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No Compass Needed: Explorers Club

Merion Village's Explorers Club decided one summer ago
to go back to their "Simple Pioneering Flavor" credo 
Explorers Club is a restaurant that has historic Columbus restaurant lines that both dwarf its actual time in existence as an eatery as well as easily predates my time as a Columbus-area resident (for an excellent summary of those ties, please check out this post by longtime blogger CMH Gourmand written right after the restaurant's opening in late 2011.)

It's not surprising that with four-plus years of operation, Explorers Club has become a mainstay in its Merion Village location at South High and Morrill ever since that opening. While they have had a generic Latin American leaning in terms of their offerings, this restaurant has lived up to its name in regards to its mission to explore both traditional and unique takes on various world cuisines. Indeed, it was this idea of exploration which made this restaurant a favorite of many diners (including my spouse and I) fairly early on, and their two-story brick building has been regular destination since my move out here early 2012.

But as noted in this ThisWeek News article, the restaurant's operation hasn't been without its bumps in the road. Spurred on by customers' inquiries about increasing prices as well as favorites which had disappeared off the menu in favor of not always successful, more eclectic items, Explorers Club co-founder Tracy Studer made a personally tough trimming of restaurant staff, including well-regarded chef Dan Varga.

At that time, there were plenty of questions about both Explorers Club and Chef Varga. As for Varga, he himself has moved on to more great creations at his new venue, the southern cuisine/Memphis fried chicken inspired Double Comfort in the Short North.

And Explorers Club? Well, from our viewpoint, overall things haven't changed too much, but the changes that have been implemented have been well-received.

Eclectic visual touches have always been a constant at Explorers Club
The eclectic touches both inside and outside have not changed since that summer on our visits, and the restaurant has maintained that casual, relaxed vibe that's part of this eatery's big appeal for us. Very little has changed either in regards to this eatery's offering of monthly and special nightly explorations (their Hungarian Night remains on the second Wednesday of each month, for example) into a variety of cuisines. Crowds seem as healthy as ever based on the times we have visited, and the service has remained competent and friendly.

As promised by Studer last summer, base menus seem to have been condensed into select favorites for both weekend brunch (Huevos Rancheros, Chilequiles and Cuban French Toast) and dinner (the Cubano Sandwich and Mofongo Burger) in addition to their cuisine explorations of the moment. These base items have all been sampled and enjoyed by both of us, and when we're not off exploring the cuisine of the moment, it is nice to know that these mainstays are always there. In addition, prices for all items seem to be all pretty centered around the $10 price point, give or take a few dollars depending on the dish.

With the different culinary explorations as well as chefs over the years, it's hard to name a favorite from their special menus. What we do know is that you'll have choices that range from the well-known to the more exotic - for example, their Eastern European menu in February of this year had familiar eats like latkes and pierogies, but also intriguing options like the Jajka Faszerowany (Polish Stuffed Eggs) and Bublanina (a cake of Czech origin) with apricot compote and whipped cream.

Whether its their main menu (like the chilequiles or mango beignets
here) or the monthly specials, we've been happy with pretty
much everything we've eaten at Explorers Club
A welcome new addition for the eatery has been their entry into Columbus' healthy food truck scene; their food truck is a regular presence at various area farmers markets, community events, and local craft breweries such as Seventh Son and Zauber.

Similar to other Columbus-area neighborhoods, Merion Village has had its own battles in making their area a place that can hold its own in both residential desirability (we ourselves had the area on our exploration list in terms of a new home) and visitor drawing power, especially when compared to its attractive neighbors to the north such as German Village, the Brewery District and Downtown itself. Studer himself acknowledged the challenge in the previously referred to ThisWeek News article, but is determined to keep Explorers Club an anchor for the neighborhood for many years to come.

We hope we can do our part to make that desire a reality in the form of continued regular visits to this unique area eatery.

Explorers Club
1586 South High St (Merion Village)
Columbus, OH  43207
(614) 725-0155
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8/17/2015 Update: Explorer's Club has closed their Merion Village area restaurant to focus primarily on mobile truck operations. However, a semblance of the old Merion Village location is coming in the form of a kitchen at Grandview Heights' Zauber Brewing. For more details, please consult this Columbus Business First article.

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