698 N. High St. Columbus, OH 43085 (614) 461-7888
A very cogent argument could be made that Kent Rigsby is responsible for the contemporary face of the Short North. In the days before the return of those archy things over High Street, the Short North had a bad reputation and a pretty serious case of urban blight. For years, in fact, the only reason anyone ventured to the near-north side was to dine at Rigsby’s. Used clothing stores, tattoo parlors, salons, bars, etc. would sprout up periodically – never too far from Kent’s joint – and those in the know would go get some ink, a facial piercing or a pair of velvet trousers or something, but that was in the day when tattoos, facial piercings and velvet trousers were the appurtenances of the counter-culture.
Kent endured as if he knew that tattoos, facial piercings and velvet trousers would become staples of mainstream culture and that the Short North would become an extraordinarily hip, safe and gentrified neighborhood. It’s like he knew that if he served phenomenal food in classy and tasteful surroundings that it would get the folks with means out of their two-storey great rooms and into the hundred-plus-year-old neighborhood made of crumbling brick buildings and fireproof warehouses. They would (and did) see the potential in these beautiful old buildings and streets, and provide the necessary investment to rehabilitate them. Now, we have a neighborhood that could hold its own in a cage-match with any of this nation’s hip neighborhoods and couple million bucks worth of wrought iron proudly announcing it to every passing motorist or pedestrian. Thanks Kent.
It’s not like Rigsby’s has just been sitting there purveying the same highbrow comestibles year after year to the same group of folks with means, either. Rigsby’s has been evolving along with the Short North, and the place we have now is hipper than ever. Recently the entire physical plant was made over. Now it has a sleek, modern look with curvy furniture, exposed bricks and that lighting that hangs from exposed wires.
It’s definitely worth a martini, negroni, belini or something at the bar before dinner. From atop the groovy orange stools, people watching is at its finest. Through the huge plate-glass windows all manner of sidewalk critter is visible, from the be-Gucci-ed shopper to the dreadlocked youth with his jacket duck-taped together. Plus, the negroni is big, cold and perfectly blended. Actually, the bar is just the place to have a couple of Cicchetti (Venitian-style small plates), like deviled eggs, oyster shots, fried sardines, spare ribs or calamari fritto. They’re small and shareable and will get the palate started off right without making the next few courses impossible to get through.
That’s right: the next FEW courses. Kent’s nouvelle Italian fare is best when eaten like traditional Italian fare: in waves. The first wave of Antipasti should sit in the middle of the table, where everyone can reach. That way everyone gets to experience the way the traditional Italian whites, like Terre di Tufi, Pinot Grigio or Verdicchio work in concert with the Prosciutto di Parma and Melon with Aceto Manodori, or the Caprese... Or, the Roasted Beets with Skorthalia and Marconna Almonds can team up with some groovy alterna-white, like a white Sangiovese or a Rhone rose. The important thing is that everyone gets some, but not too much.
The pasta goes in the middle. Not of the table – of the meal. The perfect way to do that is get one order of a couple of things and have them split in the kitchen for the number of people at the table. Do the pastas one at a time, maybe with a medium bodied red or a very full white. A 375 of Veuve (no matter how Philistine it may sound to have a Champagne in the middle of the meal) would make the Risotto with Shrimp, Spinach and Feta sing, just like the little bottle of Ramey Chardonnay might do with the Linguine with Crab, Fennel and Sweet Pepper. If there are enough people to get through a full bottle, the Vintage Tunina (a blend of Chardonnay, Sauv. Blanc, Ribolla, Malvasia and Picolit) would do likewise for either Risotto or Linguine. Then, Bonny Doon’s Rhone knock-off, Le Cigare Volant, will just plain kill with the Potato Gnocchi alla Bolognese or even the Capellini Natasha, and Rigsby’s has got it in both full and half bottles.
So, after a couple of pastas and their appropriate spoiled-juice companions comes the main event: Huge earthy reds with barbequed meat, chicken and pork with Tuscans, both super and regular, Cioppino or walleye or scallops with Vermentino di Sardegna, etc. They are mixable and matchable and there is no right way to do anything. The only wrong way to do anything at Rigsby’s is not to do it. For example, the subtle and delicate Scallops are unsullied by a Montepulciano, even if they may do better with a Voigner, and the Barbequed Niman Ranch Rib Eye won’t overwhelm the Gattinara that was ordered to augment the Free Range Chicken alla Mattone and its wonderful bean ragu. The entrees are über-tasty and the portions are quite large, so a concerted effort should be made to slowly savor. That way the wine and food can leisurely engage in their remarkable social congress on the palate and the brain will have ample time to process the electrochemical impulses that the G.I. has sent to signal that it is time to stop and leave room for dessert.
It is truly amazing what happens to a raspberry when it is roasted and served between Arborio Rice Pudding and Marsala Zabaglione. It’s like the berries knew they would have to bring their A-game if they were going to contend with the likes of Honey Pignoli Gelato with Chilled Zuppa de Strawberry Rose, Pistachio Crème Brulee and Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta – to name just a few. Likewise, it’s got to be tough to be a Moscato d’Asti flanked by a Vigna del Papa Vin Santo and a Banyuls Rimage Cuvee Speciale. The only victors that could ever come from contests like that are diners savvy enough to have chosen Rigsby’s in the first place and who had enough foresight and patience to have made it through the entire multi-course meal with enough room for the luscious finale.