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Explorers Club | Columbus, OH

Explorers Club (Facebook)
1586 S. High St. (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43207
(614) 725-0155
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Open Mon-Fri for lunch, Mon-Sat for dinner, brunch served 9am – 2pm on Sat & Sun
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/N/N
Kid-friendly? Y

Date of Visit: Saturday, November 5, 2011 at 9:00 a.m.

IMPRESSIONS: The arrival of Explorers Club is up there with one of the more anticipated arrivals in the Columbus culinary scene this year. Its opening marks the return of the partnership of restaurateurs Ricky Barnes and Tracy Studer to Columbus’ dining establishments. They bring with them a strong history, one that includes restaurants considered by many to have sparked our current boom of creative eateries over the last decade. Sadly, this is a history I’ve completely missed, except in story; I moved to Columbus about a year after Ricky’s last venture closed, and so I haven’t experienced his work firsthand until now. To get a full account of the story, I direct you to CMH Gourmand’s excellent recollections, as well as his account of Explorers Club’s opening.

I made my first visit to EC a couple weeks after they opened, having breakfast on the day of my book’s release. I chose to go then a.) because I was excited to try it, and b.) to symbolize the joy of still discovering new places, even after having finished the book. They even made a special sign for the occasion.

ATMOSPHERE: We were really impressed with the building and interior of Explorers Club. The decor is fitting for the theme of exploration. The main dining area is one long room with big front windows. Running down the center of the space is a series of tables, while rows of booths line the walls.

It was a little smoky (from the kitchen, to be clear) that morning, which actually lent itself to some interesting pictures with shafts of light coming through the windows.

The walls are covered with woodcut prints of different explorers throughout history, from actual exploration to pioneers in sports, politics, and culture. It’s a really, very nice touch.

The front windows facing South High Street let in a lot of natural light.

The entryway is on the side of the building, off Morrill Avenue. On your way in, you’ll pass by the bar, with more seating and a board listing the day’s specials.

Immediately you can see that Explorers Club’s menu offers some unique breakfast options.

A look at the brunch menu.

FOOD: Explorers Club serves food that, given its name, encourages you to expand your palate. They focus on food that’s more flavorful than your average diner fare. I love a good chilaquiles, so I immediately gravitated toward these. I was very pleased with them. Good punch of spices in the eggs, veggies, and even in the black beans (which some places under-season). Served on a bed of chips. A nice breakfast that leaves your mouth tingling.

The veggie burrito. Comes with scrambled eggs, refried beans, Monterey Jack cheese, veggies, and coated in a house-made sauce. A very good burrito, although it’s hard to tell how it’s drastically different than the standard burrito with scrambled eggs, refried beans, veggies, and muenster cheese.

The Cuban French toast. Essentially cubed and fried bread, loaded with fruit and dusted with powdered sugar. Hard to go wrong with it.

The House Burrito. Similar to the other burritos, but with ham. The burritos are all a good size; they will fill you up like a good breakfast should.

SERVICE: Overall, our service was good, although there were a couple oddities. I’ve heard a lot about the relleno omelet on the menu, but our server couldn’t really tell us what it was, except that it was an omelet with cheese. He couldn’t even tell us what type of cheese was in it. I’d expect a omelet named after chile relleno would have peppers or meat, or at least something more than cheese. It also confused us why this item is the priciest on the menu. Despite this, our server was very attentive. We had a to wait for a few items, plus the coffee, but otherwise we were taken care of.

OVERALL: Explorers Club may still be finding its feet a little bit, but that’s to be expected from any restaurant that’s only been open for two weeks (EDIT: when we visited; EC has been open now since late October). Still, it’s a more-than-welcome addition to the Columbus breakfast scene (and dining scene in general), it offers some flavorful breakfast items that aren’t widely available, and it’s great to see a strong breakfast joint down South High Street in Merion Village. It’s worth exploring on your own (see what I did there?).

OTHER LINKS:

-> great coverage of the Ricky and Tracy’s story in (614) Magazine

Explorers Club on Urbanspoon

Dan’s Drive-In | Columbus, OH

Dan’s Drive-In
1881 S. High St.
Columbus, OH 43207
(614) 444-7590
Open Mon – Sat, 7 am – 9 pm; Sun 7 am – 3 pm
Accepts cash and credit cards

Date of Visit: Wednesday, August 4, 2010 at 9:00 a.m.

IMPRESSIONS: Dan’s has long been on my to-visit list of Columbus diners. I remember doing a double-take years ago when I drove past it on South High Street. “Wait, there’s a diner there?” I said as I blazed by. But a little “research” for a certain article in (614) Magazine led me to this South Side mainstay.

ATMOSPHERE: Walking into Dan’s is taking a step back into a history that’s been carefully recreated in gleaming chrome and shiny red pleather. The “classic American diner” that’s boasted on the signs is indeed alive and kicking, although maybe in a little too neat-and-polished type of way.

A quick look around shows you that Dan’s clearly has its regulars, thus it fulfills part of the criteria for being an old-school diner. When my bro-in-law and I visited, we found the regular group of old guys all crowded around a table shootin’ the, well, you know.


A plaque near the front door gives you some context for the history of Dan’s. The lowdown is: Dan’s claims to be Columbus’ oldest drive-in, started downtown by Dan Manes in 1952. Later that decade, he moved it to the current location, and it’s changed hands several times over the years, including a few years ownership under Nick Bergados, chef of the now-gone Taverna Opa. Nick apparently headed up the revamp of the space.

To be honest, the redesign looks beautiful. It’s sparkling clean and colorful. Everything matches. The ceiling fans have sets of blades that turn opposite each other…

…a big display behind the counter showcases model cars, neon signs, flags, and brand name kitsch…

…and the walls and shelves are lined with little knick-knacks.

BUT… the end result is a beautiful diner that feels a little sterile. Yes, the building retains the old school shape and layout, but the decor is a little too placed, and you lose the charm of similar diners like Jack’s Sandwich Shop. Maybe there’s a lot of original pieces left from the 1950′s, but they get lost amongst all the shine.

FOOD: As with the decor, Dan’s gives you all the diner standards, in a pretty unassuming and straightforward manner. But there are no frills, aside from a couple of Greek specialties.

I ordered the Traditional Breakfast, which breaks the bank at $4.79. All told, this includes two eggs, bacon, home fries or grits, and toast. Eggs were good, bacon and potatoes crispy, toast buttery. It all needed some salt and pepper to punch it up, otherwise it was just another not-bad breakfast. Washed this down with some decent diner brown coffee.

My brother-in-law ordered the Meat Lovers Omelet. He had actually ordered the skillet version of this, but the server misheard him. Still, he liked it, but said it was nothing to write home about.

Unrelated side note: Dan’s serves Frostop Root Beer on tap. Points!

SERVICE: I got to chat a little bit with current owner Lucky Sahota, and he seems very proud of the work they do at Dan’s. Lucky has owned a handful of restaurants around the world, most recently in New Zealand, and he has big ideas for the diner here. He plans, in the next year or so, to expand the true drive-in experience, and bring back car service, complete with girls on roller skates bringing you burgers and shakes. It would be great to see him really embrace the history of Dan’s and focus on bringing out even more of its original character.

OVERALL: Dan’s is a good stop to observe a bit of Columbus culinary history and have a decent breakfast. You can easily join the ranks of their regulars, and if diner culture is your thing, it’s worth at least one visit.

OTHER LINKS:

Dan's Drive in on Urbanspoon

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