Welcome to EAT THIS CITY , your tour of the best restaurants in one of our favorite cities, as chosen by a world-class chef, celebrity, or local hero.
This week, we are taking some time to celebrate the food scene of Columbus, Ohio. It’s not just the home of R.L. Stine and Guy Fieri. No. Columbus is truly a dining and drinking destination, and who better to ask about it than Jeni Britton Bauer who founded Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, in 2002. A forward thinker, she led the artisan ice cream movement by using whole ingredients and grass-pastured milk, while eschewing commodity ice cream mix and synthetic flavorings. And, she was doing it ten years before the trend hit. Called one of the most creative people in business by Fast Company, Britton Bauer operates 30 scoop shops across the country, and her pints are also available at more than 1,500 American grocers.
But, that’s not all. Britton Bauer is also the author of multiple cookbooks. Her first, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home, was called the “homemade-ice creammaking Bible” by Wall Street Journal, and earned her a James Beard Award in 2012. In May of 2014, she released her follow-up, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream Desserts with more than 100 new recipes for ice creams and ice cream desserts. Food & Wine Magazine declared “No one else makes ice cream like Jeni Britton Bauer.” And, they were right. She has elevated the dessert in ways that few others have.
You can get lost in the Instagram for Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream. It’s one picture after another of smooth, rich deliciousness. Here’s a sample spoonful:
Jeni Britton Bauer clearly knows her what’s up, so let’s get started learning about her favorite food experiences in Columbus.
There is fancier pizza out there, but there’s none I’d rather eat than Tommy’s Pizza. I eat Tommy’s at least once a week (though I took a full six months off when they put Trump’s photo on the wall). It’s an Upper Arlington staple and has been for more than 50 years. The crust is really thin and crackly, and unleavened but somehow tastes wonderfully of yeast, with an almost beer-like quality. I always get their house salad with Italian dressing, and then put that on pepperoni pizza. It’s so good. You have to say “old oven” when you order because they got a new oven many years ago and everybody still thinks the old one makes better pizza.
Even though I’m pretty sure there isn’t an old oven anymore, if you say “old oven” they’ll leave the pizza in a little longer. Which is the way you want it.
Columbus has a lot of really good taco places. My friends Andy and Bethia of Columbus Food Adventures even host a tour of some of the best authentic neighborhood taco trucks (a must if you’re in town). But I always come back to Junior’s Tacos. It’s just a truck slinging cheap and ridiculously good tacos. The carnitas is my go to. With fresh tortillas, cilantro, onion. That’s all you need. You can find it parked off Fifth Avenue in Victorian Village or Northwest Boulevard near Upper Arlington. Locals know it, and love it.
My family goes to Akai Hana almost every Sunday night for dinner. It’s one of the best places in town to get sushi. I’ll order whatever looks good and fresh (sometimes it’s the big boat). The little shopping plaza where it’s located has earned the nickname “little Japan” because it’s really a one-stop-shop for Japanese and Asian food. Akai Hana is the nicer sit-down restaurant. But across the way is a great Asian grocery store with a grab-and-go sushi counter and an order-at-the-counter Asian restaurant called Tensuke. This is the stop for whatever kind of Asian food you are craving in Columbus.
I’m a huge fan of a food truck called Challah! [which Uproxx named the best food truck in Ohio!]. Their pastrami corned beef is off the charts. And you have to get a side of schmaltz fried potatoes if they’re on the menu. The chef/owner Catie Randazzo is one to watch. She’s opening her first restaurant next spring, called Ambrose & Eve, and I’m excited to see what’s next for her.
Fox in the Snow is a must stop if you’re in town. The order: cinnamon rolls with frosting as light as helium. And the donut stuffed with pastry cream. Also, be sure to say hi to owners Jeff and Lauren. They met while working at Blue Bottle Coffee in Brooklyn and moved to Columbus ready to take the leap and open on Fourth Street in Italian Village (and they’re getting ready to open a second spot in German Village). I am constantly floored by their craft and dedication and service.
There is a little spot — I’m talking five tables, that’s it — in Delaware called Veritas. The chef/owner Josh Dalton and his team make beautiful, world-class food that largely flies under the radar in town. Order the bacon risotto with a sous vide egg, and the brussels sprouts that taste like they’ve been injected with aromatic spices. Actually, by the time you read this they have probably closed their doors to get ready for a move to downtown Columbus. They’ll be opening sometime before the end of the year.
Northstar Cafe. It has something for everyone, no matter what kind of eater you are. It’s beautifully sourced and prepared. I love getting the sweet basil burrito with tofu instead of chicken and doubling down on hot sauce. Their hot sauce is amazing. It’s delicious and different from any other hot sauce I have ever had.
I have to give a shout out to Cara Mangini who owns Little Eater (and just happens to be my sister in law). She now has two locations—one just a few stalls away from us at the North Market and the other a few doors down from our Clintonville scoop shop, which she just opened. It’s smartly sourced, minimally processed food that all feels good to eat. I always get a whole bunch of stuff for the table to try. And also the cupcakes.
Natalie’s Coal Fired Pizza in Worthington is a pizza and live music joint, and their brunch is out of this world. We love taking the kids, and always get there right at 11 so we can get a table. They always have live music and you eat right in front of the stage. Order a pizza with a fried egg on it, a really good croque madam, and get a cinnamon roll to share. They cook it in the coal oven so it’s super crispy. Watch their calendar, too, because once a month they do Soul Food Sundays when you can get cornmeal-crusted fish over grits with hot sauce.
Iconic Food of the City
Schmidt’s Sausage Haus in German Village. The place is an institution. There’s only one order when you go: their house-made sausages, preferably in a Bahama Mama sandwich; some German potato salad, and a cream puff the size of your fist.
Odd Culinary Experience
I don’t know if you know this about Columbus, but we have this incredible, thriving immigrant community. We have about as many Vietnamese restaurants as a city of our size can support. Bahn Mi is a normal every day dinner for families in this city. Going to an African restaurant is just something that people here do. So many of these ethnic restaurants are in unassuming shopping plazas, in old fast food restaurants, or inside ethnic grocery stores. Like Dabakh, a Senegalese spot inside on old Burger King. Or Momo Ghar, which makes some of my favorite dumplings in town, a Tibetan-Nepalese restaurant originally opened in an international grocery store called Saraga, and now serving at North Market.
Definitely a White Castle double cheeseburger. Every time I eat one I think no chef in the world can make something better than this.
Hangover Food/Date Night
I’m part of a growing trend of people in the culinary world who are making taking care of themselves a priority. So drinking is not a huge part of my life anymore. For me, it’s fun to get out early in the morning and get my pick of the city. If I am going for something more comforting, it has to be Catie’s potatoes from Challah, which you can get from her truck at Seventh Son Brewing on Sundays or find at Woodlands Tavern.
Thank you, Jeni Britton Bauer, for taking us on a culinary tour of Columbus!
Stay tuned for more EAT THIS CITY — where each week we’ll feature a premier chef in a different city sharing their insider eating tips! Missed a week? Check out Kailua-Kona, Monterey, San Antonio, Louisville, Nashville, Raleigh, San Diego, Cambridge, Hoboken, Hollywood, Return to Miami, Return to Las Vegas, Manhattan, Oakland, Paris, Portland, Tampa, Durham, Toronto, Baltimore, Monterey, Vail, Lexington, Bentonville, San Antonio, Warsaw, Kansas City, NYC, Washington DC, New Orleans, Cleveland, Miami, Seattle, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Sydney, Portland, Chicago, Austin, Los Angeles, Brooklyn, New Orleans, Providence, Memphis, Orange County, Boston, and Detroit.
See you next week!