January 12, 2011 10:36:00 AM
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
Tapas -- those small, tasty canapés or appetizers so popular in Spain -- have returned to the Golden Triangle. Fritz Ehrentraut, of former hot spot 509 Tapas in downtown Columbus, resurrects the concept with the newly-opened Possum Town Tavern at 2222 Military Road.
When it comes to dining choices, the restaurant, which was most recently home to Garibaldi''s, brings something distinct and fresh to the table. The tapas menu features items ranging from smoked salmon with capers and red onions, or ahi tuna in spicy parsley sauce, to escargots with garlic croutons and sherry aioli, or seared lamb chops with piquillo peppers and marmalade.
In select restaurants in Spain, as well as in parts of North America and the United Kingdom, tapas have evolved into a sophisticated cuisine. It''s become so much a part of the culture and social scene that the Spanish invented the verb "tapear," which means to go eat tapas.
A whole meal can be created by selecting a variety of tapas made from seafood, meats, cheese and vegetables. But, to please the eclectic palate, the tavern also serves a selection of steaks, as well as European specialties such as Bavarian roast pork with spaetzle (small dumplings) or bratkartoffein (pan fried potatoes), and filet mignon geschnetzeltes (meat ragout) in white creme sauce, peppers and onions.
"Sorry, no fried chicken," Ehrentraut said with a wry grin, standing in the expansive, rebuilt kitchen at the restaurant, which was originally the home of Rub''s Pub and later, Woody''s. "There are plenty of places to get that."
The culinary flair found in the tavern''s cosmopolitan menu should be no surprise considering Ehrentraut''s background. Born in Munich, Germany, he''s absorbed the influences of the many places he''s lived, including Italy, Costa Rica, the Mediterranean island of Ibiza and, of course, America.
"I love Mississippi, and I think Columbus, it''s a very boom town," he said, with a noticeable and appealing accent. "It needs more food interests than just fried food."
Intrigued by the city''s informal nickname -- Possum Town, which pre-dates Columbus'' incorporation in 1821 -- Ehrentraut decided to adopt it for the new restaurant''s name, as well as a recording studio he''s completing on the second floor. Music, in fact, is at least as dominant an interest for him as cuisine is; he spent many years in the music industry. He hopes to bring in flamenco and Latin guitarists and other artists, as well as putting on larger shows in a building behind the main restaurant.
"This property is very, very big; we can do different options for different shows," he stated. He also hopes to host fundraisers for specific nonprofit causes.
In the main dining room, high-backed, wine-colored chairs and wrought iron candlesticks hint at the Spanish influence. Walls and shelves are filled with art and decorative pieces collected throughout years of world travel. The tapas bar, to the left of the dining room, is lined with chafing and serving dishes.
A drinks bar, as well as a covered, raised patio -- complete with grill stations -- offer plenty of options for winding down.
Like the menu, the interior suggests a unique experience.
From kings to Columbus
Stories about the origins of tapas are many. In one, folklore has it that the tapas tradition began with King Alfonso X of Castile. After recovering from an illness by drinking wine with small dishes between meals, the king decreed that taverns would not be allowed to serve wine unless it was accompanied by a small snack, or "tapa."
According to the "Joy of Cooking," the original tapas were slices of bread or meat sherry drinkers in Andalusian taverns used to cover their glasses with between sips, to keep fruit flies from hovering over the sweet sherry.
Whatever the food''s beginning, Ehrentraut hopes the Golden Triangle will simply "Enjoy them like the Spanish do -- with a glass of wine and a relaxed attitude Ah divino! ... or divine."
The staff, led by Ehrentraut, Chef Will Leonard and General Manager Kim Smith, opens the restaurant from 11 a.m. until closing daily, except Sundays, when doors open at 3 p.m. Learn more about Possum Town Tavern at www.possumtowntavern.com, or contact the restaurant at 662-701-6022.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.