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What are your 12 Eateries and Drinkeries for Covid Christmas?

Posted by cmh gourmand on December 13, 2020

On the first day of Covid, Corona gave to us…. the equivalent of a tactical nuclear strike to our local food and beverage industry.

I can still recall the early days of March vividly – everything became very surreal super-fast. I remember sitting at the bar of Rockmill Tavern talking to the manager about what the future might bring. We had just cancelled our Brewery District Walking tour for the foreseeable future, and called off our guide training for the day.  I was hanging out to pass out historic beer bottles to my team as a thank you for their work the previous year. When I left, and looked out at Front Street and across the Brewery District to an empty neighborhood I felt a sinking feeling in my stomach.  That feeling never left.  At the time, we hoped that things would be better by summer and PPE would keep some places going until then. Well, you know the story from there.

This time of year is typically the bread and butter season for restaurants – holiday parties, family gatherings, corporate gift giving, events, etc. Such is not the case for this December. You have probably heard dire / grim numbers about how many restaurants have closed so far this year, we know at least 100,000 have already closed nationwide. Looking at the end of this year to the first quarter of 2021, reliable data suggests about 30% of existing restaurants will 86 their dreams and shut down. This might be an optimistic estimate, independent local restaurants will see a higher rate than that. Typically January and February are the dead zone of sales. So after a lean year with no icing on the cake in December, the light at the end of the 2021 tunnel is dim until March at the earliest when patio season may return.  Right now our eateries and “drinkeries” are the Tiny Tim of local businesses and need much more than a lump of coal to persist.  

For our local breweries and distilleries – the glass is not looking one half empty or even an eighth full. The better analogy is trying to scrape enough peanut butter out of the bottom of the jar to make a sandwich. These businesses do best when you visit them on site so they can reap the rewards of selling you pints and cocktails directly instead of the cut they get from retail sales at bars and stores. If you are a local beer fan you know our taprooms are now lightly visited, those with patios have lost that option for the winter and for those that package their product there is a looming shortage of aluminum cans for most except the the large players like Budweiser.  Bars like St. James Tavern and Little Rock have shut down until Covid goes away.  A few breweries and taprooms are very likely to make their last call in early 2021. 

If what you have read here so far and elsewhere seems dire, I have bad news for you, it is worse that what you have seen in the media. The bulk of my friends are brewers, distillers, taproom bartenders, restaurant owners, and such. In my day to day interactions with them the situation is greater that what we see on the surface. Salaries have been slashed, rent renegotiated or unpaid, staff laid off, any corner that can be cut, was slashed months ago, bills are piling up, and many are thinking long and hard about their future not knowing what next year brings. For many what the ledgers look like at the end of this month will determine their path forward. These folks are my extended family and I feel like a war time medic without a medical kit. Most are putting on a good face and going day by day however the hope of a last minute PPE or other stimulus funding funneling down the chimney for a last minute save is long gone.  Stimulus tends to go to big business and rarely trickles down to a small business.  In my life-time we have bailed out Savings and Loans, the Auto Industry and Big Banks – all of these businesses made bad decisions in good times and did not have to pay the price for their greed.  Our Mom and Pop businesses were hit hard by a once in a hundred years pandemic that has knocked them to the ground.  They don’t have the lobbying power to get the help they need.  

So what can we do? Money is tight for many of us, so much so that today one on four children in Columbus is not sure where their next meal will come from. We can still do something. If you don’t have the deep pockets to do carry out every day there are still ways to contribute. You can like social media posts and share them with your network. If you forgot to write a glowing review of your favorite spot, now is the time to do it. If you are still stumped for holidays gifts – give the gift of gift certificates. If you have an old gift certificate from a local, independent restaurant consider “losing it” and make not using it a gift to the restaurant when you order without using it. When you can, tip well.  While many have shifted to delivery services for their meals keep in mind that delivery costs more that what you pay in fees, most delivery services charge the restaurant as well, often that fee is most of their profit – they would rather sell you a meal and break even than have you take your business somewhere else and not come back.  So when you can, and where a business does a good job of safe / contactless pick up, – go get your order and get out of the house. 

Small businesses do matter.  I wish I could eloquently pitch to you the gravity of the situation in the style of George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life….  it is these small businesses that are taking the hit and (“Mr. Potters of Columbus”) these restaurants and other businesses I’m talking about… “they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community”.  These are the business that support little league teams, that give a starving artist a place to work, that add character to our neighborhoods and tend to buy local from farmers, suppliers and etc. 

For your twelve days of Covid Christmas pick a different restaurant, brewery or distillery to support each of your twelve days in any way you can.  Even sharing this post can help, if you want to share this to twelve people even better. 

If you are stumped in filling in your list of twelve shoot me an e-mail because I have hundreds more suggestions I have not covered here, these are the first twelve that came to my mind in no particular order. 

Barley’s

Was one of the original micro breweries in town. If you are a beer person in Central Ohio you have hoisted a beer at Barleys.  Covid hit Barley’s harder than most.  Their location, directly across from the main entrance of the convention center was a boon since the center opened….but conventions are gone.  Riots scared others away from Downtown.  The brewpub is running on skeleton crew with long time manager Jason cooking, cleaning, hauling out spent grain and much more seven days per week.  The food and beer have always been good.  The business did a great job redoing their space to be socially distant and they do a fine job on curbside pick up.  If none of this calls you to action, them do it for Angelo, dang it!  

Smokehouse Brewing

Lenny Kolada at Smokehouse Brewing had guided the business through over twenty fives years of highs and lows. This year is different.  This year is the flatline on an EKG looking for that first bump up.  His son Alex juggled brewing and kitchen duties for months.  If you want a perspective of life on the frontlines check out the restaurant’s Instagram account Smokeandbrew for a day by day take – as I type. this is Day 275.  The wings are good, the beer is great in person or in a growler and they have a gift card special through the end of December. 

451 Spirits 

Chad at 451 has a very different take on just about everything.  His spirits are unique and carefully crafted. This little gem is hidden behind a United Dairy Farmers, in a former car wash building, in Clintonville and if all that makes sense to you and you have not been to 451, what is your problem? They (Chad) does a great job on curbside pickup.  And just before Thanksgiving Chad broke ( as in really shattered) his right arm requiring a massive surgery….and his is still distilling away.  Buying some of his spirits in the holiday spirit would give him some cheer. 

Rockmill Tavern 

Rockmill Tavern is fighting the good fight in the Brewery District.  In fact, they are about the last food business standing in their section of the neighborhood.  They do a good job with their online ordering system and curbside pick up is easy via Liberty Street. Matt Barbee and the Rockmill team have more than just Covid to contend with. The Brewery District was on an upswing going into 2020 with plenty of new businesses and energy in the area. Covid took the steam of that economic engine.  Rockmill is also in between a rock and a hard place with the road construction and other projects churning around it.  It is worth the effort to order from Rockmill and they have some killer beer to boot. 

Echo Spirits

Timing has frequently been against the gang at Echo Spirits but they aways press on. They opened their bar to the public on December 10th. The bar offers several unique and flavorful cocktails. Like our other local distillers they quickly shifted to making sanitizer when Covid kicked in. They would like you to drop in so they don’t get kicked to the curb. The tagline of Echo Spirits is know your distiller so -> HERE <- you go.

TAT Ristorante

The Corrova family has operated TAT Ristorante since 1929. The location has changed over the decades but not the family that runs it. Jimmy Corrova has been a fixture at the restaurant since he was 8 years old. The restaurant is his pride and joy but due to health problems and protocols he has not been at TAT since March. One good reason to crush the corona virus is to get Jimmy Corrova back in his favorite booth to greet guests when they start to pour through the doors again. In the meantime, they do have distanced dine in service and do a great job on curbside pick up. Their food is very good and their pizza is among my favorite in the city. Let’s help them sustain to 2029 so they can ring in their first century of business with a bang.

Gatto’s Pizza

Gatto’s is not the oldest pizzeria in town, but it is really close. It is the oldest pizza place in the same location run by the same family since 1952. They make their own sausage and they have made some changes for 2020 – Gatto’s takes credit cards, engages in social media and for those outside of Clintonville you can order via Doordash and Grubhub (but please just go pick it up).

Preston’s

A lot of people think Preston’s makes the best burger in town and they are right. However, many more have never tried Preston’s and that needs to change. I love Preston’s but I LOVE the guy that crafted the concept, Mr. Matt Heaggans. I have followed his career since the day he came back to Columbus and I can tell you no one is as obsessed with getting everything “just right” than Matt. This is a tough time to open a new location and the North Market is not as busy as it once was but for the sake of an excellent burger, we need to treat Preston’s like a national treasure so we can keep eating their tasty burgers, chicken sandwiches and even more the special dinners created for pick up that are just now starting to come from Matt’s spell book of recipes.

Columbus Food Adventures Trust Fall Dinners and Gift Baskets

What do you do when your award winning food tour company can’t do (many) tours for the foreseeable future? You pivot as fast as you can to meal delivery with a twist. The company’s Trustfall dinners deliver a hearty meal for two from restaurant the diners have probably never heard of. You place your trust in them that they will select a meal that you will enjoy. In the process, you avoid the mundane rut of eating the same euro-centric food day after day. In the process Columbus Food Adventures has helped support 60+ local businesses by selling food and gaining exposure to new customers. Their themed gift baskets do the same – showcasing the best foods of the city.

Ray Ray’s

Everyone knows Ray Ray’s…..well almost everyone but that was not always the case. No so long ago, in parking lot in Clintonville no one knew Ray Ray’s BBQ. Jamie “Ray Ray” Anderson is not a man of many words but he can let his food do the talking. Jamie is passionate about his craft, so much so that he raises his own hogs. Chef Bill Glover came on board this fall. The two have known each other for about a decade and together they have showcased the best of Columbus to the James Beard crowd. Let’s keep this dynamic duo together by keeping this empire going so we can all have nice things AC (After Covid).

Lavash Cafe

Nasir Latif is no stranger to the restaurant business and in the 1980’s he brought one of the first ethnic restaurants to Columbus. He came back to Columbus to bring us Lavash Cafe in Clintonville. The location does an excellent job with curbside pick up. Even more importantly the menu is authentic, the quality is exceptional and price is reasonable. Lavash is a type of bread common to the MiddleEastern region of the world and the lavash and pita breads mades in house are worth a trip on their own.

Hounddogs (Pizza for the People)

The hallowed halls of Hounddogs have been quieted by covid but the iconic Old North Columbus hangout still offers pick up and delivery of their beloved pizzas both earlier and later in the day than most pizza purveyors. On my last visit I saw signs of interior construction / redesign in the works which could indicate that owner and craftsman Jeff Stewart is working on some distanced solutions to get people back inside.

These are twelve of countless local restaurants, breweries and the like you can support and we wrap up the year and try to regift it to the trash can. If you want to jump on this band wagon – share this with your friends. If you are a social media user consider tagging you works in this task with #My12RestaurantsofCovid (sorry everyone else – breweries, distilleries, farmers markets, The Hills and Weilands, there just is so long a hashtag can be).

For some more name dropping here are twelve more places you can rotate in if you are stumped for twelve of your own: Endeavor Brewing, Lineage Brewing, Iaconos Pizza, Teritas Pizza, Emelio’s Pizza, Bexley Pizza Plus, Mama Mimi’s Pizza, Ange’s Pizza, Studio 35, Punk Pigs, Portia’s Diner and Hisham’s Food Truck.

These are tough times. Do what you can, when you can. If you can be kind to someone please make that choice. This pandemic is a war and we can only win it if we stick together (at a distance).

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