EAT, DRINK AND BE MERRY: Must-try restaurants, bars in Columbus this holiday season

Ambrose and Eve loaded hash brown ($13) dressed up with smoked salmon, fried pickled onion, capers, creme fraiche and caviar. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY ALEXIS LARSEN

With 10 days separating us from Christmas, next week is our last Hail Mary to get in gear, get ready and try and soak up what’s left of the holiday season before we find ourselves hand wringing over plans for the new year.

For me, there’s not much better than a big city at the peak of the holiday swing. Shopping, eating and exploring Chicago or New York around the holidays is intoxicating. There’s an energy in the air that makes things seem warmer and tinged with a little sprinkle of magic.

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If you’re like me, you’re not going to make it to a really big city outside of Ohio to soak up the Christmas magic at this point, but there is a way to get a similar experience in a short drive.

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Columbus is the 13th largest city in the country. It has the lights, the shopping and that holiday sparkle to get you in the mood. Shopping options for next-level gift giving abound. Several entertainment options will knock your socks off and with more restaurants and bars than you’ll know what to do with, there are more tempting options than there is time.

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Here are some restaurants and bars that I would recommend if you find yourself now or later in our capital city on a mission to find flavor.

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🍳BREAKFAST

Fox in the Snow Cafe is famous for its baked goods. Source: Fox in the Snow Cafe Facebook page

Fox in the Snow

Explorewww.foxinthesnow.com

1031 N. Fourth St., Columbus

210 Thurman Ave., Columbus

160 West Main St., Columbus

With locations in Italian Village, German Village and New Albany, this coffee shop and bakery has been expanding by leaps and bounds since co-owners Jeff Excell and Lauren Culley opened their first location on Fourth Street in Columbus’ Italian Village. The hand-poured drinks are good, but the rustic-style baked goods are stellar. I could have made myself sick recently on the Blueberry Galettes ($4.50 each), custard-filled donuts ($3.50 each), buttermilk biscuits with housemade jam, salt and honey ($3.75), sugar plum tart ($4) and the scuffled egg sandwich ($7.50) that was perfectly executed. It’s a bright, friendly, inviting spot that makes for a great way to start the day.

🍽️BREAKFAST OR LUNCH

Katalina's is famous for its pancake balls. Source: Katalina's Facebook page

Katalina’s

Explorewww.katalinascafe.com

3481 High St., Columbus | 614-689-8896

1105 Pennsylvania Ave., Columbus | 614-294-2233

Open seven days a week from 8 a.m.-3 p.m., the original Katalina’s is in Harrison West and Katalina’s Too! is in Clintonville. It bills itself as homage food with attitude and it is just that, with dishes that are packed with southern and Latin flavors. Home of the Original Pancake Balls ($12.50), these delicious deep-fried treats come with the choice of Nutella, Dulce de leche, or Katalina’s Pumpkin-Apple Butter for filling and are served with your choice of bacon or veggie sausage, including the choice of a thick-cut sweet and spicy bacon. The menu is solid and the execution is strong. You can taste the love. Be sure to split the Mazatlan Slow-Roasted Pork and Egg Sandwich ($12.95) made with slow-roasted Beeler’s pork in Katalina’s secret sauce, with fried eggs, local Amish provolone, avocado, roasted red peppers and aioli on two sizable pieces of toasted Old World loaf. Reservations are not accepted. Get there early or expect a wait, but rest easy knowing it’s worth it.

🍽️LUNCH OR DINNER

Ambrose and Eve loaded hash brown ($13) dressed up with smoked salmon, fried pickled onion, capers, creme fraiche and caviar. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY ALEXIS LARSEN

Ambrose and Eve

Explorehttp://ambroseandevecolumbus.com

716 S High St., Columbus | (614) 725-2080

Located in German Village, Ambrose and Eve served brunch from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday and dinner starting at 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. The dinner menu is solid, but head here for brunch. Highlights include a fantastic loaded hash brown ($13) that is dressed up with smoked salmon, fried pickled onion, capers, creme fraiche and caviar. It was a delight that I am looking forward to having again. The Chilaquiles ($15) were filling and fresh with a zippy mole poblano sauce, avocado, radish, cotija, cilantro and finished with a fried egg for good measure. Be sure to add the chicken for an extra $2. It’s worth it.

🍽️DINNER

Service Bar

Explorehttps://servicebarcolumbus.com

1230 Courtland Ave., Columbus | 614-947-1231

Middle West Spirits Service Bar in the Short North is a modern, beautifully appointed comfortable space that begs to be savored and enjoyed. It quickly becomes clear after perusing the menu that Avishar Barua, Executive Chef, is someone who is doing what he loves playing and creating with inventive dishes and ingredients in the kitchen. A cheesy brisket crunch ($17 for two) on the menu is a nod to one of Barua’s favorite dishes growing up — Taco Bell’s Cheesy Gordita Crunch. In this case, it’s made with a heap of slow oak-smoked brisket that’s been tended to for 18 hours to pack it tight with tender juicy flavor housed in a paratha Bengali fry bread followed by a crispy corn tortilla topped with a pepper jack quest and salsa guasacaca (Venezuelan salsa verde) and topped with shredded iceberg lettuce and bright orange cheese topper. It’s addictive and a great dish to split as you start your meal. It’s also a wonderful example of how transactional fast-food dishes can provide inspiration for high cuisine. The cheese and poof appetizer ($11) is also quite tasty with fire roasted pimento spread, pork rinds (vegetarians can substitute tapioca rinds that are nutty and wonderful) and a smattering of barrel-aged hot sauce. The Koji Half Rohan Duck ($38) was one of the best duck dishes I’ve had in a while. I did upgrade to have dry-aged duck for an additional $8, but knowing how this chef and kitchen executes I’m sure both are delicious. Head to the Middle West Bottle Shop to pick up a bottle on your way out. Their Vim & Petal gins is one of my favorites. It goes without saying that having dinner at a distillery the cocktails are going to be on point. Order away with the confidence that you will enjoy what comes to the table.

🍸DRINKS

Lincoln Social Rooftop

Explorehttps://lincolnsocialrooftop.com

9th Floor, 711 N. High St., Columbus | 614-300-9494

Want to feel hip and cool? Head to this hot spot that Cameron Mitchell Restaurants opened earlier this year on April 30. It has bar snacks and taps, but this is a cocktail bar first. It’s a high-end urban rooftop oasis with stunning views of Columbus that you can take from indoors or outside by the fire. If you want to light up your night this is the place to do it. Cocktails that you can sip and savor nine stories up in the Short North include a hibiscus mule ($13) made with hibiscus tea and ginger, High Bank Vodka, honey and citrus that arrives to the table with a cute tea pot and tea cup. The Luke Skywalker ($13) made with lemongrass-infused Ketel One Vodka, matcha and lemon and the Tokyo Drift ($12) made with Watershed Guild Series Gin, basil, rice almond water and spices were also quite good. It boasts a menu with a wide and varied cocktail selection to explore. But it’s the views and vibe that put the cocktails over the top.

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