Alexis Preskar / Lantern reporter
Group dinners are the worst – one person wants Italian, another has a hankering for Chinese, and there’s always one boring person who doesn’t eat anything, it seems. For those who arrange these get-togethers, it can be a nightmare finding somewhere to eat. However, Columbus has a more upscale choice than a food court.
The Explorers Club, located in the south side’s Merion Village, has a different twist on a traditional menu setup. The restaurant offers its regular lunch and dinner menu as well as an additional rotating menu that features foods from different cultures. The additional menu changes about every month and includes French, Irish and Cuban cuisine as well as many others.
I went with my family and boyfriend for my birthday dinner on a Monday night and was thoroughly impressed.
As it was my 21st birthday, I ordered a traditional mojito. The drink was refreshing with lots of mint and lime without being too overpowering.
As a group of four, we ordered two appetizers. The portobello polenta stack from the Italian menu (featured in April) was dressed with spring veggies and a balsamic vinaigrette and topped with pine nut-crusted goat cheese. The polenta was creamy on the inside and had a crisp crust on the outside. The only issue was the mushroom was a bit small, especially considering a traditional portobello is about the size of a hamburger, and this was about a fourth that size.
The other appetizer from the regular menu was the agave-glazed sweet potato fritters with raspberry chipotle jam. These were fried to perfection and had a lovely texture on the inside as well. With seven fritters to an order, there was plenty to share. The appetizers came in at $8 and $6, respectively, which I thought was a good deal considering the quality of the ingredients.
For our main courses we ordered the braised and smoked pork belly sliders with jalapeno slaw and barbecue sauce, which came three to an order with hand-cut fries ($10.50), two sweet chile tofu burritos which contained brown rice, black beans and were topped with a Sriracha slaw and came with a side of sautÃ©ed vegetables ($8.75) and pan-seared vegetables with a Gorgonzola cream sauce, topped with a cornbread crust ($11.50).
My father, the lone non-vegetarian in the group, said the pork belly was rendered well, but the sliders needed more slaw. My boyfriend and I both tried the burritos, and they were tasty, even though it was a bit shocking to see Barbie-pink tofu and the black beans could have used more seasoning. My mother’s vegetable “casserole,” for lack of a better word, was also delicious and came in a massive portion, but the crust could have been crunchier. With a total of about $62 for two appetizers, four entrees and an alcoholic drink, the prices were very reasonable, especially considering the quality ingredients, thoughtful preparation and generous portion sizes.
The restaurant’s dÃ©cor has a definite theme without beating you over the head with it. Figurines and art on the walls reflected different cultures. The music was upbeat and varied, with songs from the Beach Boys to Rod Stewart. The staff was attentive and friendly, graciously explaining the menu offerings. We had a reservation, and there were only a few tables filled in the one-room dining area (not uncommon for a Monday afternoon), but on a previous visit we waited about an hour to get a table, though it was a weekend evening.
Some ethnic cuisines don’t offer much in the way of vegetarian or vegan dishes, but the Explorers Club does a good job keeping a mix of options available in its regular and featured menus. So if you have a mixed group, it’s a great option.
The Explorers Club is located at 1586 S. High St. and is open 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. for lunch Monday through Friday, 5 to 9 p.m. for dinner Monday through Thursday and Sunday and from 5 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. It also offers brunch from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the weekends.