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Secret Ingredient

Amid the monotony of formulaic fast casuals, Sweet Carrot exceeds expectations with every bite. Refined, yet whimsical, their fascination with corn cakes and smoked meat amid an industry of imitation built-on buns and bowls isn’t just daring. It’s downhome flare that’s downright defiant. If there remains any mystery behind Sweet Carrot’s success through simplicity, the [...]
J.R. McMillan

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Amid the monotony of formulaic fast casuals, Sweet Carrot exceeds expectations with every bite. Refined, yet whimsical, their fascination with corn cakes and smoked meat amid an industry of imitation built-on buns and bowls isn’t just daring. It’s downhome flare that’s downright defiant.

If there remains any mystery behind Sweet Carrot’s success through simplicity, the secret ingredient is founder Angela Petro. Cast against type as both a restaurateur and entrepreneur, she’s no Gordon Ramsay knockoff barking orders and berating the staff, nor some smug, Silicon Valley visionary perpetually pitching the next big thing. Petro is the opposite, honest and humble, and actually stumbled into Sweet Carrot neither by design nor necessity. The impulsive purchase of a food truck as a mobile R&D platform for her decades-old catering company proved so unexpectedly popular when it launched at the Columbus Arts Festival, a permanent location became all but inevitable.

The original location in Grandview was an instant hit at the old Rife’s Market, but the second at Polaris was slow to take off. So the third in Dublin has focused on what restaurant patrons increasingly expect, a conscientious kitchen with menu options for everyone, regardless of dietary restrictions or preferences. It’s still fast casual, but with a thoughtful, artistic take on comfort food destined to grow beyond Central Ohio.

“It all came together as a curated experience. I would say it was fortuitous, at a time when I was starting to explore this kernel of an idea,” recalled Petro, whose established enterprise Two Caterers had reached a pivotal point. “When we started, we were doing simple drop-off lunches. But as we pushed ourselves, we became thought of as a high-end catering company, with creative presentation at a competitive price.”

In those early days, Petro wasn’t just wearing a proverbial chef’s hat. She was taking orders, working the kitchen, making deliveries, often serving her creations on-site, and washing the dishes at the end of the day.

“My background is blue-collar. I grew up never having catering, and that’s where most of us live. But people still have parties, they still have a need,” she revealed. “Every now and then, you need help with food, but you aren’t throwing a $30k graduation party or a $60k wedding. I still had that feeling we weren’t really reaching the market that we set out to service.”

Unable to shake the perception as a prohibitively-priced caterer for many, and uncertain any amount of marketing would change popular opinion, Petro envisioned a sister brand that would capture that long-lost clientele.

‟It bolstered the thought that we could go after this market of folks in Central Ohio who wanted wholesome food at a price they could afford, without someone in a bowtie wearing white gloves holding a silver tray. That’s how Sweet Carrot started.”

“Everyone contributed ideas to what we could roll out on our food truck—our sales team, kitchen staff, and our chefs. It bolstered the thought that we could go after this market of folks in Central Ohio who wanted wholesome food at a price they could afford, without someone in a bowtie wearing white gloves holding a silver tray,” she recalled. “That’s how Sweet Carrot started.”

The commitment to creative comfort food has always been a true community project. One of her chefs pitched the idea of savory corn cakes as a base, with brisket and pulled pork from a commercial smoker Petro picked up at auction as the perfectly decadent, working-class complement. Their signature corn salsa, adapted from the recipe repertoire of a staffer’s family potlucks, has become a ubiquitous condiment. Even the name came by way of a friend whose knack for word play was among many happy accidents. “He sent me an email that said, ‘Did you know Sweet Carrot is an anagram of Two Caterers?’,” she chided. “So that became the name of our
food truck, even before we knew what we planned to serve.”

The result is a menu that is neither seasonal, nor static, and taps into changing customer expectations. Their corn cakes are gluten-free, their slaw dairy-free, and vegetarians aren’t the only ones swooning over their fried artichokes—a callback to that first Columbus Arts Festival where they were cleverly sold as “fried arts.” And much like any credible country kitchen, little goes to waste, with yesterday’s brisket and pork becoming today’s Brunswick stew, and chicken meatballs joining kale and black-eyed eyes in tomorrow’s soup. Even the leftover mac and cheese is coated in breadcrumbs from remnant rolls and flash fried to preserve their gooey goodness. (Petro personally vouches for their portability, preferably with a side of pickles.)

Petro admits she’s been the beneficiary of both luck and good fortune along the way, from a tiny little lunch company to a beloved local food truck that prompted patrons visiting Columbus for the Country Living Fair to plead her to open an outpost in their hometowns too. Even the name Sweet Carrot and its origin are metaphors for what great restaurants do best, turning existing ingredients into something completely new and unexpected.

“I believe in this brand, and never conceived of it as a one-off. When we opened the first Sweet Carrot, I struggled creatively to try to find the guardrails, to keep it something that could become a multi-unit restaurant,” she recalled. “I wanted everything and the kitchen sink. I originally had a wine section and wanted to have a small market with products packaged to take home. If I’d opened it as a single location, it would have been a very different concept.”

The character of Rife’s Market was both a blessing and a curse. Petro and a team of staff and friends were sanding tables and painting the walls themselves. But the design and layout were more intuitive than intentional, setting a high bar for replicating the aesthetic at additional locations with less inherent character. Though Polaris was ambitious and demographically desirable, the new Dublin spot reveals the maturity of a brand ready to break out of Columbus.

“This third iteration is not the end, because there’s so much we’re going to learn. Though it is tempting, and exciting, and flattering to think about opening another location, it’s also the right time to pause,” she noted. “We’ve opened two restaurants this year, as a very tiny company. But we are definitely looking to keep expanding and evolving. We’re small, but mighty.”

To find the nearest Sweet Carrot, or to check out their catering or special diets menus, visit sweetcarrot.com

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Food & Drink

Clintonville Brunch Crawl: We dare you to squeeze all 3 stops into 1 day

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Clintonville is lovely this time of year, especially when you make three separate stops for brunch. 

Whether the weather is gracing the charming little burgh with a healthy dose of vitamin D or giving it a couple spins around the Lazy Susan that is Ohio’s climate, a trifecta of morning food destinations is sure to keep your mood afloat.

BLunch  • 2973 N High St.

blunchcolumbus.com

Yes, we know that Columbus now is home to a Drunch AND a BLunch.

Snicker all ya want—if you do, you’d be missing out on one of the culinary scene’s welcome newcomers—a half-day cafe that carries the comforts of a First Watch, but with the sophisticated execution of Tasi or Katalina’s.

The White Family has decades of hospitality under their belt—the family owned Galena’s Mudflats until recently, and dad Jeff has been running the OSU Faculty Club for the past 20 years.

Those two were training grounds for son Jeff, once a young, eager dishwasher and now head chef for the White’s new “daylight eatery and bar.” Mom Jane, despite her own admission that in the family’s tavern-running days breakfast didn’t get served until halfway through afternoon, now relishes an intimate spot where people can maintain their own balance between booze and breakfast.

A full-bar at brunch is a rarity in the peculiar little burg, and positioned near Lineage, Old Skool, and Condado, BLunch could be the perfect starting point for a casual Clintonville crawl.

Then again, you may not have another stop after Chef Jeff gets done with ya. He and the White family have concepted a bennies-and-batter focused menu, where you’ll be sure to come back after a healthy amount of indecision. Me? I’ve been dreaming about the Bananas Foster pancakes (topped with ice cream) and the huevos rancheros over masa cake for weeks. – Travis Hoewischer

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Dough Mama • 3335 N High St.

Dough-mama.com

Dough Mama is the top of my list for my favorite breakfast joint. I love so much about this place.

The atmosphere is super chill, laid back, and inviting. The food is so so good. I would call it comfort food with an extra sprinkle of love and thought.

From pie to salad, it’s all good.

They use a variety of local and seasonal ingredients and support some of my favorite local delicacies with Dan the Baker bread and Thunderkiss coffee … YUM! They also have a variety of vegan and gluten-free options.

I am smitten with the Gluten-Free Lemon Poppy muffin. This place is my go to for a yummy drippy egg, roasted potatoes, salad, a sweet treat and a perfect cup of coffee.

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My husband loves Grammie’s Sammie and a piece of Maple Bourbon Pecan Pie. I somehow manage to splurge here and feel really really good about it.

Their menu has some great staples but they also always have specials that look and are amazing.

Right now they serve both lunch and breakfast during the day and I’ve heard it through the grapevine that they will soon be open in the evening and serving dinner. I cannot wait to see what delicious dishes they create for that menu. – Jana Rock

Baba’s • 2515 Summit St.

babascolumbus.com

Baba’s is my go-to breakfast spot in Columbus. You can grab a breakfast sandwich on their homemade griddle muffins (aka little pillows of heaven), order a rack of ribs, or in the spirit of Alabama Worley, have a slice of perfect pie and a cup of Thunderkiss coffee.

Their delicious baked goods are made in house, they smoke all of their own meats and their produce and coffee are all sourced locally, though their espresso will send you to the moon.

The service is fast, their team is super-friendly and there are never any pretentious vibes in the super chill atmosphere they have created on the corner of Hudson and Summit.

They’ve made a beautiful impact in their short existence in the SoHud neighborhood, fostering local artistic connections and bringing beautiful new mural art that rotates different artist from the community throughout the year. Don’t forget to grab one of their perfect cinnamon rolls for later. — Vanessa Jean Speckman

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Food & Drink

Harvest Pizzeria sowing last seeds in German Village

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Eight years ago, Harvest Pizzeria cropped up in a small space in German Village. Today, the local pizza chain announced the closure of its flagship location.

Harvest Pizzeria German Village will open its doors for the final time on Saturday, April 27th.

“Despite the success of Harvest in German Village and our strong ties to the neighborhood, the owner of the property will not honor our renewal of the lease,” wrote founder Chris Crader in an email. “…the landlord’s demands for a new lease at a higher rate would not allow our little pizzeria to remain viable.

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Crader added that he is proud of the strides Harvest German Village has made over the years, and thankful for the community that’s supported it. He hopes they can return to the neighborhood when the right spot presents itself.

As far as the employees go, Crader wrote that with the success of the other locations, the German Village workers will be able to join a team at another restaurant.

“Harvest sincerely thanks all of its loyal supporters and we hope to see you at our other locations soon,” wrote Crader.

This news follows the announcement of the Grandview Harvest closing back in February. Read more here.

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Food & Drink

Crawfish boils claw their way into Columbus Saturday

Mike Thomas

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What’s the deal with crawfish boils? Sure, they’re delicious, but as a true land-lubbing midwesterner, my knowledge of this particular culinary phenomenon is fairly lacking.

That said, I definitely can’t tell you why there are multiple crawfish boils going down this Saturday. Best not to overthink it—just enjoy the experience!

Pecan Penny’s |113 East Main Street
Saturday at 4 PM – 7 PM

Sponsored by Brewdog, downtown BBQ joint Pecan Penny’s is kicking off patio season with an all-you-can-eat Crawfish boil, complete with giveaways and a DJ.

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Rehab Tavern | 456 W Town St
2 PM – 6 PM

Rehab’s own 4/20 crawfish boil kicks off at 2:00. Your $15.75 entrance fee will net you a pint of beer in addition to all-you-can-eat crawfish and fixins’!

Can’t make either of these, or want to try the boil experience before committing to a large-scale event? Check out Kai’s Crab Boil or Boiling Seafood Crawfish—both on Bethel Road —for first-rate seafood experiences you won’t soon forget.

Why are there two crawfish boils on the same day? Why are there two crawfish restaurants on the same road? We may never know, and honestly, who cares? Crawfish is the bomb! Just put on your bib and get crackin’!

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