Finer Than ‘Just Fine’ Dining in Columbus, Ohio (of all places!)

Columbus Ohio and formal dining. These are not two concepts I put together often after living in Columbus for nearly four years. In a college town full of pizza and wings joints, “buckeye” themed restaurants and Taco Bell on every corner, it is rare to come across an elegant alternative. Handke’s Cuisine delivers more than self-proclaimed ‘global cuisine’; they offer you a one night getaway in a Parisian or Swiss Café or even an old world German restaurant with a mysterious Romanian Maitre D’, Cristian Chitu, rich flavors and aromas and absolute escape from your busy life.

Hartmut Handke is one of only 75 Certified Master Chef’s in the U.S. and has won 38 gold medals, more than any other American chef. Handke’s is rated as having the number one Crème Brulee in the country, the best Foie Gras in the city and has many other top ratings by the Zagat Survey. Chef Handke had his culinary beginnings in Holland, Germany, Switzerland, and Jamaica, to name a few sources of his inspiration. Every menu item includes a vivid description and, I’ll say it, some eye popping prices. From $200 bottles of fine wine to entrees starting at $25, this is where you eat when you can drop some serious cash. But if you’ve got it, find a reason to come to Columbus, bring your best duds and make a Handke’s reservation. I highly recommend Handke’s as a place to impress your lady friends, guys, if you are trying to get laid; it is also a nice spot for popping the question, anniversaries, and general romance. And, of course, the food is delicious, the service impeccable and for just one night, you really are getting the royal treatment.

The building itself is a historic piece of the Columbus Brewery district. Built in the late 1800’s it was formerly Schlee Bavarian Brewery. In the early 1900’s, it was used by the Columbus Railway, Power and Light Company, became a spot for fertilizer manufacturing and then was rented to the state for storage. Currently, the brewery’s main building (ground floor and above) is home to the William Graystone Winery and luxury condos. The underground portion of the building, formerly the Schlee Malt House, has been the home of Handke’s Cuisine for 17 years. From the exposed brick to muted lighting to the period furniture – it is as if you are in a secluded castle dining room somewhere in ancient Europe being waited on as if you ruled the countryside. Sorry – corny but true.

My dining experience at Handke’s included a glass of 2005 Heitz Cellars Zinfandel, a chef recommended cucumber and blue cheese hors d’oeuvre, potato leek soup with truffled croutons and Ricotta Gnocci with grilled vegetables. My husband, Cory, who enjoys joining me on these little excursions, is my meat sampler. He went with a mushroom and asparagus appetizer and a South Dakota Buffalo entree topped with Foie Gras (the house special). I was pleased to see a vegetarian option in a gourmet setting, but I suppose being an international menu–that shouldn’t be a big surprise. The menu itself is quite seafood-friendly, including Alaskan halibut, salmon, sea bass, mahi-mahi and divers scallops. They also feature veal, rack of lamb, duck and other meaty things. Every bite of everything I ordered was so rich I didn’t think I could continue eating. But somehow I carried on, excited to see what was coming next.

After the above three courses, wine and dinner rolls, I was contemplating whether it would be rude to pass on dessert in a cuisine restaurant. Luckily for me, our attentive and fabulous server made the decision for us and brought out the decadent and excellently named: Dessert Symphony. The symphony played as follows – brown sugar crème brulee (#1 ranked in the country), New York Style Cheesecake, Dark Chocolate Terrine with Raspberry and Passion Fruit Sauce, spiced pears, cinnamon ice cream and a fruit tart pastry. Not only did I manage to try everything on the plate, I had to fight the urge to lick the crème brulee bowl clean.

As we sat for a moment in a haute cuisine coma contemplating how we would have the energy to walk to the car (it was clear at that moment why they had valet parking), the mayor of Columbus came out of a secret side room reserved for parties and banquets (see photo below). My first thought – you know you’re eatin’ good when the mayor is covertly dining not 15 feet away from you on a random Thursday night.

By: Megan Longfellow

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