Without a long trip south, central Ohioans can only dream of the warm sunshine and sandy beaches of the Caribbean.

Island fare, on the other hand, isn't too far away.

Taste Bay International & Caribbean Food, specializing mostly in regional Caribbean cuisine, has opened in the former Firehouse Subs location at 1132 W. Henderson Road in northwest Columbus.

Owner Miler Montoya emphasizes that most of the food will not singe the tongue with spices.

"It's not all spicy," Montoya said. "We have a lot of flavor in it. It has to be spicy so you can eat it but not so spicy you can't eat it."

One of the more lively entrees is the Jamaican-style jerk chicken.

Montoya said Taste Bay's recipe uses myriad herbs and spices and heat from the habanero peppers. The chicken is twice marinated, using two separate sauces, for a deep, rich flavor, he said.

"It's a process but the key to that flavor is a special sauce," he said. "It's spicy and not just that -- it's the combination of sweet and salty."

One of the house specialties from Montoya's native Panama is ceviche, a blend of fish, shrimp and octopus cured in lemon juice and seasoned with onions, habaneros and cilantro.

Taste Bay also offers bandeja paisa, a Columbian dish with chorizo-grilled steak and chicharron, along with other sides.

Truly rare in Columbus is mofongo, the Puerto Rican dish that uses fried mashed green, or unsweet, plantains and served in a garlic sauce with shrimp, chicken or steak and a small salad.

The menu also includes some Mexican dishes, as well as a chicken sandwich and tostone burger, in which the bun is made of green-plantain cakes.

Most entrees are $10 to $17. The restaurant does not serve alcohol.

Taste Bay is in what once was a Borders bookstore, which was converted into several retail uses.

Deceptively larger than its appearance from the outside, the 2,500-square-foot restaurant seats 96. It mostly is pristine white, with red highlights and a few pieces of art, such as an octopus drawn by Montoya.

Montoya, who is a full-time minister and author, trusts his restaurant will have much appeal in Columbus.

"I'm very happy," Montoya said. "I have -- what do you say? -- great expectations."

Hours are 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays. For more information, call 614-429-3073.

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Central Ohio's second Beer Barrel Pizza & Grill opened Dec. 4 in Easton Market.

Part of the Good Food Restaurants group based in Lima, Beer Barrel will take over 10,500 square feet at 3993 Morse Crossing in northeast Columbus.

Based in a standalone building, the restaurant will seat 300, with additional seating on the patio.

Beer Barrel is known for its rustic interior, complete with a wood-burning fireplace, and three housemade pizza crusts -- thin, original and deep dish. The menu includes a number of appetizers, salads, sandwiches and entrees, plus a number of craft and domestic beers on draft and in bottles.

The first Columbus location opened two years ago at 2500 Roberts Court, near the southern boundaries of Hilliard.

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Winans Chocolates + Coffees is expanding into Grandview Yard.

The new shop is set to open in January at 1125 Yard St.

That makes four total Winans in central Ohio; the other three are in Dublin, downtown Columbus and German Village.

As with the downtown location, the Grandview Yard Winans will serve wine.

gseman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekGary