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Published: Thursday, 9/10/2009

Restaurant review: Some capital places for a good meal

Ohio State football season is already under way, and classes start in less than two weeks, so there are many reasons for Toledoans to head to the state's capital city.

Once you're in Columbus, you'll have to eat. Those with only a cursory knowledge of the city may fall back on the chains - Applebees, Chili's, Ruby Tuesday's - or take a chance on something around one of the many malls surrounding the city.

But like Toledo, Columbus is filled with fine restaurants in all price ranges … if you know where to look.

Cameron Mitchell is the king of cuisine in Columbus, and you're pretty much assured of a decent meal if you hit one of his seven establishments. Max and Erma's got its start in German Village, and the original is still there. But we generally prefer restaurants that are less well-known, places that please the neighborhood folks when tourists aren't around. Here are five of them in all price ranges.

Note: This list is highly personal. These are places we on the Blade staff have gone back to several times and always leap to the head of the list when we don't feel like trying someplace new. And just because they may not be well-known doesn't mean they're not busy. Call ahead.

•The Banana Bean Caf, 340 Greenlawn Ave., Columbus (614-443-2262; bananabeancafe.com) serves "Floribbean cuisine," heavy on seafood. We generally go for breakfast or brunch; the roasted corn and blueberry pancakes are so good, you don't need syrup; ditto the bananas Foster french toast. The butternut squash salad and a skillet crab cake make a great meal. The sweet corn and lobster bisque is a favorite soup, and the Little Havana Cubano, with "citrus-kissed pork tenderloin," is a favorite sandwich. Prices range from $5 to $15. The Banana Bean is a laid-back kind of place, so the service is occasionally slow, even if it's not busy.

•The Old Mohawk, 821 Mohawk St. in the German Village neighborhood (614-444-7204; theoldmohawk.com), is a neighborhood pub, with tables surrounding a big horseshoe-shaped bar. The menu is an amalgamation of standard pub grub with touches of Germany, Italy, and Greece tossed in for good measure. Burgers and reuben sandwiches are outstanding, the bratwurst dinner with potato pancakes and the smoked chicken ravioli are worth the calories, and the home-made potato chips are killer - if they feel like making them, that is. The owners have been known to pull the chips from the menu because they're labor intensive, but people keep asking for them. The menu includes several creative vegetarian offerings, and entres range from $9 to $13.

•Mozart's Bakery and Piano Caf, 2885 North High St. in the Clintonville neighborhood (614-268-3687; mozartscafe.com) is among the best pastry shops in the city, but it also has a smallish dining area attached (about

10 tables) where it serves full breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. Menus for the first two meals are pretty standard egg dishes, waffles, sandwiches, and wraps. But dinner offers some delicious German fare, from tender weiner schnitzel with buttered spatzle (little dumplings) to beef stroganoff with mushrooms and sour cream to pork tenderloin with a gorgonzola sauce that's too good to leave on the plate. Dinner prices are in the $10 to $12 range, before you add a to-die-for dessert beckoning from the pastry case in the next room.

•Spagio, 1295 Grandview Ave., in the Grandview neighborhood (614-486- 1114; spagio.com) is more upscale, and some would argue that it's the best restaurant in town. It's certainly a favorite place to go when we have something to celebrate. Chef Hubert Seifert blends European and Pacific Rim cuisine with traditional American dishes. Favorite dinners include the southwestern marinated Berkshire pork chop, the beef and veal tortelloni, and the grilled diver scallops. Lunches feature soups, salads, sandwiches, quiches, and a variety of pizzas, including brie pizza, featuring apple butter, brie cheese, pears, and candied walnuts atop a sweet crust. Dinner prices range from $14 to $28, and brunch is available Saturdays and Sundays. Adjoining Spagio is Spagio Cellar, a wine shop that offers a limited menu of pizzas, salads, pates, and an assortment of cheeses.

•The Worthington Inn, 649 High St., Worthington (614-885-2600; worthing toninn.com) offers gracious dining in a historic location. The oldest part of the building was constructed in 1831, and it was enlarged and turned into a travelers' inn in the 1840s. This is dress-up dining (or as dress-up as anything gets these days), with lovely table settings and a knowledgeable, efficient staff making every effort to please. The menu, which features many locally grown ingredients, changes with the seasons. Among favorites: the roasted King's Farm chicken with buttermilk mashed potatoes, beef Worthington with Point Reyes blue cheese and cabernet-mushroom demi-glaze, and a mixed grill, featuring filet mignon, gulf shrimp, and quail. Dinner entre prices are in the $18 to $32 range. The inn is also open for breakfast, lunch, and Sunday brunch.

Contact bill of fare at: fare@theblade.com.



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