Underground supper clubs are gaining popularity around the country as an alternative to restaurant dining. In some of the most extreme versions, chefs evade the health department to serve elaborate multi-course meals to diners out of home kitchens or empty restaurants. Here in Columbus, Freedom a la Cart is borrowing the idea (minus the illegal part) for its new Eat Up supper club, a series of dinners to be held at warehouses, breweries and restaurants around town.
I was lucky enough to be part of the inaugural supper club event, held at Freedom a la Cart's home base kitchen, located on the fifth floor of the YMCA building on Long Street downtown. How it works: these dinners are invite-only (find out about upcoming events by following Freedom's Facebook page), and attendees get to see the menu in advance but the location is kept a secret until a day before the dinner. The cost is a suggested donation of about $40 per person, all of which goes to a great cause: Freedom a la Cart is a venture from the nonprofit group Doma International, and the food cart and catering business employs survivors of human trafficking.
Chef Lara Yazvac creates the menus for each supper club event, and the first Eat Up meal was a hearty feast perfect for a cold winter evening. After indulging in some pre-dinner cocktails (I tried the Smoky Cherry made with Bulleit Rye, mesquite powder, cherry and rosemary) and snacks, including some remarkable little goat cheese croquettes topped with a blood orange reduction, we moved on to the main meal. This was the menu:
Mushroom Nest with Hearty Greens: Lobster mushrooms (a rare variety that looks exactly like lobster meat), toasted farro, greens and an egg from the chef's yard, meant to be broken to create a yolky sauce.
Winter Cassoulet: Slow-cooked soul food made with local pork, butternut squash and "duck cracklin."
Smoked Tea + Local Beef Hash: Medallions of beef served with a fingerling potato hash, juniper-braised fennel and Humboldt Fog, a tangy goat cheese.
Warm Rosemary Cake: with rosemary-sage whipped cream and lavender-lemon brittle.
Beyond the terrific food, the supper club setup is lots of fun, and I really enjoyed spending several hours getting to know a table full of people I'd never met before. I highly recommend snagging a seat for an upcoming supper club if you're able.