Spicy Hop is delivering straight-up Szechuan cuisine in an already diverse dining area of Columbus.

The new restaurant has an ordering style now familiar to many diners: Customers choose a style of rice -- white or brown -- and two to three proteins, salads or vegetables to complete the meal, which costs $9.49 to $12.99.

The 46-seat Spicy Hop and the Verge Club, its next-door neighbor, replaced the Aoi Sushi Bar at 878 Bethel Road in a corridor flush with ethnic options.

Spicy Hop has 11 items on the menu, which includes braised pork belly, sweet-and-sour short ribs and dry tofu salad.

Nothing is deep-fried, general manager Michael Newman said, but the crispy honey pork is wok-fried.

The signature dish is the Szechuan chicken -- tiny bites of poultry with fresh chili peppers and dried vegetables.

Newman said the level of heat isn't overwhelming, but patrons who are spice-sensitive should take note.

"We want to make sure our food is not a challenge to eat," he said. "It's edible, but you definitely know the spice is there."

A few dishes qualify as exotic to central Ohio diners: the braised chicken gizzards with pickled peppers or kelp salad, one of a few vegetarian choices on the menu.

A recent list of soups included winter melon and ribs, tofu and kelp and oxtail in tomato broth.

Customers can expect some of the food choices to change periodically, Newman said.

Spicy Hop, which offers a casual setting, is owned by Guannan Li, Ruofe Yu and Zhiwen Cheng.

"Our main concept is different than most of the Chinese restaurants in America," Li said.

He said the fare at Spicy Hop usually is available in larger cities, such as Chicago, Los Angeles and New York.

"We want to change American people's minds," Li said. "We want to bring authentic Chinese food to this city."

A drive-thru window on the west side of the building should be functional in a few weeks, he said.

Next door at Verge, which operates independently of Spicy Hop, the space is filled with gold, red and white seating, with karaoke in the main bar and four private rooms available for rent.

Verge has no food service and is open weekends only, but people may bring in food from next door, Li said.

Spicy Hop hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. six days a week.

The restaurant is closed Wednesdays. For more information, call 614-886-9154.

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The Pit BBQ Grille is expanding to south Columbus.

The owners of the barbecue restaurant, which has a location in the Northern Lights Shopping Center in the north Linden neighborhood, plan a May opening in a roughly 1,200-square-foot space, with a garage door leading to a patio, at 1542 Parsons Ave.

The ownership team includes former Ohio State University football players Chimdi Chekwa and Bryant Browning and their friends, Mike Johnson and D'Andre Martin.

Pit BBQ's food-truck favorite -- the pit bowl -- will be new to the menu. It consists of a base of fries, cornbread or a toasted bun, choice of beef brisket, jackfruit, pulled pork or pulled chicken, a topping of kale slaw and a drizzle of the restaurant's signature barbecue sauce.

Customers also can expect to see the original lineup of kielbasa, turkey, ribs and rib tips, and classic sides, including macaroni and cheese, candied yams and greens.

The new location will allow customers to watch the cooking process because the pit will be in full view above the patio, Martin said.

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Ohio's first Vitality Bowls opened March 14 at 1510 Stonecreek Drive South in Pickerington.

The California-based restaurant chain specializes in acai bowls -- a thick blend of the Amazon's antioxidant-rich acai berries that are topped with a variety of superfoods, such as graviola, acerola cherries, mangosteens and spirulina.

The new franchise location will be the first for Terry and Cyndi Roberts, who plan to open a second cafe in central Ohio.

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Pasquale's Pizza & Pub has closed at 7875 Ryan Parkway in Jerome Township near Dublin.

The Pasquale's restaurant at 558 Schrock Road in Westerville will remain open.

gseman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekGary