Every year for our May issue, (614) Magazine tallies up more than a million votes from our readers that result in businesses and people around central Ohio being crowned “The ColumBest” in their respective categories. From brunches and buffets, to bands and bloggers; we look to the readers to tell us who is deserving of the city’s culinary and commercial crowns. With well over a hundred categories, we don’t have the space necessary to give the lip service we want to each winner. The frontrunners in their categories get recognition and applause, and then, being the hardest grinding bosses in the biz, they get right back to work.
But we want to dive a little deeper into the story.
It’s time to take a closer look at the stories behind the best Columbus has to offer. Starting with a little joint where we like to shed all pretense and expectations.
Technically, Rooster’s started in Dayton in 1988, but its rapid expansion to central Ohio after that makes them a default local favorite.
Started by Bob and Corrine Frick, it was intended to be a family-friendly, neighborhood joint where people could head after a softball game, or gather for birthday brews. It was casual by design, and that remains a guiding principle of their business to this day, 30 years later. That and their famously fresh (and never frozen) wings.
The success of the formula resulted in a second location in Columbus on Hamilton Road, followed by the now-classic location in German Village. It was here that Dan Ponton joined the team as an owner, and today he is the president of the company.
Which is one of the aspects of Roosters that draws it apart from other restaurants: an extremely low turnover rate. In a high-pressure business like a restaurant, it’s normal to have employees come and go like the seasons, but Roosters boasts a loyal staff of seasoned vets. They have 40 20-year employees, 52 15-year employees; and 78 10-year employees. That first location in Dayton still has one of its original employees, a chef, with 28 years of service, and a manager with 22. Among the service industry, these are Tom Brady-like stats.
And the family feeling goes even deeper than that. Only hiring from within, every manager and corporate-level suit was once a host or dishwasher, who moved up in the ranks to sling drinks and wings for patrons. This fosters an appreciation for each worker in a way no corporate sensitivity training ever could. Ask a Roosters employee about their company, and they will gush in a way uncharacteristic for someone who works in their field. We heard stories of an employee sadly losing his mom, and the president of the company paying for funeral expenses. Store-sponsored fundraisers galore have been held for employees and long-time regulars. At the Pickerington location alone, they held four benefit events in one year for four of their employees going through personal and family crises. One of the benefits was for an employee’s husband, who started out as a long time regular at the restaurant. Managers worked the bar, donating their tips, and employees paid forward all their earning from the day to help a fellow Rooster in need. Roosters has a “give back” mentality that leads them to constantly give prizes for non-profits and charities to raffle and giveaways.
They regularly work to benefit Ronald McDonald House, Children’s Hospital, and The 2nd and 7 Foundation, and partner with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Crew SC to work toward larger community goals. The Roosters Foundation proudly supports the Buckeye Cruise for Cancer with The James Cancer Hospital, which benefits the Urban and Shelley Meyer Fund for Cancer Research, contributing over $650,000 to date. “Honesty, integrity, dependability and personality are the cornerstones to the foundation” of their business.
If that’s not Midwestern, I don’t know what is.
In addition to their famous wings and sauces, Roosters carries healthy and indulgent, all-American options, and an extensive list of local and global beers. With 38 locations, and number 39 opening this July, Roosters is more than just a place to get wings. (614) readers voted them first place standings in four categories: Best Wings, Best Place to Eat at the Bar, Best Wait Staff, and Best Sports Bar. Not to mention their second and third place wins in multiple other categories. Year after year, they sweep the winnings. There’s just something special about a place where you can take the kids after little league, go on a date night, or take relatives out for a family-size bite, where you’ll know everyone can get exactly what they want.
For more, visit roosters.com.
Classy Trashy: Fast-food classics inspire upscale creations
For better or worse, fast food is something of a Midwestern tradition (and who are we kidding—it’s probably for the worse). While often viewed as a guilty pleasure in today’s increasingly health- and fitness-minded society, fast food chains still dominate much of our landscape—not to mention our diets.
In many households, it’s the simple and easy option for busy working parents. For others, it’s the best you can do for the price. Unpretentious, easily-accessible, ready when you are—fast food remains a familiar touchstone for millions.
When he opened Service Bar, Chef Avishar Barua wanted to bring that same approachability to the food on his menu. “We were trying to make dishes that I had a lot of experience with, but it’s hard to translate some of that experience into a dining room,” Barua remembers. “I grew up in the Midwest, and I know how hard it is to get my family to eat stuff.”
This is where tinkering at Taco Bell some years before came in.
“When I found out about the Cheesy Gordita Crunch I thought that was the coolest thing in the world,” Barua explains. “That’s everything—every contrast you want, every flavor. I thought it would be really cool if you put it in a Doritos Locos shell.”
The Dorito-infused gordita he conceived of that day became Baura’s go-to order when visiting the ostensibly-Mexican-themed fast-food chain. Later, it served as the inspiration for one of Service Bar’s most iconic menu items—the Cheesy Brisket Crunch.
“At face value, it seems like an upgraded version of the Taco Bell taco,” says Barua of Service Bar’s take on the fast-food standard.
Featuring house-smoked brisket, Barua’s creation mimics its fast-food counterpart with a South American-inspired sauce of serano and nora chiles, smoked cheddar from Middlefield Original Cheese co-op, and shredded iceberg lettuce—all in a hard shell made with Columbus’ own Koki’s Tortillas. To reproduce the Gordita’s signature outer shell, Barua looked to the traditional Bengali frybread of his youth—a staple in his mother’s cooking.
“We’re trying to recreate that memory of biting into that super-crunchy taco, with all these things encapsulated from all these experiences into one very identifiable dish.”
Barua’s approach to cooking centers on creating points of entry through familiar presentations. In his kitchen, there is no clear distinction between high-end cuisine and lowbrow junk food. There is only good, and not good.
“People will always bring up ‘modern cooking’ or ‘fusion cooking’ —it’s just cooking, man,” says Barua. “You can just say, ‘I think this is food that I’d like to eat, and I want to make it and try to translate it.’ ”
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This view is shared by A&R Creative Group head chef Tyler Minnis, who incorporates upscale twists on fast-food favorites on the menu at The Market Italian Village.
Chef Minnis has found that fast-food presentations can serve as useful points of access for patrons when it comes to some of the market’s more formidable offerings.
“I think it’s an easier way to introduce certain ingredients to people that they might not normally be adventurous enough to try,” Minnis explains. “You might see something and say, ‘Oh, I know what that is, and I like it, so why not try the rest of it?’ ”
It was this approach that led to the creation of one of the standout items on the Market’s brunch menu. With a thick-cut slice of mortadella in place of the Canadian bacon and the funky goodness of taleggio replacing the usual slice of processed American, The Market McMuffin improves dramatically on its counterpart from the golden arches.
In addition to making upscale ingredients accessible to the masses, Chef Minnis finds that fast-food twists help to keep the tone of the menu light.
“Myself and my staff take this stuff very seriously, but at the same time, we try to have fun with it,” Minnis explains. “If not, there’s not really any reason to be cooking. You might as well do something else.”
For these chefs, dishes such as these constitute more than just a cheeky highbrow take on supposedly lowbrow food options. They are a valuable resource in encouraging diners to test the limits of their palates through forms they are already comfortable with. What’s more, these dishes represent an expression of one of the Midwest’s most authentic food traditions.
“We were once classified by Anthony Bourdain, R-I-P, as a place that was a bunch of strip malls separated by Applebees,” chef Barua says. “That’s what he said about Columbus, Ohio. And you know what, maybe we are, but it’s cool. We can all identify with things here. We can all have memories, and we’re not pretentious assholes.”
New supper club opens in the Short North
Short North now has galleries, bars, restaurants, apartments, businesses, and a supper club, literally. Ampersand Asian Supper Club is officially open in the Brunner Building at 936 N. High St.
The fast-casual restaurant offers Japanese dishes like Donburi rice bowls, nori fries, miso soup, pork chashu, and teriyaki chicken. Ampersand hangs its aprons on Ramen, though. At $18 a bowl, the ramen options range from Smokey Shoyu, to Miso, to Fungus Among Us.
See the full menu below:
The bar program offers Japanese spirits, whiskey, and vodka among others.
Ampersand is owned by Megan Ada, who is also behind Asterisk Supper Club and Sunny Street Café in Westerville.
Ampersand is open 11:00 AM – 10:00 PM Monday through Thursday, 11:00 AM – 11:00 PM Saturday and Sunday, and 11:00 AM – 9:00 PM Sunday. For more information, visit their Facebook page.