About two months ago, the night before I dined at the Crest Gastropub for the first time, I had a quick meeting with a well-known Clintonville Curmudgeon. We sat at O’Reilly’s as I shared that I had tried to get into the Crest but it was too crowded. To which he said (at least the gist, I was not taking notes), “Yeah, the place is OK, but it does not deserve to bear the name of the Crest.” “That place is just the shell of the building, everything else is different”. I could feel the pangs of nostalgia in his words. Unfortunately I could not share his feelings, I never connected with the Crest in my visits there. It always seemed like a place that could be much more than it was with little effort. I know from oral history there were many high points and a great community within those walls in the decades it was open but I never viewed the place as an asset to the community or I place I would want to go. (Pauses….waiting for the outraged comments to come).
When new owners took over there was a lot of excitement about Gastropub. Advance renderings were shared with the public, there was plenty of information shared about the food, the beer list and the plans to use lots of local, organic goodness throughout. Although some were concerned I was being a hater, I merely disagreed with one aspect of their marketing. I drove by daily watching the progress. After the Gastropub opened I drove by at night to see the place packed. That makes me happy.
One my first visit, the past and the present intermingled again. As I was finishing my meal a late 50′s chronic alcoholic couple walked into the Crest and joined me at the bar. They admitted they were already drunk and acted accordingly. They both had the emaciated look and smell of deepwoods methheads. The couple was intent on loudly sharing their stories of their 42 years of patronage of the former Crest. They knew one set of past owners, admired the work that has been done on the place, asked how the rehab went as far as dodging around the old Edison era wiring and etc. They generally annoyed the undying shit out of me. The purpose of their trip seemed to be to sniff out the place, get a quick shot (of booze) and offer some suggestions on improving the parking woes. Their rightfully true observation was….this place is not the Crest. No siree. As the Clintonville Curmudgeon had stated the day before, “this is the Crest in name only”. (Please note, I am not typing to typecast former Crest patrons just showing that yes….things have changed). I will also note the staff handled these potential customers and definitely lifetime neighbors very well and professionally. Even though some have commended my own patience, I would have been hard pressed to endure this two professional drinkers for any size tip or any length of time.
The building was gutted and rumor has it nearly one million dollars was invested in the building to make it something that is absolutely not the old Crest Tavern and very definitely a Gastropub in look, feel, decor and mission. The interior is full of recycled, repurposed and re-imagined items. Other than the exposed bricks in the walls and few critical structural pieces, I doubt much of the former Crest remains. RIP The Crest. All Hail The Crest Gastropub.
The place received a lot of attention in the early weeks. A little too much attention in my opinion. You can’t judge a book by its cover and you can’t critique a new restaurant based on what they can or can’t do in the first week of operation. For a place like this – with all of the pre-opening expectations and the ongoing love affair with the place and space – multiple trips over time were warranted.
Let me run through my observations, my meals and why I believe The Crest Gastropub makes the grade.
The beer and spirits menu is deeply stocked full of local and Ohio craft beverages. In my visits I have counted 15 – 20 at any given time. The beverage list changes…. a lot. That can be frustrating to some and on occasion, I have had my heart set on having one beverage only to find it was gone. However in the world of multiple taps (60 here) – beer than moves fast stays fresh and tastes better. Also, that means the Crest is probably making money, that helps with sustainability. When you have just dropped a giant wad of cash on a business…..sustainable profit is great. You can be idealistic later after you pay the bills. In addition to a host of buckeye brewed beers the menu features local favorites likes Brothers Drake, Middlewest Spirits and Watershed Vodka. You will find a few wines on the list as well. Cheers!
Speaking of the bar, it looks good. It looks inviting, it looks…..expensive. The bar top is copper-topped. The chairs are sturdy and comfortable. There are six 32 inch television screens mounted near the ceiling, so there is enough to support people who want to watch a game but not so many that it feels like a sports bar. To counter balance the TV’s – there are purse hooks strategically mounted at knee level at bar side. Purse hooks are important, all of my female friends tell me so. As for the rest of the decor, the bathrooms look great – small but functional with lots of tile. They (well at least the men’s room) have the look of a 1930′s tavern in the heart of Chicago or London. The inside dining area is a mix of high-backed booths, high topped tables and lower placed four tops. There are plenty of seating styles and arrangement to meet the needs of the solo gourmand, the party of seven or the family of three. All of the spaces are filled with items such as windows from a former school, wood from a barn and so on, creating a place that while just a few months old has a character of an establishment much older. The patio is perpetually filled and covered with plenty of umbrellas for protection from the elements. On the outside there is a bike rack (which seems continually full) to comfort bike enthusiasts and Millennial hipsters alike. So The Crest Gastropub may sound busy to readers and let me assure it is….to the point where the neighbors have grown a bit irked by the lack of easy parking access in front of their homes. The owners have made an effort to be good neighbors to their neighbors by asking guests not to park on certain streets near the business.
Some of you, maybe several of you, wince at the term gastropub. And according to the traditional definition of a gastropub the Crest….fits the mold. The menu is varied with choices suited from brunch, lunch, dinner or bar snacks. The ingredients are simple. Presentation is upscale. The end result are selections that are very good most of the time. Two items I would like to highlight are the Ohio Cheeseboard (with jams and nuts) and the Brezel Pretzels…with a twist (insert groan).
The Crest Gastropub makes an effort to source locally as often as practical which is reflected and showcased on some menu items. They do have a roof top garden, as well as a patio and parking lot community garden so they have put their money as well as a lot of soil as well as a parking space or two where their mouth is. Some of those garden greens are starting to make their way onto plates now. More than just a gimmick, the gardens add to the character of the business and the aesthetics of the exterior. Throw in some rain barrels and a ladder that leads to the rooftop garden (not sure how sustainable that aspect is) and they have added quite a bit of green to urban Clintonville.
The kitchen is on the smaller side but it packs a punch. The menu is reasonable in size but limits choices to one page which is a good idea for any restaurant but especially a tavern with limited cooking capacity. The best and most consistent bets will be the burger selections. The honey-glazed cheese balls (that would be with flash fried goat cheese) are my consistent starter of choice. The only main menu item I have been disappointed in so far was the grilled cheese. The grilledness (my own invented word) of the bread and how the varied ingredients comingle do not quite mix together.
There are two things I can’t reconcile about the Crest Gastropub. It is really hard not to say….The Crest instead of the proper name of The Crest Gastropub. I am not sure how to resolve that. Three words is too much but just saying The Crest seems to be tempting the ghosts of the bar of the past and hurting the feelings of the Clintonville Curmudgeon. The second aspect of the Crest Gastropub I have a hard time abiding is the serving of most items on wooden cutting boards. It looks kind of cool but it is not practical, is probably a bitch to clean all of those and just too bulky on the tables. I have not been back in a while so maybe those were 86′d. Another note, service has been a bit spotty (especially if you read Yelp) but I would expect that for new staff in a new place and when I had less than ideal service I always felt the server was trying to the best of their ability. Overall a very promising start for a place I think will continue to improve and refine over time.
2855 Indianola Ave