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Food & Drink

Order up: 10 diners offer minimum space, maximum taste

J.R. McMillan

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Somewhere between East Coast delicatessens and West Coast cafés is the culinary intersection of utility and community. Though the Midwest didn’t exactly invent the diner, it has arguably perfected it. But defining a diner isn’t as easy as it seems.

Tommy’s urban appeal and Nancy’s down-home feel are two sides of the same coin. Cap City and Starliner both push the envelope with avant-garde offerings, while Hang Over Easy and Chef-O-Nette certainly deserve a nod. But none really meet the standard for tiny diners, the neighborhood haunts only the locals seem to know.

Despite our critically-acclaimed restaurant scene, the classic diner is working class by design. Most offer open kitchens and open seating without a sous chef or sommelier in sight. Better still if there’s a guy with a gallery of tattoos behind the grill and the coffee is strong enough to stand up a spoon. Breakfast hours are essential; breakfast anytime is understood.

There’s an implicit social compact to rubbing elbows with strangers at tightly-grouped tables or a crowded counter. Enough original or inspired decor with knickknacks and nostalgia so that even regulars find something new every time combined with off-the-menu specials and predictable patrons the staff know by name are all part of the charm.

Unfortunately, that social scene is also what may make these esoteric eateries intimidating for the uninitiated. So here’s an insider’s guide to some of the city’s best tiny diners and the plates that make them great.

For Breakfast

George’s Beechwold Diner

4408 Indianola Ave., North Clintonville

Dinky diner meets neighborhood dive on the edge of Clintonville. The steak and eggs and biscuits and gravy are both solid. If you can’t decide, you can’t go wrong with the garbage omelet, which varies from visit to visit, but includes every meat, cheese, and veggie on the menu.

Jack & Benny’s Barnstormer

2160 W Case Rd., Dublin

Hidden gem is an understatement for a joint tucked away in the back of a hanger at the recently remodeled OSU Airport. Try the legendary Gut Buster at least once—layers of egg, cheese, sausage, bacon, ham, and hash browns with a potato pancake and peppered gravy for good measure.

Stav’s Diner

2932 E. Broad St., Bexley

Skip the standard French toast and substitute challah bread instead for something unexpected. Buttery pancakes with fresh blueberries are always in season. Don’t be afraid to get creative. Order the gyro omelet with feta, but add spinach and tomato for even more Mediterranean flavors.

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For Lunch

German Village Coffee Shop

193 Thurman Ave., German Village

Don’t let the name fool you. The patty melt is superb, covered in grilled onions, Swiss and American cheese, and Thousand Island on rye—as is the Monte Christa, the comfort food cousin of the classic club sandwich with egg-battered bread stuffed with hot turkey, ham and cheese.

Delaney’s Diner

5916 Westerville Rd., Westerville

With a new name, more tables, and a few menu holdovers, you’ll still find the best corned beef hash in Columbus, carved into huge chunks, served with grilled red potatoes and onions, and eggs to order. Crispy country fried steak smothered in sausage gravy also remains a reliable staple.

Grill & Skillet

2924 E Main St., Bexley

Nothing says nostalgia like grilled liver and onions with homemade mashed potatoes, or a thick-sliced, fried bologna sandwich—not even the checkerboard floors. But don’t overlook the weekend specials, like peanut butter and banana French toast, salmon patties with Hollandaise, or their killer kielbasa and eggs.

For Dinner

3 Brothers Diner

3090 Southwest Blvd., Grove City

The three brothers from Oaxaca helped establish the style of another local diner before opening their own. Try their namesake omelet, with bacon, ham, plantains, and Monterey Jack covered in chili sauce and sour cream—or their signature scramble with poblanos, onions, corn, and zucchini, topped with Jack and queso fresco.

Westerville Grill

59 S State St., Westerville

 On the south end of Uptown, evening hours are often the exception when it comes to diners. Don’t miss the smothered chicken, grilled with peppers, onions, mushrooms, and melted cheddar with a side of mashed potatoes, or the weekend-only prime rib, slow-roasted and served with au jus.

Philco Diner + Bar

747 N High Street, Short North

The only entry on the list where all-day breakfast meets beer and cocktails, this upscale Short North pit stop offers a modern twist on every recipe. Seriously consider the coffee-braised pot roast, served with butternut squash, red potatoes, poblanos, and goat cheese, with rosemary onion rings.

Fitzy’s Old Fashioned Diner

1487 Schrock Rd., Worthington

It’s never too late or too early at Fitzy’s, the only 24-hour diner on our list. Go for the breaded and fried, sliced pork tenderloin, served as an entrée, on a sandwich, or with your eggs—or keep it simple with the Fitzer: eggs your way, home fries, and a biscuit all covered in sausage gravy.

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Food & Drink

Tastebud Traveling: Free tasting event coming to North Market

614now Staff

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Take a family tastebud trip with the return of Kalamata’s Kitchen Tasting Tour at the North Market this weekend.

Kalamata’s Kitchen will kick off a 12-month, 12-city tasting tour in Columbus on Saturday, February 22. This premier event for kids and families will feature tasty bites from North Market vendors representing food from around the world.

According to a release, every child participant is treated like a VIP as they discover new foods and learn about unique perspectives from celebrated chefs. Kids receive a VIP badge and a Food Adventure Passport that is stamped each time they try a new food. They will also have the opportunity to meet Sarah Thomas, co-founder and author of the Kalamata’s Kitchen book series.

This event is free and open to the public.

For more information, visit kalamataskitchen.com and/or northmarket.com.

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Food & Drink

Nice To Meat You: Pit BBQ drops major news

614now Staff

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Hot off the opening of their newest restaurant, The Pit BBQ announced yet another location.

The smoked meats adventure, started by former Buckeyes Chimid Chekwa and Bryant Browning as well as D’Andre Martin and Mike Johnson, first opened in 2016 at 3545 Cleveland Ave. in Columbus’ North Linden neighborhood. 

Photos by Rebecca Tien

Earlier this month, they expanded to 1542 Parsons Ave. and just recently, the restaurateurs have signed a lease for a third location at 4219 N. High St. in Clintonville.

Curious to learn more about the cravable BBQ joint? Check out our (614) Magazine coverage here.

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Food & Drink

Bistrolino Old World Kitchen brings unique flavors to German Village

Mike Thomas

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In the conversation around modern dining, there are certain descriptors that have taken on less than positive connotations. These inherently harmless words became objects of mockery due to overuse, thanks in part to concepts that probably had no business applying them in the first place. In particular, the word “fusion” seems to have worn out its welcome.

The much-maligned “F” word notwithstanding, the crossover success of Lebanese-meets-Italian on display at Bistrolino Old World Kitchen and Bar is not just an attempt at novelty, but is backed by the rich historical similarities common to the two cultures. Take it from the Romans and Ottomans: as unique as a civilization may be, you don’t spend so much time in close proximity without a few things rubbing off.

Like the traditions from which they hail, Bistrolino owners Sam Chedid and Francesco Todisco found common ground in their love of food. A native of Southern Italy, Todisco started making pizzas at age 13. His 24-year career in cooking took him to numerous kitchens in New York City, and later, to work as a chef in his wife’s native Columbus. Chedid began his career as a civil engineer, but never fully connected with work in that field. Dreaming of opening his own restaurant, he took a job with Aladdin’s Eatery to learn the ins and outs of the industry. It was here that the two connected, and began collaborating on the concept that would become Bistrolino.

Photos: Rebecca Tien

“I always told him we would open a restaurant together and he’d laugh it off,” Chedid says with a laugh of his own. “Over our time getting to know each other, we realized how similar our foods were ingredients-wise, and decided to put them together.”

Looking at the common elements between the two food cultures served as a starting point for Bistrolino’s menu. There is much that the two culinary traditions share outright, and other areas where commonalities allow for creative synthesis of complementary flavors from each culture.

With their plan of action decided, the duo already had a destination in mind for their new venture: Columbus’ historic German Village. “The neighborhood has been fantastic. We always knew we wanted to be here,” Chedid said. “The old architecture and little streets remind us of home.”

And the food at Bistrolino seems to have reminded others of their home, as well. Since opening in late December 2019, the restaurant has already attracted clientele from far and wide—including members of the local Lebanese and Italian communities in search of familiar flavors that are hard to find in Central Ohio.

“I wanted to introduce people to more Lebanese food that you don’t see unless you go to Lebanon,” Chedid says of Bistrolino’s offerings. “We love hummus, we love tabbouleh, but we’re just trying to stay away from that, because that’s what you find everywhere commercially.”

If off-the-beaten-path Lebanese food is decidedly less familiar to the American palate, Bistrolino’s fusion of Italian favorites offers a gateway to new experiences. Whatever level of familiarity one approaches the menu with, the dedication to quality and freshness on display in the kitchen is sure to win fans.

“If I can tell you anything about the food that we make, it’s that it’s all about simplicity and very high-quality ingredients,” says Todisco. “The culture where we come from, sitting down at the dinner table is not just to feed ourselves. It’s to come together and have a good time. All of our dishes are made having in mind that usually when people come together, they are sharing.”

The shareable menu concept is well-expressed through a variety of familiar Mediterranean favorites, from flatbreads (each available as an open-faced Italian Puccia or the more sandwich-like Lebanese Mankoushe) to charcuterie. A selection of terrine, single-serve roasted dishes served right in the cooking vessel, present some of the restaurant’s more decadent offerings. Whether it’s the made-to-order lasagna, lamb chops, or a brasciola (the menu’s most expensive item at a more-than-reasonable $20) comprised of thinly-sliced, cream- of-basil-stuffed NY strip—the entire menu offers an incredible value for fresh, scratch-made fare.

From a Lebanese salad called Fattoush to frittatas and much more, vegetarian options at Bistrolino are abundant, as are unique wine selections. The house wine from the Massaya Vineyards label of Lebanon offers a taste of a country that is considered a hidden gem among wine producers.

Whatever the mood calls for, diners would do well to arrive early to secure their preferred dish. The confines of the small kitchen’s limited storage space and Todisco’s commitment to using the freshest possible ingredients sometimes means that items will run out.

“I feel sorry when I have to tell people we are out of something, but there is nothing I can do,” he explains. “This is the only way to keep everything super fresh.”

Food so good it sells out? Maybe fusion isn’t such a bad concept after all.

Visit Bistrolino Old World Kitchen and Bar at 495 S 4th St in German Village.

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