Dragonfly Neo-V was one of the most well respected restaurants in the local vegetarian and vegan communities for their high-quality and artistic approach to plant-based cuisine. During it’s eleven year run, it received praise in national publications and helped to put Columbus on the map as a foodie destination. When owners Magdiale Wolmark and Cristin Austin announced that they were closing Dragonfly, it surprised and upset many people. Thankfully, they simultaneously announced that TILL Dynamic Fare would be quickly taking it’s place with a new concept, new focus, but a similar level of high-quality.
We spoke recently with Magdiale for a Q&A session about what we can find at TILL:
Q: First things first… can you tell us a bit about the closing of Dragonfly Neo-V? I know that quite a few people were upset to hear the news.
A: Dragonfly was awesome. When we opened in 2000 it was cutting edge. It clearly pioneered alot of what it going on now in the local food scene. We won lots of awards, were in a bunch of national top ten best lists, and the two James Beard awards were the icing on the cake.
The kitchen garden was an amazing addition to our format in 2005. We were hardcore about plant based cuisine and I loved it. I got a bit teary eyed myself at times after we decided to close. The decision was made over a year ago. I was making like six risottos to order one night and it just hit me. It’s time to change this.
I respect and share the same values as the vegan community, that is, I sincerely believe that compassion for animals is essential in our agriculture system, but as a chef I wanted to do something else. My horticultural experiences in the kitchen garden led to training in biodynamic agriculture at the Pfeiffer Center in New York. For more than a year I traveled between Columbus and New York for intensive biodynamic training. It was a process, As I learned and studied more, the new direction became clear.
Q: So what was the reason for wanting to move away from the plant-based concept?
A: It was all about the biodynamic method. I was already using the biodynamic preparations in the kitchen garden at Dragonfly which involves certain animal based sheaths. An example of a biodynamic preparation and the one most widely recognized is the 500 or horn manure. Fresh cow manure is stuffed inside a female cow horn and buried over the winter. In the spring the horn is excavated and the manure is stirred into water and ‘sprinkled’ over the garden or field during the time of transplanting or sowing. The 500 stimulates root development.
The biodynamic standard is simply the most rigorous farm standard in the world, especially when it comes to the treatment of animals on the farm. One simple example is that biodynamic farmers don’t remove the horns from their cows which is done at birth on traditional, even organic farms. I think a lot of people didn’t even know that cows, female cows, have horns, and that the horn should not be removed. It effects the health and physiology of the animal.
I personally traveled to Hawthorne Valley Farm in Hudson Valley, a certified biodynamic farm, to pick up some of the meat we use in the restaurant. Normally they would not have sold meat to someone not local to them. But the farm manager, Stephen Schneider, taught some of the classes at the Pfeiffer Center, and he, in a sense, hooked me up.
I still use local farms for other products. I visited at least a dozen farms in central Ohio to personally inspect those operations and chose, what I felt were the best farms to use for TILL. I have super high standards, so I had to do it that way. I had to see the animals on the farm first before I got to work in the kitchen. It’s sort of like the kitchen garden. I need to have an experiential attachment and relationship to both the plants and animals.
When we decided that Dragonfly’s time was up and that we wanted to do something new and expand the menu our goal was to be inclusive. People were telling us that they loved Dragonfly and the food, but their non-vegetarian friends didn’t want to join them for dinner at our restaurant. That’s not good. It’s anti-social. We didn’t want that. And that was the genesis of TILL dynamic fare. We set out to create a fun, social, accessible spot, But we are who we are, so it’s still edgy like Dragonfly was and of course, it’s still chef-driven but casual and affordable. At least I think it’s affordable, it’s not like cheap, we use good stuff, but I think that someone on a budget could eat and drink well at TILL everyday.
Q: I recently received a bottle of Luna Kombucha from Mike Iannarino, who mentioned that TILL is carrying his products. Can you tell us a bit about your bar menu?
A: Our bar and beverage program is really at the forefront of our menu. Once again, we were very careful and deliberate about designing and implementing every item on the list. We did a lot of research, we traveled quite a bit, experimented and fussed. We’re still fussing.
One of the highlights of our beverage program is wine on tap. We are currently the first and only place in Columbus where you can get wine on tap. We worked with the Gotham Project, a collaboration of wine makers and restaurateurs that is helping wine makers in the recessionary times to move their product by packaging the juice in kegs instead of bottles. Grist.com mentioned keg wine as one of the top 10 most promising ecological trends of 2011. It saves on packaging. It’s less expensive. It’s frickin’ cool.
The spirit of the Gotham project is to work with local winemakers, so we got the program off the ground with Gotham Project wine, but in the very near future we’ll be offering Fireland’s Reisling on tap and then it will be a kind of a Cowtown project.
We also have a small but scrupulously curated list of six draught beers on tap. We’re not really “bigger is better” kind of people, so we wanted a boutique list that constantly changed and that complimented our food, but always represented a kind of gestalt of the moment. Right now we have Schneider Aventinus on tap, Monk’s Caft Flemish Sour, and Elevator Espresso stout, to name a few. A member of our team currently completing his master sommelier certification, Greg Stokes, designs the list. We also have cork finished beer bottles, and a just release biodynamic lager. We have a small wine list offered at state minimum plus corkage and offered to go in our TILL Cupboard along with baked goods, fancy bottle beers and other whims.
Cristin designed the cocktail menu with variations based upon the original cocktail (sugar, bitter, liquor). There are also shrubs (drinking vinegars), squashes (house made sodas), cobblers, punches, beer and wine based cocktails, with herbal tinctures. We are getting into different bitters and of course making our own. We make a solid old fashioned with the proper ice, which mixologists are stressing is the most important aspect of the drink beside the ingredient. We went to a bar in New York that had 12 kinds if ice! We’re not that indulgent, but are experimenting and having great fun with the drinks as well as the food. Our happy hour features half-price old fashioneds, half-price taps and half-price apps and allows us a time to experiment and discover new ideas for drinks. Our current guests love being our “testers” for samples and tastes!
Jason Valentine, aka Mr. Thunderkiss, roasts all our coffee beans and we specialize in the pour over method. We individually pour each cup of coffee and an amazing local potter,Jenny Floch hand made all of our coffee mugs. It’s a sublime coffee experience. Jason has the magic touch. In my opinion, he’s the best roaster in Columbus. God bless him. His coffee gets me through these 16 hour opening days.
And yes, we offer Luna Kombucha and we love it. We’ve had times when we drank it all and then couldn’t offer to our guests. Perhaps I can convince Mike to put some in a keg for me.
Q: I read in TILL’s press release that you mention that you want to surprise people with your menu. I think that some restaurateurs might think of surprising customers as a risky thing to do. Do you see this as a challenge, or something natural for you as a chef?
A: I think people are expecting a superior high quality product from us and I also think they’re expecting a high degree of innovation. We intend to deliver on all points. But as far as the actual menu items go, to a certain degree I’m still working on it. I’m always working on it. So I think the “surprise” idea was really a time cover for our work in progress soft opening menu, not yet ready for a grand debut.
TILL isn’t like Dragonfly at all. It’s an entirely new vision. All the bling is gone. I feel the innovation exists in TILL’s simplicity. Super high sourcing standards, resourceful and artisanal production methods, classic and sometimes re-invented classic preparations.
We have a biodynamic burger with horseradish sauce, a clam, raw milk manchego and biodynamic bacon pizza, & tofu. Our tofu is made to order with house made soy milk. It’s so fresh tasting that way. So much better than packaged tofu. We are extremely vegan and vegetarian friendly, and will always be, but the space has been transformed in so many ways… not just cosmetically, but the whole vibe has changed. It’s a metamorphosis.
I can understand that this is an unusual change from the perspective of the dining public and the community in general. There have been a lot of questions surrounding the whole tofu to trotters thing. But for us it feels very natural and organic. As a chef and restaurateur I really love what we’re doing at TILL. I really want Columbus to love TILL too. We think we’re bringing something very singular to the city. I think it’s a wonderful addition to the dining scene. Dragonfly had a huge impact not just on the dining scene, but the local food movement as well. TILL is the next level. I want to see some biodynamic farms here.
Q: Last but not least, can you tell us a bit more about Glaze?
A: The 249 space, formerly On the Fly has always been a cute space — our own “pop up shop” of sorts. Cristin has always been into the street/indie owner kind of food, and Glaze is just another love of hers. We live in the neighborhood and she’s always bitchin’ that you can’t get decent loaf bread, homey pastries, (particularly donuts) or organic deli meat for the kids, so we thought Glaze would be a good fit for the neighborhood. A good local deli with solid baked goods and some former On the Fly favorites. Right now she’s experimenting, so the donuts are coming along, with me breathing down her neck.
TILL will collaborate with the Glaze by producing any vegetable and meat charcuterie items and milling grains for the baking. Glaze should be open by spring. Fingers crossed, but so far we’re hitting our deadlines. We opened TILL on time. A lot of people are excited for Glaze – pour over thunderkiss coffee and artisanal donuts in the morning!
More information can be found online at tillfare.com.