Columbus’ food scene is even better than you think.
As the 14th-largest city in the U.S. and Ohio’s capital, it figures that Columbus would have a decent food culture that offers at least a little something for every group member, no matter their palate. But the city has evolved into one of the country’s great culinary meccas thanks in part to its location amid the Buckeye State’s vast agricultural fields.
There are loads of fresh farm-to-table offerings in the city, though that’s not all that makes it a foodie paradise, according to Lexi Sweet, senior public relations manager at Experience Columbus.
“We are a very diverse community,” Sweet said. “So that means we have any type of food you can imagine here, and it’s very authentic. You can essentially eat your way around the world in Columbus.”
The city provides a number of ways to experience its sublime fare, from dining in a long-loved eatery that recalls the city’s founding fathers to visiting food halls, taking culinary tours and sampling from the ever-increasing array of adult beverages crafted within its borders.
Just be sure your group arrives in Columbus hungry.
Schmidt’s Restaurant and Banquet Haus
With roots that go back to a meat packing plant founded in 1886 by Schmidt family patriarch J. Fred, Schmidt’s Restaurant and Banquet Haus today sits tucked away in Columbus’ historic German Village and is one of the city’s best restaurant choices for motorcoach tours.
“Schmidt’s is a fifth-generation, German-owned restaurant,” said Roger Dudley, director of community and customer engagement for Experience Columbus. “And groups have been coming to it for over 20 years. They’ve been very bus friendly.”
The setting is part of the appeal. Schmidt’s, which is in a former livery stable, is a National Historic Site. Handsome banquet rooms sit above the restaurant, providing space for groups of 15 to 112 people. Two packages for tour groups are available: a buffet that includes dishes like pork bratwurst, sauerkraut with pork and German potato salad and the buffet combined with live accordion music and a city tour. After their meal, visitors will undoubtedly want to stroll about the charming German Village. Originally dubbed the South End, it was largely established in the mid-1800s by German immigrants like Schmidt who at one time accounted for a third of the population of Columbus.
North Market and Budd Dairy Food Hall
Columbus is experiencing a food hall boom, though you could call the city more of a trendsetter in this area than a trend-follower thanks to North Market. Located downtown, “the market has been there for many, many years,” Dudley said. “It’s in a historic building; they have over 20 vendors within, anywhere from prepared foods to foods you can take home and cook yourself if you’re local. It’s also where Jeni’s got its start, which is our ice cream that Columbus is really well known for. So that has been a group staple for many years.”
Foodie groups touring Columbus will also want to visit Budd Dairy Food Hall, which just debuted in May of this year. Created by restaurateur Cameron Mitchell, who owns a number of popular concepts throughout the city, it’s a 10-stall incubator that gives a series of rotating chefs new to the scene a chance to try out their skills in a space they oversee. Cuisine now being served in the former dairy processing plant includes everything from Hawaiian poke to Filipino street food and Maine lobster rolls. In addition, Budd Dairy Food Hall, which is in the city’s Italian Village neighborhood, features three bars, a rooftop watering hole and a beer garden.
Columbus Food Adventures
For groups that want to dive deep into central Ohio’s comestible goodies, Columbus Food Adventures offers private tours, with experience having run roughly 500 exclusive excursions for companies such as Nationwide, Chase and BMW since opening in 2010. “They can do a customized food tour for a group,” Dudley said, “so if tour operators want to include a brewery or make sure to include a Jeni’s Ice Cream or one of our local coffee shops or something like that, they can price it all out and customize it.”
Or groups can choose from one of the company’s prepackaged walking tours, which range from guided beverage tours to jaunts through neighborhoods including the German Village, with six tasting stops over four hours; Old Worthington, with six tasting stops over 3.5 hours, including a visit to the farmers market; and Short North, with six tasting stops over 3.5 hours and a look at the area’s public art. Sweet recommended the Alt Eats Tour that, she noted, “goes to some of the ethnic restaurants that the city has that visitors might not normally seek out if they are here just for a weekend.”
Breweries and Distilleries
Should groups be looking to wet their whistles while visiting Columbus, the city provides an almost dizzying assortment of beers and spirits proudly made within its borders. The Columbus Ale Trail now includes more than 50 breweries, including spots like Crooked Can Brewing Company. Located in historic Old Hilliard, it shares its premises with Center Street Market, home to beloved food vendors including Dumplings of Fury and the Cheesecake Girl. Tour leaders who schedule a stop there should allow time to wander Old Hillard, which offers attractions such as First Responders Park, a powerful memorial to those who sacrificed their lives on September 11, 2001.
Along with microbreweries, Columbus offers a fast-growing selection of distilleries, according to Dudley.
“We actually have quite a distillery scene in Columbus,” he said. “And a couple of our local distilleries also have restaurants attached to them, such as High Bank Distillery. They’re in the Grandview area, and along with distilling award-winning vodka and whiskeys, they have a really great menu and a huge space. So if a group is looking for that kind of unique dining experience, they could do that well.”