(First things first – the above photo is from our engagement photo shoot at The Top Steakhouse. The hot babe in that photo is now my wife. Back off, internet weirdos.)
Hi there and welcome back! Im glad the Dexter entry did not scare you off and I hope you enjoyed your Bloody Brunch!
In my 21 years in Columbus I have never lived on the East Side. This is a shame because I really do enjoy Bexley – the tree lined streets, sense of community and locally owned businesses are hard to rival in Central, Ohio. Whether familiar or not with Bexley, you should enjoy this entry and should also spend some of your locally earned money at these locally owned establishments.
When going out in Bexley, the challenge is not figuring out where to go, but figuring out what kind of evening you want to have. For the purpose of this entry, we will have a Date Night VS. Family Night competition and the participating businesses must have a Main Street address. Apologies to Berwick residents and the regulars at Lipzeig Haus and TT Murphs.
Okay, lets get started. (And yes, I know that some of these establishments are SLIGHTLY outside of Bexley).
Pizza in Central, Ohio (like any other American city) is a polarizing issue. Crust, toppings and cut are as debatable as regional College Football allegiances. In Central Ohio, pizza is traditionally served in Tavern Cut or Pub Style, which consists of a thin and crispy (sometimes called cracker) crust, a sweet sauce and square ‘slices’.
When Central Ohio residents think of Tavern Cut/Pub Style/Columbus Style pizza, they automatically think of Columbus institutions Donatos and Tommy’s. However, if you grew up locally, your allegiance may be pledged to Villa Nova/Pizza House/Terita’s (North End), Joseppi’s/Minelli’s/Rotolo’s (West Side), Planks Cafe/Cardo’s (South End) Rubino’s/Stadz (East Side) and Adriatico’s/Catfish Biff’s/Hound Dog’s (Campus/Old North). If you feel this list is not correct, please leave a comment at the end of the entry – I would love to hear your feedback!
Recently, I was tiring of
square cardboard Columbus Style Pizza. I had been yearning for TRIANGLES with a thicker crust, sliced sausage and a spicier sauce. To fulfill my desire, I had been eating a lot of Houndog’s (no surprise as it was served at my wedding), Leone’s (NY Style) and Meister’s (Deep Dish).
I had fallen out of love with Tavern Cut and swore I would never return! Sliced sausage wishes and thick triangle dreams, I was living the life! Then, our friends Bob and Alyssa invited us (along with our friends Jenn and Mark) to Rubino’s and my life has not been the same since.
Rubino’s is located on the East side of Bexley and has been serving home made, cracker crust pizzas since 1954. In the interim, I doubt the menu or building has changed much and I mean that in the most flattering way possible.
Located in a smoky, stand alone building Rubino’s has a small dining area, a few video games, an old school soda selection and is alcohol free and cash only.
Customers seemed like regulars and regulars were treated like family. It is the kind of place where generations of family gather when everyone is reunited during the holidays.
In fact, I found out the sausage was sliced and made in house because a regular named Doc told me. Doc knew it was my first time and offered me a slice of the stack of sausage toppings he had ordered and was taking home. Doc and his wife were very friendly, shared their pizzas and were ordering pastas to take home! Doc, if you are reading this, you are my hero!
At this point it should be noted that Rubino’s really has a unique and thin cracker crust. To some, this might be overkill, but those people are awful and their opinions don’t matter. The ‘slices’ are still cut into squares and the sauce is still sweet, so there truly is nothing to fear.
We chose the following pizzas:
Sausage, Pepperoni, Mushroom, Green Pepper and Onion.
This pizza was delicious and packed with flavor. The vegetables were fresh, the pepperoni was spicy and the in house sausage was SLICED with a touch of heat. This is now my favorite ‘Supreme’ pizza in Central, Ohio.
Pepperoni and Sausage.
If you are a carnivore, this is the combo for you. It had a little heat, wasn’t over powered with cheese and again – served with in house SLICED sausage – the way the universe intended pizza sausage to be.
Pepperoni and Banana Pepper.
Full Disclosure – this is my go to combo for Columbus Style pizza. The banana peppers were sweet, fresh and flavorful and offered a nice contrast to (in taste and texture) the spicy pepperoni. Underrated, efficient and cost effective, this may be the Rubino’s combo to choose when ordering a pizza for yourself.
Pickle, Onion and Sausage.
I know what you are thinking…to put it politely, this sounds interesting. Our group did not decide on this trio ourselves – it was to recommended when we asked our server which pizza she preferred. The pickles did not get soggy during baking and added a powerful salty crunch. The onions were also crunchy and added a nice contrast to the sausage.
This combination was not a gimmick and this pizza has constantly been on my mind since. I would recommend any of the pizzas we ordered, but this trio is on the top of the list. Give it a shot, you won’t be disappointed.
Johnson’s Real Ice Cream
After dinner, we were in the mood for ice cream and walked East on Main Street until we arrived at Johnson’s Real Ice Cream. Johnson’s was opened in 1950 and unlike Rubino’s, has probably had a remodel or two.
Johnson’s seems to be the kind of place where teenagers go on a first date, little league teams go after games and soccer players go after ties. This Bexley landmark also offers a quality product, cozy environment and friendly staff.
I ordered a thick and creamy scoop of Buckeye Fever and Megan ordered a scoop of mint chocolate.
Neither of us were disappointed and would certainly tell friends and family looking for a wholesome activity to go to Johnson’s. Also, if you follow our plan (which you should), you only need to park once.
Bexley has many quality options for a date night. For this entry we are going to focus on dinner, a nightcap and a bottle of wine to go. Conveniently, you can do these steps in the order presented and again, you only have to park once. You’re welcome.
The Top Steakhouse
Another Bexley institution, The Top has been serving steaks and martinis since 1955, which makes it the newest business so far reviewed in this entry. Not much has changed since 1955 and if you squint hard enough, you can see Roger Sterling and Don Draper respectively drinking a clear and a brown while lamenting their poor life choices and needy mistresses.
Wood paneling, dim lighting, piano players and a professional waitstaff are just a few of the reasons to visit The Top. Other obvious reasons are the butter boat, dry aged steaks and the best Martinis in town. It is impossible to pick a bad wine, your bartender will be friendly and you will always get good value for your choices.
Recently, I decided to treat myself to their Happy Hour bar menu (available Monday thru Thursday) and to try their famous hamburger. I ordered a Martini and waited for the nightly bar menu to be released.
However, I was disappointed to learn that the hamburger was not on that evening’s bar menu, so I ‘settled’ on the 10 oz Prime Rib, Baked Potato and Green Bean/Carrot Medley.
The Prime Rib was a perfect medium rare, the baked potato was fluffy and full of life and the vegetables were baked to perfection. It was money well spent and the perfect reward for a hard week of work, even if it was only Tuesday.
After dinner, I ordered a second martini and enjoyed some people watching. My only regret is that I was too early to hear Sonya Modes play her piano while the regulars sing from the great American songbook.
I jokingly call this event ‘Karaoke for Geriatrics’, but it is a very cool phenomenon to witness. Basically, regulars will wait for the mic and when it is their turn, ask Sonya to play their favorite tune in their favorite key. Sonya will field their request and everyone in the restaurant is twenty years old again.
It is completely possible to be moved to tears when watching couples celebrate a 50th wedding anniversary by serenading each other to ‘Dream a Little Dream of Me’ in the Key of C. Do yourself a favor and go see Sonya on a Tuesday (6:30) or a Saturday (7:30) night.
After The Top, go to Wings for a craft beer, great glass of wine or most especially for the best Scotch selection in town. Of course, Wing’s also serves Chinese AND American cuisine, so there should be something for everyone.
Opened in 1920, Wings is the oldest eatery in this entry and has been in the same location since 1940. Manager Ken selects the scotch and Bartender Woody points you in the right direction.
I admit, I do not know much about Scotch. On my recent trip, I had two different pours, both of which were outstanding. I am trying to learn about Scotch and shared my drink choice with Netflix and Grill Chief Whiskey Bureau Chief Kevin McFadden.
Here are Kevin’s thoughts:
On the face of it, these appear to be two different and completely unrelated types of Scotch. As it turns out, they actually have something very much in common. Would you believe it all has to do with Bourbon? It’s true! Historically, Scotch has almost always been aged in barrels made of European Oak. However, with the rapid growth in popularity of American Bourbon throughout the world, Scotch distillers were pressured to look for ways to evolve their product. In the true spirit of “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”, their solution was to employ the use of American Oak, which is the only type of wood allowed for barreling Bourbon, and is responsible for those highly desired vanilla, caramel and citrus flavors. As a result, many high-end Scotch distillers have now added American Oak to their barrel-aging processes – sometimes in the form of virgin barrels, sometimes charred, and sometimes going the Full Monty and re-purposing barrels previously used to age Bourbon.
Our first subject is The Macallan Double Cask 12 Year (yes that’s THE Macallan, as in THE Ohio State University). The Macallan brings new American Oak to Spain, where barrels are manufactured from it and used to produce Sherry. Those barrels then go to Scotland to age the distilled Scotch for 12 years. The final version is made by combining the American Oak-aged product with similarly aged European Oak product. The result is a honey-colored Scotch that is noticeably subtler in intensity than their traditional European Oak version. You get dried fruit, butterscotch and orange on the nose, with flavors of citrus, vanilla and caramel that become even more present with the addition of a splash of water.
The second offering is Glenfiddich 14 Year Bourbon Barrel Reserve. Glenfiddich gets right to the heart of the matter here, ageing the product 14 years in ex-Bourbon barrels, and then finishing it some additional time in heavily charred new American Oak barrels. It doesn’t get any more straightforward than this, yielding a Scotch with rich copper color and aromas of baked apple pie and hints of citrus. The flavor is sweet, with flavors of brown sugar, toffee, candied orange peel and spice.
I thoroughly enjoyed both versions, but I had to tip my hat to Glenfiddich this time around. It delivered a fuller, richer flavor profile, albeit a touch sweet, that was more to my liking. A true blend of the Scotch and Bourbon experience. The Macallan left me wanting for more, due to its somewhat subdued personality.
So there you have it, an education in Whiskey that money can’t buy. Stop at Wings and do it soon.
Well done, Kevin! I know I feel smarter and I am sure that our readers do too! Great review and thanks for sharing your knowledge. Also, everyone in Buckeye Land appreciates you representing the ‘THE’, especially all the way from Seattle.
Grape + Grain
If you are looking to take a bottle of wine or a craft 6 pack home for a night cap, look no further than Grape + Grain. Opened in the summer of 2016, Grape + Grain is eclectic, hip and comes equipped with a food truck rotation. Drinks are available on the patio or on the inside of the bar/retail establishment.
I was recently there on Grape + Grain’s nine month anniversary and the place was packed. Both small bars were filled and the rest of the bar side was standing room only.
The bartenders were busy, but polite and went out of their way to make sure the patrons had a great experience.
A well curiated retail wine and beer selection is also available for finishing your date night at home. This is not a liquor store, so find a nice cab or session IPA to take home and open while one partner find sa Netflix program and the other falls asleep.
So, who wins this competition between a family night and a date night? The answer is everyone. Local businesses that have flourished for decades will get your business and every dollar you spend stays in the business district. Local businesses that are the backbone of our economy and culture will continue to survive and we will all be better for it.
In Central Ohio, Grandview has the Banker’s Block, Bexley has Main Street, Worthington has Downtown and Westerville has Uptown. Districts like these are disappearing daily and we, as consumers, Central Ohioans and Americans should support these businesses. When businesses and districts like these leave the suburbs and urban core and the war is over, fine dining will consist of Applebees, Fridays and BW3. That will be a terrible day and we will all be a little less American and a lot more boring.
ADDITIONS & SUBSTITUTIONS
- Bexley Monk was a great joint and is deeply missed.
- Giuseppe’s Ritrovo is also a quality way to spend the evening. Recently, Mick Jagger and Ronnie Wood ate there before their show in the Horseshoe. The Rolling Stone’s manager said it was the most normal tour dinner The Stones’ had in years. Here is the Dispatch link (you may need a subscription).
- The only personal favorites I have left off of this list are Mikey’s, Grandad’s and Harvest. Learn them, eat them, love them.
- If Adriatico’s doesn’t reopen in a new location, I volunteer to lead the ‘Dad Bod’ army to rebellion.
- According to the regulars, the key to a successful Rubino’s take out order is to have the pizza cooked halfway in store and halfway at home.
- This entry is dedicated to the memory of Carla Fry. Carla was raised in Bexley, grew up with Rubino’s, loved THE Ohio State University and was most importantly a wonderful mother to our friend Alyssa. Like everyone who met Carla, I benefited from her kindness, wit and culinary and restaurant recommendations. Here’s to you, Carla.