The 614ortyPlatter – Columbus Restaurants of Yore (Vol. 1)

It was great while it lasted – the bar at the gone-before-it-
deserved-to-be-gone German Village restaurant Ambrose and Eve

According to an article published on Modern Restaurant Management in 2019, 80 percent of all restaurants go out of business within five years. Many disappear from the landscape without much of a care by the dining public, but a select few stay around long enough and/or put out such great food during their relatively short lifespans to elicit (hunger) pangs of remorse by local diners.

When you add up all the losses over the years, keeping track of all those eateries which have since departed the scene is an impossible task. However, for Central Ohio diners, authors Doug Motz and Christine Hayes helped make reminiscing about some of these restaurants easier with their two-book series, the 2015 “Lost Restaurants of Columbus” and the 2017 “Lost Restaurants of Central Ohio & Columbus”, published on the label.

With that in mind, I thought I’d put together a blogpost and associated playlist that reference some of those memory-inducing establishments of the past.  While info for the restaurants which disappeared from the scene are referenced from the Motz and Hayes’ books directly, the info related to some of the more recently lost restaurants on this list integrate our own experiences and knowledge (playlist embedded at the end of this post.)

1) Doersam’s (1921-1963) – With several locations in Downtown (including one eatery underneath a casino run by (in)famous gambling guru Pat Murnan), the 24/7-operating, American-favorites oriented Doersam’s did a brisk business with gamblers, theater-goers, and downtown workers before the 1960s urban renewal movement forced it to close.  Reflecting how Doersam’s operated, Little Feat’s “Hamburger Midnight”, off their great 1971 eponymously named debut album, leads off the musical festivities.

2) Elmwood Restaurant (1965-1970) – If you drive around a lot in the Worthington/Linworth area, you probably have become familiar with Snouffer Road. Indeed, the Snouffer family has had their impact in the area, including the establishment of Worthington’s Elmwood Restaurant. In addition to homestyle menu items like meat loaf and Johnny Marzetti, the Snouffers ensured that locally-based construction workers (Linworth was undergoing tremendous growth at the time) would be able to come in with $1 and get a good hearty meal.  Also notable was their delicious from scratch desserts, including an awesome Butterscotch Pie – R&B crooner Keith Sweat provides the sweet sounds with “Butterscotch” his 2008 duet with Athena Cage.

3) The Clock (1925-1979) – Another former downtown-located establishment (now occupied by Elevator Brewing Restaurant), The Clock took over the old Bott’s Billiards space in 1925 and brought in two distinctive features along with its menu – a 62-foot-long mahogany bar brought in from The Philippines via the Chicago’s World Fair and its namesake clock, which stood guard in front of the eatery until a storm blew it over in 1968.  The Clock was known for its great Porterhouse Steaks; Berlin, Germany’s Midnight Steak’s serenades us with his lo-fi/underground grooves with his 2020 single “Night Grill”.

4) Don’s Briarcliff Drive-In (1958-1985) – Located in Reynoldsburg, Don’s Briarcliff Drive-In (opened by The Kanatas Brothers, whose family immigrated from Greece) did a brisk business when US 40 was still the main route to drive from east to west (and vice versa) through Franklin County.  The family turned out to be a helpful resource to fellow Greek entrepreneurs, highway truckers, as well as military veterans (all three brothers served in World War II.)  One of their many great desserts was their Strawberry Pie (always made from fresh fruit); here, Portland’s Everclear provides the fork to eat our slice with with “Strawberry”, from their 1995 “Sparkle & Fade” long-player.

5) Presutti’s (1933-1989) – The Presutti Family proved influential in the early days of Italian restaurants in Columbus, coming up with the original TAT Restaurant at 409 W. Goodale Avenue (the TAT was later sold to its current owners in 1939 and relocated to James Road) and later opening up Presutti’s on West 5th Avenue in the Grandview/Fifth by Northwest area.  Aside from homestyle Italian favorites, Presutti’s was known for its house-made salad dressing; the epitome of Memphis R&B, Booker T. & the M.G.’s, adds in some crunchy croutons with our selection of “Soul Dressing.”

6) The Gloria (1925-1993) – Now an El Vaquero Mexican Restaurant, the space that housed The Gloria combined Italian food, steaks, and a lounge which featured a number of dance nights and prominent musical acts, including Dean Martin, for most of its prime operating years. In its infancy, however, The Gloria combined a soda fountain and a barbeque pit, cooking up various cuts of pork, ham and beef.  To commemorate this phase of the eatery, we’re putting a Punjabi twist into this list is Shivan Shibe & Sultaan’s ode to “Barbeque.”

7) Arthur Treacher’s (1969-present) – With Columbus known for its chain restaurants, we felt like we couldn’t not include one here, and we chose the fish-and-chip oriented Arthur Treacher’s. While the now-Youngstown-based restaurant still exists (a few outlets remain in Northeast Ohio), it’s a bottom-feeder-fry bag of what it once was when it was Columbus-based and sported almost 800 stores. Perhaps the best example in Columbus of what AT looked like back in the day resides in the Fifth by Northwest-located Marino’s Seafood/Fish & Chips, which took over a former franchise space in 1994. Like the perfect tartar sauce, “Fish, Chips & Sweat” by funk grandmasters Funkadelic will help you free your jaw so that your tongue will follow.

8) Kahiki Supper Club (1961-2000) – The Kahiki, located in the Eastmoor neighborhood, is almost certainly the “Most Reminisced About Columbus Restaurant” (though, as this recent Columbus Monthly story points out, not necessarily fondly.)  Following in the Tiki culture craze (which appropriated mostly Asian cultural norms into a palatable yet exotic dive for the average American) which exploded in the United States in the 1950s, the restaurant certainly ranked as one of the more over the top odes, seating up to 500 people and featuring waterfalls, live birds, and a giant Moai Stone fireplace. Diners could indulge in 30 different tropical cocktails and indulge in any number of Polynesian-styled menu items, including the Tahitian Mermaid, Beef Tenderloins stuffed with crab & cream cheese. As a nod to both this dish and the very first such restaurant (Don The Beachcomber in Huntington Beach) we offer up “California Stars”, one of the songs from the “Mermaid Sessions”, a collaboration between English folk-rock artist Billy Bragg and alt-country band Wilco which set music to a number of complete-yet-unscored lyrics by folk music icon Woody Guthrie.

9) David’s On Main/Out On Main/Brownstone On Main (1991-1995/1996-2002/2004-2007) – The space now occupied by Sidebar Columbus has had quite a history with its previous these three iterations. David’s On Main featured David Pelzman, great food and a very 1990s decor, and a number of sous chefs (including Alana Shock, Robert Keen, and Willie Curran) who would become notable in their own right. Meanwhile, Brownstone on Main sought to become a center for the local African-American Community, featuring a Southern-focused menu, club nights and slam poetry sessions.  

Perhaps the most intriguing iteration was Out On Main, co-founded by Tom Grote (son of Donato’s Pizza founder Don Grote) and definitively GLBT-Themed, featuring regalia related to or from a number of famous GLBT celebrities and eventually earning an equally great rep for its food, such as their cakes made with Turkey & Crawfish. Our song selection here, “C’est Si Bon” by Eartha Kitt, relates to a night Kitt was in town as part of a touring Broadway play; co-founder and partner to Grote, Michael Caven, brought her a special supper to her room at the Southern Hotel and Kitt paid the deed back with an impromptu live performance at the restaurant.

10) Surly Girl Saloon (2005-2015) – One of a number of Liz Lessner’s popular Columbus Food League restaurants, the Short North-located Surly Girl Saloon, with its Southwest/Tex-Mex decor and menu, was one of our favorites for entertaining out-of-town guests and/or getting ourselves a satisfying brunch, topped off with one of their special cupcakes of the day.  Lessner’s Surly Girl along with Betty’s Fine Food and Spirits proved to be one of a number of food pioneers in a neighborhood not hurting for entrepreneurs wanting to give this now high-rent district a shot these days. Perhaps the most perfect match of our playlist songs, Scotland’s Aberfeldy provides the serenade with their “Surly Girl”, off their debut 2003 release “Young Forever.”

11) Westgate Thai (2011-2016) – I recently saw a Tweet stating that the best restaurants are those attached to small ethnic markets, and if you ever were fortunate to visit Westgate Thai, you might be a believer as well.  Located in Hilltop area of town, this humble operation offered up some of the most layered and, if you chose, spicy (spice levels went up to 12, though our host admitted that some diners have asked for levels up to 50 during our last visit in before they closed), and their Khao Kaphrao Khai Dao is definitely on one of our most missed dishes list. Seems appropriate to have a song from Thailand represent Westgate here, and Wanyai (formerly of the group Room 39) and the pop tones of “หัวหิน | Huahin Loop” fits the bill perfectly.

12) Ambrose and Eve (2018-2020) – Ambrose and Eve, the brainchild of two of Columbus\’s current chefs of note in Catie Randazzo (formerly of the food truck Challah!) and Matt Heaggans (currently of Preston’s Burgers and Service Relief kitchen), was unfortunately one of the more notable victims of the pandemic year. Their elevated takes on childhood/home kitchen staples earned the restaurant accolades, and proved to be a popular get for many diners (including us), whether it was their Beef Tartare, their take on Ants On A Log and “Spaghetti-OHs”, or their Fried Chicken buckets.  Their Scallion Rolls were always a treat to have to start the meal, and in tribute to that, we finish out “Tin Roof Blues” by Jelly Roll Morton, off the appropriately title “The Piano Rolls” collection.

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