2891 E. Main St. Columbus, OH 43209 (614) 231-8238
This is it. This is the place that all these new steakhouses are trying to be. The Top has been in business for 50 years, which means that when all the new joints start popping up, emulating 1950s retro steakhouse chic, they are actually emulating The Top. Leave it to the original to do it better, right down to the patina on the brass tacks that hold the leather onto the barstools and the illustrative marginalia on the menu. The hosts’ stand is directly across from a very uniquely shaped piano bar, which is the perfect place to have something in a martini glass, while listening to standard after standard as sung by a host of singers who seem to appear from every corner of the dining room and bar. After a cocktail or so, it just takes a minor leaning or pushing-back to hail the maître d’ and mosey on into the sunken dining room for the main event.
The low lights are made to seem even lower by the black leather clad booths and their dark wooden accents, and the music from the piano bar seems to spill, almost visibly, into the room, like it might do in a cartoon. The ensuing ambience is perfect for the careful and considered consumption of fresh shellfish, French onion soup and aged meat that has been cooked at close to two thousand degrees.
The wine list, while American-heavy, like most wine lists in Columbus, is very creative and has some outstanding, rare and underappreciated bottles. The Henri Billiot Brut Rose is an absolutely perfect place to start, especially if the first course is going to be shrimp or crab cocktail or even the marinated herring in sour cream. Billiot is one of the finest houses in Champagne, and this non-vintage, one-hundred-percent-Pinot-Noir sparkling delivers gentle sophistication without charging extra for a name or a hand-painted bottle. That bottle won’t last long on the table. Fortunately, there is a Chateau Carbonnieux to drink with what remains of the appetizers when the bubbly is gone, and it will work perfectly well with the first half of the bowl of French onion soup. The sunken cheese, heavy onions and little bits of meat that have settled to the bottom of the bowl would rather see Cloudlilne Pinot or even Jadot’s Gevrey Chambertin in the glasses, and those, like the Bosca Malbec or the Resalte Creanza, will take the meal all the way through the salads and into the first few nibbles at the main course.
Unlike its neophyte counterparts, The Top includes a salad with all of the entrees, as it also does with the potato. Just like they used to do it in the 50s. The lamb chops aren’t explicitly “Baby” or “Colorado” or “New Zealand”; they are simply chops, and they automatically come with a side of mint jelly. Applesauce is standard with the pork chops, the veal chop is a double-cut two-boner and the porterhouse is humongous. All, just like they did it in the 50s.
The problem arises when trying to decide whether to have the prime rib this time and come back for the surf and turf or vice versa. Larger parties present more sharing opportunities, which can alleviate some of that problem and help to get through a bunch of the bottles that work fantastically with blast-furnace cooked red meat.
There are only twelve six-packs of the Kamen Estate Cabernet in the entire state of Ohio and The Top has two of them (at least they did at the time of this writing). This is some of the tastiest juice ever to come out of the Mayacamus Mountains. Its forward stone fruit and cherries slowly disappear into bark-spices just before each bite of steak is finished. The salty, savory rind from a perfectly medium-rare prime rib makes an exquisite chaser for the Kamen. That beefy chaser can actually be morphed into the prelude to some of Mount Veeder’s Meritage, which, unlike many Meritages, is an actual Bordeaux blend that uses all five varietals, even malbec and petit verdot – just like the Cain Five, which The Top also offers at a very reasonable price. The one actual Bordeaux on the list is a Medoc from one of the junior Rothschilds. It is just waiting to sit next to a really marbled and full-bodied steak, like a rib-eye; it would also work with a leaner piece of meat that is not overcooked, like a black and blue filet.
For a steak with mushrooms on it, there is a single-varietal Cabernet Franc from Lang and Reed. One with onions might like the singled-out Petit Verdot from the Pirramimma house in McLaren Vale. One with both onions and mushrooms can count on the ‘98 Brunello Di Montalcino, especially if the steak has lots of fresh ground pepper on it. Every steak anywhere would be profoundly honored to sit on a table with Niebaum Coppola’s Rubicon, and The Top has two vintages of it from which to choose.
Essentially, it is child’s play finding an appropriate wine in a comfortable price-range to accompany The Top’s deftly prepared, aged meat and smoky broiled lobster tails. It does get increasingly difficult to make such pairings, the more the meat is cooked, but some of these bottles are so outstanding they can even rescue a steak from medium-wellness, although such behavior is never recommended. The Top is not responsible for steaks cooked well. It says so in the fine print on the menu, probably because there is no way to pair any wine with a steak that has been ruined like that, and they really want guests to try some wine with dinner.
A Sambucca or Caucasian, port or late-harvest Riesling, or coffee drink is the perfect finale to the meal, especially back at the piano bar, listening to the guy from table ten nail the chorus of Misty. As tempting as it is in such a comfortable atmosphere, the belt and the top button should remain fastened until you get home.