Closely affiliated with next-door performance venue Shadowbox Live in Columbus’ Brewery District, Backstage Bistro is an Italian-themed coffee shop, restaurant and bar serving a whole lot of stuff. With a breakfast menu of pastries and coffees, and a lunch/dinner menu of salads, paninis, pizzas and pastas, there’s quite a selection of things to try with radically different options at different times of the day. Unfortunately, as much as I would like to find a place like this charming, my fear is they’re simply trying to do too much.
The bistro has every basic Italian dish common to menus across the country. There’s so much going on here, I would argue, that any specialty is lost. The flavors are not impressive.
- Pizza: I sampled a pizza, and it looked spectacular … but it didn’t taste that way. It was pretty average, actually. Kind of bland, and needed some more seasoning. The item is there, but the distinct Italian flavors and feel of the dish were not. I’m not saying it was bad at all, I’m just saying I expected more than that from a place like this.
- Sirloin sandwich: Thick, sliced sirloin stuffed into a smashed bun and served up with chips. Maybe it looks small, but this sturdy sandwich is very filling, and that steak is juicy, juicy, juicy.
- Spinach & artichoke dip: A thick dip heavy with spinach. Many times these are thin and almost have the consistency and melted cheese. This one is more like a custard.
- Chicken Philly: Tons of mushrooms, tons of cheese and tons of chicken, served hot! There’s no way to cut it either, it’s gonna be messy.
- Nachos: Heavy chips smothered in cheese and black olives and a chunky roasted salsa. Easy.
- Pulled pork: Thick sandwiches are the signature here, but this pulled pork has the sweet and slightly vinegary flavor that definitely makes it taste home-made.
The prices are a major concern to me. I feel like the place is trying to derive a more upscale feel by its location and by charging higher prices for its food. Sure, the ingredients are more creative and arguably higher quality than what you might find on the average dish elsewhere, but is the price of the dish justified in what you get? I don’t think so, which is troubling. You can’t call a place a fine dining establishment by jacking up the price; there has to be a quality and an experience to match, and I don’t feel like I received what they were offering to deliver.
The atmosphere is nice, clean and sleek, but I’ve been to plenty of places with this kind of environment. The problem is that it’s trying to merge the intimate appeal of a coffee shop in the morning with the lively, sociable vibe of a bar at night. Those are two things I have never seen one restaurant attempt to do at the same time. With good reason: It just does not work. The service is pleasant enough at times, but it also takes quite a long time to get the food ready, which is surprising.
I would really like to see this place succeed, and I think that its partnerships with its neighbors are a good thing that other businesses should emulate. But on its own steam, I don’t think Backstage Bistro has shown a quality product deserving of its price.
- There is a carry-out option for the food, which is good if you want to go next door or to one of the partner businesses.
- There are also happy hour specialties in the evenings, like half price pizzas. Definitely worth investigating.
- I can’t really recommend the pizzas – a little bland and expensive for the size of pizza you receive.