12 Reasons to Drive to Columbus

By Matt Kirouac  |  January 31, 2017
Credit: Skillet

Far too often, Ohio falls into the category of “flyover country,” which is a real shame considering the Midwestern state is home to thriving cities like Columbus. Easily one of the most underrated cities in the country, home to one of the largest universities in the U.S. and a population that ranks just behind San Francisco, Columbus is full of surprises throughout its varied neighborhoods. This is especially true of its food and drink scene, boasting a cornucopia of independent businesses delivering everything from stellar bar food to gussied up brunch. Here are 12 reasons why you should drive to Columbus today. 

  • Credit: Gallerie Bar & Bistro

    Gallerie Bar & Bistro
    On the second floor of the Hilton Columbus Downtown, Gallerie Bar & Bistro is an unassuming spot serving some of the most inventive Midwestern cooking in the region. Super-talented chef Bill Glover presides over a menu of masterful seasonal and locally sourced dishes chock full of unexpected twists and turns with every forkful. On one plate, you might find pork croquettes served with apple purée and cashew gremolata, while Ohio chicken sausage gets enriched with bone marrow aïoli and tuna comes with fennel kimchi purée. Save room for the equally impressive desserts, like a pumpkin mille feuille with cinnamon gelée, and be sure and order a cocktail or two from the nearby bar, which ages Sazeracs and Boulevardiers for five weeks in oak barrels. 

    401 N. High St.; 614-484-5287

  • Credit: Katalina's

    When in Columbus, this is an essential stop for breakfast in a former gas station. The bustling, pint-sized Katalina’s is the work of Kathleen Day, a character as friendly and colorful as her eclectic dining room, which is lined floor-to-ceiling with signatures, illustrations and greetings from guests over the years. When the weather isn’t warm enough for the expansive patio, people line up down the block for Day’s famous pancake balls filled with the likes of dulce de leche and apple butter. The bulk of the menu skews Latin, with exceptional black bean soup, migas, breakfast tacos and an addictive, gut-busting Mazatlán slow-roasted pork and egg sandwich. 

    1105 Pennsylvania Ave.; 614-294-2233

  • Credit: Fox in the Snow

    Fox in the Snow
    This sunny, industrial-style coffee shop is the kind of cafe every neighborhood dreams of. Housed inside a contemporary garage space, lending a distinct arty feel, Fox in the Snow goes above and beyond the call of caffeine by not only doling out quality coffee, espresso and cortados, but by delivering the wow factor with some of the best pastries in Columbus. The custard-filled donuts are perfect, bearing a delicately fluffy texture and a restrained sweetness. Cinnamon rolls are deliciously doughy, punched up with a hit of tang from the cream cheese icing. Then there are the biscuits, impossibly flaky and golden brown, at their best adorned with housemade jam, salt and honey. 

    1031 N. Fourth St.

  • Credit: Matt Kirouac

    One of the best brunch experiences in Columbus can be had at a funky plant store on the fringes of the Italian Village neighborhood. Owned by Emily Brown and Brian Kellett, Stump is a quirky oasis of greenery that just so happens to host a killer brunch pop-up once a month. The menus and chefs change each time, but rest assured you’ll be in for a memorable treat. Take a seat at Stump’s makeshift coffee bar or along the long, wooden communal table to partake in dishes like shrimp and grits, fried green tomato Benedict and pumpkin–pine nut cake with a cereal marshmallow bar for dessert. 

    305 E. 5th Ave.; 614-681-4769

  • Credit: North Market

    North Market
    North Market is to Columbus as Pike Place Market is to Seattle and the Ferry Building is to San Francisco. That is, it’s a can’t-miss historic stop that's home to myriad local merchants and food vendors slinging everything from spices to pretzels. The sprawling, soaring hall is incredible, bustling with energy and abundant with sights and aromas. It’s a great destination for shopping, snacking, juicing and dining, all under one enormous roof. Some top-notch spots to hit up include Destination Donuts for its hibiscus-glazed beauties, North Market Spices for unique pantry provisions, Little Eater for produce and prepared vegetable dishes and North Market Cheese, one of the newer additions to the complex. Upstairs, you’ll find Hot Chicken Takeover, a Nashville-inspired eatery for spicy fried chicken that tends to draw quite a queue.  

    59 Spruce St.; 614-463-9664

  • Credit: Skillet

    In the charming German Village, Skillet is an apt stopover amidst shopping, strolling and house-ogling. This hyper-popular nook fills up quickly with hungry diners, and rightfully so, considering the kitchen has a real penchant for Midwestern comfort food. Some highlights include pastrami gravy and biscuits, BBQ scallops and grits, honey apple pie and this stunner of a sandwich: Cincinnati-style goetta and egg on buttery country white bread with grainy mustard. For those unfamiliar with the regional specialty, goetta is a loose meat patty of ground pork, sweet onions, spices and oats, formed into a meatloaflike shape and fried until crispy. 

    410 E. Whittier St.; 614-443-2266

  • Credit: Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams

    Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams
    You can’t talk about Columbus without mentioning Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, one of the most revered artisanal ice cream companies in the country, with locations in Atlanta, Charleston, Nashville and yes, Chicago (read more about her latest Chicago expansion here). But Columbus is where it all started, and the place founder Jeni Britton Bauer proudly calls home. After launching her brand with a small scoop shop in the North Market, she’s since branched out with locations in German Village and the trendy Short North, among others. For fall and winter, new flavors include dark chocolate peppermint, sweet potato éclair, Thai curry pumpkin and The Matterhorn, which combines wildflower honey ice cream with white chocolate ganache and smoked almonds. 

    Multiple locations

  • Credit: Matt Kirouac

    Rockmill Tavern
    A brand-new addition to Columbus’ funky, warehouse-packed Brewery District, Rockmill Tavern is sure to become a quick staple for the city at large. Far surpassing the standard when it comes to brewpub fare, the food menu excels with dishes rooted in classic flavors, but thoroughly re-imagined. For instance, a deviled duck egg comes with duck confit and pickled vegetables, while pork rinds are dusted with espresso, cayenne and cinnamon. One of the biggest hits on the menu is the spicy chicken sandwich, a crispy poultry masterpiece with bread and butter zucchini, urfa mayo and spicy honey butter literally smeared atop the brioche bun. Of course, don’t miss the opportunity to sample some of Rockmill’s beers while you’re here. The peachy Petite Saison is particularly quenching and the Rugged Expanse is perfect for those fond of richer flavors like molasses and smoke. 

    503 S. Front St.; 614-723-9551

  • Credit: The Guild House

    The Guild House
    One of many restaurants owned by Cameron Mitchell in his hometown of Columbus, The Guild House is particularly wonderful for brunch. A chic space inside the Joseph Hotel in the Short North Arts District, it gets crafty both with food and with cocktails that manage to make the morning meal just as exciting as dinnertime. Curried lentils come with a six-minute duck tea egg, while tender shreds of duck confit and truffled eggs are a clever riff on a Benedict with potato pancakes subbing for English muffins and Gruyère cream for hollandaise. To drink, venture beyond mimosas with a Darjeeling-infused rye cocktail, a gin tipple with raisins and rosemary or even a mushroom-infused tequila concoction with cranberry and cinnamon. 

    624 N. High St.; 614-280-9780

  • Credit: Middle West Spirits

    Middle West Spirits
    Great things are coming soon to one of the finest distilleries in the Midwest. Currently, Middle West Spirits is primarily open to the public as a bottle shop, which alone is worth seeking out for its incomparable whiskeys, vodkas and gins, but soon to come is a bar and restaurant called Service Bar. It’s a smart way to bring the concept full circle while giving guests the opportunity to sample the spirits in new ways on-site. In the meantime, Middle West offers tours of its 16,000-sq.-ft. distillery by appointment, for groups of six to 40. Its newest creation, Vim & Petal Gin, is an American-style dry gin rich with wheaty undertones. 

    1230 Courtland Ave.; 614-299-2460

  • Credit: Watershed Distillery

    Watershed Distillery
    Watershed is another distillery in Columbus helping cement a boozy niche for the city. Through its rigorous commitment to small-batch spirits, the company makes some of the cleanest vodkas, gins and bourbons in the Midwest. It’s all thanks to founders Greg Lehman and Dave Rigo, who took the leap from corporate America to distilling when they opened Watershed. Nowadays, they source as many ingredients as possible from Ohio for their line of five spirits, which includes the aforementioned varieties plus a nocino (walnut liqueur) and a bourbon barrel–aged gin. They also have a bottled old fashioned, which is ready to pour right over ice. Watershed offers distillery tours on a regular basis as well. 

    1145 Chesapeake Ave.; 614-357-1936

  • Credit: Donatos Pizza

    Donatos Pizza
    When people discuss regional pizza styles in the U.S., New York and Chicago tend to dominate the conversation, with Detroit-style steadily on the rise. But Columbus-style is a thing of beauty in its own right. For proof, look to the city’s wildly successful homegrown chain, Donatos. Now with locations scattered throughout the city and across the country, it’s easy to see why the pizza style caught on like wildfire. The focus here is on toppings and making pizza especially group-friendly. This means thin crusts are lined to the very brim with everything from Nashville hot chicken to balsamic glaze, and each pie is sliced “party-style” into little cubes. If you’re dining at the Short North location, the newest for the brand, be sure and swing through its adjoining Black Brick Bar for a cocktail or beer. 

    Multiple locations