1500 Polaris Pkwy. Columbus, OH 43240 (614) 410-0310
These days, the vast majority of column inches are going to eco-conscious, independently-owned restaurants and chef-proprietorships. Corporate food and multi-unit concepts get carelessly lumped into the same category as Applebee’s and the International House of Pancakes, and completely ignored by gastronomes and food writers alike. In reality, the paradigm of “corporate food” is completely nonsensical. There is no magical alchemy by which an ordinary Roma tomato becomes a corporate tomato, and it’s impossible to conceive of any mechanism by which a 14-ounce steak cut from the left loin of a steer then delivered to a multi-unit restaurant contains even the remotest minutiae of difference from a cut from the same steer’s right loin but delivered to a 50-seat mom-n-pop. There is absolutely nothing transcendent that says a talented, young chef working for a high-end chain restaurant will prepare a less scrumptious Parmesan drizzle than his counterpart who handwrites his menu, and yet you hear it all the time: “Corporate food sucks.”
There could be no better real-world demonstration of the idiocy of this statement than the newly-opened Brio at Polaris. In fact, a very persuasive argument could be made that the organizational structure of Brio/Bravo makes a guest’s experience even better than it might have been at a substantial percentage of its single-unit counterparts. It’s simple Keynesian economics – economies of scale tend towards greater efficiency. What that means to Brio’s patrons is extraordinary service and remarkably consistent and high-quality food.
The vastness of the Polaris location is apparent when one first walks through the door. To one side a long marble bar and vaulted faux-Tuscan dining room teem with activity, and through a door to the other side, a staircase carries professionals, conventioneers, brides-to-be and other revelers to one of four private rooms that can hold anywhere from 12 to 100 people. It is almost overwhelming for the fraction of a second before a lovely and polite hostess steps forward, determines reservation status and makes every effort to swiftly escort diners to their table.
Once there, and after the martini or sparkling wine has arrived, guests can leisurely peruse Brio’s recently-overhauled, stylized and enormous menu. It offers such remarkably un-corporate comestibles as garganelli pasta, charred tomato and white truffle oil. The description of each dish suggests that the kitchen is manned by a large team of dedicated, well-educated and motivated professionals. Then, the server begins to bring gorgonzola crusted lamb chops that are not overwhelmed by blue-cheese or even the slightest hint of gaminess, bruschetta covered in thinly sliced steak, fennel and gorgonzola dolce, and salads with greens as fresh as independently-owned-and-operated greens. She no sooner serves the dishes (from the correct side) than she offers to pair them with one of the wine list’s many appropriate selections, like Zaca Mesa’s Santa Rita Syrah or a ripe and silky Sketchbook Pinot, both of which are available by glass or bottle. A bite, a sip, and your palate reinforces previous suspicions – Brio is stacked with service-industry professionals that not only know and love food, wine and the experience of eating out, but who are eager to help their clientele have a superlative experience, whether they want to grab a Margherita flatbread and a glass of Gavi or spoil themselves and their guests with course after course of insalate, paste (plural for pasta), and carni grigli and al forno. Of course, no good self-spoiling is complete without wine and everything that Brio offers off-menu or as part of a family-style Tuscan feast has myriad possibilities for oenological counterparts.
Even if diners are slightly timid and less adventurous, preferring to stick to familiar dishes, like Caesar salad, lasagna and shrimp scampi, they will be given the highest quality manifestations of their favorite dishes and un-intrusively provided with the accoutrement to make the meal a memorable one. If it is grated cheese they need, they shall have it with the same alacrity they would receive a bottle of Argiano’s Brunello. If the guests are entertaining family, friends or associates, they have the option of choosing larger plates of more traditional Italian favorites, that will be prepared with the same care and precision that their smaller, menu-bound cousins, and served family-style to pass and share while reveling. Again, the talented staff will ensure that everything necessary, even if not thought of, will find it’s way to the guests, whether it’s a clean linen napkin, a bottle of Chianti Classico or an extra order of Romano crusted tomatoes – which, by the way, make an extraordinary nosh to accompany a later-evening peckishness and a glass of Prosecco Frizzante.
No truly Tuscan dining experience can end without dolce. Brio has many manifestations thereof. Some are made of chocolate, some of fresh fruit and all are perfect with an espresso or macchiato and a digestif like sambuca. There should be three beans floating around in the snifter with the sweet viscous anisette, representing love, life and laughter, all of which Brio probably inspired or enhanced at some point during the course of the evening.
Despite the fact that Brio Polaris presents a tremendous and persuasive argument to the contrary, the myth will no doubt persist that corporate food sucks. That is ridiculous. Food cannot be corporate. It can, however, be good or bad. Bad food sucks. Brio’s food is good – really good, and the only way to bust the myth about corporate food is for individuals to reject the notion completely. That shouldn’t be too difficult, if we can get every individual to experience Brio Polaris.