Columbus, Ohio: Exploring ‘Flavortown’ one morsel at a time

Indoor farmers market
North Market is the oldest public farmers market in Columbus and home to several eateries.

Whether it was a serious effort or tongue-in-cheek humor, more than 115,000 people signed an online petition in 2020 to change the name of Columbus, Ohio, to Flavortown. The serious aspect cited the infamous legacy of Christopher Columbus, while the humorous side thought to honor local food celebrity Guy Fieri, who coined the term “Flavortown.”

Regardless of the motive, Columbus’ name remained. But the city’s culinary scene lived up to the “Flavortown” label. With food covering the globe, I dare you to visit and not find something new and delicious to sample.

Fish and chips
Fried cod is a popular choice at Barley’s Brewing Company.

Barley’s Brewing Company

For me, during a hosted visit by Experience Columbus (all views of tasty morsels are mine and mine only), I fell in love with a simple fish dish at Barley’s Brewing Company.

Located in the Short North Art District, across the street from the Arnold Schwarzenegger statue at the city’s convention center, Barley’s produced its first beer in 1991. Today, it’s a popular hangout for tourists and locals, alike.

Enjoying an evening meal before taking a tour of the brewery, I scoured the menu, looking for the perfect dinner choice to satisfy my hunger. As many readers may know, I’m not a fish guy. I don’t like it, overall. But, I’ve tried it a few times over the years. Primarily coated in breading and fried (not the best option for a 60-ish guy, I know), I’ve enjoyed fish and chips in Northern Ireland, Alaska and even Blair, Nebraska (my birthplace).

For some reason, the fish and chips at Barley’s seemed a perfect fit. Maybe it was because I was sitting in a dark wooden booth looking out over the bar with its vintage counter and stools. Maybe I was just hungry for something different. Regardless, fish and chips were my pick.

Along with a red ale, brewed in the basement, I enjoyed two pieces of fried cod (lightly breaded) with a good drizzle of vinegar over them. Some may say I drowned them. Six of one, a dozen of the other (a family altering of the phrase). Combined with the tangy tartar sauce, the resulting taste teased my taste buds with saltiness and sweetness.

Along with well-cooked fries (America’s version of the classic Irish/British chips) and a side of sweet coleslaw, the fish and chips were a great representative of Flavortown.

I enjoyed my dinner so much that, during a self-guided tour of Short North the next day, I had to have the fish and chips for lunch. I don’t usually eat at the same place twice during a trip unless the meal or atmosphere deserves it. Barley’s would probably be one of my go-to places if I lived in Columbus.

Marvin’s Restaurant and Lounge

I enjoy a good BLT (bacon, lettuce and tomato) sandwich. Mine usually includes a slather of mayonnaise for a little extra tanginess. But, enjoying brunch at Marvin’s Restaurant and Lounge in Columbus’ Brewery District, changed my view forever.

I may have enjoyed the best BLT of my life at Marvin’s. With a perfectly cooked egg added to the sourdough bread sandwich, along with a light layer of garlic Cajun aioli, it was a festival for the senses. Served alongside fries, the BELT may now be added to my home breakfast menu.

Bacon, egg, lettuce and tomato sandwich
Who knew that adding an egg to a BLT would create a better sandwich? Marvin’s in Columbus. That’s who.

While I enjoyed the BELT, I observed several people around me partaking in chicken and waffles, featuring twice-fried chicken wings and a side of house-made hot honey. Other popular dishes included Marvin’s gigantic pancakes and French Toast.

Marvin’s also has a large bar, as well as an outdoor deck. With a nice selection of beer and liquor, the lounge would be a nice place to hang out and enjoy a relaxing drink.

Sausage diavalo
While the sausage diavolo at Due Amici is outstanding, it’s matched by the personal service diners receive by the staff.

Due Amici

Due Amici offers the feel of a neighborhood bar, with a taste of Italy. Located inside a historic downtown building, Due Amici serves an amazing Italian menu. The staff, from the host greeting me at the door to the personalized tableside service, made me feel special.

While its menu features seasonal options, a few standards remain year-round. I started my experience with a Caesar salad. I enjoy a nice dinner salad and this one satisfied me.

Expecting my entree to be huge portions, I didn’t want to overdo it with an appetizer. The sausage diavalo delivered to my table by my cheerful server fulfilled my expectations. With the right amount of seasonings, the pasta dish, with spicy marinara, penne, roasted peppers, diced onions and cilantro, took me on a tour of Italy. Along with freshly baked bread and olive oil dip, it made for a delicious dinner.

Afterwards, while asking a person if I could take a photo of her wine at the bar, she introduced me to a group of tourism professionals. While I had planned to return to my hotel and unwind the rest of the night, I spent the next few hours enjoying locally-brewed beers and discussions of Columbus tourism to Big Ten football. It was a fun ending to a great day of exploring the city.

El Segundo

Dining at El Segundo in the North Short Art District transports you to Mexico with its take on street tacos and other Latin dishes. With housemade tortillas and sauces, El Segundo’s team uses locally sourced ingredients to create mouthwatering, spicy dishes.

With an appetizer of nacho chips, I opted for roja salsa, a house specialty. With a nice bite to remind you that you are eating Mexican, the salsa consists of a trio of tomato lime and charred tomatoes.

Tacos and Mexican rice
El Segundo uses fresh, local ingredients to create its authentic Mexican dishes.

Desiring to stick with a street taco theme, I ordered the Gringo combination plate, two ground beef tacos partnered with Mexican rice and refried beans. Adding a drizzle of salsa to my tacos, the flavors popped into my mouth. The fresh ingredients really shone throughout the meal.

While I was completely stuffed (and not with fluff), my server coaxed me into trying dessert. Oh my, am I glad I listened. The tres leches – sponge cake topped with El Segundo’s toasted coconut and fresh strawberries. The cake was too delicious to leave any evidence of it on the plate.

Tres leches cake
Toasted coconut atop the tres leches added a delicious flavor.

I’m glad I walked to North Short because I definitely needed to work off the extra calories. No guilt was experienced, by the way.


Open since 2015, Brassica creates colorful and healthy meals using locally-sourced ingredients, including a variety of organic vegetables. With three locations in the Columbus area, Brassica offers a unique twist on Lebanese-style cuisine.

Lebanese gryro
Brassica in Easton Market offers a unique twist on the gyro.

Whether you prefer a gyro, salad or hummus plate, Brassica encourages you to create your own meal. Choose your vegetables and add a protein such as chicken or brisket. Then, choose add-ons such as sweet beets, roasted peppers or marinated eggplant to create your special meal.

Latitude 41

Located at the Renaissance Hotel, you may not think of Latitude 41 for dining. But, it’s not your stereotypical hotel restaurant. The restaurant and its lounge are popular destinations for Happy Hour, as well as an enjoyable meal in a casual environment.

First, you must order tater tots as an appetizer. The house-made grated potatoes are shaped into oversized tots and served with a sriracha-infused dipping sauce.

Pulled chicken sandwich
Memphis-style BBQ sauce adds to the outstanding flavor of the pulled chicken sandwich.

With a variety of menu options, featuring salads, flatbread, sandwiches and entrees such as steak and roasted duck, you’ll enjoy your choice.

My lunch companion chose a Margherita flatbread. With oven-roasted tomatoes, roasted garlic, fresh basil and mozzarella cheese, the flatbread presented a medley of flavors. I’m a sucker for roasted vegetables, and it takes true talent to create delicious roasted tomatoes.

My choice was a barbecue pulled chicken sandwich. With Memphis-style sweet barbecue sauce, the house-smoked chicken – topped with fried onion and house-made thick pickles – had the right combination of smoky and sweet flavors.

Food halls

Columbus’ reputation as Flavortown is heightened by the international influence of immigrants. With easy names to remember, I ventured to both North and East Markets.

North Market has been a farmer’s market for almost 150 years. About 30 merchants offer a variety of meat, spices, fresh vegetables and fruits and seafood, as well as flowers and unique gifts. It’s also known for its impressive menu of international cuisine, including African, Asian and good ol’ New York-style pizza.

I’ve become a fan of African fare, so I enjoyed a meal from Hoyo’s Kitchen. The Somali eatery offers a true taste of Africa, beginning with a variety of rice (spicy is always good), including gluten-free. Add a protein, such as beef suqaar (a Somali speciality), chicken suqaar or (if your taste buds are adventurous) goat, skiing with fresh vegetables, and you’ve got the makings of an impressive trip to Somalia without leaving the United States.

Somali beef sugaar dish
Hoyo’s Kitchen shares its love of Somalia with diners.

If you’ve followed our blog for any time period, you may recall I’m in love with momos. Momo Ghar creates a Himalayan dumpling, filled with tangy beef or veggies, which sent me into culinary bliss. With its tangy dipping sauce, it was an excellent dinner choice.

East Market in the Franklin Park neighborhood is a recent addition to Flavortown’s menu. With Railhouse Bar anchoring the food hall (located in a former depot), a dozen vendors occupy the stalls in the tight-knit building. Most of the outlets are food-related and offer a variety from Mexican to Greek.

My choice of lunch at East Market was red beans and rice from Creole 2 Geaux. With spicy rice, andouille sausage added to the mouthwatering flavors of the dish. I added a side of Cajun egg rolls. Yum!

red beans and rice
The red and beans rice, with andouille added, transports you to the bayou.

Maudine’s Coffee

With a morning visit to the Center of Science and Industry (COSI) planned, I grabbed a coffee and a baked item for breakfast.

Located at the Junto Hotel, Maudine’s is a small coffee shop with easy access from the street or the hotel. Named for a cow that was crowned Homecoming queen at The Ohio State University as a prank, the motif helps make your Maudine’s experience. With portraits of cattle prominent, people’s faces are covered, because only the cow truly matters at Maudine’s (it’s a humorous nod to the cow’s legacy).

Coffee and pastry
Named for a cow that won The Ohio State’s Homecoming crown, Maudine’s offers a nice cup of coffee and tasty pastries.

Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream

It all started with a touch of cayenne and chocolate ice cream. Jeni was an art student enamored with scent. She added the spice to a tub of chocolate ice cream and fell in love with the combination of spice and sweetness.

More than 20 years later and with locations in 27 cities across the United States, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream is a Columbus original. With its first location at the historic North Market, Jeni’s has eight outlets in the Metro, so it’s easy to find a sweet shop near you.

I checked out the location in Short North. Outside the ice cream shop is a mural taking an upside-down look at the classic American Gothic painting.

Gooey beuuter cake-flavored ice cream
Jeni’s – a Columbus institution – offers a fun twist on ice cream flavors.

I opted for a scoop of gooey butter cake. Cream cheese ice cream with bits of vanilla cake mixed in and a drizzle of caramel-butterscotch sauce create a delightful frozen treat. It’s like Mardi Gras in your mouth!

With so many culinary options available, it’s easy to understand why some people seek to change Columbus’ name to Flavortown. Regardless of the city’s name, head to America’s Crossroads City and enjoy creating your own version of Flavortown.