Columbus, Ohio might not first come to mind as a food destination, but it’s quite diverse in flavor and representation. Immigrant small business owners are preparing cuisines from Somalia, Mexico, the Philippines and Vietnam, among other countries. Then, there are culinary entrepreneurs who have been playing around with their food or drinks.
Here are 10 places in Columbus that food (and drink) lovers should check out.
Photo courtesy of Cameron Mitchell Restaurants
Budd Dairy Food Hall
Opened in April 2021, this food hall in Columbus’ Little Italy neighborhood is a gathering space whose past life was as a dairy production plant from 1916 through 1967.
Its chef partners have their own food stalls to further develop their craft. There are 10 kitchens, with one called Hatch that’s used for a rotating series of selected guest chefs for trying out recipes and building up a following, while The Cheesecake Girl, a scratch bakery, is a tenant.
The roster includes Alphabetical Comfort Kitchen, which makes classic sandwiches, soups and sides with a twist; Boni Filipino Street Food, an offshoot of Columbus’ first full-service Filipino restaurant; Borgata Pizza, a family-run Italian restaurant and New York-style pizzeria; Cluck Norris, a crispy chicken sandwich and chicken fingers concept; and Cousins Maine Lobster; a popular food truck.
Then there’s Modern Southern Table, which is run by Food Network’s March 2014 “Food Court Wars” winner Daisy Lewis; Pokebap, Ohio’s first poke restaurant; Stauf’s Coffee Roasters, Columbus’ first micro roaster; and Tacos Rudos, which serves a variety of tacos on house-made tortillas.
About 15 years ago, owner and baker Wendy Miller Pugh wasn’t feeling well and was told by her wife, Letha Pugh, to see if she had a food intolerance. Wendy figured out she needed to go gluten-free, and baked and cooked a lot of her meals at home.
As friends raved about the treats she baked, Wendy and Letha took a chance on turning Wendy’s baking skills into a business by renting a commercial kitchen in 2013. They opened their bakery in Columbus’ Merion Village neighborhood a year later.
Both Wendy, whose background is in teaching, and Letha, a registered nurse, are self-taught bakers; they developed a gluten-free flour mix containing about six alternative flours, including rice and sorghum.
Bake Me Happy’s signature treat is their Oatmeal Creme Cloud, a soft molasses cookie with a marshmallow creme filling. Then, their PopTart Saturdays give this breakfast staple a gluten-free pie crust and flavors ranging from brown sugar cinnamon and strawberry to hot fudge sundae and cherry almond.
Photo courtesy of North Market Downtown
North Market Downtown
Traced back to 1876, the North Market Downtown has had changes of address over time, and had its future saved in the eighties through a takeover by a not-for-profit group. Today, the market remains a fixture within downtown Columbus. In 2020, it welcomed North Market Bridge Park, a second location in Dublin, Ohio.
At the original North Market, the floor plan has over 30 small business owner stalls where visitors can get a meal or do some grocery shopping. Purchases can include bagels, cheeses, meats, spices, pastas, seafood, floral bouquets and olive oils.
Meal options include Mexican from Dos Hermanos or Somali from Hoyo’s Kitchen. Plus, there’s Tibetan cuisine from Momo Ghar or Vietnamese cuisine from Lan Viet Market. Not to mention, there’s Hubert’s Polish Kitchen, Flavors of India and Satori Ramen Bar.
Photo courtesy of Addella’s On Oak
Addella’s On Oak
Owner Karrio Ballard and his wife, Victoria Hink, set their bar and grill on Columbus’ Near East Side, because they’ve been longtime residents in this neighborhood and feel a strong connection to it. That relationship continued even as the pandemic impacted their business plan.
Named after their two daughters, Addy and Stella, Addella’s On Oak had a rough start in being on the brink of opening in March 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. In fact, Ballard and Hink were scheduled to obtain their food license the day after all of Ohio’s restaurants and bars were closed.
Nonetheless, the couple kept on amid delays; Addella’s On Oak opened their doors later that October.
Along with Ballard and Hink having extensive experience in the hospitality industry – each of them has previously owned a restaurant – the couple are plant-based eaters. So they created a separate plant-based menu featuring veggie versions of at least half of the orders on their regular menu.
Popular items include plant and meat versions of their Double Crunch Tacos, with a base of three-layered crunchy and flour shells, and Addella’s Double, with two seasoned beef or impossible patties accompanied by vegan or sharp cheddar cheese and other fixings.
Photo courtesy of Blake Needleman
This cocktail bar within Columbus’ Brewery District abides by a motto from its owners, Annie Williams Pierce and Luke Pierce – “Not Governed By Reason.”
As for its meaning, this husband-and-wife team has been running Law Bird since its opening in November 2019 and, like other establishments, had to morph their business approach amid the resulting shutdown due to the pandemic. Their answer: to provide a grab-and-go option.
In April 2020, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine allowed for the selling of cocktails-to-go with an executive order; it became permanent law that October.
That June, the couple turned the front fourth of their bar into a Wine and Cocktail To-Go Shop offering a rotating menu of cocktails known as “elevated classics,” in that they’re prepared in a way that might not be recreated at home. Continuing into 2021, the to-go shop not only became a lifeline for Law Bird but also a new business model; the couple plans on creating a full-scale, permanent version.
With regular service, Law Bird’s cocktail menu lists fun-named and surprisingly flavorful combinations. Among them, “Snax on the Beach” is a PB&J daiquiri with ingredients including peanut butter rum and cocoa ango. With their food menu by chef Tyler Minnis, Law Bird presents “Snack Time,” their daily happy hour with a list of small bites and specialty drinks; Wednesday nights have a hot dog special.
This dish came about from Day’s time working in the French Alps, as she learned about a Danish pancake known as ebelskivers. Day tweaked the recipe for this small ball-shaped and filling-stuffed breakfast to make them more like flapjacks. They became the first item on her cafe menu.
Day’s culinary background also comes from her time overseas, when she worked as a cook in France and sparked an interest to open a restaurant. Her passion developed further when back in the States, where she waited on tables during her undergrad and grad years in Seattle.
After being in the corporate world as a copywriter for a decade, Day decided to go for it. She opened her first cafe location inside a former gas station in Columbus’ Harrison West neighborhood. Her second place, in Clintonville, came about in 2019.
With both restaurants serving organic and locally-sourced foods in a casual space, other much-ordered dishes include their breakfast tacos with homemade chorizo and the slow-roasted pork and egg sandwich.
Photo courtesy of What The Waffle
What The Waffle
Gayle Troy always has had a passion for working with youth. During her time as CEO of Ohio Business Week, a nonprofit providing youth with economic opportunities, Troy would wake up at 4 a.m. to prepare not only for the business day, but also to bake in her kitchen. She would make sweet potato muffins for delivery to coffee shops as a supplemental income for her daughter’s college tuition.
In 2017, Troy would work further on her side venture within a shared space food hub and then saw herself taking it even further. In 2020, Troy opened What the Waffle in Columbus’ King Lincoln-Bronzeville District, where she not only continues to prepare muffins, but also sandwiches using waffles in place of bread.
She also maintained another part of her past career – hiring young women being aged out of foster care to provide opportunities for them.
As for waffles, Troy has always been fond of them as a brunch choice, so much that she came up with her own Belgian waffle batter recipe. Her made-from-scratch waffles are the base for her breakfast and lunch sandwiches, including The Tony, a meatball and marinara medley. Food Network selected What the Waffle for repping Ohio in their “50 States of Waffles.”
Inside What The Waffle, the “Waffle Wall” was started by Troy in 2020, in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, as a canvas for her customers to express themselves through chalk lettering or drawings.
Photo courtesy of Community Grounds: Coffee & Meeting House
Community Grounds: Coffee & Meeting House
Joel Cosme Jr. and his wife, Tara Mullins-Cosme, co-own this coffee shop within their Ganthers Place neighborhood. Before opening in May 2019, the couple came up with the idea for Community Grounds after hearing from other neighbors about wanting a local coffee shop. They, in turn, wanted to start a business within their community.
Joel, a long-time coffee drinker, and Tara, who has grown fond of coffee, see their coffee shop as a neighborly welcoming place, especially for those who might not often set foot in one. Along with house coffees, other favorites are their South Side Chai, vegan soft serve ice cream and experimental latte syrup flavors, such as lavender or cardamom and clove.
Community Grounds has a retail space called Catherine Street Mercantile, which sells items from socially-responsible businesses, vendors and nonprofits to help them financially build their goals and represent various minority groups.
Through their Pass The Hat initiative, the shop also carries products from Native American Indian Center of Central Ohio and Black Queer & Intersectional Collective. The coffee shop also has Suspended Selections, which allows people in need to order a beverage or food that have been paid ahead by someone else via donations.
Photo courtesy of Andy S. Foster
Columbus has a craft brewing region whose breweries are highlighted along a Columbus Ale Trail. Among them, Gemüt Biergarten in Columbus’ Olde Towne East is a German-style biergarten, brewery and restaurant inside a former fire station and one-time music hall.
Opening in August 2019, this venue is co-owned by Chelsea Rennie and her husband, Kyle Hofmeister, and was started with their brewing-knowledgeable friends Rob Camstra and Nick Guyton. Inside their building, patrons will find rows of seats to spread out and enjoy a pint and a plate.
What’s really striking is the wall decor; there are handmade stained glass panels, constructed by Franklin Art Glass Studios in Columbus’ German Village neighborhood, depicting scenes inspired by German folklore.
The list of German-style beers includes a Golem Czech Pils, Huginn & Muninn Kolsch and Zitroon Kristallweizen, plus a selection of radlers (beer mixed with sparkling lemonade). For pub grub, options range from a Bavarian pretzel to a selection of wursts, schnitzels and sides.
Photo courtesy of Michele Herrmann
Since November 2018, Comune’s co-owners Joe Galati and Brook Maikut have been focused on making their plant-forward cuisine more enticing at their restaurant in Schumacher Place.
Both vegetarians, the two had traveled a lot to major cities, including Copenhagen, Berlin, Los Angeles, and New York City, and found many restaurants to choose from. Yet back home, and before opening Comune, there were not many similar dining options around Columbus.
While the evening-only Comune serves vegan and gluten-free selections, diners who are flexitarian or new to trying this cuisine can also find something on the menu that they would like.
Comune’s globally-inspired but locally-sourced menu changes twice a year with in-season tweaks happening as produce hits its peak availability. Yet some favorites, such as their crispy rice or tempura cauliflower, often carry over.
Their bartenders offer natural wines and craft cocktails.