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Posts Tagged ‘Rockmill Tavern’

The Brewery District is Booming!…….Again.

Posted by cmh gourmand on May 30, 2017

Daily Growler Brewery District

You may have missed it but the Brewery District is BOOMING again! If you were born after 1980 or if you were new to Columbus after 2001, it may be a real shocker, but this area south of Downtown and just west of German Village was the center for city nightlife for over a decade starting in the late 1980’s.

The Brewery District has become a big part of my life over the last several years as I lead tours throughout of the area and as a member of the Brewery District Trade Association, working to improve the area for residents and businesses alike. I have been happy to see a flood of new residents to the area with the help of locally focused real estate agents like HER Realtors. It has become my second favorite neighborhood, next to Clintonville (my pal Nick beat me to that post on my neck of the woods).

But let us begin with the first boom of the Brewery District. Louis (Ludwig) Hoster established City Brewery (near the current intersection of Liberty and Front) in 1836. Legend has it that when he passed through the city on a 4th of July, he was so smitten with Columbus, he was determined to come back to establish his roots. He certainly did, over the next seventy years, he and his descendants expanded the small brewery one of the largest brewing empires in the country as The Hoster Brewing Company. At its peak in the late 1890’s the brewery took up several city blocks and produced over 500,000 barrels of beer per year. Several other breweries fermented in the area during this same era including Schlee/Bavarian, Born and August Wagner Brewing. However, the Brewery District went bust long before prohibition. A combination of a growing Temperance Movement (started in Ohio) and the Anti-Saloon League (originating in Westerville) resulted in nearly two-thirds of Ohio’s 88 counties voted dry by 1908. Add in competition from growing national breweries (Budweiser and Pabst), a large labor strike and the anti-German sentiment brewing in 1914 due World War I (which suggested drinking beer was unpatriotic), most of the breweries went bust before 1918. This history is why the area is known as the Brewery District today, because it was the center of brewing in Central Ohio BEFORE prohibition. I say this because my company Columbus Brew Adventures leads tours of the Brewery District and we sometimes find people are confused by the lack of breweries in the area.

However, the second boom of the Brewery District was related to beer as well. In 1988, the first microbrewery in Columbus (and second in the state) Columbus Brewing Company started out in the Brewery District. In 1989, the Hoster name returned to the area with Hoster Brewing, a great brewery and restaurant located on High Street. In addition to two breweries, the district was considered the premiere bar hopping area of its era with Victory’s, Hi Beck, Gibbys, BW-3 (when we called it that instead of B-dubs…) and many others fueling the weekend escapades of the city’s young professionals and college kids looking for a break from campus dives. The rise of the Short North, Easton and a change in tides in what was hip, saw the Brewery District start to nose dive in the early 2000’s as people lost interest in the area. Hoster closed in 2001 and many other areas businesses followed suit.

CBC Restaurant 2017

In the last two years, the area has started to see a resurgence in interest driven by the addition of many new businesses willing to wait it out, with the philosophy of, “if we serve it (beer, food, fun) they will come”. The venerable CBC Restaurant (not now or ever a part of Columbus Brewing Company) has survived years of nearby construction and is thriving as it celebrates its 20th anniversary this summer. Hi-Beck, Victory’s and Tony’s are still around and they have been joined by several exciting destinations including Copious/Notes, Brick American Kitchen, Rockmill Tavern, and El Arepazo Latin Grill. These destination restaurants are bringing diners back to the area and in the process, these folks are discovering what else is going on in the area after their meals.

But wait, there is more! This third boom in the Brewery District is being fueled by beer as well. Most people don’t know it, but there is one active brewery in the Brewery District. Although it is not open to the public, Commonhouse Ales is housed in the former Columbus Brewing Company space behind CBC Restaurant. There are many cool things about Commonhouse Ales, but the most compelling is that $1 of every six pack sale of their Six Point One Four Good Ale, goes to the Columbus Foundation and then pours out as grants to different Columbus charities and non profits. The previously mentioned Rockmill Tavern (voted best new restaurant in 2016) is the taproom for Lancaster based Rockmill Brewery as well as a sour beer aging facility. The Daily Growler is now established as their third location in the Brewery District and Seventh Son Brewing is starting a new project, slated to be open by the end of the year called Antiques on High. This will serve as their aging facility for sour and barrel aged beers and will host a taproom to explore these new beers as well as craft beer from the Seventh Son Brewery. More new businesses are on the way as well. It is exciting to see the resurgence of the Brewery District.

Food at El Arepazo

Arepazo Bandeja Paisa Platter

I’d like to go into a bit more detail on one of the spots leading the resurgence in the area, El Arepazo Latin Grill. Looking at the history of the area, immigrants had a huge part in growing the area in the first Brewery District Boom. Carlos and Carolina Gutierrez have maintained that tradition, they have worked hard to make their third location a destination for the area. Years ago, Carlos and his family were encouraged by area residents to open a restaurant when they served their Venezuelan delicacies to rave reviews at the Festival Latino year after year. Carolina, brought her Columbian family favorites to the menu as they were establishing the first Arepazo in Pearl Alley over a decade ago. They knew they were taking a risk when they launched the Brewery District location. They occupied a space that used to be one of the busiest BW-3’s in the country during its heyday. Then another restaurant took over and struggled. As they were getting ready to launch a few neighboring businesses went belly up but they decided to persist anyway, knowing the first year or more might not be very profitable. But they were determined to make a difference and knew the space had a lot of potential for them to showcase menu items they did not have the space to do at their other restaurants. They added in a wine room, host a weekly salsa night and more to add flavor to the space. Because I am such a fan, I am offering a prize for one of you that reads this post. Comment with either your favorite Brewery District memory or a dish you would like to try at Arepazo by midnight June 10th and one commenter will be chosen at random to win a $25 gift card to Arepazo. Good luck and I’ll see you in the Brewery District.

Tres Leches Cake at Arepazo Brewery District

Tres Leches Cake at El Arepazo


Disclosure: this giveaway is a partnership with Nakturnal. Opinions, content and photos are my own.

A winner was selected on June 10th and the contest is closed. Thanks for reading and an extra thank you to those that commented.

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Posted in food | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments »

Rockmill Tavern in the Brewery District

Posted by cmh gourmand on December 29, 2016

rockmill

Rockmill Brewery opened to the public in Lancaster in September of 2010. I was there shortly thereafter in November of 2010. It is interesting to reflect how much the world and in particular my world has changed in the span of just six years. In the world of local craft beer, imagine if you will the thrill when Rockmill nudged central Ohio breweries closer to the number ten. At my last count, we can expect to see well over forty microbreweries in Central Ohio by spring.

With all of these changes afoot, owner Matt Barbee knew he needed to get a bigger footprint in the Columbus market and he realized the best way to do that was to establish a taproom(s). An attempt to open a location in German Village fizzled out but another location he had in the works in the Brewery District found some solid traction and uncommonly launched close to on time.

Rockmill Tavern opened it’s doors to the public at the end of October this year. This was pretty amazing turn around, the previous occupant, World of Beer closed without warning on October 31st 2015. Barbee had much of his attention devoted to making the prospective German Village location come together so the Brewery District tavern was fast tracked as the other project got sidelined. The space has a lot of history that fits well with his concept. The space was literally made for beer. The original occupant of these hallowed brick walls was Hoster Brewing Company. Up until 1919 this address on Front Street was part of one of the largest breweries in the state churning out up to 500,000 barrels of beer per year. Rockmill’s production is a bit below that number (by about 490,000 or so). The particular space the tavern fills was once part of a stable for 125 horses for Hoster Brewing. So it is fitting that Rockmill’s logo is that of a horse. This truly was a match that was meant to be.

I am excited about this development for many reasons. I have stayed in touch with Barbee since our first meeting years ago and have always been impressed by his vision and focus on how he wanted to grow the brewery and engage with the community. As for the Brewery District, I feel that the opening of Rockmill Tavern marks the official rebirth (3.0) of the Brewery District. If you are not a native of Columbus then you are probably not aware that the Brewery District was the place to be in the 1990’s. And in the early 2000’s it very quickly became the place to flee. A few businesses stuck it out and in the last year the area has seen a significant upswing with the success of Copious, Arepazo and other new hot spots.

The main downfall of the World of Beer location was a lack of food. Some failed attempts were made to try to coordinate with food trucks but those efforts were…uncoordinated. Barbee saw the potential in the space but knew the key was to squeeze in a kitchen to churn out something better than fried fare and wings if he wanted guests to stick around for more than one beer. He ensured a slam dunk for food by engaging great talent in both the front and the back of the tavern. In particular, Chef Andrew Smith, most often cited for his work at Salt and Pine but in my book, well respected for his work at the Rossi.

As for the food, they have nailed it. Open a short two months, I have seen Rockmill Tavern listed as the best new restaurant of 2016 as well as noted on the short list of best overall. Not bad considering they have just started cooking. I can only speak to the lunch menu but looking at dinner and brunch offerings I see nothing to fear in this line up. I shared lunch with a few members of the Columbus Ale Trail team and was lucky to be in the company of two young ladies that share the same affinity for Brussels sprouts and beets that I do.

I’ll start with the sprouts. While they seem to be ubiquitous to any new menu in town I rarely find them executed to my liking. Those that I sampled at Rockmill Tavern were cooking to my loving. The portion size was perfect. They had just a bit of char to them and a trace of carmelization. They tasted fresh and flavorful with just a hint of crunch and chewiness.

brussels

Moving on along, the beet salad was a slam dunk. I don’t often fret about presentation but in the case of this salad it certainly looked good enough to eat but more importantly the layout of the ingredients made the salad easy to enjoy. The goat cheese was an ample portion and placed in such a way that I could easily control how much or how little I wanted with each bite. The beets themselves were cooked to pure perfection. I could not have been happier and I commit to ordering this salad whenever I am at Rockmill Tavern, even when I am not there to eat.

beet-salad-1

Here is an insider tip. I usually don’t get excited about biscuits. In my world I associate them with breakfast more often that lunch, brunch or dinner. More importantly, I encounter bad biscuits 90% of the time. Finally, I found a biscuit worthy of this quote -> Poetry is the synthesis of hyacinths and biscuits. – Carl Sandburg. The addition of a bit of cheese and a lot of love has produced the finest biscuits in the city. And since readership of the blog is down, I am going to give my readers a little insider knowledge (but don’t spread this around). If you know Cheryl Harrison (and you probably should because she is a good idea) then you should know that she LOVES these biscuits. If she had her way, they might become a form of currency.

biscuits

And last, but not least, the Tavern burger – made from good ground beef and not dolled up too much but I did appreciate the ciabatta bun and the bacon jam. It continues along my burger mantra of keep it simple to make it special. A burger should just be a burger but most places threw this belief out the window years ago. Don’t pitch this burger, pinch it in your hands and hold on to it for dear life until you finish it.

burger

In conclusion, most importantly, I am very happy for Matt Barbee. The Rockmill Tavern is a place and space that truly reflects his passion(s), not just for beer but the design of the interior and the rugged feel it projects connects with both the history of the building and the history of his brewery. When I met him six years ago, I enjoyed a great afternoon at a time when I really needed to reconnect with the good things he had going on in Lancaster and I feel all of those elements have successfully landed in this Brewery District space. (And extraneous note, I am writing this piece sitting next to my co-pilot on that first Rockmill trip – my dog CMH Tobias). Go for the food and stay for the beer and equally important, stick around in the Brewery District and help rebuild the area, one beer or bite at a time.

Rockmill Tavern Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Posted in beer, restaurants | Tagged: , | 3 Comments »