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Restaurant Review: Way Down Yonder

Miriam Bowers Abbott Miriam Bowers Abbott Restaurant Review: Way Down YonderShrimp Po Boy — Photo by Walker Evans.
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United Provision Meat Company (a.k.a. Columbus Food Hub) is now home to not one, but two eating establishments. What the Waffle holds down the fort mornings through middays, serving waffly breakfast sandwich concoctions. Way Down Yonder takes the reigns at noon for lunch and dinner. The project promises authentic gumbo and southern food, and it most certainly delivers.

If you’ve ever been to eateries at the hub, you already know how things work. The hub has long been a business incubator of sorts, offering a kitchen and serving space to restaurant start-up projects. There are refrigerators on the side, a counter (once a meat/fish counter) in the back, and utilitarian dining tables and chairs fill up the space at the front of the house. These days, you’ll find New Orleans posters on the walls to match Yonder’s menu.

It’s helpful to start a conversation about the spot’s fare by first discussing what it is not. It is not goo or glop. Because part of the magic associated with Cajun/Creole cooking involves a lengthy stewing process that merges the flavors of its ingredients, freakish stews of homogenous sticky stuff often pass for Cajun in Columbus. While Yonder’s kitchen team hits the target in terms of merging the traditional flavors of soft-cooked peppers, celery and onions, not once does it cook those things into unrecognizable oblivion. The ingredients in its offerings still make distinct contributions.

So let’s start with the Gumbo ($13). There’s something almost comforting about it, with a golden base supporting rice and shreds of soft chicken with a few briny slices of sausage and teeny chunks of vegetables bobbling beneath the surface. Don’t get too comfortable though, the gumbo has a sneaky peppery spike that creeps up and keeps things interesting.

The menu also offers Crawfish Étouffée ($15), and it boasts crawfish in every single bite. We’re not talking about token seafood here, or crawfish minced so tiny that you’re not sure what they are. It’s crawling with distinct little chunks of mudbugs, plus peppers and celery. And while “crawling with mudbugs” isn’t a particularly appetizing set of words, it should connote a quality, flavorful Cajun experience.

Jambalaya ($6) is pretty simple and also pretty skippable. The side dish is savory, enhanced with maybe a little smoky cumin and a few slices of sausage and red peppers, but it’s nothing special.

Leaving the fork food for a moment, there is the Shrimp Po Boy ($13). It’s a huge sandwich, and one that brings a brighter, punchier color palette to the table. A big split bun cradles a herd of shrimp, each cuddled up in crunchy,crackling hot, fried shell. Rounding it out are lettuce and tomato, plus lots of mayo and pickles to provide the requisite messiness and variety.

Desserts are on display near the front counter. There are mini-cakes, about the size of softballs, that require further investigation. The chosen version ($6) was wrapped in a solid coating of crushed Reese’s Pieces. Underneath, it’s all soft cake with a sweet peanut buttery filling. In terms of decadence, it’s about everything you want from a dessert.

The restuarant was slammed during the most recent visit, and so it took close to an hour between ordering and receiving food. It might be best practice to pick off-peak dining times for your first try (or pretend you’re waiting for Chicago style pizza). You’ll find it at 1117 Oak St. It’s closed Wednesday and Thursdays, but open at noon for lunch and dinner the other days of the week.

For more information, visit www.waydwnyonder.com.

Photos by Walker Evans.

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