Yes, they have well-known and high-quality restaurants. But I was raised in California’s North Coast and wine country to shun chain eateries and seek out more individualized flavors with flair.
That said, I could not pass up the chance to join Easton in welcoming the first Cooper’s Hawk Winery and Restaurant to the Buckeye State.
The Cooper’s Hawk concept is unique—take the oak crafted California tasting room experience, mix it with a Champps-size menu, and throw in a little Pottery Barn and Cracker Barrel commercialization.
The result is an entertaining wine experience best suited for those new to the tasting experience, and a restaurant made upscale by the quality of its customer service.
Brian and I walked into Cooper’s Hawk on the Tuesday after its grand opening and browsed the pair of wine bars, accented by a candy counter and a retail room filled with carafs, wine bottle holders and even T-shirts.It was clear the concept had already caught on, as we had to wait for a table, and both bars—as well as a spirits station–had customers lined up with glasses full.
And Cooper’s Hawk is size to go with its ambition. It is more than 42,000 square feet with 370 seats, private upstairs seating opening in 2013 and a 40-person patio for summer.
It is also part of America’s largest wine club, they told us, with more than 59,000 members.
Evidence of the site as a “working winery,” in the words of general manager Timothy Mahler, came from the barrels that both enhanced the décor and held a unique “barrel serve” sample of a special blend found only inside the restaurant.
Cooper’s Hawk’s dedication to the wine novice can be seen in the crafty idea of bin numbers next to each entrée, which corresponds to one of the 47 pours on the wine list, to help with food and wine pairings.
All the wines are created at the company’s Countryside, Ill., headquarters, utilizing grapes from across the country.
We started off with the chicken al pastor stuffed mushrooms, accompanied by a pair of flights—reds for Brian, including Sangiovese, Cabernet, Syrah and Zinfandel, and the weightier Lux line, which featured Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet and a Meritage aged in French and American oak.
I will admit that as a Napa Valley wine snob I went expecting to judge. Wine made in Illinois? Really?But with eyes closed I found the my Meritage and his Zinfandel both delightful, with hints of berries and spice in the former, and a pepper spark in the latter. The earthy Syrah got Brian’s vote of approval.
At $14.99 for the red and $15.99 for the Lux, the flights were reasonably priced, especially considering the generous 2 ounce pours that proved ample enough to sip over time.
That said, not all was rosé (get it?).
The pinot noir was lacking in any depth or flavor complexity, and the $39.99 price tag of the Meritage could definitely be spent on bottle with far more impact.
But if it’s experience you’re after, there are few places in town to equal Cooper’s Hawk in magnitude or enthusiasm.
A standard tasting encompasses eight, one-ounce pours, with a staff well trained to educate new wine drinkers on the core concepts of the tasting and technique.
The menu is equally grand, offering five pages of edible offerings, including high-end steak and seafood entrees (the scallops were tasty but a little skimpy for the $25.99 price), salads and sandwiches, burgers (Brian’s favorite was the cheeseburger), a Life Balance reduced-calorie menu, kid fare and brunch plates.
Cooper’s Hawk clearly has something for everyone—even those who may scoff at the idea that a quality wine experience can come out of suburban Illinois and take root in an outdoor Columbus mall.
But for those who want to dip their toe in the wine mainstream in a welcoming environment with staff who will walk you through every step, Cooper’s Hawk is the place to land.