Eat in the The new local hot spot, Joya’s, has become almost a must for anyone in Greater Columbus who writes about food or posts photos online. Belonging to a group like this has rarely been so rewarding. In other words, believe the hype: Joya’s cooks up interesting stuff.
Continually busy since opening in August, Joya’s generated early buzz because it is the first restaurant launched by local celebrity chef Avishar Barua, whose talents have previously landed him at top-rated restaurants like Veritas Tavern and Service Bar, as well as the TV show ” Top Chef”. .
The brainchild of Joya’s, named for his mentor mother, landed Barua at the helm of the recently lamented Sassafras Bakery in Worthington. That quaint space now resembles a small modern cafe with a couple of tables and limited counter seating. While quite understated, the room is enlivened by plants, trendy cookbooks, name-brand products, peach-stained walls, and personable waiters. A few makeshift outdoor tables await the inevitable overflow of customers.
Any sense of understatement evoked by such trappings evaporates upon sampling Joya’s intense food. Similarly, diners familiar with Barua’s long and funny Instagram posts (jokes and puns that shoot from his fingers like fireworks exploding in early July) will note that “more is more” describes the manner of speaking. de Barua and his approach to cooking at Joya’s.
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Intricate sandwiches that require numerous components and multi-stage home cooking techniques anchor a small menu that draws on fast food favorites, street food and popular chili dishes from across Asia. The latest influences prevail, and several items are spicy yet nuanced umami bombs with ties to the cuisines of China and India.
Take the excellent kati roll ($15), just don’t think about having mine. Inspired by an Indian street food classic, it’s like a curry-scented shawarma on steroids. The stars, delicious and juicy ground lamb kebabs, are wrapped in a huge, pleasantly knobby and springy pan-fried flatbread. Spicy, rich, spicy, sour and sweet accents arrive via the egg, ‘maple yogurt chaat’, wonderful house apple chutney, pickled onions and ‘cilantro cream’.
Spicy fried chicken sandwiches are all the rage these days. Joya’s is bigger and better than most ($16). Expect a delicious house-made poppyseed bun loaded with tender tea-brined meat beneath a fantastically crispy layer covered in a barbecue-like glaze. Good slaw, pickles, pickled daikon, and Sichuan 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 entrée showcased the smoky “wok hei” (from a volcanically hot wok) bolstered with addictive, extra-crispy, smoky bacon cubes, complemented by a frizzled egg, papadum-esque crispy rice, cilantro, and sweet-citrus flourishes. .
The “not pad Thai” ($18), a fun and appropriate title, has similar smoky, spicy, sweet and umami notes, albeit with thin and rather oily rice noodles. Also in the entertainment bowl: curried omelette eggs; mint and basil; soft and sweet eggplant; bits of bok choy; Chinese style roast pork with five spices.
Fans of Barua’s most famous item at Service Bar (we’re legion), their Taco Bell-style “Double Crispy Tacos with Cheese” ($16 for two), will find those indulgent delights here. Mine had unexpected but welcome hints of miso.
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Patrons will also find Joya’s Breakfast Sandwich ($13): an adorable, made-from-scratch update to the New York bodega classic “BEC” (bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich). Another breakfast champion, Joya’s toast in a box ($14), is messy but considerably bigger and at least as good. That Korean-influenced, complex-textured meal evoked a spicy vegetarian omelet with cabbage folded around (and in) thick toast with melted cheese, oodles of seasonings, and Taylor pork roll (New Jersey’s answer to spam). Both breakfasts go very well with Joya’s extraordinary milk chai ($5).
Bargain alert: The display case adjacent to the Joya counter has listed these $3 specials: Rosewater-Almond Glazed Donuts, airy yet pleasantly chewy; Brown Butter Krispy Squares: Hearty marshmallow and butter make for superior treats, that don’t stick to your teeth à la Rice Krispies; Egg Cutlets: Vegetarian scotch egg and samosa croquettes with crispy potato skins (not sausages), are characteristically clever and delicious creations.
Where: 657 High Street, Worthington
Contact: 614-468-1232; eatatjoyas.com
Hours: 8 am to 2 pm Wednesday through Sunday; closed on mondays and tuesdays.
Price range: $6 to $18
Ambient– Funky, cute, and usually bustling little breakfast and lunch cafe with pleasant service and limited indoor and outdoor seating
Children’s menu: No
liquor license: No
quick click: This wonderful first restaurant opened by a top local chef excels at clever riffs on popular dishes and prominently features chili-spiked street food favorites from across Asia; Fancy coffee drinks are also on offer, including a featured milk chai.