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Creative cocktails and cuisine collide at Service Bar and Watershed

Melinda Green

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You can’t talk about cutting-edge, creative dining experiences in Columbus without paying homage to the OGs of local innovation, Middle West Spirits and Watershed Distillery.

These two distilleries, through their dining and beverage programs, have set the standards that other kitchens and chefs aspire to, with attention to detail and creative flair that are hard to match.

Watershed took immediate advantage of the 2017 state legislation that allows distilleries to serve liquor, opening not only a world-class bar but also a world-class kitchen, both focused on the “watershed” concept of a community gathering place. Owner Greg Lehman strives to push customers just outside their comfort zone, so they leave learning something, but not scratching their heads in confusion.

Lehman credits the kitchen’s success partly to his own prior lack of experience in the restaurant industry. He was able to bring in a standout chef de cuisine, Jack Moore, and just “let him do his thing.”

Photos: Brian Kaiser

“We had no idea what was on the menu until just before opening day,” Lehman laughs. “[Moore] can be as creative as he wants to be.”

“We’re proud to put our thumbprint on the city’s dining scene,” Moore said. “The challenge is staying focused and standing our ground.”

“Columbus has a huge corporate testing ground and quick-dining scene that are widely supported,” Moore continued. “We have to do a lot to stay in the forefront of the customers’ minds.”

Watershed prints its dining menus daily, responding to new ideas and ingredients. Their brussels sprouts have become a staple and the stuff of local legend, though. “Years ago, brussels sprouts weren’t a common thing — and now, if we took them off the menu, I think there would be an uproar,” Moore said.

Never content to offer the usual six or seven seasonal cocktails, the bar offers nearly two dozen, every one of which has at least one unique twist. They take risks on ingredients like chamomile-and-rose-infused gin, pistachio liqueur, and matcha that, individually, may not sound all that tempting, but combined, create a sublimely delicious experience.

The cocktail menu booklets themselves are somewhat of collectors’ items, cleverly themed and illustrated each season. This winter’s theme is, to sum it up, cocktails “for the weather you have and the weather you want.”

Despite being a distillery, Watershed also has stepped to the forefront of the zero-proof movement in the past couple of years, crafting nonalcoholic drinks that are every bit as creative and inspired as its spirits.

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Middle West Spirits also opened its kitchen, Service Bar, in 2017. “The word ‘service,’ it refers to doing everything,” Executive Chef Avishar Barua said. “And the only way we could do that was to break the wall between front of house and back of house.”

Service Bar’s approach to food runs the gamut, from elevated fast food to distinctive variations on Bangladeshi family recipes to outright creative risks. The Cheesy Brisket Crunch, a Taco-Bell-gordita-gone-gourmet with near-impossibly tender brisket, has become somewhat of a local staple among foodies.

And if you’re vegetarian or gluten-free, Service Bar has creative, inspired menu options that won’t make you feel like you’re relegated to the kids’ table, or sitting in your grandmother’s kitchen with boiling water and pats of butter.

But, I mean, what do you expect from a kitchen that takes three days to prep its French fries and has a secret weekly menu available only for Instagram followers?

As for their cocktail menu, “The classics have been done everywhere already,” Beverage Director Kyle Nelson said. “I don’t go too much out of left field; I like to keep our menu accessible, with creative ingredients or garnishes. Having a distillery behind us is a big help, and using our own spirits gives us flavor profiles that you can’t get with national brands.”

The feeling of Midwest hospitality, even among the team, is critical to Service Bar’s success. “In New York, in a lot of places, I would spend $500 or $600 on a meal and leave feeling like I was there to impress them,” Barua recalled. “We want to give people a memory, a great experience.”

“One of the harder things that no one thinks much about is, we try to treat our own staff very well,” he continues. “If things are going on in their lives, if they need time for something, we let them handle it and we figure it out. Empowering them to make decisions impacts the customer experience. And if we invest in our people, when they move on, it increases that mindset across the industry.”

Although these two brands may not view themselves as leaders, and continually strive to balance creativity and accessibility, there’s no doubt that they are standard bearers in the local dining scene, lighting the way for richer, more personalized dining experiences in Central Ohio

Service Bar is located at 1230 Courtland Ave. Watershed is located at 1145 Chesapeake Ave.

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Food & Drink

Five places to snag a donut today

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Forgetting about Memorial Day isn’t as much a sign of how irrelevant the calendar has become as compared to this following anecdote from a cherished local business. 

When talking to the owner of Buckeye Donuts about its National Donut Day plans, it didn’t dawn on him until a few days ago that he needed to start preparing for the holiday. Now, Buckeye Donuts is more than prepared, assuming a 10 p.m. curfew, which will keep the 24/7 campus spot from operating out of its original pocket.

The following list consists of five places where you can get your donut fix on Friday.

Buckeye Donuts

A local and campus establishment for 51 years, Buckeye Donuts will again be pulling out all the stops; that is, as much as they can. Being a 24-7 establishment, Buckeye Donuts has layers of bakers on deck prepared to do big bakes every eight or so hours with all sorts of varieties and specialities to indulge in.

Duck Donuts

Duck Donuts wants to promote kindness throughout the community this Friday. Whatever way you order, you’ll be treated to a free cinnamon sugar donut, at participating locations.

Amy’s Donuts

No purchase necessary, Amy’s Donuts is offering a free bag of cake donut holes, while supplies last.

Dunkin’ Doughnuts

Stop by any participating Dunkin’ and you’ll be given a free donut with any beverage purchase.

Krispy Kreme Doughnuts

All week Krispy Kreme has been spreading donut kindness. If you place an order with them today, you'll receive a free donut. The promo started on June 1.

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National Cognac Day: with a Royal Twist

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**SPONSORED**

Happy National Cognac Day! We partnered up with Rémy Cointreau and local bartender, Ben Griest, from Giuseppe’s Ritrovo to present to you... the Royal Sazerac! Ben has shown us a thing or two about making speciality cocktails - today he's making the Royal Sazerac, fit for a King and/or Queen.

The Royal Sazerac is well-known in the cocktail world as America's first cocktail. Also known as New Orleans' official cocktail, Remy Cointreau stands out offering its aromatic richness - making the Royal Sazerac an outstanding premium cocktail.

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Condado Tacos open in select locations after closing its doors Tuesday

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Condado Tacos is open once again after closing its doors to the public Tuesday following an employee walkout Monday night. Polaris and Clintonville locations remain closed until further notice.

Employees at the Polaris location walked out Monday after refusing to fulfill a catering order by the Ohio Highway Patrol, according to a press release from Condado Tacos Wednesday. The employees who walked out were given the opportunity to not work on the order, without repercussion, if they didn’t feel comfortable, according to a statement provided by Linda Powers, Condado Tacos director of marketing.

The order by the Highway Patrol was placed at the Condado Tacos Polaris location on the fifth-straight day of George Floyd protests in Columbus. Floyd’s death was ruled a homicide following an incident where a Minneapolis police officer placed deadly force on Floyd’s neck with his knee. The incident has sparked protests across the country, including Columbus.

After reaching out to Condado’s PR agency over email, the contact stated that their team has “parted ways” with the business. 

Wednesday’s statement by Condado says they “value different points of view,” but, “choosing not to serve a particular group, in this case law enforcement officers, in itself is discrimination and goes against our core values to welcome and serve everyone.”

Read the full statement here.

Read Tuesday evening’s two-part post on Condado’s Facebook page below:

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