G. A. Benton
Eat at the trendy new local restaurant – Joya’s – has become almost mandatory for anyone in Greater Columbus who writes about food or posts pictures of it online. Rarely has it been so rewarding to belong to such a group. In other words, believe the hype: Joya’s cooks exciting stuff.
Continually busy since opening in August, Joya has generated early buzz as it is the first restaurant launched by celebrity local chef Avishar Barua, whose talent had previously taken him to high-end eateries like Veritas Tavern and Service Bar as well as in the TV show “Top Chef”. .
The creation of Joya’s, named after her mentor mother, took Barua to the address of the late Sassafras Bakery in Worthington. This quaint space now looks like a hip little cafe with a few tables and limited counter seating. Although fairly understated, the room is enlivened by plants, trendy cookbooks, designer goods, peach-stained walls, and friendly servers. A few improvised outdoor tables await the inevitable overflow of customers.
Any sense of understatement conjured up by such trappings evaporates upon tasting Joya’s intense fare. Along the same lines, diners familiar with Barua’s long and amusing Instagram posts — jokes and puns come out of the fingertips like exploding fireworks in early July — will notice that “more is more” describes Barua’s way with words and her approach to cooking at Joya.
After:Hard to find but easy to love, the offerings are high quality at Peru Taco Bar
Elaborate sandwiches requiring many components and multi-stage cooking techniques anchor a small menu that draws inspiration from fast food favorites, street food and popular chili dishes from across Asia. These latter influences are prevalent, and several items are spicy yet nuanced umami bombs with ties to the cuisines of China and India.
Take the outstanding kati roll ($15) – don’t think about taking mine. Inspired by an Indian street food classic, it’s like curry-flavored shawarma on steroids. Stars – delicious, juicy, juicy ground lamb skewers – are tied into a huge, pleasingly nubby and springy fried flatbread. Tart, rich, spicy, tangy and sweet accents arrive via egg, “maple chaat yoghurt”, wonderful homemade apple chutney, pickled onions and “cilantro cream”.
Spicy fried chicken sandwiches are popular these days. Joya’s is bigger and better than most ($16). Expect a lovely homemade poppyseed bun loaded with tender tea-brined meat under an impossibly crispy coating topped with barbecue-like glaze. Good coleslaw, pickles, pickled daikon and Szechuan peppercorn flavors add to the sloppy fun.
Joya’s fried rice ($17) was another tasty and spicy feast in my mouth with similar chicken, but in nugget form with no sauce. This Indonesian-influenced starter featured the smoky “wok hei” (from a volcanically hot wok) boosted by smoky, extra-crispy and addictive bacon cubes topped with a curly egg, papadum rice crisps, cilantro and sweet and lemony flourishes.
The “no pad Thai” ($18) — a fun and appropriate title — similarly hit smoky, spicy, sweet, and umami notes, but with thin, rather oily rice noodles. Also in the recreational bowl: egg curry omelet; mint and basil; soft and sweet eggplant; bok choy pieces; Chinese-style barbeque pork flavored with five spices.
Fans of Barua’s most famous Service Bar item (we’re legion)—his Taco Bell “double crunch cheese tacos” ($16 for two)—will find these indulgent treats here. Mine had unexpected but welcome hints of miso.
After:These breakfast sandwiches will make your morning an eye-opening experience
Customers will also find Joya’s Breakfast Sandwich ($13): An adorable, artisanal upgrade to the New York bodega classic “BEC” (bacon-egg-cheese sandwich). Another breakfast champion – Joya’s toast-in-a-box ($14) – is messy but considerably bigger and at least as good. This intricately textured Korean-influenced meal was reminiscent of a spicy veggie cabbage omelet folded around (and inside) thick toast with melted cheese, heaps of condiments, and a Taylor pork roll (the answer from the New Jersey to Spam). Both breakfasts go great with Joya’s exceptional milk chai ($5).
Bargain alert: Joya’s counter-adjacent glass display case included these $3 specials: Glazed Rosewater Almond Donuts — airy but pleasantly chewy; Brown Butter Krispy Squares – an abundance of marshmallow and butter translated into premium Rice Krispies-style treats that won’t stick to your teeth; Egg Chops – veggie scotch-egg-meets-samosa croquettes with crispy potato shells (not sausage), these are typically smart and delicious creations.
Where: 657 High Street, Worthington
Contact: 614-468-1232; eatatjoyas.com
Hours: 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday; closed Mondays and Tuesdays.
Price scale: $6 to $18
Vibe: trendy, cute and usually bustling little cafe for breakfast and lunch with personalized service and limited indoor and outdoor seating
Children’s menu: Nope
Liquor license: Nope
quick click: This wonderful first restaurant launched by a top local chef excels in clever riffs on popular dishes and highlights chili-based street food favorites from all over Asia; premium coffee drinks, including a remarkable milk chai, are also offered.