Behind the Menu: Food, music in harmony at Turtle Creek Tavern on Far Northeast Side

Gary Seman Jr.
The Columbus Dispatch
Fish basket at Turtle Creek Tavern

Turtle Creek Tavern, celebrating its 10th anniversary in September, was founded with two missions: satisfy music-lovers and those who like basic, inexpensive food.

“I think it’s good,” co-owner Mike Lee said of the bill of fare. “It’s a fairly simple menu.”

Lee and Phil Benua own the tavern, which is located on the Far Northeast Side.

Those honoring the Lenten practice of eating seafood on Fridays can order the fish basket ($13) — batter-fried haddock served with tartar sauce, coleslaw and either fresh-cut fries or tater tots.

“It’s a huge piece of fish, too,” Lee said.

The last two years weren’t without their struggles, especially for a band bar, he said. But he and Benua made the most of it, with social-distancing and masking requirements inside and live music largely limited to the patio.

When it comes to the food, though, the only struggle might be what to choose.

Portobellos are used in the fried mushroom appetizer ($6.99), served with a choice of ranch or Southwest ranch.

The batter on the mushrooms is just right, Lee said.

“t’s not thick,” he said. “It’s not super light either.”

Pepperoni, mushroom, onion and sausage pizza at Turtle Creek Tavern.

An updated take on quesadillas ($7.99), Turtle Creek’s version uses tortilla stuffed with pepperoni and cheese inside, with marinara for dipping.

Fresh dough part of pizza's appeal

The pizza, meanwhile, uses fresh dough, made locally but not in-house, that’s cracker-thin when baked. Lee said the sauce is basil-forward and a little on the sweet side.

All are 13 inches.

The tavern offers two signature pies: a meat-laden deluxe deal ($16.50) and a “very veggie deal" ($15.50).

Otherwise, a pie with one topping is $11.50 with extras costing $1 apiece.

House-made Buffalo chicken dip ($8) starts with fresh roasted chicken, baked with cream cheese and hot sauce, garnished with green onions and served with tortilla chips.

“We put it on the menu once and it went overall real well so, I said, let’s keep it on the menu,” Lee said.

Jumbo-size wings get a lot of attention

Naturally, wings (five for $6.99, 10 for $11.99) are part of the lineup; jumbo-sized wings in this case, Lee said.

“People compliment us on the size of the wings,” he said.

Customers have their choice of dry rubs — lemon pepper and Nashville hot being among the most popular.

Spicy garlic Parmesan is the sauce of choice for most guests, he said.

Guests can order three or four drops of Carolina reaper oil for 50 cents, adding intense heat to the wings.

“I haven’t tried it,” Lee said. “I like spicy, I don’t like hot and it can get pretty hot.”

The tavern “deluxe” burger ($10.99) uses 8 ounces of beef meat topped with typical garnishes and served with either fries or tater tots. Substitute a side salad for $2.

“It’s good,” Lee said. “It’s juicy. We hand-patty them here. We don’t bring them in frozen. The brioche bun really sets it off, too.”

A variation of that is the Swiss turtle ($10.99) topped with sauteed onions, mushrooms and Swiss.

Grilled chicken is an option for either sandwich.

Keeping up with the times, the tavern offers a meatless burger for $12.99.

“We’ve got a few people who come in here," Lee said, "and they are vegetarians and that’s what they want.”


Turtle Creek Tavern

Where: 5571 N. Hamilton Road, Far Northeast Side

Kitchen hours: 3:30 to 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 3:30 to 11 p.m. Fridays, 1 to 11 p.m. Saturdays and 1 to 10 p.m. Sundays

Contact: 614-476-8836, https://www.turtlecreektavern.com/