Columbus native and mayor of Flavortown Guy Fieri has always had a soft spot for his hometown, especially its BBQ. He’s been around the country to enjoy some of the best food America has to offer for his show Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, but it’s right here in Columbus where some of the meats are being smoked: Ray Ray’s Hog Pit.
The Food Network recently posted a list of Fieri’s top barbecue picks from DDD including James Anderson’s smokin’ hot food truck.
BROUGHT TO YOU BY
“Chef and Owner James Anderson raises his own pigs for the succulent smoked offerings at Ray Ray’s Hog Pit, a one-of-a-kind barbecue truck in Columbus, Ohio,” reads the Food Network description. “Guy tried the super-moist Mangalitsa Brat Burger and St. Louis Spare Ribs.”
Ray Ray’s was originally featured on the “College Town Champs” episode of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives in 2017.
You know that first warm-ish day in March or April when a sliver of sun breaks through the grey winter sky, warming the dry, pasty faces of overzealous people packing every patio known to man? The General Manager of the AC Hotel by Marriott Columbus Dublin Orcun Turkay wanted to give those people an outdoor dining experience they didn’t have to wait until spring to enjoy.
Scroll down to win $200 towards an arctic adventure of your own!
On a windy, rainy day in mid-winter, my trusty (614) confidants and I crowded into the elevator at the AC Hotel Columbus Dublin and selected the top floor. It was the first time visiting for many of us and we were excited to finally experience it. When the elevator finally stopped, the doors glided open to reveal an inviting hostess. She welcomed us to VASO.
The rooftop bar and tapas restaurant is absolutely gorgeous. All its features are round—orb lights, half circle bench seating, circular rugs, curved bar—and the natural lighting made the happy faces of happy hour-goers at the bar look even happier. The panoramic view of the Scioto River and downtown Dublin is one of the best in Central Ohio. But, for the next few months, the view will be slightly obscured for folks dining in.
The hostess led us out onto the patio where three geometric-looking igloos sat, poised for hospitality. Made of plastic and PVC pipes anchored by sandbags, these see-through huts are simple and wildly attractive. They’re unique, cozy, and, most importantly, warm. I couldn’t wait to get inside out of the cold and actually have an enjoyable patio experience in the dead of Ohio winter.
The hostess unzipped the doorway and we filed in across the oriental rug. The inside was surprisingly spacious, even with six chairs, a few side tables, and one communal table in the middle. I took a seat in one of the faux fur-covered chairs (which I later found out cost $1,200 each), covered my legs with a soft blanket, and switched on the heater. I was perfectly comfortable without the extra accommodations, but I was in an upscale igloo and, dammit, I was going to act like it.
We were all quick to draw our phones to begin snapping photos. We could see rush hour traffic inching down Riverside Drive, but being in the igloo felt like we were our own little Instagrammable world.
After putting in orders of hot chocolate and the Ohio spiked cider from the exclusive VASO Igloo shareable menu and the popcorn and Halibut Ceviche (which landed itself on the [web]pages of Esquire Magazine), Turkay humbly explained how his establishment became one of the first in the Midwest to introduce igloo dining as a light rain pinged the top of the plastic igloo.
He told us about how strongly central Ohioans have embraced the new eating and drinking adventure. Turkay knew he’d have to hire more people this winter to staff the igloos, but what he didn’t count on was the manpower it would require to simply manage the influx of calls.
“They answer the phone, take a reservation, hang up, answer the phone, take a reservation, hang up,” Turkay said of the three hostesses he brings in at 10 a.m. every day just to man the phones. I laughed in disbelief, choking a bit on my popcorn ceviche (delicious, by the way). I washed away the kernels with a swig of boozy hot chocolate (also delicious).
Suffice it to say, the VASO igloos are a raging success, so much so that you won’t be getting in on a weekend this winter. The tiny ecosystems are booked up through March, which is when they’ll be retired for the season. Turkay promises to have them back up in November.
After everything from cheese-filled churros to seafood paella (which were ordered by hailing our server with a remote that buzzed her wrist piece), the sun set and was replaced by LED light beams illuminating our cozy clubhouse; it was our time to go. I took one last look around and felt thankful to be on the inside looking out, even just for the evening. •
VASO is located at 6540 Riverside Dr, Dublin. The igloos can be reserved for a minimum of $100 per hour Sundays-Wednesdays and $200 per hour Thursdays-Saturdays. Visit vasodublin.com for more information.
In 1897, the Ohio State Buckeyes were in their seventh year of existence, the Lazarus department store in Downtown was entering its heyday, Samuel Luccock Black was the newly-minted mayor of the city, and the establishment at 19 North Pearl Street served its first glass of hooch.
Today, the Buckeyes are powering through their 129th season,
shopping is reserved mostly for suburban malls, Mayor Ginther is at the
top of Columbus’ political masthead, and the establishment at 19 North
Pearl Street continues to sling spirits.
Recognized as one of the oldest eating and drinking joints in the city,
Ringside Cafe is a steadfast pillar of history in a city where development
and progress often rise to the top of the agenda. The burgers are juicy, the
beers are cold, the lights are low, and the nostalgia runs deep.
It all started in 1897 as the hangout for Columbus’ political powerhouses or, as Doreen Uhas Sauer, Education Outreach Coordinator of Columbus Landmarks and coauthor of Historic Columbus Taverns: The Capital City’s Most Storied Saloons describes it, a boys club. With it being located in such close proximity to the Statehouse, the watering hole attracted Democrats and Republicans alike, looking to talk shop over a pint or two. Whether it was the heated discussions that took place inside, faulty wiring, or another cause, the original building caught fire and burned beyond salvage.
At the time—around the turn of the century—property values
along High Street were skyrocketing, squashing any hopes of the
owner relocating. And so, it was decided to rebuild on the same site
and this time, with a bit more intention. Two famed local architects,
Carl Howell and J. William Thomas, took on the task of developing 19
North Pearl Street. At the time, the pair was also building the annex
for the Trinity Episcopal Church at the corner of Third and Broad
Streets, East High School, residences in Bexley, and several projects in
Cleveland’s Shaker Heights.
“It’s unusual to see a bar designed by architects, much less ones that
had such a varied career,” said Uhas Sauer.
Howell and Thomas adhered to the then-popular Arts and Crafts style during the rebuild—a trend out of England that celebrated the handmade aesthetic rather than machine-built. Several relicts of this design era can still be found today in Ringside including the dark wood features and carvings, the storybook-style Belgian stained glass windows, and intricate floor tiling.
For several years thereafter, 19 North Pearl Street was known as the Board of Trade Saloon and the Chamber of Commerce Cafe. The upstairs bar and downstairs Rathskeller remained the unofficial after-work clubhouse for local lobbyists and legislators. But, with the temperance movement beginning to take shape, the Chamber of Commerce starkly objected to having their brand associated with a pub. Instead of calling it quits, the decision was made to rebrand to The Jolly Gargoyle and remain open as a tea house and antique shop during Prohibition. According to Uhas Sauer, Columbus didn’t take the ban on alcohol very seriously with many of the city’s residence relying on the industry to make a living. Adrian Rosu, current owner of Ringside, even heard that the “tea” served at The Jolly Gargoyle “smelled a little funny.” But, if you were a lush living in the city during the 1920s and 1930s, there were options.
“If you wanted to get a swig of a cheap alcoholic beverage, all you had to go was do down Front Street where there were theatres and pick it up from some wino who left it under a bush,” Uhas Sauer said. “If you wanted the expensive stuff, you’d go over to the Statehouse bushes where legislators ditched their bottles.”
The Jolly Gargoyle had a successful run through Prohibition, but the 1960s called for change. Clem Ambrose took ownership of 19 North Pearl Street and put a lasting stamp on the establishment. Being the “jovial, genial host” he was, Ambrose was attracted to the bar’s atmosphere because it reminded him of a bustling little New York deli. Also a New York City enthusiast, famed Columbus artist George Bellows had an affinity for painting scenes from NYC’s gritty boxing matches. Ambrose acquired a recreation of one of these scenes, specifically one that Bellows had painted himself into as if he was watching the contest of strength and toughness unfold—a ringside view, if you will. Naturally, Ambrose deemed the space Ringside Cafe.
Fast forward to 2019 and you can still find the very namesake painting hanging above the entrance of the quaint bar. And sometimes, you can still find Ambrose, too.
“Clem is supposed to be at the end of the bar,” said Uhas Sauer. “It’s
the seat he always sat in. That’s the kind of thing he liked to do; he liked
to be part of it all.”
While Rosu can’t corroborate Uhas Sauer’s paranormal tale exactly, he admits he believes his bar is haunted. From being in the basement and hearing commotion upstairs when the place is empty, to security footage capturing strange lights moving through walls, to restroom doors opening at will, Rosu and several members of his staff have had experiences they can’t explain. But after calling Ringside his own for 11 years, Rosu doesn’t get too shook up about such oddities anymore. What Rosu feels more strongly about is holding the key, literally, to an important piece of Columbus’ history.
“Columbus is definitely an up-and-coming city, but they’re really good about keeping a lot of the architecture intact. It’s good to see.”
Ringside Cafe is located on 19 North Pearl St. For more information on
the restaurant, or for hours and operations, visit ringsidecolumbus.com.
Having grown up in Cleveland, I have long been following James Beard Award winner Chef Johnathon Sawyer. Clevelanders root for the underdogs always (thanks, Browns) and we beam with hometown pride when a fellow Clevelander makes it. When given an opportunity to share their Cleveland pride, a true Clevelander does not shy away. (If you’ve seen celebrity chef and Clevelander Michael Symon on his former show ABC’s The Chew, you know what I’m talking about.)
My father grew up with Chef Sawyer’s father in a Cleveland suburb,
so of course, as natives of The Land do, our family has been rooting
for Sawyer since he was a chef in New York, working with “our own”
Micahael Symon. And when Sawyer came back to Cleveland in 2007,
we couldn’t wait to see how he would elevate the culinary landscape
of his hometown.
And that he did. His concepts The Greenhouse Tavern, Noodlecat and
Trentina helped put Cleveland on the map as a culinary destination. And
now, he’s taken his talents to Columbus with his new concept, SeeSaw.
SeeSaw is billed as a live-fire restaurant and nightlife venue at 906
N High St. in the former Ram Restaurant & Brewery space. Sawyer has
teamed up with Cleveland Indians slugger Jason Kipnis and Forward
Hospitality Group, who own Flipside Burger at Easton Town Center as
well and several nightclubs and restaurants in Cleveland, to bring “wood-
fired modern American shareables” to the Short North. I am a big fan of
the shareables concept, especially when the menu is the brainchild of a
culinary mastermind. I wanted to try as much as I could, so I stuck to the
“for the table” section of the menu for my first visit.
The restaurant’s vibe is hip, but not pretentious. Its bright, open
dining room was flooded with natural light and boasts tall windows and
living wall behind the bar. I couldn’t help but find myself singing along to
TLC’s “Waterfalls” and other 90s hits R&B blaring from the speakers. It’s
not a quiet place, but it’s not supposed to be. The patrons were lively and
the signature cocktails were too.
I started with the Bluebell, a delightful concoction of vodka, triple
sec, blackberry, lemon and rhubarb bitters and aquafaba. I learned that
aquafaba is a vegan legume-based replacement for egg whites that can
be used to make meringues and marshmallows. It was sweet and tart and
downright enjoyable, like lemonade on a warm day.
When I asked the server what he would recommend as a starter, he
suggested the pita with the world-famous edible candle. “Chef would
love to see one on every table,” he said very seriously. The way he said
it, it felt like an order that I should oblige. The candle came to the table
lit and melted down into a pool of mild-flavored beef fat for dipping the
pita. Although I found the whole thing a bit gimmicky, it tasted good and
added to the ambiance of the table. Other patrons stared in wonder and
several asked what it was, generating its own sort of buzz.
Next up was the padron peppers. Although I was taken aback by the
cost for a plate of wood-fired peppers, in retrospect, I would have paid
double. The peppers, while simply prepared, were amazingly earthy,
smokey and the perfect amount of spicy. Sawyer’s live-fire concept is
unique to Columbus and unveils complex flavors in simple vegetables
like cauliflower, broccoli and peppers.
I am a sucker for seafood, particularly scallops, so when I saw the sea
scallops crudo with tiger milk, mezcal and cilantro on the menu, I knew
I had to try it. It arrived at the table almost too beautiful to eat, in a shell-
shaped dish with a shot of mezcal with lime. The stunning presentation
was no match for the flavor of the thinly sliced raw scallops topped with
greens in a milky bath of fresh citrus essence and olive oil.
Finally, the bang bang bang tempura with rock shrimp and yuzu
sauce arrived. It is undoubtedly a different breed of the bang bang shrimp
popularized by several chain restaurants. The shrimp was fresh and
moist inside and crunchy and flavorful on the outside. Likely the most
conventional shareable I tried, it was still a fine and delicious choice.
In an appeal to the brunching sports enthusiasts out there, SeeSaw
also boasts a game day brunch menu, which includes some of the
shareables from the dinner menu along with some breakfast favorites
like the SeeSaw breakfast sandwich and a s’mores style donut. PROTIP:
I enjoyed trying many different shareables instead of a single entree, but I
had heard from several diners that the Ohio grass-fed burger deluxe is one
of the best burgers out there.
After dinner, I ventured up the stunning painted stairs to the
nightclub area, which was not yet open when I visited. The space was
open and beautiful, transitioning seamlessly from bar to dance club to
a hang-out space filled with couches to a rooftop patio. I could picture
it alive and buzzing with nightclub goers, but it seems to be a separate
experience from the restaurant space downstairs.
All in all, SeeSaw offers a unique, although relatable and affordable dining experience in the Short North. The dishes are eclectic enough to intrigue and excite, but also pleasant to the Midwestern palates that yearn for more elevated dining experiences in Columbus.
SeeSaw is located on 906 N High St. For hours and operations,