Though the highlight of any convention is, and rightfully should be, games and the interminable amount of time we spend playing them, at some point even the most hardened amongst us will need some sort of sustenance in order to keep placing workers, building decks, controlling the area, and managing the resources. Though Columbus isn’t a gastronomical mecca like New York or Chicago, my fair city boasts some incredible food if you’re simply willing to look–or, in this case, be guided. That’s where I come in: I have been going to Origins since 1999 and identify as a gastronome for almost the same amount of time. I also derive great pleasure from visitors enjoying the convention and the food, believing the two to be an almost inseparable experience.
That said, I’ve provided my favorite 10 places to Grub and Gulp around the Columbus Convention center. Regard this simply as the entrance to the rabbit hole.
For those of you who have been lucky enough to attend a wide range of conventions, here’s an analogy: Barley’s: Origins :: Scotty’s: GenCon. This is to say that it’s the prominent place for con-goers. As many will tell you, this is a well deserved distinction built primarily on the myriad alcoholic beverages (Barleywine anyone?) but supported by tasty bar food such as Pork Tacos, Po’ Boys, and Cuban Sandwiches.
Eric recommends the: Pierogi and Sausage Platter
Pros: The food is pretty tasty, there’s a WIDE selection of beverages to sate any palette, and you’ll almost always find someone you know if you look in enough booths.
Cons: I don’t know that I’ve ever been to Barley’s during Origins when I didn’t have to push my way through a massive crowd. This can lead to longer than anticipated waits and spotty service. Not necessarily the staff’s fault, but be prepared for noise and minimal personal space.
2.) North Market
Located right across from the Convention Center, Columbus’s North Market is a veritable panoply of food and drink. From Vietnamese Vendors to Delectable Delis and Crafty Chocolatiers, there’s a little bit of something for everyone.
Eric recommends: Lan Viet, Pistachia Vera, Nida’s, Bubbles
Pros: A wide variety of vendors means you can find almost anything you can imagine to nom. This variety also presents offerings for brunch, lunch, or dinner.
Cons: Common Sense only takes you so far in the market, and booths aren’t really friendly (nor do the long lines allow for n00bs to ask questions of vendors); It’s not dangerous to go alone, but take a friend who has been there if you can. Additionally, for such a plentiful bounty there aren’t many “steak & potato” type booths for those who don’t enjoy in-your-face ethnic offerings on their plate.
Started by Toronto’s ‘Snakes & Lattes,” board game cafes have become the hot new trend now that tabletop gaming is enjoying a renaissance period, with many establishments of this nature popping up all over the country. Here in Columbus, Kingmakers has thrown their hat (crown?) into the ring, offering an array of ~400 games to go with various beers, pretzels, teas, and sodas. A small cover fee of 5$ gets you access to all the parlor’s games
Eric recommends the: sampling a little bit of everything
Pros: WIDE variety of drinks, from IPAs to teas to Sparkling Red Lemonade. Good selection of games and accompanying ‘sommeliers’ to teach you the rules. 5$ fee is also far less than the 20$ you’d pay for a board room pass.
Cons: There are snacks, but nothing substantial if you’re starving and looking for sustenance. And, though Sherm and Malika are doing a great job of cultivating Kingmakers’ collection, some people may find the “can’t bring your own games” restriction to be a downer.
4 & 5.) Dirty Frank’s + 16-Bit Barcade
I include these two together because they are, quite literally, right next to each other on 4th St and have a similar old-school, low-key vibe to them. Dirty Frank’s prides itself on having almost any and every condiment possible to put on a hot dog or bratwurst, while the adjoining Barcade invites individuals in for a little bit of nostalgia (read: some of the best arcade games from 80s and 90s) while throwing back craft beers and cocktails inspired by your favorite movie stars of past decades [e.g. – Someone forget your birthday? Order up a Molly Ringwald]
Eric recommends the: Tot-cho Dog washed down w/ a Kevin Bacon cocktail
Pros: Adventurous charcuterie fans can customize to their heart’s content and then walk 10 feet to 16-bit and throw down with anything from Galaga to Street Fighter.
Cons: There are a FEW alternatives, but Dirty Frank’s is first and foremost a restaurant dedicated to piling things onto hot dogs. Make sure everyone in your group is aware of and okay with that. 16-Bit can also get VERY crowded at night and tends to skew toward the “greek” and/or “hipster” types of audiences.
6.) 3 Legged Mare
Made popular last year by a certain “Hated By Dice” group, 3 Legged Mare is a criminally under-appreciated Irish Pub located on Front Street (i.e. several blocks away, but certainly not out of walking distance). While the Irish aren’t typically known for their culinary prowess, there’s something to be said for hearty, stick-to-your-ribs food like Colcannon, Boxties, and Corned Beef.
Pros: Generally not too busy (though that could change depending on when World Cup games air). Good selection of Spirits, and super friendly bartenders.
Cons: Menu wise, the Appetizers (Reuben Balls) and Desserts (Chocolate+Orange Guinness Cake) outshine the entrees by quite a bit; though, I guess this isn’t a downside if you ONLY order Apps and Desserts, which I totally approve of. Carpe Diem, right?
When you first read the premise of MELT, you might be a little skeptical. “Gourmet” Grilled Cheese?! Isn’t that a bit of an oxymoron? Grilled Cheese is just that stuff you made after school and dipped in tomato soup? It’s easy, it’s comforting, but it’s not gourmet by any stretch of the imagination. Well my friend, you couldn’t be more wrong. MELT cranks your childhood sandwich to 11 (or makes 10 louder, depending on your POV). Yes, the sandwich you remember is present on the menu (appropriately named “The Kindergartner), but there are also grown-@$$ offerings like the Parmageddon, the War Pig, and my personal favorite The Godfather (a giant piece of Lasagna slapped between texas toast; you can’t refuse it).
Pros: You will get your money’s worth, regardless of what you order. The sandwiches are VERY large, oftentimes making you wonder if you’ll need to unhinge your jaw and/or grow a second stomach just to eat everything.
Cons: This place’s reputation precedes it, meaning it is ALWAYS busy. The staff does an admirable job of moving people through, but you still might wait longer than you might like. On the bright side, the lobby has a sweet mural which serves a secondary purpose as a giant (difficult) Where’s Waldo-type scavenger hunt. Your name will be called LONG before you find all the Easter eggs.
Recently ranked as one of the Top 5 Ice Cream companies in America, Jeni’s is a love letter to Ohio from Jeni Britton-Bauer. Through locally sourced ingredients and boundless imagination, anything you get will be unorthodox, but delicious. Over the years, the company has produced a spectrum of scoops, from “Gravel Road” (Salty caramel with toasted Cashews) to boozy (Influenza RX Sorbet; Maker’s Mark mixed with Orange Juice and Cinnamon, or an Absinthe seasonal flavor) to awesomely autumnal (Sweet Potato ice cream with scorched marshmallows). Even if you’re an ice cream purist, you owe it to yourself to try at least one scoop while you’re in town.
Eric recommends: 2 scoops of Roxbury Road in a Waffle Cone.
Pros: Incredibly fresh ingredients, locally sourced and paired together into some brilliant pairings. Employees behind the counter are very knowledgeable about every step of the process used to make the ice cream and will let you have multiple “free trial” mini-scoops to help make up your mind.
Cons: This is not the place for traditionalists who just want Vanilla, Strawberry, or Chocolate.
I won’t point out the tiny little discrepancy that Betty’s should technically be “Bettie’s,” considering its namesake is pin-up girl Bettie Page. This can be forgiven because of ambiance Betty’s provides through a small yet disengaging space.
Pros: To be honest, this is the sole entry on the list where the establishment itself is more important than the food they serve. Betty’s is a perfect spot to sit, eat a pretty good dinner, and peer out the glass windows at the eclectic Columbus nightlife meandering up and down High St. before returning to your games. Take a few friends: A Norm, A Cliff, A Fraser, chill out for a few, and just take it all in while wondering what side of the fishbowl you’re on.
Cons: Though the food is good, the menu is pretty limited. It is, however, done very well and is ideal for people who just want food without all the “haute cuisine” Columbus tries to pass off as normal fare. Also noteworthy: Betty’s is owned by the same group who runs Dirty Frank’s, and sometimes cross-promotions are done to promote sales.
Finally, the Elevator. As a heads up, the Elevator probably isn’t the place to go if you want a “jeans and t-shirt” type establishment. This is the type of joint meant for Sunday Farewell dinner or a sales pitch to a publisher you’re trying to impress (assuming YOU’RE picking up the tab). More than anything, however, the Elevator is known for being one of the best microbreweries in the Midwest, and boasts a Liquid Nitrogen cooling system that keeps your beer frosty and smooth. If you’re not inclined to imbibe, the Elevator’s dining room is elegant without being intimidating, sporting both pool tables in the back, well worn wooden paneling, and stained glass windows. If you’re feeling SUPER fancy and willing to shell out a decent amount of dough, opt for “The Rock,” a sizable piece of center cut tuna or filet mignon served with a searing hot Tulakivi stone which allows you to cook each piece of meat to your desired doneness.
Pros: Great selection of craft brews. VERY good food if you’re willing to spend a little more than usual.
Cons: Probably the furthest away of any restaurant on this list, also the most “upscale” and not somewhere you’d probably go spontaneously.
I sincerely hope you can try at least 3-4 of these recommendations while here for Origins. Better yet, I hope you try at least 1 and then venture out to find your own favorite eatery, spreading the word and perpetuating a culture of games and grub. If you have questions not answered by this post, I’ll be perusing the comments section here on the Happy Mitten blog and can be reached on twitter by sending an message to Follow @leathsofgrass.