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Great Bites: The past year in new restaurants in Columbus

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This year, Columbus diners seemed to be demanding one thing—casual eateries that wouldn’t break the budget, serving food notches above everyday pub fare. There’s a diner dishing up Southern-inspired cuisine. Gastropubs that craft their beer lists as carefully as their brew-inspired dishes. Kitschy spots serving no-frills but satisfying Tex-Mex cuisine. Plus, we’ve got an adorable breakfast spot, a few new sweet shops and breweries (adding to the ever-growing Columbus beer scene) to round out the year. To make sure you didn’t miss anything, the editors of Crave have compiled a list of a few noteworthy new casual spots, along with recently opened places to grab a treat or a cold brew.

101 Beer Kitchen

Rustic-meets-industrial at this Dublin gastropub that burst onto the dining scene in late fall 2012 and hasn’t slowed down since. Owners Thad and Jessica Kittrell wanted to create a welcoming space that was approachable for beer lovers and novices alike. Ask for a Budweiser, and you may be kindly steered to try something similar from their list of 50 microbrew bottles and 20 drafts, which rotate almost daily. It’s all about beer education here, the owners say. The upscale pub grub menu created by Thad rotates with the seasons but is always designed with beer pairings in mind. Think soft pretzels with beer-cheese spread, beer-steamed mussels, beer-battered perch, plus pizzas, sandwiches and salads—and all for under $16. Just be forewarned: If you go during peak hours, expect a wait. 7509 Sawmill Rd., Dublin, 614-210-1010, 101beerkitchen.com

Pint House Beer Garden

It should come as no surprise that a place that refers to itself as a beer garden is primarily focused on the beer (most drafts come in tall, narrow 21-ounce mugs). But the food here makes for a great companion to the 40 taps and more than 40 bottled brews at the huge, brick-walled space that manages to feel light and open thanks to a retractable roof. Grab a seat toward the front and nosh on a Pretzel Sampler with spicy mustard, beer cheese and cinnamon-sugar dipping sauces; Skillet Mac & Cheese; pizzas; a burger; or fish and chips. 780 N. High St., Short North, 614-429-3986, pinthouse.thecgsgroup.com

Local Cantina

Local Cantina is a bar that serves food, not the other way around, says owner George Tanchevski. And while the kitschy Mex joint does the bar stuff well—the beer list is where they really shine with a hearty list of craft brews scribbled on a chalk board in the corner, plus a short list of cocktails—the food isn’t anything to gloss over. It’s not fancy or particularly creative, but it’s solid, consistent and always pairs well with a cold drink. No-frills dishes include $3 tacos, fajitas, quesadillas and serve yourself chips out of an old washing basin. The concept proved so popular in Grandview, Tanchevski opened a second location in Gahanna. 1423 Grandview Ave., Grandview, 614-488-6146; 101 Mill St., Suite 100, Gahanna, 614-337-1977

The Pearl

The latest restaurant from Cameron Mitchell—an upscale, comfortable eatery inspired by a variety of American cuisines from the East Coast (complete with an oyster bar) to the South (think deviled eggs and cornbread)—was perhaps the most highly anticipated opening this year. Opened in February 2013, The Pearl’s old-school atmosphere does feel a bit chain-like, but that doesn’t distract from the good things coming out of the kitchen and from behind the bar. There are barrel-aged Manhattans and margaritas, punch bowls to share, a lengthy craft beer list. All pair well with gussied-up versions of pub fare like a grilled cheese with pear jam, brie and pesto and a hanger steak with kimchi fried rice, to finer fare like braised short ribs and ricotta dumplings. Whatever you do, just save room for a slice of pie. Sweet offerings rotate regularly, including the Momofuku Milk Bar-inspired Brown Sugar Pie. 641 N. High St., Short North, 614-227-0151, thepearlcolumbus.com

Plate

Answering the call for more local, independent eateries in New Albany is \Plate, an Italian-inspired restaurant that opened in June 2013 from chef Alfonso Contrisciani, who gained a following in the suburb while leading the kitchen at New Albany Country Club. Located in downtown New Albany, Plate dishes out handmade pastas and thin, crispy pizzas coming out of a Neapolitan-style oven—the latter is one of Contrisciani’s favorite menu options. All ingredients are sourced locally when possible (including some from the chef’s own 70-acre farm). 29 S. High St., New Albany, 614-855-2929, plateohio.com

Frezno Bar And Grill

Owners Kevin and Lori Ames resurrected this once-popular Short North spot in the burgeoning Brewery District in an expansive space with two roomy patios. Twenty years ago, the Ames were known in the for their forward-thinking dishes, so it’s probably not surprising that xe "Frezno"Frezno’s menu has a throwback ’90s feel with something for every palate. There are tacos and pizza, fried chicken and seafood entrees, plus a hearty list of bar-food-staple appetizers (the chips and dip aren’t to be missed). 460 S. Front St., Brewery District, 614-824-4367 Owners Kevin and Lori Ames resurrected this once-popular Short North spot in the burgeoning Brewery District in an expansive space with two roomy patios. Twenty years ago, the Ames were known in the for their forward-thinking dishes, so it’s probably not surprising that Frezno’s menu has a throwback ’90s feel with something for every palate. There are tacos and pizza, fried chicken and seafood entrees, plus a hearty list of bar-food-staple appetizers (the chips and dip aren’t to be missed). 460 S. Front St., Brewery District, 614-824-4367

Philco Bar+Diner

When the owners of The Rossi and Club 185 decided to rehab the former Philips Coney Island space, they knew they needed to fill a void in the Short North. The neighborhood was yearning for a spot locals and visitors alike could come and enjoy a good meal at wallet-friendly prices. So, they charged Rossi chef Andrew Smith to craft a grownup diner menu to serve at this sleek green and gray spot. Smith took inspiration from his Southern upbringings to craft the tight menu, which offers breakfast (all day), lunch and dinner dishes like the Breakfast Biscuit sandwich with fried egg, chorizo and shallot preserves; Fried Mortadella Sandwich; Johnnycake Sliders with pulled pork; 40 Clove Chicken with maple ricotta cornbread; and hushpuppies. There’s even a Coney dog—an ode to the former tenant. 747 N. High St., Short North, 614-299-9933, philcodiner.com

South Of Lane

Owner Catherine Vonderahe dreamed of a causal breakfast-and-coffee spot in her neighborhood, so instead of waiting for one to open, she did it herself. The UA native opened quaint xe "South of Lane"South of Lane away from the main drag in May 2013, combining her want for good coffee (she serves locally-roasted Thunderkiss) with her love of antiques. So while waiting for your three-egg omelet, French toast made with coconut bread or waffle filled with peanut butter and bacon at a mismatched table and chairs, you can also browse a small collection of antiques she’s compiled. 1987 Guilford Rd., Upper Arlington, 614-586-2233 Owner Catherine Vonderahe dreamed of a causal breakfast-and-coffee spot in her neighborhood, so instead of waiting for one to open, she did it herself. The UA native opened quaint South of Lane away from the main drag in May 2013, combining her want for good coffee (she serves locally-roasted Thunderkiss) with her love of antiques. So while waiting for your three-egg omelet, French toast made with coconut bread or waffle filled with peanut butter and bacon at a mismatched table and chairs, you can also browse a small collection of antiques she’s compiled. 1987 Guilford Rd., Upper Arlington, 614-586-2233

El Camino Inn

The West Coast meets south of the border in a retro sort of way at xe "El Camino Inn"El Camino Inn, a kitschy Mexican bar-restaurant with faux leather stools, vibrant orange and blue hues and a giant lacquered sailfish above the bar. It’s one of two new spots from the owners of The Rossi and Club 185, this Fourth Street spot inspired by the dishes their kitchen staff cooks for themselves. The small menu (this is a bar first, eatery second) features tostadas, tacos, tortas and burritos, plus a solid Mexican beer list and 60 tequilas. 238 S. Fourth St., Downtown, 614-220-8877, elcaminoinn.co The West Coast meets south of the border in a retro sort of way at El Camino Inn, a kitschy Mexican bar-restaurant with faux leather stools, vibrant orange and blue hues and a giant lacquered sailfish above the bar. It’s one of two new spots from the owners of The Rossi and Club 185, this Fourth Street spot inspired by the dishes their kitchen staff cooks for themselves. The small menu (this is a bar first, eatery second) features tostadas, tacos, tortas and burritos, plus a solid Mexican beer list and 60 tequilas. 238 S. Fourth St., Downtown, 614-220-8877, elcaminoinn.com

The Crest

The Clintonville dining scene has had a bit of a renaissance this year. Leading the charge is dive-bar-turned-gem xe "The Crest"The Crest, a gastropub with a rustic vibe, a more than 50-draft beer list and a smart collection of craft cocktails heavily sourced with local booze, many of them barrel-aged. Chef Dustin Brafford, whose previous gig was as an executive chef in Beirut, adds Middle Eastern flair to his beer-friendly food lineup of snacks (like a hummus, eggplant and veggie plate), burgers (one made with lamb), sandwiches, tacos and salads. Ingredients are sourced locally when possible and often from their rooftop garden, which spills over into large planter boxes around the parking lot and the patio. 2855 Indianola Ave., Clintonville, 614-261-7128

New Things Brewing

The local beer scene seems to be ever-growing, with a handful of breweries slated to open in late 2013 and early 2014. In the meantime, quench your thirst at two of the newest breweries in town. xe "Seventh Son Brewing Co."Seventh Son Brewing Co. in Italian Village pairs house-made brews with a great atmosphere. A former garage, the inside-outside space is expansive, with two patios, a large bar and bench seating everywhere. Three to four Seventh Son beers rotate on their taps and a food truck is almost always parked in the front lot. 1101 N. Fourth St., Italian Village, 614-421-BEER, seventhsonbrewing.com

If brewing your own beer is more your thing, head over to xe "North High Brewing"North High Brewing, where in two to three hours you (and a few friends) can create blonde ales or double IPAs under the guidance of a pro. You’ll return in two to three weeks to label your 144-bottle stock. While you wait, belly up to the bar to sample its rotating 30-tap selection, many of which are crafted in house. Hungry? There’s a small bar snack menu with bites like cheese and sausage available. 1288 N High St., Short North, 614-407-5278, northhighbrewing.com

Food-tour company Columbus Food Adventures has launched the beer-centric version of its beloved behind-the-scenes outings with Columbus Brew Adventures. Local food blogger Jim Ellison will lead the charge, offering guests six tours to start and crafted for the novice beer drinker to the brewmaster. Tours will range from an overview of the local craft brew scene to meet-the-brewer tours, with visits at local beer staples like Columbus Brewing Co., to on-the-rise ones like Actual Brewing Co. Tours started in September and cost $55 to $85. columbusbrewadventures.com

Sweet Treats

Kittie’s Cakes

The cupcake trend is far from dead, proved the owners of this hip little German Village bakery when it opened in April 2013 to plenty of well-deserved buzz. Owners Mollie and Kelly Fankhauser could barely keep their cases full of mini, two-bite cakes in fun, rotating combinations like Angry Buckeye (the classic combo with a little kick), White Lavender, Ooey Gooey Chocolate and Chocolate “Chip” (potato chip cake with chocolate frosting). Since the spring, they’ve expanded their offers to scones and cookie sandwiches, too. 495 S. Third St., German Village, 614-754-8828, kittiescakes.com

Sassafras Bakery

Regulars at the Worthington Farmers Market have flocked to AJ Perry’s stand for years looking for a taste of homemade pies, brownies and cookies. In August 2013, Perry set permanent roots in the Olde Worthington neighborhood, opening a storefront on High Street where she’s not only dishing out the sweet treats that made her a market must-stop, but also a few savory options, like quiche, too. 657 High St., Worthington, 614-781-9705 Sassafras Bakery Regulars at the Worthington Farmers Market have flocked to AJ Perry’s stand for years looking for a taste of homemade pies, brownies and cookies. In August 2013, Perry set permanent roots in the Olde Worthington neighborhood, opening a storefront on High Street where she’s not only dishing out the sweet treats that made her a market must-stop, but also a few savory options, like quiche, too. 657 High St., Worthington, 614-781-9705

Kolache Republic

Despite Columbus’ transplant demographic, ethnic bakeries aren’t something the city’s known for. But specialty bakery Kolache Republic, which opened in the Brewery District in mid-July 2013, is looking to change that—well, at least when it comes to this Czech treat. Kolache Republic’s versions hail from a style popular in south Texas with a less-sweet, Danish-like dough filled with sweet and fruit fillings like sweet cheese, blueberry, chocolate, poppy seed and almond. Open for breakfast and lunch, the 800-square-foot bakery’s savory versions include kielbasa, as well as a daily rotating special (like braised Hawaiian pork kolache with onions, pickled jalapenos and roasted pineapple with cilantro-scallion relish). 730 S. High St. Brewery District, 614-928-3151, kolacherepublic.com

Destination Donuts

Inspired by a trip to Hawaii, Heather Morris sells her artisan doughnuts at both Hills Market locations, Luck Bros. and Global Gallery on the weekends, and occasionally as a pop-up at the North Market. Look for fun-filled flavors like lemon-curd cardamom, maple-sausage and cranberry-orange. destinationdonuts.com