Columbus may have discovered America, but my hope is that America discovers Columbus. Ohio that is.
I was recently on an adventure that started in Columbus, and took me into the Amish country to stay at a few great inns. It was a hosted press tour. I was invited to experience the hospitality of Ohio. The kind of places that are indeed destinations unto themselves. Where you can check in to get active, or check out entirely– choosing nothing more strenuous than a full body massage.
My destinations outside Columbus were to be The Inn at Honey Run, The Inn & Spa at Cedar Falls and The Murphin Ridge Inn. I’m going to have a lot to say about these beautiful inns in the coming days. But today I want to introduce you to Columbus. Ohio that is.
Starting with yet another inn, The German Village Guesthouse. I know what you’re thinking. Sup! is not really the B&B type, and it’s true I’m not. But I dare you to spend one night at The German Village Guest House and not feel utterly spoiled. But I don’t mean the kind of fawning that typically makes me uncomfortable– because this is a private boutique hotel experience. In fact in the two days I stayed there I never saw another person, yet everything I needed miraculously appeared when I wasn’t looking. Including guidebooks thoughtfully bookmarked with interesting destinations, a pitcher of iced tea and refrigerator stocked with fresh blackberries and other essentials.
Though it’s an historic building and neighborhood the interiors show flashes of modern design coupled with immaculately restored historic architectural details. The main “house” has three bedrooms built around a common area. Guests can take all three rooms, as some of those in my group did, or use the rooms singly as needed. But if you’re looking for even more privacy, consider the Whittier Suites, a separate building just down the street from the Guest House. It consists of two fully renovated 800-sq-foot private apartments, that include full kitchens. This is where I stayed and it felt more like a posh urban flat than any kind of hotel you may think you know. My unit had all the amenities tucked into 4 gorgeously appointed rooms– all for me.
The German Village Guest House and Whittier Suites are situated along cobblestone-paved streets lined with red-brick houses from the 1850s. It’s an immensely walkable neighborhood just south of downtown where you will find parks, shops and restaurants. Including the first White Castle hamburger establishment built after the company moved its headquarters to Columbus.
But I opted for something else entirely. Pistacia Vera is a classically inspired French patisserie with over 60 seasonal pastries. Run by the brother and sister team of Spencer Budros and Anne Fletcher, whose business mantra chants “dessert is special”. Though I went early in the morning and had breakfast. Still, let me tell you– at Pistacia Vera a breakfast of baked eggs is every bit as special as the colorful Parisan macarons and pâte de fruits that grace the glass cases in its beautifully modern room.
Also located in German Village is a tapas restaurant called Barcelona. It’s typically the destination for lively crowds seeking an authentic global dining experience presented in a great atmosphere. I stopped by late in the afternoon for a beer at the bar and a plate of fried pickles. Do you see me smiling?
If you want to get out of the relative quiet of German Village I would recommend the Short North. The Short North is an eclectic, diverse and completely urban neighborhood centered on the main strip of High Street, just north of downtown. This former “red light” district has been reinvented to be the coolest real estate east of Hollywood and west of SoHo.
It’s home to great shopping and very few (almost none at all) chain stores or restaurants. I stopped into the very local Brothers Drake Meadery for some sips of pure, organic and freshly crafted meads. Mead is a “honey wine” that can run from quite sweet to off-dry. When the brothers Drake say “local” they are not just spouting culinary buzz words. The concept of local is taken seriously here. Not only is the honey used in these tipples produced by hardworking Ohio honeybees, but the product itself is only sold locally– and always will be. Which is pretty serious business.
Right next door to Brothers Drake Meadery is Middle West Spirits, an all-organic distillery owned by Brady Konya and Ryan Lang. They are known for Oyo Vodka, which is a locally sourced spirit that has many of the distinctive winter-wheat flavors and aromas that you never really associated with the “big boys” of ethanol. Most recently they have taken this small-batch, single-cask production philosophy to produce a spiritus frumenti, made solely from soft red Ohio winter wheat called Oyo Whiskey. Their next goal is finding a niche in the realm of darker spirits to have a “big voice” in that small category of wheat-based whiskey. Expand your brain– don’t think bourbon here. The product’s flavors are more subtle, more consistent and a lot more fluid than you might think. They must be doing something right because there’s none of that whiskey left to buy. Believe me I tried. But more is on the way, as well as an ambitious expansion of the physical production facilities. In truth there is so much special about what these guys are doing that I plan to say more about them in a future feature. So stay tuned.
If beer’s your brew then I’m going to make you jealous. I went to dinner with Matthew Barbee who brews under the banner of Rockmill Brewery located on a horse ranch developed in 1870. His is a very intellectual style of Belgian ale. Created with the mindset of a sommelier, these beers stand next to food proudly: Whitbier, Saison, Dubbel, and Tripel. Classic Belgian styles produced in the middle of America.
I was lucky enough to sit down with him one-on-one for a dinner of small plates and beer pairings at Basi Italia in Columbus’ Victorian Village near the popular Short North area. I’ll have more about the meal itself in my next post. It was my favorite of all the meals I enjoyed, but it was made all the more special by the passion of Michael Barbee and the beer he presented (yep) passionately. Oh, and he’s a brave guy too. He has the scar to prove it. But that’s for you to ask. Should you ever meet the man.
I feel I must leave you with something sweet. So I choose Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, which has gained such a loyal following that I don’t need to say much more here than don’t miss it. They are currently featuring a whiskey-soaked-pecan-creamery made in conjunction with Middle West Spirits. It is an unholy mash-up of white-trash disaster and haute-cuisine. Don’t ask, just try it.
As I keep saying, I have much more to say about this trip. So keep checking here. Next up is a simple list of recommendations for one perfect day in Columbus, Ohio. A Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner post with a few sweet treats thrown in. So please come back for more of what Ohio has to offer. I think I am going to surprise you. GREG
The photo of Matthew Barbee is from Crave Magazine
Greg Henry writes the food blog Sippity Sup- Serious Fun Food, and contributes the Friday column on entertaining for The Back Burner at Key Ingredient. He’s active in the food blogging community, and a popular speaker at IFBC, Food Buzz Festival and Camp Blogaway. He’s led cooking demonstrations in Panama & Costa Rica, and has traveled as far and wide as Norway to promote culinary travel. He’s been featured in Food & Wine Magazine, Los Angeles Times, More Magazine, The Today Show Online and Saveur’s Best of the Web. Greg also co-hosts The Table Set podcast which can be downloaded on iTunes or at Homefries Podcast Network.