How do you describe Alana’s to someone who never dined there? Bohemian, eclectic, eccentric, artisan (before the word was over saturated), whimsical? No one word suits the place nor do the series of words I threw out touch the surface.
The doors are shuttered at Alana’s and the kitchen has thrown in the towel. The bar made it’s last call. Alana’s is closed for the count.
Alana Shock and husband/co-owner Kevin Bertschi launched the restaurant just over 18 years ago. The restaurant was housed, in a house but the previous tenant was A La Carte which was where college students dined if they wanted to upgrade from (of the era) the Cooker and wanted a fancier name than Casa di Pasta. Alana took care of the back of the house. Her kitchen experience including a stint in New Orleans and some very fine dining spots. She supplemented this with weekly trips to local markets (ahead of the trend or fad for some) for the freshest ingredients. Kevin took care of the wine, curating (before that word was over saturated) one of the better wine collections in the state and some of the best pricing as well. The bar offered creative cocktails with the same focus on ingredients and technique as the kitchen. The bar itself was upgraded in 2008 when the bar which had previously been tended at Jai Lai and Stache’s was installed on site here.
One aspect that has been part of the atmosphere from day one has been a lack of pretense. Another ongoing feature would be service (if occasionally uneven and in the case of one long time server perhaps a little unhinged) in the style of fine dining but in an atmosphere which was always informal. The walls and interior hosted a hodgepodge of colors and art. The atmosphere was always quiet and comforting with well-considered and eclectic music lightly playing in the background. To give you a sense of the food and the style it was served in, take a look at the (PDF may take a few clicks) menu below (from the second to last night of operation).
Reports and rumors of Alana’s demise started in 2015 and continued through December 2016 At first it was going to change locations, then it was sold, then the deal fell through, then it was going to be around another few years, then on the chopping block again. I found out definitely at an unlikely place in an unlikely manner, while having lunch with my wife at O’ Reilly’s in Clintonville (a favorite spot for Kevin and Alana). I saw them at the bar. Kevin told me I had better come in that weekend (February 25th) because it was likely to be their last, the paperwork had just been signed. Familial and professional obligations caused me to miss those dates but there was a short reprieve in transferring the space so an extra weekend became available and I was able to dine in on their second to last night of business. I am happy to say, everything selected from the menu for my last meal was exceptional which ensured my memories of my last meal at Alana’s would be memorable. In particular, while many places offer cheese plates, this is one of the few restaurants, in the world (I’ve been around) that really delivered a consistently exciting cheese plate – with delicious and hard to find cheeses. Alana came out not once but twice offering small bite sized Amuse bouche which were always a fun and interesting through the course of the evening. I can’t say there was a time that I did not see her do so herself. It was one of many quirks about the place that was amusing to most.
As you are reading this, you may wonder why you did not hear of Alana’s. For many food focused people it was in their top ten lists for nearly two decades but there were some barriers to Alana’s being fully mainstream. A big part of that was former Dispatch Restaurant writer Jon Christensen refused to list Alana’s in the top ten for many years. This was attributed to Alana’s interaction with a guest and Christensen determining that such treatment (if as alleged was true) disqualified providing any acknowledgment of the place. In addition to this incident, I heard a few stories over the years involving interactions with both patrons and staff but never saw such firsthand. The best tale, which may or may not be true but reads like a tall tale. The story involved a customer that may have taken too many special requests to an extreme so Alana walked across the street to a convenience store to get a microwaveable burrito to serve as an answer to one of those requests. If that truly happened, then I would just say it was a great story. As a personal aside, I always thought of Jon Christensen as the Gertrude Stein of Columbus Food writers – repetitive to the point that each of his reviews read like a template, bland and boring writing which did nothing to inspire a person to seek out a place or provide any insight to the spirit of dining therein. Those attributes to his writing, I feel may indicate that as a diner, he would have never understood Alana’s even under the best of any circumstances. To those that mattered and those that cared, Alana’s was a destination and in some cases a community not just of food but thought. If that worked for you, then you took the side of eccentric quirkiness and enjoyed the journey.
Alana’s will be missed but I think we will still hear stories of Alana and Kevin as time goes by.