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Forged by Fire

First, forget everything you know about barbecue. It’s not because you’re wrong—it’s because barbecue is more than you probably think. It’s not just having the talent and patience to let food cook low and slow. It’s about assembling the right ingredients and giving them just enough time to create something that defies expectations. That’s exactly [...]
J.R. McMillan



First, forget everything you know about barbecue. It’s not because you’re wrong—it’s because barbecue is more than you probably think. It’s not just having the talent and patience to let food cook low and slow. It’s about assembling the right ingredients and giving them just enough time to create something that defies expectations. That’s exactly what you’ll find at Rooks Tavern, a dining destination with the neighborhood feel necessary to stand out, after years of mindful and meticulous preparation and planning.

“Originally, it was just going to be a typical Texas barbecue joint. We’d open at 11, and close when we were out of meat,” explained owner John Havens, half of the creative duo behind Rooks Tavern. “That’s such a part of Texas culture, but it’s not like that in Columbus.”

The original menu design was developed over two years through a combination of investigation and experimentation, noted Aaron Mercier, the other half of Rooks Tavern.

“We’re respectful of the ingredients, and the culinary traditions we’re applying. But we’re also doing something unexpected,” he said. ““Barbecue can be so much more than ribs, pulled pork, and brisket—all of ours are excellent by the way,” Havens quipped. “But, every culture in the world has a barbecue tradition.”

The two met in high school, and despite a few moves along the way, both settled back in Columbus. Havens’ formal background in portfolio management and Mercier’s in medieval literature aren’t the common curriculum vitae for two guys elbowing their way into the restaurant racket. But their authentic Texas roots and keen kitchen chops are actually enhanced by the sense of trends and love of language that set Rooks Tavern and its evolving menu of apart.

“One of our best-selling dishes is our beets. We par-cook them, then throw them in the coals of the fire,” Havens confessed. “After a while we pull them, peel them, and serve them over sheared chevre and a beet green puree—then we take some of those ashes that we keep and mix it with the salt. It’s one of the best things on the menu, and it’s totally vegetarian.”

“I tried it once and it was a smash hit,” Mercier noted. “It’s a process of research, citation and adaptation.” (It turns out that Copenhagen beet barbecue was actually inspired by a Danish dish Mercier found and refined into something entirely original.)

You’ll find more than a few surprises on the menu, as well as daily and seasonal specials—pulled pecan-smoked ruby trout, low country succotash, and a Western-inspired French stew they describe as a “Cowboy Cassoulet.” Weekends get weird with smoky banana-pecan French toast with Mexican chocolate, rib-meat poutine with mole gravy, and the “Austin Hangover” featuring up to a full pound of pulled pork or brisket, slow-cooked for 18-hours in one of Rooks’ two custom smokers—affectionately named “Pancho” and “Lefty.”

Rooks Tavern chooses local ingredients whenever available and appropriate for the menu, with more than a dozen farmers, bakers, and makers stocking their kitchen.

“Barbecue gets maligned as simple comfort food and very rarely gets elevated to fine cuisine, which it absolutely should be. It takes so much more work and knowledge and art,” Havens said. “We have no gas firing our smokers or our grill. It’s all based on how long can you hold your hand over it and how hot is it. So our cooks are constantly adapting. There are so many more variables.”

Another challenge in opening any restaurant is breaking through with customers, critics, and fellow culinary professionals in a city that takes its restaurant scene very seriously. “I learned a lot about how to open restaurants the right way—and the inevitable chaos even when you’re doing it the right way,” Mercier explained, whose tenure at The Guild House was a proving ground for the process of opening their own restaurant.

Beneath their beards and boyish charm, both hide the résumés of restaurateurs forged by fire. Instead of tutoring for extra cash while finishing his dissertation, Mercier was working at Austin’s famous Blue Ox. Havens was trudging through stock trades by day, but also seasoning his partner with pictures of food trucks by email, hoping to find the right nudge. “We were unusually prepared for a couple of amateurs,” Mercier chided. “We were ready to be unready.”

Eventually, the idea settled in during a summer stint with family and friends in the Adirondacks. Sitting out on the dock after supper, taking in the still of the lake and a generous share of bourbon, the two decided the time to fail was while they were still young enough to recover. After a couple more years of slow, steady heat, Rooks Tavern was finally ready to serve.

“Restaurateurs want other restaurateurs to succeed. It’s incredibly supportive here,” Mercier revealed. “Young chefs in particular want to raise the bar in this city, responding to national trends but applying Midwest values to them, to make them accessible.” When best friends go into business, it can easily become a recipe for disaster. But these two wiseacres seem to have it down. Even the most incidental interaction reveals Havens is the affable Ben Affleck matched by Mercier as the more ruminating Matt Damon. Yet both are free from the ego that easily comes from early success.

When pushed for the biggest disagreement they’ve had in opening the restaurant —who won, and who was right—the answer was unequivocal. “The menu…” Mercier replied without hesitation, about two seconds before Havens cut him off with a swift, “I won.” Who was right is still disputed. Mercier contends the language in the original menu was too heavy-handed. Havens concedes it could use some tinkering.

Much like their barbecue, the truth is probably in the middle—never overcooked, nor underdone—but always adapting and improving.

Rooks Tavern is located at 195 Chittenden Ave. For more, visit

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Food & Drink

National Brisket Day is Tomorrow!

Julian Foglietti



Photo by Brian Kaiser

With meat shortages starting to take their toll and National Brisket Day around the corner here's a roundup of some spots you can go to to get your brisket fix.

Legacy Smoke House

With their main location in Hilliard and a food truck moving throughout the city, Legacy Smoke House is a solid choice for brisket on National Brisket Day, just be sure to get there while supplies last. Enjoy!

Pecan Pennys

Just off Main Street, Pecan Pennys is ready to fulfill your brisket needs. If your looking to feed a family though be sure to get your orders in advance as they're requesting 24 hours notice on dinner bundles.

Ray-Ray's Hog Pit

With locations in Franklinton, Westerville, Clintonville and Powell Ray Ray's Hog Pit is open for business with brisket stocked at all locations. #NationalBrisketDay is the best day!

Hoggy’s Restaurant and Catering

Located on Bethel Road, Hoggy’s will be stocking brisket for both dine-in or carryout. Feel free to stop in or stop by!

The Pit

With a new location opened up on Parsons Ave. The Pit BBQ will be offering brisket for the National day. Celebrate with some tasty brisket!

City Barbeque

City Barbeque will be offering brisket for the National day! So get excited and get ready for some yummy BBQ brisket!

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{UPDATED} Indoor Dining: what’s NOT opening?




Los Gauchos

PINS Mechanical Co.

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Hey Pinheads. We're so excited to hear that our world is beginning to reopen! Many of you have reached out asking about our opening plans so we wanted to provide a brief update on Pins Mechanical Co. While we fully trust and support the decisions of our local leaders, it’s our responsibility to ensure the health and safety of our team members and guests, while not sacrificing the experience that makes Pins, Pins! With that in mind, none of our locations will be opening in May. There are many unknowns with COVID-19 and we hope that taking this extra time will help our guests and teammates feel better about the measures we’ve put in place to keep all of us safe. For example, on top of our already stringent cleaning procedures, we’re installing UV technology at all locations (ensuring you always have clean balls to play with). We’re looking forward to welcoming back our kick-ass team to train and adjust to this new normal. Once our people feel comfortable + confident, we’ll know it’s time to get rollin’ again! Thank you for your incredible support, online sales, photo shares + kind words over the last two months. Even when you couldn’t show up, you showed up and we’ll never forget it! We’re hopeful that everyone will be safe and smart as we begin to reopen the doors to the small businesses that make our communities so special. See you soon, Pinheads!

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Old North Arcade

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Dear friends, . As you are most likely aware, Governor DeWine has permitted the reopening of bars and restaurants for dine-in seating effective 5/21. We are very grateful that our leadership is now offering businesses the choice to do what they think is right. We offer no judgment for the bars and restaurants that are/have chosen to open. However, for our particular business, and for our staff, we still think it's too early. We are going to remain closed this week and next but do hope to open soon. Your understanding and patience is greatly appreciated and we cannot wait to see you all. It is important to us that we apply an extra layer of safety and precaution on top of the govermental recommendations. Tentatively, we are looking at the end of May to reopen in a very limited capacity but we're following local and national developments very closesly so will be quick to bail if things turn south. Your continued support has been quite humbling. Thank you. Stay healthy, support local, and be more than kind to one another. . Cautiously optimistic, . ONA Staff

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Watershed Kitchen + Bar

101 Beer kitchen

They are delaying opening dine-in service until May 26th.

Matt the Miller's Tavern

Stay tuned on social for patio and dine-in updates!

J. Gumbo's

J. Gumbo's will continue to stay open for online ordering for pick up and delivery - stay tuned for dine-in updates.

Mouton on High

The Whitney House

The Whitney House will be opening Tuesday, June 2, 2020 at 11 am.

The Guild House

Stay tuned for opening dates!

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Stay safe everyone 💕

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Smoked On High

Dirty Frank's Hot Dog Palace

The Woodbury

The Woodbury will be opening its doors for dine-in service on June 1 2020.


Roosters are not opening dine-in until May 26th 2020.

The Eagle

The Eagle is temporarily closed - stay tuned on social for updates!

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In light of the government mandated closure of dine-in business for an indeterminable period of time, we’ve made the incredibly hard decision to temporarily close The Eagle Columbus. . Given the truly unprecedented and quickly evolving nature of this health crisis, we’ve been forced to make the best decisions we can, with the information we have. As the true scale of this crisis has been revealed, it’s become impossible to deny the impact this mandate will have on our business and team members. This decision was made as all of our decisions have been: with the health, happiness, well being and best interests of our guests and team members in mind. . The state of Thunderdome Restaurant Group is strong and we look forward to seeing and serving you all on the other side of this. Truth, courage, and be well.

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Lavash Cafe

Tiger + Lily

Tiger + Lily is sticking to carry out for the time being. Follow them on social for updates for dine-in!

Yats Grandview

Red Lobster

Red Lobster is continuing to stick to curbside pickup, delivery, or touchless pick-up.

Harvest Pizza

Bareburger Columbus

Bareburger is opening for dine-in on May 26th, 2020.


City Barbeque

Local Cantina - Creekside, Grandview, Dublin, Westerville, Hilliard Locations

Creekside Local Cantina is delaying opening indoor dining until May 26, 2020.

OH Pizza and Brew

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Don’t be that guy/gal who forces your favorite bar/restaurant to permanently close; here are the rules




Once the flood of COVID-related documentaries start to infiltrate our Netflix and Hulu feeds, one of the most debated topics will be which smoking gun the auteur chooses. NBA player Rudy Gobert recklessly rubbing his hands over every microphone during a press conference days before testing positive comes to mind first. The spring break bro who wouldn’t let the virus stop him from raging will make its rounds. Even the scene at Standard Hall made some people’s skin crawl.

The Ohio Investigative Unit will be doing its best to monitor situations at restaurants and bars in order to prevent any future anecdotes like the ones listed above. Local law enforcement agencies will be assisting the OIU to make sure that establishments are complying with the Dine Safe Ohio order. With the issues that were brought up following the opening of outside dining on May 15, the OIU has made specific stipulations for patrons to follow:

  • 6-foot social distancing between employees AND members of the public
  • patrons must be seated while eating and/or drinking 
  • no more than 10 people to a table
  • no billiards, video/arcade games, dancing, or card playing
  • patrons must follow specific guidelines put in place by restaurant/bar

For those who have no shame dancing by themselves in public, you’re golden. However, patrons can be written up for not following the OIU’s guidelines. 

Some people may be able to shoulder a citation, but bars and restaurants are the ones who have the most to lose here. In a press conference on May 18, Gov. Mike DeWine mentioned that OIU will issue citations that could result in the permanent loss of liquor licenses.

So once again the ball is in the consumer’s court: follow these very simple rules and avoid the risk of putting your favorite restaurants and bars out of business for good. In 2020, being spring break bro is the worst look.

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