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Review: Ambrose and Eve defines comfort with more than food

Kevin J. Elliott

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Several months back, when I first interviewed the dynamic duo of Catie Randazzo and Matthew Heaggans upon opening their now omnipresent Preston’s burger joint, they had been prepping and planning Ambrose and Eve for a significant time. But they had very little to reveal other than saying that the restaurant would be an upscale dining experience—as opposed to the luxury junk food of Challah, the food truck, and Preston’s—and that it would be like “the best dinner party ever thrown, but every night of the week.”

Catie Randazzo (right) and Matthew Heaggans
Photo by Brian Kaiser

Sure, that’s a bold statement, but think about who’s doing the talking. If you’ve come to recognize Challah and Preston’s as institutions in the Columbus food scene, then you should trust in the words and culinary aspirations of Randazzo and Heaggans. And with Ambrose and Eve being the all-encompassing gem in their growing empire, you should trust that despite major setbacks, this is the duo at the height of their conceptual powers.

The cozy South High Street spot has only been open a little over two months, but it’s already become a regular haunt for foodies in the know, and a buzzy destination picked by national publications eager to find the next great food city. Repeat business proves they’re doing something right, especially with a menu that aims to challenge as much as it does comfort its guests.

“I’ve always felt frequent, but well-executed change is the way to see people often,” says Heaggans. “We try to keep the food fresh and interesting so people don’t get bored. I’m super grateful to a lot of our diners who come here over and over again. Our reservation system tracks who’s dining with us and a really large chunk of our reservations day to day are people who have dined with us before, and we’ve only been around for a short spell.”

Indeed, comfort is key in creating a culture. And seeing that there was a particular need in Columbus dining for what Heaggans calls a “homey sort of restaurant,” the simple-yet-refined design of the space—like stepping into a farmhouse dining room or a grandparent’s generational home—and familiar-yet-elevated scope of the menu, creates an experience that few places in the city could replicate.

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The menu has a number of traditional staples inspired by comfy diners and home-cooked meals. Chicken and dumplings, fried chicken, pot roast, shrimp scampi, and spaghetti-o’s, mingle with pastrami carrots, veal sweetbreads, and the show-stopping red oil tatare: all delicacies for all palettes. Yet each plate is presented with a particularly leveled-up crux of flavors.

The aforementioned lunchtime snack that came from a Chef Boyardee can, is prepared instead with a housemade anelli pasta and sauce with meatballs culled from a mythical secret recipe. While the red oil tartare, though perhaps a challenge for some, is raw beef tendon expertly mixed with garlic chips, sesame, sunflower, rice, vinegar, and served with the spot’s signature scallion rolls. With snacks, shares, unparalleled veggie dishes, and over-the-top family dinners, the duo’s collaboration to distill their influences into a comfortable but challenging menu, guarantees those return visits continue, as it’s ever-changing, and as everything is worth a try.

“When one of us has an idea for a dish, we talk about it,” says Randazzo about the creation of a new dish. “We talk about the integrity of it, how
to manipulate it, update it, the texture, the plating, the acidity, all facets
of what we want the dish to be. Then we make the dish. We eat it. We discuss if it needs more salt, acid, fat, or heat. We remake the dish. We discuss it again.”

But as comfortable as Ambrose and Eve can seem on a relaxing night out, or as compatible as the menu can be given its range and warmth, semantics rule. Randazzo and Heaggans will always prefer “lost sleep” and outright “exhaustion” to keep the restaurant outside too much of a comfort zone. As much as they provide the simplicity of a great meal, they are always keeping Columbus diners on their toes.

“Columbus still has room to grow,” says Randazzo. “I often find people saying, ‘Well it’s good for Columbus.’ I don’t want to hear that; I think it’s a cop out. We as chefs need to push ourselves, and push the boundaries that has made the food scene in Columbus comfortable. If we really want to get on the food map then we need to take chances. I love Columbus and I always will. It is my home, and I want to do as much as I can for this city. Whether with food, volunteering, or lending a hand to whomever I can. But there is still work to be done, and I am ready to put the time in.”

Ambrose and Eve is at 716 S High St. Visit ambroseandevecolumbus.com for a menu and reservations.

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Restaurant Review: El Lugar and Alpine bring Spanish, German tapas to German Village

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Displayed proudly along the wall behind El Lugar’s bar are rows and rows of canned seafood—not the ingredient of choice one might expect from an upscale tapas and pinchos restaurant, located in a city with a culinary scene that typically fawns over either traditional American, or fresh and local food. Nevertheless, the Espinaler cans of tuna, razor shells, and cockles reside there like a dare for those with adventurous enough appetites to try some of the finest seafood in the world. 

Photos by Julian Foglietti

El Lugar is a shared effort by co-owners Enis and A.J. Ndreu and Elidon Hizmo to bring new and authentic European flavors to Columbus. Their two new restaurants, El Lugar and Alpine, sit next door to one another and provide different, yet complementary experiences of Spanish and German cuisines. One side boasts a more family-friendly selection of meats, cheeses and hearty vegetables, while the other is fresh Mediterranean flavors of citrus and seafood. Both share an intriguing selection of signature cocktails. 

In contrast to El Lugar, Alpine features cuisine that showcases flavors from across Germany. Nicholas Paxton, the executive chef at both restaurants who was tasked with transforming the owners’ vision into menus, is neither German nor originally familiar with German food, so he brought in consultants more familiar with the region to help develop the recipes. “I love the authenticity that we provide here on the Alpine side,” Paxton said. “There’s a broad spectrum of what German food can be.”

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Alpine is continuing the tradition of authentic regional food that has helped characterize German Village, where it and El Lugar are located. The two restaurants replaced Juergen’s Bakery, a community staple that provided Columbus with Bavarian-style fare for 50 years. Co-owner A.J. Ndreu said they’d been looking for a spot in the area to open up another German restaurant (they also own Wurst und Bier in Worthington), so when the opportunity presented itself, they jumped.

“I used to buy all my pastries from Rosemarie [Keidel, Juergen’s Bakery’s owner],” A.J. Ndreu said. 

“We just connected and she’s like, ‘I’d love for you to take over and make a German restaurant out of it.’ ”

With that, he and his cousin launched into bringing to life their concepts for German and tapas restaurants, which they’d been developing for a decade.

One of the most instrumental sources of inspiration for A.J. has been traveling around Europe. He lived in France, where he fell in love with French food. But once he experienced all the different ways Spanish cuisine used seafood, beef and pork, he was convinced otherwise. “I thought French food was the best cuisine in the world until I started going to Spain.”

The simplicity of Spanish food is a challenge for Paxton, who says his tendency when developing a recipe is to mess with its components. Spanish cuisine, in contrast, consists of ingredients that can speak for themselves; all Paxton has to do, he says, is figure out how they work together and wait for inspiration to hit.

Back in 2008, Anthony Bourdain traveled to Catalonia for his show “No Reservations” to explore the same flavors that intrigued Ndreu and Paxton. At a little bar about half an hour outside of Barcelona, Bourdain tried Espinaler’s canned seafood, and asked, “How can any chef do better for you than that?” Ndreu was captivated.

“I was like, ‘What the hell is he talking about? It’s canned,’ ” Ndreu puzzled. “So […] I went, and I was amazed. It’s unbelievable. It’s some of the best seafood I ever ate.”

After that, A.J. spent years trying to find a way to bring Espinaler’s products to Ohio, and he finally uncovered an opportunity in El Lugar. But besides the seafood, El Lugar also features Vermut Lacuesta—not the vermouth used for lining a martini glass, but a wine-like drink to be enjoyed on its own or in a cocktail. It also offers the Spanish serrano and ibérico hams, which can be cured for years. The more expensive of the two, ibérico ham comes from black pigs fed an acorn diet and can take up to five years to reach peak flavor.

Next door, Alpine’s menu describes dishes like leberkäse (a meatloaf) and wurstteller (a selection of sausages). Diners can also order raclette, available by the scrape, over any meal. But not forgetting that it’s still in the United States, Alpine offers a handful of American classics during happy hour. These include mini cheeseburger sliders, tater tots with beer cheese dip, and fried chicken wings, among others. 

Alpine and El Lugar present their guests with foreign foods that encourage diners to explore the culinary diversity of Europe. Portion sizes, particularly at El Lugar, may be a bit smaller, but Paxton hopes Columbus diners will recognize the value in great, unique-tasting food and finding excellence in unexpected places.

“We don’t want you to fill up on it. We want you to taste some amazing flavors that nobody else is doing,” Paxton said.

Alpine and El Lugar are located at 525 S 4th St. in German Village. Find out about Alpine at alpine614.com and El Lugar at ellugar614.com.

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They’ll be nothing to wine about at these 9 local wineries

614now

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Everyone knows that Columbus is a craft beer city, but fortunately for those who never got acclimated to the yeasty drink, there’s wine. We may not have the best climate for grape growing, but these nine wineries around Columbus are breaking down barriers and serving up delicious bottles to vino lovers.

Camelot Cellars Winery | 901 Oak St, Columbus

Camelot Cellars, an award-winning Urban Boutique Winery, handcrafts all their own wines sourcing premier juices from vineyards all over the world. Offerings include retail wines by the bottle, wine tastings, flights, and event spaces.

Via Vecchia Winery | 2050 S High St, Columbus

This family-owned, urban winery is tucked away off a private lane and hosts 7700 square feet of exclusive venue space. With original exposed brick archways, wood ceiling beams and limestone walls, every experience is sure to be unforgettable.

Wyandotte Winery | 4640 Wyandotte Dr, Columbus

Wyandotte Winery is the first and oldest winery in Central Ohio, conveniently located just miles from Easton Town Center. With wines made from Ohio grapes and a beautiful patio to enjoy them on, you’re sure to enjoy your experience at Wyandotte Winery.

Signature Wines | 3816 April Ln, Columbus

Unlike many urban wineries, Signature Wines makes wines predominantly from whole grapes  and juices brought into Columbus from predominately California and Ohio using traditional, small scale winemaking techniques.  Stop into the Winery to enjoy a glass of wine in a comfortable atmosphere.

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Hidden Lakes Winery | 650 Winchester Pike, Canal Winchester

Hidden Lakes offers a delightful selection of house-made, award-winning wines and unique craft beers. Along with beverages, enjoy food from the newly-updated kitchen while taking in the scenic lakeside view.

Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurant | 4230 The Strand, Columbus

Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurants celebrates moments that matter with chef-crafted food, award-winning wines, and life-long friendships. Outstanding wine, modern fare, Napa-inspiring tasting room: Cooper’s Hawk.

Good Vibes Winery | 2 S State St, Westerville

Good Vibes Winery is an urban winery located in Uptown Westerville, offering guests a wine experience, bistro samplings, and a beautiful environment to be enjoyed by friends and family.

Plum Run Winery | 3946 Broadway, Grove City

Plum Run Winery is a family-owned winery focusing on small batches of quality wines made from locally sourced fruit. A 3-acre vineyard located five miles south of the winery provides many of the grapes for the estate wines. Stop by and enjoy the wine and hospitality!

Powell Village Winery | 50 Liberty St, Powell

As one of the first wine négociants in Ohio, Powell Village Winery sources, blends, and produces small lots of high quality vinifera wines from America’s notable grape-growing regions. From bold & dry to sweet & fruity, they strive to create a diverse range of distinct wines for every taste.

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Tuttle Mall getting a lot sweeter thanks to 2 newcomers

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Malls have changed a lot over the years. Remember Waldenbooks? Was KB Toys your go-to as a kid? Heck, even Sears will soon be nothing more than a memory.

While mall establishments are frequently lost to the sands of time, it’s rare that you see a former retailer return to a mall it’s already vacated once. Well brace yourselves, sweets fans, because a gooey, sugar-frosted favorite is making a comeback at Tuttle Mall.

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Of course we’re talking Cinnabon, which was last in operation at Tuttle some years ago, and is now listed as “coming soon” on the mall’s directory. But wait! As tempting as it will be to fill up on cinnamon rolls after this long absence, you’ll want to save room for this other coming attraction: it seems Duck Donuts is also setting up shop in Tuttle.

Hop on the treadmill and give your dentist a heads-up, mall lovers—sweets are back at Tuttle in a big way!

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