January 8, 2009
Back in the fall of 2004, downtown Columbus was a fun place to hang out. I know because I was there ... a lot. There were at least five good places for evening dining -- CJ''s, Zachary''s, Market Street Grill, Harvey''s, etc.
After a nice meal there were places to dance -- the Underground beneath the Market Street Grill and CJ''s Social Club.
But sadly things evolved into a serious dry spell. Until lately, that is. It seems that downtown Columbus is beginning to "breathe" once again.
With the addition of Le Gourmet Bistro for lunch, Caf/ on Main, 509 Tapas, the new J. Broussard''s and others, Columbians have a number of choices.
The latest option is Huck''s Place at 121 Fifth St. S., in the former location of Market Street Grill. When I first heard that Bubba and Brian Huckaby were planning to open a restaurant, I was excited about the prospects. After months of anticipation, I had my first meal there this past Friday night. It was a nice way to help usher in 2009.
How does a restaurant happen? More specifically, how did two local brothers who were living separate lives away from Columbus end up here with a new restaurant?
"We had talked about owning our own restaurant for years," said Bubba. "I can remember being on family vacations on the beach at Gulf Shores and this would come up."
Bubba was doing consulting work in Chicago, Oklahoma City and other places for Telecom.
Chef Brian, who, by the way, was in the first graduating class of the Culinary Arts Institute at Mississippi University for Women in 2000, was working for Sysco out of Jackson, and also at the Gray Conference Center near Canton.
"Things began to happen in July," said Brian. "That''s when we really knew that it was going to happen ... and then we were physically here in September."
They opened the doors to Huck''s Place Dec. 26. So far, so good.
The front of the restaurant is situated practically on the sidewalk. Several tables fill the space that opens into the main part of the room. There are both tables and booths and a brick bar between the two main first-floor spaces.
"We are not a bar," said Bubba Huckaby. "We are a restaurant that just happens to have a bar."
There is a separate dining area in the back of the restaurant that comfortably seats 20-plus diners. There''s also an upstairs dining room with terrific natural lighting during the day.
Automobile license plates from almost every state and Panama, line the sides of the step-up sections to the booths, and one huge Coca-Cola memorabilia sign (featuring the Sprite elf) dominates the south wall. I counted no fewer than 50 black-and-white photos depicting scenes from Columbus'' past, including fires, pestilence and politics. (I think I also saw the Huckaby''s mother posing in her cheerleader days.)
Hardwood floors made me feel as if I were in someone''s home rather than in a restaurant.
"Much of the look is due to my wife, Suzy," said Brian.
(The Suzie Q is named after her.)
Enough of that, you say? You want to hear about the food. Well ... OK. Go ahead and twist my arm.
Currently Huck''s Place is open for dinner on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings. Private functions can be booked on other evenings.
The menu is smartly divided into Getting'' Started; Soup & Stuff; The Greenery; Ocean, Pond, & Sky; From the Stockyard; The Good Stuff (add-ons); Pasta & More; Sandwiches and Kid Stuff.
You like old-fashioned fried pickles ($5.95) and hand-dipped fried cheese ($6.95)? You got it. How about a grilled sausage and cheese platter ($8.95)? Perhaps you prefer a pork quesadilla ($6.95) or shrimp bisque ($4.50 cup, $6.50 bowl)? Sausage gumbo, redfish, grouper, steaks, burgers; and crawfish fettuccini? Of course. It''s yours.
There''s "Cat-fish on a Hot Tin Roof" ($15.95), Southside Chicken ($13.95) and Fifth-Street Shrimp ($13.95).
Lunch is served Tuesday through Saturday and features blue plate specials for each day. For example, Tuesday''s blue plate is fried chicken, mashed potatoes and stewed green beans. On Thursday diners can have pork loin, dirty rice and fried broccoli. Blue plates come with bread and a beverage for $5.95
And then there''s the aforementioned Suzy Q (thinly sliced Black Forest ham layered with grilled asparagus, provolone cheese and a pesto mayonnaise on a sourdough bun) for $8.95. Or a fried green tomato BLT ($7.95); or grilled pimento cheese ($7.95); and the Huck Burger for those who are famished ($7.95). This one is huge -- three-quarters of a pound -- so be prepared. Don''t say I did not warn you.
My dining companion and I tried the shrimp and crab parmesan dip served with French bread toast points for a starter ($7.95) Maybe I was just hungry, but it had a rich, buttery flavor with real parmesan cheese.
I sampled the shrimp po-boy with comeback sauce ($8.95) along with a house salad. My friend had chicken creole pasta ($13.95). Both of us requested a take-home box. I liked the bread on my po-boy, which reminded me of Gambini''s bread from New Orleans. Maybe it was.
Veteran server Robin Schrock said, "So far, so good. ... It''s a very comfortable atmosphere, wouldn''t you agree?"
She is oh so right. Her favorite menu pick is the redfish, which is served blackened -- but mild, not so spicy you can''t eat it. The staff will prepare it however you want it. Special orders don''t upset them at all.
Huck''s Place is yet another option for the growing number of eateries in Columbus. Their hours of operation for dinner are Thursday-Saturday, 5-10 p.m. and for lunch Tuesday-Sunday from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. The blue plates are available Tuesday-Friday.
Now all we need is a nice place to dance. Any takers?
John Dorroh is a semi-retired high school science teacher, who writes a business column for The Dispatch.
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