A year ago, I drove a couple hours south of Cleveland to a strip mall off Interstate 71 to film part of an episode of Bourdain’s “No Reservations” heartland episode, at a stellar Japanese restaurant called Kihachi (google map it, look at all the parking lots and new housing developments). During the meal Bourdain, I made an off-handed remark about how extraordinary to find a restaurant of this caliber in the heart of Applebee’s country.  That was it, that was all!  And it’s still how I still see it, namely that strip malls off interstates, miles from any actual metropolis, is, indeed, Applebee’s country.

Regrettably, this episode of the show featured Columbus, Ohio, the state capital, home of OSU and the Buckeyes, and the good people of this heartland city, eager for the national spotlight to show themselves off, were a tad miffed that one of their own had seemed to directly disparage their city.  I had only been there once or twice before for book events, not food tours, so I did not mean to suggest that Columbus was Applebees’ country, only that ex-urban interstate cloverleafs were.

But that’s not how it came off.  Talk about a hornets nest, sheesh (here’s but one example, good to meet you nonetheless, Bethia!). I more or less covered my head with my arms to keep from getting clobbered and ran away.

But not for long. Aided by one of my oldest and dearest friends (a life long Buckeyes fan), a Columbus food mafia conspired to get me down there for a proper exploration (followed for all I knew by a tar and feathering).  Lured by the promise of 50-yard-line seats for the OSU-Penn State game, my friend convinced me and down we went for a 24-hour Columbus food binge, led by two lawyers, Steve Stover and Rich Terapak and one financial advisor, Jim Budros, all of the them food devotees, occasional culinary instructors, restaurant reviewers, and one of them, Mr. Budros, a principal of his financial firm, also firmly enmeshed in the food business as a co-owner of City Barbecue.

I’d been warned that we would need to be eating through the pain, something these gents seem to relish, and by the time we hit the massive buckwheat pancakes at Skillet Saturday morning, the pain was abundant.  But not from the food itself.  Skillet’s rib sticking breakfasts were stellar, neo-croque madames (my fave) and stinky cheese omelets, griddle cakes and sausage would hold us till the game later on that amazingly warm sunny November day.

We began the trip early the previous eating at the Los Gauchos food truck for tacos (pictured above)—and they would remain perhaps my favorite dish of the entire visit.  I love genuine tacos.  What followed  was a stop at Middle West Spirits, a new micro distilleryl working in vodka, of all things.  I was dubious, as vodka by federal definition should have no aroma or flavor.  But theirs did, but also, distilled at 195 proof remained vodka, so much so that the Gray Goose we tasted next to their OYO seemed by comparison better suited to a cotton ball on a flesh wound.

The coolest part what owners Brady Konya and Ryan Lang are doing is making this premium hooch from locally sourced soft red winter wheat.  Cooler still, they have used the same wheat to create a whiskey, which is the same stuff as the vodka, distilled at a different proof and aged in barrels.  But exact same grain.  Amazing stuff.

From there to local favorite Alana’s.  What my pal Lester and I loved about this place, beside the excellent chuck, was the retail wine case and $5 corkage fee.  Brilliant.

Next up, Basi Italia, chef-owned by the affable Johnny Dornback and his wife Trish Gentile, followed by Rigsby’s Kitchen, both superb.

The next morning up early for dry-cured sausages and pate, the breakfast of champions, at Thurn’s, a 125-year-old family business. Next on to Mr. Budros’s kids bakery and patisserie, Pistachia Vera. Spencer, who leads the kitchen, and his sister Anne have created a fabulous shop, that would more than hold its own in New York or Los Angeles. Spencer said he’d put his macaroons up against any in the country. I would only change that to add, brioche and croissant dough as well. I terms of technical accomplishment, this was the highlight, and situated as it is in the heart of the very cool neighborhood known as German Village, it was also a very pleasant spot simply to arrive at.

We followed Skillet with the North Market, a killer collection of shops, artisan bread, great cheese, and locally sourced meat, fresh spices, Jeni’s Ice Cream, fabulous stuff (and her vanilla-cranberry combines the efforts of four local businesses, including the OYO vodka, in which the cranberries soak), not to mention a grand of great prepared foods.

And we concluded the tour with pre-game Texas-style barbecue at City Barbecue.  Co-founder Jim Budros has created a great model for this kind of barbecue (not to mention incredibly succulent brisket).  Wish Cleveland had one!

I’m willing to say now that Columbus exceeds Cleveland as a worthy food destination. And what that means is that Ohio itself has become an awesome food state.

Thank you, Columbus food mafia for the tour and the game.  Go, Buckeyes!

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98 Wonderful responses to “Columbus, Ohio, Food”

  • twoshoes

    c’mon mang.
    GO BADGERS!

    sounds like a great time. there really isn’t much better than genuine tacos. especially fried up in yer own kitchen.

  • Jason Sandeman

    I like how you started off your tour with ” Lured by the promise of 50-yard-line seats for the OSU-Penn State game, my friend convinced me and down we went for a 24-hour Columbus food binge, led by two lawyers,”
    That almost sounds like the start to Fear and Loathing In Los Vegas!
    I love the description of the tour you did, and the food sounds like it was off the hook. I would have loved to taste the Vodka as well!

  • Andrew Hall

    Glad you enjoyed Columbus!

    One slight tanget – Kihachi is *not* located near a typical cloverleaf, but a SPUI (single point urban interchange). Not exactly relevant to your point, but a bit of transportation geekery.

  • Andrew

    As a proud Columbusite(?), I don’t have any problem with the Applebees comment. Let’s face it, in Columbus, and many US cites, the chain restaurants are the most visible. It takes a while to find the really good places, and after living here 6 years, I think I’m getting a handle on it. Thurn’s is pretty special, and a walk through the North Market never fails to put a smile on my face (only place to find hanger steaks in the city is at Bluescreek Farm). Next time you’ll have to hit Deepwoods, the high end carnivoure place in town.

  • Anele

    Glad you gave us a *real* chance to show you that Columbus isn’t all stripmalls and Applebee’s. (I don’t know anyone who actually goes to Applebee’s so yeah, that stung with misrepresentation!) But our restaurants are amazing and while you hit some good ones there are more to explore so if you’re ever up for a visit again, come on back!

    • ruhlman

      That was another thing, our host kept pointing out restaurant after restaurant that we could have gone to instead. A really thriving food community.

      • Sandy Davis

        Michael–The next time you are in Columbus and really want to feel like a part of our city, come visit us. Our B&B is just behind Jeni’s Ice Cream in the Short North. You won’t need to move your car. Just walk up and down the street to sample some of the best restaurants in the city–most owned by the person in the kitchen. Just give me a call to be our guest. The Short North is the center of our universe , so come visit and “Live like the Locals” . Sandy Davis, 50 Lincoln-Short North Bed and Breakfast. http://www.columbus-bed-breakfast.com.

  • Comal Caliente

    I have never been to Ohio but I definitely am seeing it as a place I definitely want to go to for the food. Being from Chicago, there are a ton of options here, but I love the idea of driving around the country to find great places to experience food and cooking. Thank you so much for this entry, it definitely gives me something to look forward to.

  • Bethia

    It would take most people at least a week to eat through that list of restaurants.
    We’d love to take you on a taco truck tour next time you are in Columbus.

  • Genevieve

    Mr. Ruhlman–thanks for revisiting Columbus; the food scene here has really exploded in the last few years, and I’m proud to be a resident. Next time you’re in town, you’ll have to hit Barley’s Brewing Co. for some world class local brews, and I’d second Andrew on Deepwood. On an unrelated note, I just finished Ratio last night–and as a pretty competent amateur baker, I’m vowing to apply its message to how I create food. Thanks!

  • pchak

    I’m a fan of city bbq.I think that they would do well in Cleveland. Quality and selection is pretty darn good.

  • Kanani

    There’s nothing like a good taco truck. What a delightful read! Glad you had the chance to redeem yourself among your fellow Ohioans. Though I wonder –was this perhaps less about you personally, or is there a longstanding riff between Cleveland and Columbus?

  • Natalie Sztern

    Any one who has ever filmed a ‘reality show’ knows it’s ALL about the editing. Me thinks Monsieur Bourdain had some tad bit of involvement in that side of it…but nevertheless Ouch!

  • Andy

    “And what that means is that Ohio itself has become an awesome food state.”

    That’s probably my favorite part of this very nice writeup. We’ll be traveling to Cleveland from Columbus in about a week, and are very much looking forward to returning to Greenhouse Tavern and Lola among others.

    The state truly does have a fantastic wealth of good food options and people who are serious about it, and it’s great to have that acknowledged.

  • RJ

    Thanks for the coverage and clarification. The NR episode was a tad painful, and it’s nice to be able to show off more.

    More on the North Market: they were my source for pork belly for your bacon recipe (out of this world), which I candied to mix in with a copycat version on Jeni’s apple butter ice cream. It’s a great place for both ingredients and inspiration.

  • Earl Schiffke

    Isn’t Applebees a great restaurant because Tyler Florence designed the menu ? It has to be.Florence is a pre-eminent American chef.Just ask him.

  • Jerry

    I love the line “Applebee’s country” I’m not sure about Columbus, but that seems to describe it’s neighbor a bit to the west (Dayton) pretty well. More and more chain restaurants go up every year, and it is harder and harder to find a good locally owned one.

    We do have a City BBQ that I have been meaning to try one day (I’m the only one in the family that likes BBQ). Based on your comments I will have to try it out Michael.

  • Rob

    ok guys you missed 2 critical stops on the Columbus trip. go back and do it again! :P

    Katzingers Deli – downtown @ german Village ( a favorite of Bill Clinton)
    Claddaugh Irish Pub – downtown @ the Brewery District (the best shepherds pie anywhere, no exceptions)

  • Lori

    I am *so* glad you came down to partake in some of the bounty that Columbus has to offer, even if it did take the lure of football to get you here. I find this city to be a constant source of revelation, even after living here for years.

    Don’t be a stranger. If you didn’t get to try the al pastor at Los Guachos, you need to come back anyway – their gringa al pastor is a thing of beauty.

  • john marshall

    Good work here Michael, you got it just right. I have been saying good things about Columbus (vs similar cities) food in my column (Columbus Monthly) for years, and am pleased to see that an objective observer agrees. I am glad my food friends took the time to show you the town, so to speak. I will go get another copy of your book Charcuterie right away, now that I see you really know your stuff!

  • Eric

    I feel like you started with your foot in your mouth (editing or not) and then you ended the same way:

    “I’m willing to say now that Columbus exceeds Cleveland as a worthy food destination.”

    As a native Ohioan who has lived all over the state, I strongly disagree with this statement. It burns a bit, especially coming from someone from Cleveland. I think you overcompensated.

    • john marshall

      Nope, Eric, while there are some great places in Cleveland, he’s right–Columbus is more happening, in several ways. A fun debate, but one I think we win.

      • eyehrtfood

        It’s really not a fun debate when you smug “we have it all” people from Columbus start into it. Cleveland has lost more of everything than Columbus will ever have. The joy of the whole thing is knowing that half of America doesn’t even know where Columbus (Oh) is… Ha, ha…

        • greengeekgirl

          I don’t know why we have to fight about it. Cleveland and Columbus can both be great, can’t they? (I haven’t been to Cleveland, but I don’t think it hurts Columbus or Cleveland for the other city to be doing well.)

          • Terra

            I’m with you. The superiority of so many San Francisco residents I’ve met about LA is super annoying (and I think LA’s food scene is incredible). I’d hate to see Ohio replicate that type of rivalry. Both are great up-and-coming food cities, and it’s nice to be able to drive 2.5 hours and get a taste of what’s happening in the other.

      • eyehrtfood

        In a metro area half of the Cleveland/CAK metro area’s size??? Seriously…

        • Lisa

          Dude, might want to check your stats. Columbus is the largest city in Ohio. Based on the 2000 census, its population is 711,470 compared to Cincinnati at 331,485 and Cleveland at 478,403. In the 10 years since the 2000 census, Columbus is the only major metro area in Ohio that is growing.

          • Ed

            True, but worth mentioning that Columbus city limits are enormous (annexing all the suburbs – which was smart so its a bit apples to oranges). Cleveland metro and Cincy metro are both bigger then Columbus, I think Cincy is the biggest right now. Of course Columbus is growing and the other two probably are not so who knows.

  • Tags

    I’ve never been outside the US except for a few hours in Tijuana in 1980 a little over two weeks combined in two trips to Montreal. Nonetheless, if I were offered a choice between a week anywhere and a week looking at the Comics Archive at OSU, I’d pick Columbus in a heartbeat.

    It’s good to know they have great food, too.

  • eyehrtfood

    Wow… Did he just say that? Is this April Fool’s day? “I’m willing to say now that Columbus exceeds Cleveland as a worthy food destination.” WTF? After one visit?

    As one who has appreciated the visible, national Cleveland-praising that Ruhlman has done over recent years, I’m stunned by this comment. Even if Columbus DOES exceed Cleveland in this area – and not saying it does – I can’t believe you’d say it.. Unbelievable.

    As a Clevelander who feels that everybody in Columbus thinks their city is the #1 city on the planet and that Cleveland is armpit of the earth, this gives them more ammo to slam us with. I’m just shocked you didn’t realize the ramifications of your statement. You could said “just as worthy” – but to say “exceeds”… Jesus…

    Take your talents to South Beach, LeBron 2 We don’t want you anymore, “Quitness.”

    I’m literally going home tonight and tossing our your books, removing you from my Twitter feed and taking you off my favorites. Hopefully, the local media will take hold of this and skewer your ass the way it should for such a comment.

      • eyehrtfood

        Go anywhere you want. No you shouldn’t lie- but as a writer perhaps you should have thought a bit more about your choice of words and the message you were sending. Next time wear a Michigan jersey when you go to the OSU game- you’ll be sending the same message to the fans that you did to your city in that blog.
        Mrs. Eyehrtfood

      • eyehrtfood

        Michael,

        I like the food in Columbus as much as the next guy… Jeni’s Ice Cream is fabulous and I’ll be thrilled to have one down the street here in Chagrin Falls next Spring. Katzinger’s Deli is fantastic and is a required mid-way stop on my travels back home to Indiana – couldn’t be better. Cleveland would be lucky to have place like it (sorry Corky & Lenny’s, etc..) And the North Market, though hardly of the size and without the impressive building that Cleveland’s West Side Market has, is much nicer eat-in spot and slants more towards “gourmet” than our hometown WSM, which could learn a few things from it.

        So – yes – Columbus has some nice food spots – many of which I was making mental notes on as I read your post. They sound great.

        But just like LeBron, it wasn’t what you said, but how you said it. Most of us Clevelanders care less that he left – but care more about more how Cleveland was nationally dissed on live TV, after all we’ve been through. The “exceeds” language did much the same. We never saw it coming from you. Couldn’t you have tempered it with “nearly” – regardless of how you felt?

        You are a hometown boy and a nationally known food expert – and a champion of Cleveland. You are closely associated with our town and our food scene. You are, in part, one of the reasons that Cleveland’s food reputation has grown immensely in recent years, with many whispers (and some press) that says our food scene is right behind the ones in those handful of major cities we all know as food towns, whether real or perceived. You told Bourdain on TV, (paraphrasing) that you pretty much thought Cleveland was the greatest place around, if I recall.

        So, no matter your thoughts on Columbus – again, after admittedly only one real visit – I guess I (and maybe other Clevelanders) expected just a little more use of caution in the verbiage you used to sum up your post. After years of building up Cleveland, you knocked us down with that one word – “exceeds.” You basically contradicted your years of pro-Cleveland work. Apparently we’re not even #1 in the state, let alone one of the best in the nation. Silly Cleveland, what were we thinking? Maybe take Alton down there next ti) What are we lacking vs. Columbus? What can we do to improve? What are we missing? seriously… let us know. maybe I’ll open a bakery to end all bakeries if that what it takes.

        I’m sick – so sick – of everybody loving Columbus and everybody hating on Cleveland. Time to do something about it.

        (Hey for what it’s worth – my wife thinks I’m out of my mind for going ballistic on this subject… but oh well, it’s how I feel.)

        Much love,

        EyeHrtFood

    • geedeck

      I think that’s painting the situation a bit more adversarial than it really is. Partially, Columbus is pretty great, though it’s not like there aren’t lots of other nice places on the planet Earth. I mean if you don’t have the $75k/yr/person or inclination for SF/NYC/etc, then it’s probably one of the next best places to be. And I don’t think there’s significant animosity towards Cleveland here… or if there is, ignore it please? We all have our blowhards that give places or groups a bad name, but overall I think everyone is really quite okay with everyone.

      As for playing the X>Y games? The only real way those can be solved is through experience. Clearly there is demand for a foodie tour exchange.

  • lisa the waitress

    I’m so glad you had a great time while you were here! You hit some great spots.

    I just re-watched the episode and still don’t get what all the kerfluffle was about, since your statements were regarding our STATE, and not our CITY, but I suppose that’s neither here nor there at this point.

    Wasn’t the Farmland Croque Madame at Skillet one of the best things you’ve ever had? I had it last week and I’ve thought about it at least twice a day ever since.

    Like the commenter above, I am also not quite sure I would agree that Columbus edges out Cleveland, I could live inside the Westside market, and we don’t have anything even close – we don’t even have that many people producing artisan products to have our own, but hopefully that is changing. I know several young people who are getting into charcuterie and cheesemaking and the like.

  • Nancy

    I have taken Bethia’s Ethic Eats tour and highly recommend it. I imagine that all her tours are at least as good.

  • eyehrtfood

    Columbus, I like you and loathe you at the same time, as I feel you have gotten the break in every way that Cleveland hasn’t. To have Ruhlman say what he said in the way and via the platform he said it is like NYC fan #1 Mayor Bloomberg saying he thought Boston was better than NYC. Retract or correct Ruhlman. You hurt us today.

    • ruhlman

      I will continue to rave about cleveland and how lucky we are to live here. I returned from Columbus to one of the best meals of the year at Greenhouse Tavern. Alton Brown and Anne Burrell were yucking it up with the locals right there two. Lola’s amazing CDC, Derek Clayton brought me over some smoked marrow butter, during service no less! Cleveland remains great but we’d be in danger if everyone were so fragile as you. Let’s just call it all Ohio love. (And at least give my books away, perhaps to the Columbus library if you’re determined to purge my words from your life.)

      • Burnt Onion

        Have some balls, Ruhlman. You don’t see Bourdain backing away from every cynical comment that he makes. Part of being a cynic is even standing up for the comments that rub people the wrong way. If it’s Applebees country, so what? The truth is the truth.

    • Becke

      Dude, how do you figure? You’ve got 3 professional sports teams, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, 2 very high profile foodies/chefs (Symon & Ruhlman), a decent public transit system complete with light rail, a casino getting built in the way your city actually wants, the West Side Market and some great local producers (Ohio City Pasta, Lake Erie Creamery, to name a couple), and that’s just off the top of my head. Cleveland, at least, is sort of quasi-cool in a Rust Belt blue collar sort of way (with all of the awesome ethnic food that is born of that). Columbus, on the other hand, is the red-headed step child of Ohio – we continuously have to try to defend against the perception of being a place where restaurants like Kihachi are an aberration rather than just one of many world-class restaurants and/or shops we have. People like the Thurn family and Alana Shock and Kent Rigsby and Jeni Britton and many of the others mentioned in Ruhlman’s post are the thread that hold the beautiful tapestry of the Central Ohio dining scene together.

      I don’t see it as a competition between Columbus and Cleveland. We both rule. And I think that was his point.

  • greengeekgirl

    Thank you for your post about Columbus. As you can probably tell, we have a lot of very passionate foodies here ;-) While I don’t think Cleveland and Columbus need to be in any kind of competition, it is great for our city to be recognized for what it has.

  • Badger

    Excellent! Next, please tell me where to eat in my hometown of Canton. All of the great family-run restaurants from when I grew up there have disappeared in the 30 years since I left, and now whenever I go back to visit family it’s nothing but Panera Bread franchises as far as the eye can see.

  • Allan

    That’s great! Next time you’re in Columbus, track down Vincenzo’s. Best. Calzone. Anywhere. And I say that having spent the last ten years in Foodie Central — San Francisco.

  • d trattner

    “thriving” yes. “exceeding that of cleveland,” sorry but not quite.

  • Nicholas Sylvain

    If you ever make it down past Columbus, we have an exceptional restaurant (Rue Dumaine) here in Dayton, run by Chef Anne Kearney (formerly of New Orleans and Peristyle.) We are very lucky to have her, and greatly appreciate her skill and passion at presenting exceptional food from local sources in a relaxed atmosphere.

  • Nicholas Sylvain

    Also, for Jerry, who described Dayton as Applebee’s Country – excellent independent restaurants include Meadowlark, El Meson, and The Winds (in Yellow Springs)

  • Heather

    As a young chef in the great city of Columbus I am so glad that you have visited and enjoyed our food culture. Born and raised here I have seen the food industry here grow from a few great restaurants and shops to something you must visit on every other corner. I’m so glad you enjoyed it all, and hope you return to taste more soon!!

  • rockandroller

    By your own admission, you don’t get out that often to places in Cleveland, so I’m not sure that’s a fair statement. I’m glad more of Ohio is getting the love, I have no jealousy or problem with Columbus, but I don’t think this is a fair statement if you haven’t properly eaten your way across your own backyard. Have you been to the Dim and Den Sum truck yet? Or to Seoul Hot Pot? Or the awesome little hungarian place in the colonial arcade that does a killer schnitzel and dumplings for the lunch crowd?

    Maybe you’ve been to all these places already (and many of our other gems), but are just not blogging about them?

  • Ken Albala

    How nice to have a gaffe turn into such bounty! I made a similar comment quoted in the local paper when an Olive Garden was scheduled to open, and was roundly attacked, but am still not convinced it’s not what most people want. Nor was the episode followed up like yours!

  • Bear

    Dude, you can’t win!

    I’m with Andy—we in Columbus are both immensely proud of our own restaurants and thoroughly thrilled to partake of the offerings of the Cleveland crowd when we’re in town. It’s the definition of a win-win… so let’s focus on what we can both do to keep getting better.

  • Matthew

    Perhaps it’s time to say that, in fact, the US has become an awesome food nation.

  • Dine O Mite

    Some of you people are incredible. Judging by few of the comments on here you’d swear the man just stabbed grandmother in the brain stem with rusty fork. Relax, it’s one person’s opinion. Having spent ten years of my life in the state capitol, I can say that there’s some damn good food in that town – just don’t eat the pizza.

  • Becke

    Thanks for giving Columbus the second look it deserves (this coming from someone who thought that Columbus had enough great places to deserve a whole hour to itself on No Reservations).

    Columbus and Cleveland combined have food scenes that rival (in some ways, mostly in the way of variety of choices) those of major cities all around the US. I just got back from San Francisco and I realized that much of the stuff I was impressed by is stuff that both of our cities are doing already. If it weren’t for ass-freezing cold winters, I’d stay in Ohio forever.

    Super psyched that you got to try Los Guachos (hope you got the al pastor gringa, it rules!) and my own personal favorite place in Columbus, Thurn’s. Impressed that you ate through that much in a couple of days. Hope we see you again soon, and if you do visit, please give us a heads up on Twitter so that we can give you some more great recommendations. :)

  • Lt. Sanders

    Having lived in both CLE and CMH, I have to say I agree that Central Ohio isn’t as much a foodie destination as Cleveland or Cinci. Other than City BBQ (excellent brisket) I just haven’t found nearly as much standout food here in Columbus.

    • Andy

      Have you been to the places Ruhlman mentioned?

      Really, it doesn’t matter anyway – it’s pointless to turn this into some sort of a pissing contest. Findlay has a restaurant called Revolver, which excels to the point that it should be the envy of any of Ohio’s large city food scenes. Given how small Findlay is, per capita it may be the best food town in Ohio. So what?

  • Susan

    That food tour was quite the reward for a snarky quip, you lucky…guy! Now you’ve done it to Cleveland…and in writing! Wonder what, beside one unfollow, this will get you! Hmmn?

  • Amber

    Man, you just can’t win.

    Can’t we all just get along and agree that Toledo sucks? (I’m kidding by the way – I haven’t spent enough meaningful time there to judge. Although it is awfully depressing to drive through.)

    • Kristine

      Someone had to pick on Toledo. Glad you were kidding. But don’t most towns look depressing if you’re just driving through. Toledo does have a lot of chains, but there are some great locally owned restaurants.

  • TW

    Boy you people take your Ohio stuff seriously. Since we’re on the subject, what about Dayton? I visit Inlaws there frequently and am always on the lookout for good options.

    • TW

      Just realized I missed the comments re: Dayton and its surrounds above. Good to know, thanks.

  • Andrew Hall

    While I am glad that our delicate Columbus egos have been salved, there does remain a fundamental error (and was the real source of the comment) : That the suburbs are a barren wasteland when it comes to food. An urban, shared bias.

    This is categorically not true any more. Driven by decreased rents in 3rd generation strip malls, the suburbs across the US are the boom and thriving center of ethnic cuisines. Not only that, some of the most interesting and dynamic higher end restaurants, especially farm-to-table ones, are opening in not just suburbs but further flung locales. Arguably, one of the Top 5 places in the US in the middle of nowhere VA and several of the most interesting truly Midwest farm-to-table places have appeared well outside the expected places. (Revolver being one. Go to Findlay if you haven’t already.)

    The retail and restaurant landscape has changed greatly and the current economic conditions have accelerated those changes. To me, the Applebee’s comment was far more a failure to recognize this than picking on Columbus.

    • Andrew

      That’s very true-I live in Hilliard, which is crowded with Applebee type chains, but also has the Starliner Diner, one of my all time faves.

  • Susan Heitkamp

    As one who actually lives in the middle of cornfields (literally) in west-central Ohio (born & raised, but always wandering), I’ve got to say there are some great options in the western half of the state (including Cbus). I don’t know Cleveland well enough to enter that dialogue.
    Dayton offers El Meson, Meadowlark, and The Wine Gallery. Neighboring Yellow Springs is the home of The Winds (sadly has lost a little personality & warmth, but quality prevails). Tipp City offers Coldwater Cafe and Michael’s at The Inn at Versailles offers a surprisingly sophisticated wine list and great options for locavores. On Friday nights mixologist, Rob, offers concoctions worthy of NYC, LA and Vegas at New Bremen’s La PIazza.
    Jeni’s rules when it comes to ice cream and Grandview (an indie neighborhood in Cbus) brings us Figlios (fab wood-fired pizza & ever-expanding territory). Nearby Stauff’s (also known as Cup ‘O Joe) is Ohio’s micro-roaster of choice for 20+ years. Tiny Union City straddles the Indiana line and brings us Ghyslain’s Patisserie & Chocolates – the best thing this side of Paris. We may have to drive a little further to find the gems scattered about, but it’s a pretty drive (with or without football fields).

  • Todd

    Cowtown! Be glad you have more than one viable option. In Rockford, Il, the Olive Garden constantly has a 1 hour waiting list, yet interesting, locally-owned restaurants close on a weekly basis. J/K ’bout the 1st remark. Moo!

  • mary

    Thanks for the positive comments on your experience recently in Columbus. We may not have cutting edge fashion food according to the world, but we do have great chefs creating unique food from the heartland plus the Buckeyes.

    In Columbus, this includes the influence of our many and diverse immigrant residents. I encourage you to come back and take the taco truck tour or the ethnic food tour offered through Columbus Food Adventures.

  • Chrissy

    Thank you very much for this post… my brother recently moved to Columbus & while he’s taken us to a couple of good local places, having this list of places to check out will def help in our mission to stay out of chain restaurants!! I’m even more excited to visit now!!! Especially can’t wait to try the vodka & Jeni’s Ice Cream :D
    Great blog, btw, very glad to have found you!!

  • Katrina

    get a pork sundae from the dude at the Clintonville farmer’s market on Saturday’s. He said it would change my life. It did.

  • Johnny K

    As a life long Clevelander, my loyalties are obviously skewed to the North Coast. But the couple times I’ve been to Columbus, I’ve had some really good food. There should be enough love for both cities. We are each going to have our favorites, and some healthy debate can be had.

    The bigger issue in this discussion should be about the proliferation of the chain restaurants, whether that is in Cleveland, Columbus or anywhere else. How can smaller, independent restaurants (from taco trucks to fine dining) attract a consistent stream of customers to ensure they thrive? People who are passionate about food will find these places, but they need a bigger customer base to be able to really compete. I don’t have the answer. But it makes me sick when friends and family would rather go to Buca di Beppo instead of an independent Italian restaurant with food that is exponentially better.

  • Matt W

    As someone who was thoroughly outraged by what appeared to be a real slight on Columbus’ food scene on No Reservations, I am very glad to hear that you had such a good time on your trip. The brief comment in the show seemed to be further affirmation of many Clevelanders’ outdated superior provincial attitudes regarding Columbus as a sleepy backwater cowtown. Lacking any context, I was more than ready to believe that’s where you were coming from. Thanks for coming down and giving us a fair shot. Your praise far exceeded my expectations! Best wishes.

  • Brad Hoehne

    If I may toot my own horn, I wrote about this contrast between the “Strip Mall” Columbus and the more hidden, exciting Columbus more than eight years ago in a more or less defunct website. The link is above. The references to restaurants are a little out dated, and incomplete, but reflect what I saw at the time.

  • Alan

    next time, also visit DragonFly Neo V — a nationally recognized vegan restaurant. Superb food.

  • geedeck

    I think the best part is what Ruhlman already said, it’s not just the great places (and I think the selections were very close to what I would have suggested) but that there’s a plethora of similarly great options.

    If he had wanted to do an all ethnic trip, he could have done a tour just exclusively of that. If he had just wanted to do all low-brow tour of different food carts, it would have been so easy. Heck, there could have just been an alternate run of great, upper tier restaurants.

    I mean, he didn’t even get to try Moys. Man.

  • rich sims

    I also saw the episode, i wouldn’t have been offended. I going to make that food tour next spring.

  • allen

    This week’s South Park takes on the Food Network, too funny to finish in one sitting – had to turn it off!

  • Karen Downie Makley

    i bristled at the “columbus exceeds cleveland” comment, too, and i’m not even a loyalist. whatever the root cause (television? celebrities? cocooning? relative ease of travel?), the whole nation has had their tastebuds awakened and restaurants/cooks have been challenged to meet rising expectations, so there is really good, inspired food almost EVERYWHERE.

  • EDCinci

    Ruhlman: Any chance you’ll visit Cincinnati in the near future? Much of interest to see/eat/drink here as well.

  • George Z

    Can not believe some of the comments on here. I live in Columbus and love it. I love Cleveland and its ethnic variety. I love Cinci’s dining options too, have found more than one gem hiding in a strip mall. Haven’t been to Dayton or Toledo for awhile but have no negative feelings for either. WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL? Fortunately most commenters here appear to have some overall perspective, but still…

    As much as I appreciate MR’s vote of confidence – thank you, by the way – it in NO WAY affects how I view my own city or anyone else’s. The same held true going back to the comment on No Reservations, and would continue to hold true even if Columbus had been panned in this entry. Are we really so insecure that someone else’s subjective view – yes, their OPINION – affects how we view our own offerings? Please! No matter where you live, enjoy what your community has to offer whether or not someone else seems to validate or refute it. If the gripe is that Mr. Ruhlman seems to have heaped slightly more love on one over another, well, geez – is that worthy of insults or throwing away books? Good grief.

    In the immortal words of Sgt. Hulka, “Lighten up, Francis!”

  • Diana Shannon

    Next time, try G Michael’s Bistro in German Village. David Tetzloff does amazing food!

  • FSonicSmith

    Is it true you and Neil Sedaka were dining together at Rigsbys? I saw you both there at the same time. Seriously, the taco truck phenomenon is the best thing to hit CBus ever. Come back this Spring or Summer to do the taco truck crawl and be sure to include the tacos de chivo or lengua at Tacqueria Davanne on 5th between downtown and Grandview.

  • Tom W from Columbus

    Michael – your trip did three things I thought near impossible with one trip to the state capital. #1 – gave all of Ohio a well deserved (food) shot in the arm #2 – stopped the CMH foodies from being bummed any longer about the No Rez slight #3 – gave public praise to the taco trucks and Alana’s that I hold dear.

    Sometimes you just can’t win … this isn’t one of those times.

  • Angie

    We’ve long been Ruhlman fans here in Columbus! Glad you’ve been a C-bus fan!

  • Beth

    Thanks for the list of Columbus restaurants! As an active food policy dork, I have to travel to Columbus frequently, but haven’t had the time to spend looking for the quality places I want to support, so have leaned heavily on the North Market. I’m looking forward to branching out.

    When I do spend time in Columbus, I often hear people tell me how much they envy the Cleveland food & farm scene. I think it’s really a matter of the “grass is always greener.” Clearly, both cities are providing excellent choices these days. We both have a lot to be proud of, as well as learn from one another.

    Cheers!
    Beth

  • Denise

    As a Cbus native now living in Cleveland, I think both cities have a lot of great food options. Columbus has come a LONG way in developing itself (I grew up when Northland Mall and City Center were the big attractions) into what it is today, and I still love my hometown. But, I do think that Cleveland’s cuisine takes more risks and is more interesting overall. Both are still great.

    BTW: Ruhlman, if you ever make it down to Cbus again, go to El Arepazo for some excellent Venezulean food.

  • Dean

    I have lived in Columbus off and on for twenty years. I’ve also lived in LA and Miami and traveled to Asia and Europe and many destinations in between. That you ate at five restaurants that weren’t Applebee’s does not qualify Columbus as a foodie city. It is the chain eatery capital of the world. It ranks no where near Cleveland as a food city. Now, I will say that Columbus is changing and there are now some good and even a few very good eateries in Columbus but still…. It is the Applebee’s capital of the world. And for the record, City BBQ brisket…….. OMG BLAH!

  • Tom

    I live with Tom and he just came out laughing about how City BBQ was given a nice write up. I suspect after reading this it’s a little of smoothing over the ire of the Columbus natives. Since one of the owners of City BBQ will probably read this, I have to say eating there is like eating dog chow. Food is a labor of love. When you start to open five or ten locations, you are hiring the out of work Subway manager to run these places. BBQ is not only a labor of love but it is an art form. Did they replicate the Sistine Chapel ten times? If you go to Memphis or Texas, do you find great BBQ chains? City BBQ’s food is horrendous. It has no competitition except for a guy with a food truck. I have been to Texas many times and eaten some fantastic brisket. Ain’t no comparision. I wish the owners no ill will just like I wish Applebee’s and other chains no ill will. But they’ll never get into my wallet either.

  • Ashley

    Reading this late, which is too bad because we were in Columbus last weekend. Shoot. Will save this for next year’s trip.

  • Chef John

    As a Youngstown born Chef, working in Pittsburgh, I don’t get all the fuss. Cleveland is good, Columbus is good, The Browns are coming back, OSU beat up on Michigan, and all is right in the world. When you want to come talk about one or the other, feel bad for us Youngstowner’s who have been trying to get the scene together for years, while the city rots around us. Columbus, Cleveland, Youngstown, Cincinnati, etc, we’re all the same state. Let’s prove the point we don’t need NY or LA to prove to us what good cooking is all about. We’re awesome, and keep getting better. Don’t hate on Ruhlman for getting excited about a new place. When you get to eat and work at the places he does, and can write as well and amazingly engrossing as he does, then throw you’re stones. Otherwise spend more time cooking and prove him wrong that you’re little city is better. I know I will.

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