import (no worries – water sourced locally) expanded to Grandview, where it serves dishes like house truffle fries, tempura-battered green beans, and roasted bone marrow, in addition to its signature burgers – all cooked to a perfect medium-rare 145 degrees.
WOLF’S RIDGE BREWING, 215 N Front St.
Taking a nod from CBC (see next page), this up-and-comer combines bar, restaurant, and microbrewery (a gastropubbery?). In addition to its own selection of nine ales, dubbels, and tripels, Wolf’s Ridge serves everything from cheese plates to lobster tails.
THE SYCAMORE, 262 E Sycamore St.
The Sycamore eschews traditional ground beef burgers, opting instead to change up the tavern favorite with bison, turkey, and quinoa and chickpea, accompanied on the menu by gourmet tacos, quality entrees, and a robust selection of wines and large-format beers.
COLUMBUS BREWING COMPANY, 525 Short St.
CBC was at the forefront of the trend before most people had heard the word “gastropub.” While its taps dispense nothing but Ohio craft brews – headlined by its own beloved creations – the kitchen whips up elevated dishes like herb-crusted walleye and Columbus Pale Ale BBQ pork sandwiches.
THE CREST GASTROPUB, 2855 Indianola Ave.
An easy way to tell if it’s a gastropub – look at the name. The Crest fully embraces its namesake concept, offering dishes with locally sourced ingredients, microbrews, and handcrafted cocktails garnished with herbs grown onsite in a comfortable, upscale bar atmosphere.
THE PEARL, 641 N High St.
Cameron Mitchell is probably best known for fine dining, but The Pearl bridges the gap between thoughtful, delicious cuisine and energetic barroom atmosphere. The rotating selection of barrel-aged cocktails and punches keep the mood lively for multiple rounds of starters and plates of oysters.
ARCH CITY TAVERN, 862 N High St.
With its respectable selection of microbrews, scotches, and Watershed cocktails, as well as its Short North store front, Arch City leans more toward bar than restaurant, but the moule frites, goat cheese and tapenade, and lamb, salmon, and roast beef sliders show off its culinary flare.
WESTIES GASTROPUB, 940 S Front St.
The newest addition to the Columbus scene, Westies has the bones of a high-end, polished tavern – a plethora of big TVs and a four-seasons patio – with an approachable menu of European-made-modern fare like potato pierogies, fish and chips, and shepherd’s pie.