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.
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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, visit seesawcolumbus.com.