The lunch crowd
For lunch in German Village there are a number of ways you can go. Katzinger's (475 South Third St., 614-228-3354) is a blissfully frenzied deli with dozens (and dozens) of amazing sandwiches, built with quality meats atop quality breads. Get in line, place your order, grab a few pickles from the pickle barrels and wait for your name to be called. If that sounds like too much work, walk around the corner to Harvest Pizzeria (495 South Fourth St., 614-824-1769), a contemporary café serving flawless wood-fired pizzas. Sporting a buoyant and charred-edge crust, pizzas like the double bacon, the mushroom and gouda, and the classic Margherita are as far away from greasy belly bombs as pie can get. A nice beer, wine and cocktail list manages to elevate the food even more.
Beer Town, USA
Like Cleveland, Columbus currently is enjoying a micro-brewing boom. Longstanding pioneers like Columbus Brewing and Barley's are now joined by more recent entries into the craft brew scene like Elevator, Four String and Seventh Son. The latter (1101 North Fourth St., 614-421-BEER) holds forth in a converted industrial space with garage doors that fly up along with the temps. It's located in Italian Village, just east of the Short North, and it's worth visiting to sample brewery fresh American strong ale and Humulus Nimbus Super pale ale.
Elevator recently moved its production brewery from the burbs to a central location not far from its gorgeous downtown restaurant. On Saturdays, the brewery opens up its taproom (165 North Fourth St.) from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. where it pours pints and growlers of its popular Three Frogs IPA, Horny Goat porter, and Bear Ass pale ale.
To see what modern mead is all about, pop into Brothers Drake Meadery (26 East Fifth Ave., 614-388-8765), at the northern edge of the Short North. In addition to making and serving high-quality "wine-style" mead – often with local honey – in its bustling barroom, Brothers Drake hosts live shows on a small stage located adjacent to the patio.
I drove all the way to Columbus to eat the food of a Cleveland chef. Okay, make that former Cleveland chef. John Dornback, who perfected his craft at places like Giovanni's and Parker's, runs the eminently appealing Basi Italia (811 Highland Ave., 614-294-7383). This light-hearted bistro has so many things going for it, from its hideaway locale in residential Victorian Village to its close-quartered dining room and secret-garden back patio. But it's the food that draws us back, seasonal ingredients transformed into soul-satisfying Italian-style dishes. Zucchini, briefly cooked with almonds and pecorino, is a house staple. Asparagus with smoked prosciutto and egg, porchetta with butter beans and candied fennel, and lamb steak with peas and mint are just some items that keep this gem packed.
A different kind of zombie
Proof that tiki lounges never really went out of fashion (they merely went underground to the odd basement bars of tikiphiles), the Grass Skirt (105 North Grant St., 614-429-3650) opened up last spring to the unabashed glee of many. An abandoned downtown theatre space was converted into an over-the-top bar and restaurant that evokes fond memories of the Kahiki Supper Club, which ruled the Columbus kitsch scene for 40 years. Sip on deftly crafted tiki classics like Mai Tais, Blue Hawaiians and Zombies, or a host of more contemporary cocktails. For snacks, order up a plate of grilled Spam sliders, served with swiss and Chinese mustard on sweet King's Hawaiian rolls.
On your way out of Dodge
I was turned on to Columbus' remarkable taco truck scene by Bethia Woolf, who leads a whole host of specialty food-themed tours at Columbus Food Adventures. Unlike the trendy chef-driven food trucks that we've come to know and love, many of the ones that congregate on the western and northern edges of Columbus are stationary for long stretches of time, and they're run by Latino operators who stick, by and large, to authentic offerings. Each specializes in one thing or another – like tacos, gorditas, pupusas, tortas and tamales – and most are incredible. Check out Taco Trucks Columbus for a complete list and map of dozens of taco trucks that you can hit on your way out of town.