Cleveland and Columbus are the two most populated cities in Ohio. Combined with the fact that there’s just a two hour drive between them, we consider them cousins. It’s likely that most people across the country don’t think of food when they think of Cleveland or Columbus, but we visited recently to find a great food scene thriving within their walls.
Cleveland has plenty of Polish Boys and pirogi’s, but did you know it’s home to the signature Cleveland-style barbecue? Columbus is the headquarters to fast food giants like Bob Evans, White Castle and Wendy’s, but did you know they have more independently owned restaurants than any other city in the state?
Keep reading to find a list of our favorite restaurants in Cleveland and Columbus. We highly recommend trying at least one next time you’re around!
Michael Symon loves barbecue, but not just any style of barbecue – at his newest restaurant, Mabel’s BBQ, he features what he’s donned Cleveland-style barbecue. The doors to Mabel’s opened this past April and have been flooded with patrons ever since. All the food is served simple on half sheet pans stacked with cardboard baskets of sides alongside your choice of meats – all of which are smoked in two red smokers using simple seasonings like salt and pepper or pastrami spices. They also serve a hefty slice of white bread to soak up the juices, which is highly recommended.
You get the feeling of “family-style” the moment you walk in. A long, shared table down the middle seats over 30 diners who all get to rub elbows with their neighbor. The table leads your eye down to a larger-than-life photo of Michael and his family in 1984. The paper menu is simple with old style red and white napkins boasting kitchen silverware. This is definitely a down-home BBQ joint.
We ordered the Pork Spare Ribs and Giant Beef Rib – and they’re not kidding when they say giant! The pastrami seasoning on the beef is incredible. When paired with their Ballpark Mustard Vinaigrette, you understand why Michael has made it as a chef. We recommend trying his other local restaurants as well, especially if you’re looking for a finer dining experience: Lola, Lolita and Michael Symon’s B Spot.
The Greenhouse Tavern
The Greenhouse Tavern opened its eco-friendly doors with the intent on leading the “Rustbelt Revolution.” This means they strive to uplift the community with innovation – through food. It’s the kind of mission that goes beyond technique in the kitchen, both of which surely earned chef and co-owner Jonathon Sawyer Best Chef Great Lakes in 2015 from the James Beard Foundation.
The atmosphere is modern casual, laid out on four levels from the basement kitchen to the main floor dining room/bar, the second floor dining room, and the terrific rooftop bar. Keep in mind that the servers take at least a flight of stairs from the basement every time they tend to a table, so be sure to show your respects. That won’t be difficult, as they have some of the friendliest staff this side of the Mississippi.
The Greenhouse Tavern has a large selection of proteins alongside simple yet powerfully dressed veggies. They showcase ingredients sourced from the Cuyahoga Valley whenever possible. When they’re unable to find products locally, they source from responsible, sustainable options like Niman Ranch. If you take the leap and order from each of the Firsts, Seconds and Thirds on the menu, you may rolling happily out the door by the end of the evening!
When you walk into Brassica, you’re immediately greeted by friendly staff who beg the question, “Pita, hummus or salad?” As you slide down the line towards the register, you’ll find several accoutrements that seem foreign in this type of fast-casual format. Pickled cucumbers and radishes, roasted cauliflower, baba ganoush, spicy roasted carrots, a sauce call Z’hug. You can add all of these, among others, to your chosen medium with a protein for punch.
The flavors are so intense that some prefer a salad so they can pick at each item on its own. Some prefer pita as their vessel, visiting almost daily to try the many possible combinations this menu offers. The pita is made fresh in house all day long, the salad is tossed lightly in lemon juice and oil, and the hummus is also from scratch. Top it off with falafel, Harissa-rubbed brisket, chicken or their homemade lamb bacon. We suggest getting the special sauce to top it of. Have it on the side so you can enjoy all the way to the bottom.
We chose the salad with Harissa-rubbed brisket, which is “braised until fall apart tender.” Topped with hummus, local feta, spicy carrots, pickled beets, roasted eggplant and cauliflower. We deconstructed the salad all the way to the lentils and rice at the bottom, which had a distinct Mediterranean flavor. We love how the lightly dressed greens add a bright pop to the sultry flavors of the toppings. It’s a salad you shouldn’t miss!
Northstar Café is an everyday restaurant that serves food from breakfast through dinner. To some people, it may seem like a dressed up fast food restaurant when really it’s a dressed down fine dining restaurant. It’s not immediately self-evident that they’re making their food from scratch from such high quality ingredients. Nothing is frozen and they make everything but the condiments and buns. It’s the kind of place that feels good to dine at frequently.
There are four locations for Northstar: Short North, Beechwood, Liberty Center and the Easton Shopping Center, where there’s more foot traffic per square foot than any other mall in Ohio. Each restaurant was built by the same architect yet has discrepancies in the design. Subtle structural nuances carry over between three, like the lighting and slatted wood.
In Easton, the ceilings are high with lofty fans, dropped lights and sleek wooden beams. One of their prep kitchens lies behind a large glass window as you enter the building. The cook line is nestled behind the bar along an open hall where you’re led to a large, circular seating area. It’s comfortable, it’s welcoming, it’s warm. We realized it’s also rare to be able to support a local business when shopping amongst giant chains.
We enjoyed their Classic Cheeseburger and subbed for the pimento cheese, which is made in-house (of course). Served with a bed of hot fries and one of their house made ginger ales, this is a great choice for lunch or dinner!
Third & Hollywood
If you’re looking for a more upscale experience in Columbus, head over to Third & Hollywood. The outdoor patio is heated in the cooler months and has an ample amount of shade for the hotter months. The design is heavy on the wood, but it’s not exactly rustic. It has more of a warm, Midwest hospitality feel to it that’s simple yet stylish. The art on the walls is by Tony Mendoza, each a picture from his life with a fun, quippy story to describe the situation behind the snapshot.
Their private dining room reveals an impressive wine selection behind a glass wall, all chosen by their head chef who just so happens to also be their sommelier. Kevin Crawly has a lot of fun making sure they’re stocked with a great selection. He has an amazing palette for both food and wine. They age their own wine as well, adding value to bottles that only grow more palatable over time. You can dine with confidence knowing that spectacular pairing recommendations can come from the chef himself.
While their burger is fantastic, we were impressed by their center cut Filet Mignon. A mild smoke from the grill enhances the flavor of the beef. Fresh tomatoes with vinegar add a brightness and chill to the dish that goes beyond the traditional salad. Their mashed potatoes were so creamy and robust, we almost licked the plate clean. We highly recommend this dish – and location as a whole – for anyone starting a night out with friends, having dinner with a colleague, or a couple on a casual date.