Brio Tuscan Grille: Easton location’s fountain makes this fine-dining destination our top family-friendly restaurant for August

Brio Tuscan Grille

Easton location’s fountain makes this fine-dining destination our top family-friendly restaurant for August

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It’s August and it’s hot. But that’s no reason to consume another box of mac and cheese in an air-conditioned home. Instead, consider heading to Brio Tuscan Grille at Easton Town Center for penne pasta and cheese, enjoyed on Brio’s patio adjacent to Easton’s Town Square and fountain.

Columbus-based Brio has multiple locations, but the fountain is key to the family-friendly quotient at Easton. Ask to sit on the patio, alongside the fence that faces the fountain. Reservations are not accepted for this area, so it’s first-come, first-serve. We sat by a gate that allowed our children to exit and re-enter the patio. It gave us a chance to enjoy fine food and a conversation, mostly uninterrupted by our kids, who were frolicking in the fountain.

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Town Square is the site of many ongoing events during the summer at Easton, including an outdoor movie series on Tuesdays, concerts on Wednesdays and a farmer’s market on Thursdays. So if the fountain isn’t running, such as during concerts, the patio is still the best seat in the house. Learn more about events.

Are bathing suits acceptable attire?

We were skeptical if it’d be OK for our children – ages 7 and 9 – to wear their bathing suits concealed by coverups to the restaurant, only to tear them off during dinner to splash in the fountain. Assistant General Manager Brian Peters assured us that it was OK. Just be sure to bring a towel and change of clothes, if you plan to splash in the fountain. If you forget, though, there’s a Gap Kids a stone’s throw away.

Brio recently updated its menu, but Mike’s go-to dish remains the Pasta BRIO, made of rigatoni, grilled chicken, seared mushrooms, and roasted red pepper sauce. I like to try any number of the delicious seafood dishes. “Bambino Favorites” include ravioli, lasagna, chicken parmesan and grilled salmon – all under $7.

Our kids loved the mac and cheese, but the fountain got all their attention. They ran around in circles with other kids and soaked up the experience. That is, until we had Torta di Cioccolata, a cake-based dessert with a warm chocolate center, vanilla bean gelato, anglaise sauce and a chocolate drizzle.

And for the parents?

Mike and I liked having a good meal somewhat by ourselves as we watched our kids play in the fountain – something we thought they may have outgrown. It was nice to see they hadn’t – at least not yet.

Brio Tuscan Grille is located at 3993 Easton Station, Columbus. Learn more.


American Girl

Beloved doll makes Ohio debut in Columbus

Gone are the days when my 6-year-old daughter would be satisfied to simply browse the American Girl catalog and dream of having frivolous accessories for her doll, Rebecca. Back then the nearest American Girl store was in Chicago, along the city’s famed Magnificent Mile – many miles from home and many miles from our reality.

But that was then.

In June, the first American Girl store in Ohio opened at Columbus’ Easton Town Center. Opening day drew hundreds of doll-toting youngsters and their parents to the shopping mecca for a first glimpse at what many, like my daughter, had only seen in print.

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At more than 11,000 square feet, the Ohio store is small by American Girl standards. (The one in Chicago is a whopping 52,000 square feet!) But our store’s astounding selection of outfits, pets and furniture for these 18-inch divas is imaginably just as overwhelming.

Customers will find original and current American Girl dolls from the company that was founded in 1986, along with Bitty Baby and Bitty Twins. They’ll also find lots of books and matching clothes for dolls and their owners.

The dolls can be custom built by selecting their skin, hair and eye color. Their hair can come short, long, curly or straight. Heck, she can even have freckles, if you’d like. Anything you want for $110 apiece.

I enjoyed seeing so many little girls interacting with their dolls, some taking theirs to the Doll Hair Salon, where stylists propped them in miniature chairs and worked ever so seriously on their hairdos.

After primping, humans and dolls can enjoy a bite to eat at the in-store American Girl Bistro. The menu includes fruit kabobs, tea sandwiches and quesadillas, along with the kid-menu favorites such as pizza, macaroni and cheese, chicken tenders and grilled cheese. There’s also a banana split big enough for six people.

The American Girl store offers plenty of reasons to make a return visit, including crafts, scavenger hunts and story times. Youngsters can even have a birthday party in the Bistro and eat cake and ice cream with their dolls.

For more information, visit

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Fork & Screen

Consume meal and movie in 2 hours at Easton

Taking youngsters out to dinner and a movie can be an exhaustive and expensive endeavor.

One way to do both in about two hours is at a dinner theater, where you can consume a restaurant-style meal and a movie at the same time.

My family of four tried out this concept at Easton Town Center’s Fork & Screen dine-in theater, which opened at the Columbus shopping mecca in 2012.

We found the experience to be a good destination for families wanting to do something special together. The evening was no less expensive than having dinner and seeing a movie separately, though. Expect to pay upward of $100 for a family of four. That’s without dessert or adult beverages.

Easton’s AMC theater offers 30 auditoriums, 17 of which are reserved for dining experiences. There are two options: Cinema Suites is for the 21 and over crowd, offering upscale dining and personal recliners. Fork & Screen serves casual meals to guests seated at leather rocking chairs with swing-out tables. Both options offer seat-side service at the push of a button.

I ordered our tickets online for a same-day showing of “Monsters University.” The PG-rated, 3D-animated movie seemed like a visual feast for our children’s eyes and a good pairing for a feast for their bellies, too. When ordering online, you also can select your seats, as you would ordering tickets for a concert. I chose the remaining adjacent seats in the second row. All seats appeared to offer a good view of the movie screen.

We arrived early to place our carb-filled orders of pizza, grilled cheese and quesadillas. I found our servers to be friendly and unobtrusive. (To save time, you can review the menu online beforehand.)

We seated our 4- and 6-year-olds between us, to prevent them from wandering astray during the movie. This theater offers lots more personal space than regular theaters. I had to get up and take a couple of steps to pass a drink to my husband. There also seemed to be more previews for upcoming movies than at regular showings.

My son, Max, especially liked his personal space with its own little light, food tray and self-service button. Our kids behaved exceptionally well, being preoccupied by the movie and their intimate surroundings. They did get cold, however, so we covered their legs with their own little cloth napkins.

For more information, visit

Build-A-Bear Workshop

Impromptu outing at Easton turns into toy-making adventure

A recent, impromptu family outing to the mall surprisingly turned into a splendid, all-American adventure.

Our outing began on a rainy Saturday afternoon, a day somewhere between our two children’s spring birthdays. We wanted to do something special for Rosie and Max as a way to jointly celebrate their births.

A fitting activity, we thought, was to give “life” to a new toy for each child at the Build-A-Bear Workshop at Easton Town Center in Columbus. The store is one of two in central Ohio and among hundreds located worldwide. The retailer, headquartered in St. Louis, Mo., allows customers to customize their own stuffed animals. Its motto is “Where best friends are made.”

Rosie and Max started the process by selecting un-stuffed animals from barrels. Rosie, almost 5 years old, went straight for a purple bear that’s fur is decorated with colorful peace signs. She’d been eying it for a while. Three-year-old Max took longer deciding but ultimately settled on a light-brown bear with curly fur that slightly resembles himself.

Rosie and Max hugged their lifeless toy skins as they waited in line to stuff them with the white fluff that swirled around in a machine like cotton candy. A kind worker helped them pump the fluff into their bears, allowing them to step on the machine’s pedal. They also selected and kissed little red hearts that were stuck inside the bears before they were stitched up.

Rosie and Max then made birth certificates and chose outfits for their new friends, “Brownie” and “Billa.” Brownie got an Ohio State getup and Billa got a billowy pink dress and rain gear.

Each bear with accessories cost about $50.

All the bear building made us hungry. We popped across the mall’s hallway into the California Pizza Kitchen. The casual restaurant chain specializes in thin, crispy pizza, such as artichoke and spinach. It also offers a fine kids menu. The Curly Mac ‘N’ Cheese, $5.50, is far-better fare than most mac-and-cheese options we’ve found at other restaurants.

Mike and I sipped glasses of wine as we watched the kids enjoy their lunch with their new bear friends.

Eager not to end the fun, we finished our outing with ice cream at Graeter’s, a regional chain founded in Cincinnati, Ohio. The store is located at Easton near the entrance to the movie theater. We ordered a banana split, which disappeared quickly with four of us diving in.

It was the perfect ending to a family outing that garnered our children two new friends.


Lego store

Easton’s Lego store will please enthusiasts, new fans of building-block toy

As a child I was often frustrated by build-it-yourself toys like Erector Sets and Lincoln Logs. It was hard for me to create something out of nothing. The toy pieces usually ended up in a pile mixed with Lite-Brite pegs and model-car parts. (Maybe that’s why I’m a writer and not an engineer.)

Today’s generation of children seem to be much brighter – bright like the bold, primary colors of Legos, another toy that requires lots of tiny pieces to build something larger.

I recently joined dozens of other parents and their children at the new Lego store at Easton Town Center in Columbus. The 2,000 square-foot store at 4004 Gramercy St., only the second in Ohio, opened in July. A sales representative said they’re already doing a brisk business.

Kids gawk at Lego box sets of pirate ships, houses, trains and a variety of other objects stacked nearly to the ceiling on two walls. Some are themed in popular television shows such as SpongeBob SquarePants, or movies including Star Wars. One showstopper is the 5,197-piece Millennium Falcon of Star Wars fame. At $500, it’s the most expensive set in the store. Each toy has a recommended age range marked on the box.

Some Lego creations are displayed in the store like museum pieces. The more routine pieces stand behind round Plexiglass covers in the wall, at child level. For instance, you can look through a porthole and see little Lego people seated in a movie theater.

You can even customize your own mini Lego people. They’re called MiniFigures.

True enthusiasts can buy Legos by the brick in the bulk section behind the checkout counter at the back of the store. There are lots of colors and shapes in various sizes to choose from. I’m not sure how you’re supposed to reach the pieces at the top level. That was over my head.

Now that I have children of my own, I feel like I want to steer them toward intelligent toys that build motor and problem-solving skills. On a recent Saturday afternoon at the Lego store, many parents apparently shared that feeling, although I didn’t see anyone pony up $500 for the Millennium Falcon.

Maybe they’re saving up for Christmas.

For more information, visit


Easton Town Center

Fun to be found around Easton Town Center’s fountain

Children love to play in outdoor water fountains during the summer heat. Central Ohio has several public fountains where kids can cool off, but only one that offers major shopping, dining and entertainment opportunities.

Many people regard Easton Town Center as the preeminent shopping destination in Ohio, in large part because its developers have tried to attract families. A good example is a playful fountain near the Brio Tuscan Grille and Cheesecake Factory restaurants.

The popular attraction has several water jets that shoot up from the ground in pre-programmed synchronization. Children donning bathing suits jump and play while parents relax on the sidelines in the shade where concrete benches align two sides of the space known as Town Square.

The square also contains a grass lawn where you’ll find beach balls, ice cream vendors and an outdoor train exhibit. The cement walk adjacent to Townsfair Way contains a family chalk-drawing area where kids can pick up a fat stick of chalk and create colorful artwork, then wash themselves off in the fountain.

Town Square is a great place for Easton visitors to take a break from shopping, although it’s not a good idea to leave kids there unsupervised. Traffic flows steadily around the square.

Easton also offers:

• More than 130 stores, including Macy’s, Nordstrom and Tiffany & Co.

• Dozens of restaurants offering just about everything you need to please your palate.

• Several nice hotels, including the Columbus Hilton, one of the top-grossing hotels in the region.

And if the weather suits your fancy, be sure to dip your toes in the fountain.

For more information, visit