Every time The Fox and I go to Delaware, I always have the same thought upon leaving:
“We should come to Delaware more often.”
For nigh on a decade there has been a quiet renaissance happening in The D, as students from Ohio Weaslyan and an increasingly affluent local population support an exciting city center with some of the best food and beverage options in Central Ohio. This charming square mile provides the diner with an array of culinary experiences; in Delaware it is seen as perfectly normal for the venerable greasy spoon The Hamburger Inn to rub shoulders with the likes of Veritas Tavern, incubator for Rigsby’s new head chef and Columbus wunderkind Silas Caeton.
So where does a place like 12 West (12 W William St, Delaware, OH) fall on this seemingly boundless dining spectrum? With a pitch perfect balance between seasonal and high quality dinner offerings served in the tastefully appointed low-light of the San-Fran Lounge inspired dining room, 12 West has found the sweet spot smack dab in the middle. Given her pastoral context in the midwestern-meets-cosmopolitan burg that is Delaware, I’d say 12 West is right where it should be.
The night’s dinner was a special occasion for The Fox and I. Her parents would be joining us to say farewell before I head out on the road for the summer tour. The venue was their choice, and as 12 West had been on my radar for a while, my expectations were pretty high.
We got great parking directly in front of the restaurant. (10 POINTS TO DELAWARE!!)
We snagged the last table, a corner both by a big window overlooking the quaint but bustling street, lit as it was in the lingering long light of an early summer evening. It was okay, I guess. Drink menus were understated but carefully selected. As I do with places that serve any cuisine from a locál south of the Rio Grande, I stuck with imported bottles of Mexican beer. They were light and cold and had limes stabbed into their slim necks. Sometimes craft beer and cocktails need not apply. (That said, the 4 handles behind the bar were all devoted to craft brews, most local. 12 West also boasts a nice selection of craft bottles and a decent wine list.)
The dinner menu was split into two sections. The first being an a-la-carte menu of house made southwestern favorites. This section also saw a featured selection of tacos.
We started with the empanadas. They were fried GBD and came two-ways that night. One was a bean and cheese, the other chorizo. Both were topped with melty cotija and served with a really fresh pesto. The bean empanada was the stand-out. It somehow packed in more flavor and was really well balanced with the pesto, which offered a clever twist on the more commonly paired chimichurri.
On to the tacos, with a bit of a disclaimer. I was told by multiple sources to not skip out on the tacos, but given the multiple high profile taco shop openings in Columbus over the last couple of years (Bakersfield, Nada, Candado) I was feeling a bit weary. (I fear we have reached peak taco as a city.) But on the insistence of the parents Fox we ordered a few to share. We had the Barbacoa (that night’s chef special taco) and blackened shrimp as well as the cod and chorizo tacos respectively (not pictured). I’m glad I ignored my concerns over the redundancy of the Columbus taco market because these were great! They had an off the cuff quality about them that was refreshing and they were fun to share. Each taco featured some really fresh produce, including delicious locally raised radishes from Redde Hedde Farms as well as super crisp red cabbage in place of the more common iceberg lettuce.
Unlike a lot of other southwestern eateries, 12 West offers a complete menu of entrees. These include a much hyped chorizo burger as well a lamb shank and polenta offering which I’ve placed on the docket for my return visit. On this night I opted for the salmon, another well recommended favorite among 12 West’s many apostles. It is a thick filet of Faroe Island salmon, pan seared with a crispy golden crust, served over a bed of fingerling potatoes and smoked jalapeño cream. The fish is topped with a sweet house marmalade and paired with roasted beets. Again, as with the tacos, the rub is in the freshness of the produce. The beets and potatoes added an earthy-ness that was the perfect compliment to the fish. The sweetness of the marmalade was a welcome change from the California-Mex trope of mango salsa.
We ended the meal with a communal piece of Mexican Chocolate cheesecake. This was a rich finish to an otherwise light meal. The cake was dense and just the right level of moist with a semi-sweet chocolate topping with a delightful spicy finish of cayenne pepper. ¡Sabroso!
After Dinner Thoughts
So, the food was good. The atmosphere casual and cool yet welcoming. But what makes 12 West a destination? The staff!
First, the kitchen at 12 West is clearly having a good time. That is evidenced by the creativity and spontaneity on each plate.
The waitstaff was prompt and knowledgeable while remaining inviting. Service that night was attentive without being intrusive which is always a delicate balance.
And then there was Ron. Ron is the co-owner of 12 West and is the kind of guy in this business that I look up to. I respect a guy like Ron because he understands real hospitality. (He has the pedegree for it too. Google him. He’s had his hands in some of Columbus’ favorite restaurants for years.) His table-side manner was warm and his enthusiasm for his restaurant and its city were contagius. For me, Ron was the cereza on the pastel that was our evening in Delaware.
So get in your damn car and head north for 12 West!