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Strip Mall Surprise: Clintonville’s Over The Counter

Aaron Wetli

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Welcome back to Strip Mall Surprise, where we identify the hidden gems that make Columbus shine. The only requirement? They have to be in a strip mall. In this edition, we will celebrate the 1950s diner culture, neighborhood gathering places and good old fashioned American fare with a modern twist. This story takes place in a defunct pharmacy and a patio happens to be involved. Don’t lie, you’re already interested.

It’s difficult to manufacture and produce a brand-new concept with soul and depth. Some can’t pull off this feat and close for reasons out of their control (RIP Betty’s) and some fail to produce character but thrive regardless of product or circumstance (I’m looking at you, Easton Town Center).

The world is an unfair place and opening and running restaurants can prove as daunting and exhausting as getting the local MLS Soccer Club to not leave town.

Fourteen months ago, Molly Rice and her managing partners found the energy and stamina to match their vision of opening a retro diner with modern touches. Located on (way) North High Street—where Clintonville kisses Worthington—Over The Counter is a the neighborhood gathering place, watering hole, and restaurant that’s overflowing with character.

The original plan was to name OTC “The Pharmacy,” as Rice and company wanted to pay homage to the Nicklaus Pharmacy, a local drug store with a fountain jerk (Google it, millennials), that was the building’s original tenant. However, the Pharmaceutical Board of Ohio didn’t think this was a good idea and fought Rice to block the name. Lighten up, Pharmacy industry.

Still, OTC stays true to its roots and has centered its energy, layout, and decor around a bar that could easily pass for a fountain soda counter. This bar runs almost the entirety of the south side of the restaurant while the remaining portion of the restaurant is outfitted with retro looking tables and booths. Towards the front of the restaurant is a retro chic lounge area that 1950s hipsters would feel at home in.

Behind the bar, 10 taps are available (I enjoyed a Rockmill Pilsner), nine serving craft and one tap keeping it real with PBR, as well as a fully stocked bar available to make in-house craft cocktails. The selection is impressive, and unpretentious, which is the vibe Rice was aiming for. She wants you to come in and feel at home whether you are with a group of friends, eating dinner alone, sipping a whiskey quietly in the corner, or enjoying happy hour with the regulars.

Speaking of enjoying happy hour with regulars, on my particular visit I ran into neighborhood residents and OTC regulars Mike Shehata and Shelley McCoy, both of whom I occasionally claim as friends.

Upon entering, both were warmly greeted by Rice who immediately grabbed a Michelob Ultra for her and a Watershed vodka and Soda for him. Soda jerk: upgraded.

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Who can blame regulars for coming in for the occasional happy hour when it is such a bargain? Running from 2–7 p.m. DAILY (come on Columbus bars and restaurants, get on the daily happy hour train) drink specials half-off most beers, $1 off house liquor and $4.50 select wines. Food specials start at 8 p.m. when appetizers are half off.

As more regulars trickled in, we moved our party to the patio to accommodate our growing group. On our Wednesday night visit, the patio contained a family of three enjoying some quality time together, a retired couple having an early dinner, and two 30-somethings enjoying the sun and some suds.

Diverse, family-friendly, and welcome to all—just as Rice planned.

For dinner, I decided to go with the Pulled Pork sandwich. Topped with crispy and juicy onion rings, the pork was succulent and tender. I subbed out chips and upgraded to the mac & cheese (the diet starts next week) which contained provolone, cheddar, swiss and cream cheeses and was topped with breadcrumbs. A nice addition to this platter was the rich and creamy coleslaw. Full disclosure: I could eat coleslaw with every meal, which according to my wife makes me the world’s oldest 41-year-old.

OTC also serves brunch on the weekends. Beginning at 9:30 a.m., the building fills up quickly and it’s not uncommon to have a small wait for a table by 10:30.

One reason? The homemade donuts.

Another reason? The chicken and waffles.

A third reason? The service, quality and ambiance.

A fourth reason? You don’t need any more reasons.

Lunch specials have also been recently introduced. For $7.49, you can pick two items from a list of s alads, soups and sandwiches. I believe I can speak for all the north Columbus educators out there when I salute OTC for a budget- and time-friendly, yet high quality lunch.

For the music aficionados in the crowd, it should be noted that Rice has started booking bluegrass bands, too. Bands play in the front lounge area and although there is no set schedule as of yet, Rice received great feedback from patrons and is looking to make live music a regularly scheduled event. I would recommend the American Mule (Tito’s vodka, lime juice, ginger beer) for an evening of enjoying local music at a new local hot spot.

Speaking of local, OTC partners with local distributors whenever possible. Lucky Cat Bakery, One-Line Coffee, Petali Teas and Scherer’s Potato Chips are all represented and help OTC keep its local appeal.

OTC has a little something for everyone and more restaurateurs would be well served by adopting Rice’s philosophy and commitment to quality food and drinks while simultaneously supporting and involving the local community. Get your fix for local filled at Over The Counter. And maybe your donut, prescription too.

Over the Counter is located at 5596 N High St. For more, visit overthecounterofworthington.com

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Food & Drink

Riesling and Relaxation: Dublin’s new wine bar puts hospitality first

Mike Thomas

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While a spontaneous trip to the Napa Valley might be out of your budget, fans of wine in Central Ohio can experience a taste of the California lifestyle right in the heart of Dublin.

“I spent a lot of time on the west coast in my previous professional life, and it has just become the inspiration for the vibe in the space,” explains Coast Wine House owner Dustin Snow, who recently opened shop after pivoting out of a career in corporate retail. “We want to transport you to a different place, and the kind of optimism and pace of life in California is something that we wanted to bring here as much as we could.”

Since opening their doors in late 2019, Snow and his wife and business partner Molly had a clear vision for their business. Turned off by the decidedly highbrow atmosphere of the traditional wine bar, the two hoped to create a relaxing, unpretentious environment for their guests to enjoy.

Photos: Olivia K. James

“People are drinking wine a lot. They’re drinking it at home, they are drinking it [while] out to dinner, but it didn’t seem like they were really going to wine bars,” Snow says of the research that he and his team undertook before opening Coast. “Through that research, we developed a space that was just as much about the wine as it was about creating a really approachable, relaxed, comfortable environment.”

Even from the street, the homey, welcoming nature of Coast Wine House is immediately obvious. Converted from an old residential home near the heart of Old Dublin, the interior of the space charms with its rustic hardwood floors, dinner table-style seating, and inviting hearth.

“Our number one thing is that we want you to feel like you’re coming into our home and sharing a glass of wine with us, as opposed to bellying up to a crowded bar,” Snow says of the wine house’s laid-back vibes.

Not exactly a wine connoisseur? No problem. You won’t find the words “fine wines” used anywhere at Coast, nor will a sommelier try to drill you with hard science about tannins and terroir. Instead, Snow’s hospitality-first approach focuses on the stories surrounding individual winemakers, helping the drinker understand the unique values behind each product.

Above all, Coast Wine House explores the potential of wine to serve as the centerpiece to meaningful social interaction. To that end, Snow knew that the modern, resurgent Dublin would serve as the perfect home for his business.

“Dublin is doing everything right to get people to live here, to play here, and to work here. Bridge Park is evidence of that,” he says. “There are a lot of young families moving outside the outer belt, and [Dublin] is becoming a model for this sort of post-suburban community that I think a lot of other communities from around the country are going to look at Dublin and say, ‘OK, what are they doing and how can we replicate that?’”

To help promote exploration, the menu at Coast typically features 15–20 wine-by-the- glass options. Visitors can also sample 2 oz. pours, either just to taste, or for a “make your own flight” experience. For the casual wine drinker, there are plenty of familiar favorites (Cabernet, Chardonnay) with plenty more that might be less commonly known—a Kerner from Northern Italy, Aglianico from Southern Italy, or the Carignon from Santa Barbara, to name just a few.

With apologies to the TGIF set, you won’t find margaritas or cheap happy hour deals here. What Coast does offer is a lineup of classic cocktails that speak to the winemaking tradition, highlighting ingredients like sherry and vermouth—both of which are actually fortified wines. For the ardent hop heads, Coast keeps a selection of locally- produced brews on-hand as well.

A menu of light shareables joins the mix, currently featuring such classic, wine-friendly staples as cheese, olives, and hummus. Snow plans to grow this portion of the menu in time, but emphasizes that the fare on display will never amount to full-size entrees.

Coast’s in-house bottle shop has around 130 wines from around the world in stock. Whether you take one to go, or open it right there, Snow and his team will help you select the right bottle for any taste or occasion. Right now, a Piquepoul de Pinet is one of his favorites.

“Piquepoul is a dry white wine out of Southern France. It is bright, it’s refreshing, it’s got a good balance of citrus and minerality, and it’s really, really well-priced,” he explains. “It’s very approachable—one that we would call a ‘porch pounder’ around these parts.”

For a sample of Coast’s wine-centered social environment, check out one of its special events. Past events have included an exclusive 12 seat dinner highlighting four to five wines of a particular winemaker, or an engagement featuring $10 flights showcasing wine-producing regions from around the globe.

Looking for a place to enjoy a glass of wine without the pretensions of many wine bars and specialty shops? Just head for the Coast.

To learn more, visit Facebook, and be sure to check coastwinehouse.com.

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Food & Drink

Lent Lowdown: 5 of our favorite Friday fish spots

Mike Thomas

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Not having grown up in the Catholic tradition, I have little firsthand experience of Lent. To me, a consummate junk food junkie, this time of year has meant a chance to snag a discounted filet-o-fish from McD's and not much else.

Not content to wallow in ignorance through another season of Lent, I took to Google to learn the meaning behind this religious observance. While I'm still a few credits shy of a degree in theology, good old Wikipedia managed to shed some light on the history and tradition behind this time of prayer, penance, and self-denial.

Even if some basic research yields a wealth of knowledge on the subject, the widely known facts remain essential to the experience of Lent. If you're observing tradition, you're probably giving something up for 40 days. You might be fasting, or spending more time in prayer. But for all the faithful, a big unifying factor is the "no meat on Friday" rule that typically leads to an uptick in fish consumption.

Looking for the best places to score the goods on these meatless Fridays? 614NOW has you covered. Refer to this list of favorite local establishments that are ready to serve your Lenten needs.

Old Bag of Nails | Multiple Locations

https://www.instagram.com/p/BkbCLjYn9kF/

This popular central Ohio chain stocks plenty of seafood favorites year round, but Lent is truly their time to shine. Dinners, platters, or po' boys - blackened, Cajun, or fried. This menu is overflowing with the sea's bounty, but the star of the show is the British Style Fish & Chips ($13.99).

Queen's Table | Find the truck

The official meal of Comfest—The Fish Boat—is actually available year-round, but it's not the easiest to come by. Queen's Table operates as a food truck throughout the year, so be on the lookout for the Columbus seafood classic next time you need a lent-friendly lunch. (Sites like street food finder are a big help in tracking down your favorite mobile eats.)

Mitchell's Fish Market | 1245 Olentangy River Rd, Columbus

https://www.instagram.com/p/BtoboFwAQUF/

Need I say more? For a high-end Friday night out, you really can't go wrong with this campus-adjacent seafood joint from Columbus' culinary king.

City BBQ | Multiple Locations

Each year on honor of Lent, Columbus' BBQ favorite adds fish to their normally red-meat centered menu. Now through April 4, dishes featuring southern-fried catfish and Atlantic smoked salmon join the party. City BBQ's catfish is some of the best around, and is definitely worth seeking out at least once during this limited annual appearance.

Rooster's | Multiple Locations

https://www.instagram.com/p/BurXnaJgR_e/

We all know it's a fun casual joint, but did you know they have fish on the menu? Easily lost in the shuffle between dumpster fries and the biggest wings around, Rooster's generously-sized battered fish sandwich comes in at a very wallet friendly $7.59. And after all, cheese-covered tots are Lent friendly, aren't they?

Of course, fish fries will be going down across numerous churches throughout the season. This handy list from WBNS will help you find one close to you.

What are your go-to places to eat during Lent? Let us know in the comments.

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2 Columbus chefs in the running for top culinary award

614now Staff

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For the first time in eight years, Columbus chefs will vie for coveted honors from the James Beard Foundation according to Columbus Monthly.

Celebrating its 30th year in 2020, the James Beard Award is considered one of the culinary field's highest honors. Ray Rays Hog Pit owner James Anderson has been named as a semifinalist for the honor of "Best Chef: Great Lakes," while Spencer Budros, co-owner of Pistacia Vera, was nominated for Outstanding Baker.

The last time Columbus chefs were considered for an award from the foundation was 2012, when chefs Richard Blondin and Kent Rigsby were named semifinalists.

Finalists for the awards will be announced on March 25.

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