Lessner Is More

Meet Columbus, Ohio's burgeoning bar and restaurant mogul

Columbus, Ohio, may be a hotbed of college-football fanaticism, but thanks to Liz Lessner, it's the city's culinary scene that's eliciting the loudest cheers these days.

This restaurateur has built a mini empire of funky restaurants and saloons by following a simple rule: Let people drink and eat without denting their wallets.

With her inventive cocktails, classy comfort food and kitschy decor, Lessner is slowly debunking the misconception that the Midwest is all about meat and potatoes. Here's where to wet your whistle in the Heart of It All:

Betty's Fine Food & Spirits Located in the Short North arts district, Betty's is bedecked with vintage pinup pics. The menu skews toward drinking-friendly food, with lusty snacks like Steve's Afternoon Delight: homemade potato chips smothered in cheese sauce. 680 N. High St.; 614-228-6191 or bettyscolumbus.com

Dirty Frank's Hot Dog Palace Portraits of baseball players and metal musicians decorate this mustard-yellow wiener emporium. Boozy slushies are available for downing alongside Vienna-style beef dogs, including the Bollywood (topped with mango chutney) and the Ohioana, crowned with a zippy corn relish. 248 S. Fourth St.; 614-824-4673 or dirtyfrankscolumbus.com

Surly Girl Saloon At this bordello-esque (chandeliers, sultry red lights) Short North bar (pictured), you'll find 24 drafts, wink-nudge drinks (the cherry-topped Surly Temple contains vodka and red soda) and spicy snacks like chili-loaded Frito pies and moist Cajun meat loaf. 1126 N. High St.; 614-294-4900 or surlygirlsaloon.com

Tip Top Kitchen & Cocktails Tip Top helped revitalize the downtown scene with Columbus-themed cocktails (the Bus-Town Julep incorporates Ohio maple syrup) and beers (like the hoppy Columbus Pale Ale) and fun foods like eggplant fries or pot roast on a pretzel roll. 73 E. Gay St.; 614-221-8300 or tiptopcolumbus.com