Written by: Nick Houser
Date: December 4, 2015

Chef Hubert Seifert in the kitchen of Spagio

Hubert Seifert prepares a dish in the kitchen of Spagio on Grandview Avenue. Photo from WOSU Public Media’s Columbus Neighborhoods: Tri-Village documentary.

Forty years ago, Cincinnati was by far the “Queen City” of Ohio restaurants, with the Maisonette, Pigall’s, and the Terrace Room leading the pack.

Columbus arrived in the Ohio restaurant scene in the mid 1970s, emerged as the clear leader in Ohio from the early 1990s though 2009, and is still, according to most, number one in the state.

Columbus’ entry in the fine dining arena may have begun with L’Armagnac, opened by Chef Dale Gussett in 1976 near Grant Hospital downtown. L’Armagnac featured classic French dishes with fine sauces in a tiny, romantic setting.

Dale sold L’Armagnac in 1982 after which it evolveded into Galantine’s in Westerville, anyone remember Chef Tom Johnson and John Bessey? Gussett returned to Columbus to open L’Antibes in the Short North in 1993 with partner Larry Williamson. Matt Litzinger bought L’Antibes in 2007, and closed it this summer with plans of changing it to a field to table concept.

Since 1976, The Refectory has offered outstanding French cuisine in an historic church on Bethel Road, and has been a consistent top restaurant and Columbus’ only Wine Spectator Grand Award winner. Chef Richard Blondin has been stellar for years. Owner Kamal Boulos has been at the Refectory for 39 years.

In 1978, Chef Ziggy Allespach opened Ziggy’s Continental, which he sold in 1989.

In 1981, Chef Hubert Seifert opened the Gourmet Market which is now know as Spagio on Grandview Avenue.

In 1986, Kent Rigsby opened Rigsby’s Cuisine Volatile in the Short North. For 28 years, the restaurant, now known as Rigsby’s Kitchen, has been a consistent “top 10″ favorite – especially with Kent in the kitchen.

Master Chef Hartmut Handke raised the bar when he opened Handke’s Cuisine in the Brewery district in 1991 after at tour of duty as executive chef at the legendary Greenbrier Resort in West Virginia. Chef Handke had been at the Athletic Club of Columbus for years before moving to the Greenbrier.

Chef Handke brought international attention to Columbus in 2003 when he represented the U.S. at the Bocuse d’Or in Lyon, France, considered by many to be the most prestigious culinary competition in the world. Chef Handke sold the restaurant in 2009.

In 2007, Chef Richard Rosendale, another Master Chef, opened Rosendales in the Short North. Rosendale then also served as Executive Chef at the Greenbrier and represented the US at the Bocuse d’Or in 2013. Rosendales also closed in 2009, delivering a “double whammy” to the Columbus restaurant scene.

In 2010, Michael Ruhlman, author of 21 books and a native of Cleveland, following a food tour by the “Columbus Food Mafia,” which included Jim Budros, Steve Stover, and Rich Terapak, declared Columbus “the best restaurant city in Ohio.”

Cleveland has had some great restaurants over the years, from Chef Francois in Vermillion to Johnny’s Bar on Fulton – both are still going strong.

More recently, Chef Michael Symon has built a small empire with Lola, Lolita and other spots. Now, James Beard Award winner Jonathan Sawyer has received national attention for The Greenhouse Tavern, Noodlecat and now Trentino, a very popular new Northern Italian style restaurant in University Circle.

Is Cleveland mounting a challenge to Columbus as the top restaurant city in Ohio? Stay tuned.

A little more Columbus restaurant history

Columbus Restaurant Neighborhood Pioneers
Columbus has come a long way as a restaurant town. And so, we want to recognize some of Columbus’ neighborhood pioneers.
Presutti’s Villa on Fifth Avenue in Grandview
Kent and Tasi Rigsby in the Short North – which was a terribly run down area at the time

Hubert & Helga Seifert on the “Bank Block” on Grandview Avenue
He has operated Gourmet Market, Spagio, Aubergine.
Chef Hubert notes that when he opened in 1981, there were only six food outlets in a roughly three mile radius; now there are more than 80 in Grandview, Upper Arlington and on Fifth and King avenues.

Hartmut and Margot Handke, Handke’s Cuisine, in the Brewery District
Bill Sapp, Lee Henry in the SR 161 corridor – described in The New York Times as “fried meat row”

Columbus Restaurant Pioneers
Billy Ingram (White Castle) 1921
David Thomas, from Col. Sanders to Wendy’s
Cameron Mitchell – now has launched 15 different concepts
Plus Schmidt’s, Max & Erma’s, Donato’s, and on and on
And, in just the last few years, City Barbeque now has 24 stores and Jeni’s has 19

  • shrimlock

    The Silent Woman Bar was i believe on East Main, just east of James.
    The signage in neon or lit up from behind maybe, was extremely provocative.
    It showed an image of a female with her, holding her own head or her head somehow detached.
    Depicting the female as presumably silent. And even holding the knife?
    pretty grisly, and disturbing and was evident to anyone driving around there up till the 90’s, it seems.

  • shrimlock

    The other one that was near the Motel Greg Lashutka got in trouble win he was prosecutor, And i think that was on East Broad, that was the Pink Elephant.

  • Barbara Cruz

    what about hanleys steak house sullivant ave Columbus ohio

  • Barbara Cruz

    does anyone have a copy of the menu or pictures

  • Mr.Gale.B

    I need an exact and correct answer:
    Where was “Top of the Center” located? In WHAT building?

  • Otto Gronkowski

    Slow hipster service and slow kitchen. Expensive prices. Don’t visit if you want to see food on your table in under 45 minutes. However the food quality, taste and presentation is very good! Ambiance is contemporary cool inside, very different from what you may have the impression of from the exterior of this old Tim Horton’s location. Good bar and drink selection. Overpriced menu. On the west coast you can find this style of filipino restaurant serving same dishes for $7.50. Here they will set you back $12-$18. You can’t even get into appetizers for less than $10 unless you want a bowl of rice. Don’t know if they’ll survive, table turnover is way too slow, even though they’re making large profit margin per dish, it’s just way too slow. If you have an evening to kill, this would be a good hangout. Don’t attempt a weekday lunch or dinner. You’ll see a good hipster millinial crowd here.

    • lettuce dolphin

      hello, I have worked at a Bibibop for 2 years now, the price for a chicken (spicy or regular) bowl currently is 6.75$, steak bowl is 7.25$, and a tofu bowl is 6.65$. Along with that the appetizers are 1$ for pineapple, 1.50$ for edamame and kimchi. Also drinks are 1.75$ but come out to 1.88$ after tax.
      A chicken bowl with a drink is 9.14$ if you eat in and 8.63$ if you take it to go.
      Also the service is incredibly fast, if there is no line we can usually get someone to make an entire bowl in about 1-2 minutes. The only time service is slow is when there is a rush, around 11am-1pm and 5pm-7pm, and even slow is an understatement, once you get to the line it usually takes about 2 1/2 – 3 minutes to get through. Also the line length and time depends on the store, i have worked at several Bibibop’s and some attract a larger crowd than others. The most visited age demographic in my opinion is about 20-25 and 40-50.

      The reason i started working at a Bibibop is because of the low prices for such a delicious and large amount of food, the bowls are about the size of two softballs, i do not know how many fluid ounces off hand though, i believe around 48 fluid ounces.
      If you have any other questions or anything about Bibibop i got you, i’m not being paid to do this, i just came across it while on the internet and saw a lot of inflated prices and felt like sharing the exact price.

      I hope you all have a great day, Take care always!

      • lettuce dolphin

        Also a lot of the prices on the op post are not correct and we do not carry some items anymore, such as the Pellegrino.

        Take care always!

      • Otto Gronkowski

        Bibbiop is nice KoreanAmerican hybrid chain started by Charlie, of Charlie’s Steakery (He’s Korean). My comment was about Bonifacio PhillipinoAmerican restaurant near Grandview

  • Laurie Wickline

    Didn’t see Milanos. Used to go there all the time! Loved the lasagna!!!

  • Denise Lafferty

    Bill Knapps

    • Jim Early

      looks like they closed in 2001:
      Bill Knapps 2100 Bethel Road Columbus
      Bill Knapps 6851 N High St Worthington
      Bill Knapps 2199 Riverside Dr Columbus
      Bill Knapps 12995 Stonecreek Dr Pickerington

  • Carol Francis

    Knights Ice Cream has been closed since 2015!

  • Judith Swanson

    I have a few random comments. There was a restaurant in the early 80’s on Main (downtown) called Numbers which was run by Steven Bimbo (King of the Gypsies). Siam (both the original restaurant on Bethel and a branch in German Village (where Bavaria House used to be). John’s Village Junction on High in German Village. Many restaurants opened and closed in Brewery District. Butchie’s (east) had a couple of other names which were more Italian sounding. Columbus Steak House was in a shopping center at east of 71 on 161. We went there a lot in the 1980’s.

    • Butches started out as a Dog N Suds in the 1960’s then was Joseppi’s for a number of years, then Armondo’s for a while then Butches

    • Dean Congin

      Loved Siam. I lived at Olentangy Commons and ate there all the time. You’re right about Brewery Dist, lots of turnover in Brewery District. I used to play in a popular 80s band and we would play most of the German Village bars. Good times.

  • Sara Davis

    The Silent Woman was locared on Main St in Whitehall, a couple blocks East of Yearling Rd

  • Sandy B

    This is one of my favorite restaurants and I always recommend it to friends who want good seafood, but don’t want to take out a loan to get it. The service is terrific, the food is great, the prices are beyond reasonable, and parking is easy. I do wish the Gaslight were still at the other end of this shopping center!

    • Pamela Sam Edwards

      I went there for my senior prom. First fancy restaurant I had ever been to. Great food bad date.

  • Ben Huntoon

    How about Shakey’s Pizza in Whitehall. Don’s Drive-In in Reynoldsburg.

  • Lynne Groban

    There used to be a restaurant on E. Main Street next to Norwood’s amusement park . The neon sign showed a chicken. It was on the west side of the amusement park toward Nelson Rd. Does anyone remember the name of the restaurant and was it any good?

    Also, there was the Berwick Grill on College Avenue.

  • Mike Poliseno

    Pete’s Red Pig at Hamilton and Main or Emils

  • Dean Congin

    Farrell’s Ice Cream, Cadillac Cafe, Rockys

  • Galata Mediterranean Cuisine

    In NYC, for Turkish food, you should visit Galata. Here you can get a modern selection of most popular and most loved dishes of Turkish and Mediterranean cuisine as well as the mouth watering desserts.

  • Teri Gallagan-Horning

    There was a place on the West side called Sir Loin that served…well…sirloin steak dinners. There was also a place called the Fireside Inn that was owned by Bob Marvin (a.k.a. Flippo the Clown) that was also on the West side.

  • ubu62001

    Cockerells in Westerville.

  • The Silent woman was a bar in Whitehall on E Main between Hamilton and Yearling, South side of the street.

  • Pamela Sam Edwards

    Anyone remember a restaurant on either morse road or 161. It was an Italian restaurant and on the weekends there was Donna Marie on the piano. My husband and I were in our mid 20’s and the rest of the clientele were, let’s say seniors. They were all dressed up and dancing to the music. What a fun place to have dinner.
    I think it was called Lombardi’s.

  • Cindi Clark-Gillotte

    Fabulous food here and good people!!!!! Mouth watering delicious hummus!!! Yum Yum.

  • Judy Edmister Gaines

    Does anyone remember YEARLING ROAD PIZZA from 1960’s?? It was really one of the best small pizza places for Whitehall /Columbus ….. miss their pizzas but their Subs were … just SOOOO GOOOOD!!!

  • Lynne Groban

    Thanks for the tip and for researchimg the restaurant. Have a lovely day.

  • Otto Gronkowski

    Bonifacio at intersection of King and North Star rd

  • John Dipangrazio

    Clyde’s Restaurant opened in 1976. It was located near the corner of High St. and Fulton St. near German Village. The downstairs was a bar with live New Orleans Jazz, and the upstairs dining room had a French menu including crepes. It was the same ownership that had previously opened Le Cafe (at the Colony Bazaar) in 1974. Outstanding food and service. The building has since been torn down, and Franklin County Child Support building is located there.

  • Jim G

    Does anyone remember the drive-thru hamburger place at Oxley and 5th Avenue in Grandview Heights? It’s now a Starbucks. Used to serve chocolate shakes made with Hershey’s chocolate syrup.

  • Andy Beal

    Trying to remember two different places…one was a disco club that was located between the Friday’s and Max & Erma’s at Henderson and Kenny Rd. Would have been in business mid-70’s to early 80’s. A friend thought it might have been called Whispers.The second was located in Hilliard called the Cloisters. Any memories of either place?

  • Donald Still

    restaurant at columbus square was a Jimmy Dean’s and Bob Evans and was also a family type restaurant good home cooking?

  • Lori Smith

    The Peter Pan Drive In in Whitehall on East Broad St?

  • cinda

    Souder’s restaurant on 4th st? north of Mound, family owned and run- 1950’s