Dave Rice is testing his prowess in front of the stove instead of behind the camera.

The owner of Buckeye Chili & Smokehouse at 30 S. Young St. in downtown Columbus believes his chili is top-notch, so he put his former occupation as a professional photographer on the back burner.

But the professions are linked in a significant way.

Rice said his duties as owner of the Columbus Sports Photography Network frequently took him out of town. When he returned, he often would throw parties, at which friends swooned over his chili and barbecue and urged him to open a restaurant.

His concept is 2 years old, but a previous pursuit in Grove City never came to fruition.

The lure of satisfying hungry patrons proved to be too strong, so he took over the former site of the Hungry Soul Cafe and the Inn Between on the ground floor of a parking garage.

Somewhat obscured from a major road, the 130-seat storefront is long and narrow, with lots of accouterments from the past: brass poles, colored-glass details and wood paneling as far as the eye can see.

"It's off the beaten path for people who aren't downtown," Rice said.

Rice said he was somewhat apprehensive about opening a place specializing in chili during warmer weather.

"I kind of wanted to open when it was cold, but it seemed like a good time because people are getting out, going to travel for it," Rice said.

Buckeye Chili offers four styles: regular, spicy, beanless and vegetarian. A cup is $3.99, and a bowl is $5.49. All are topped with freshly shredded cheese, green onions and sour cream, per customers' request.

Chili appears as a topping on other dishes, such as spaghetti, fries, tater tots and hot dogs. Rice said the chili is tangy, with a strong garlic base, but no sweetness, per Cincinnati tradition.

He smokes his pork, brisket and chicken wings in a hickory-fired, electricity-boosted smoker hooked into the restaurant's ventilation system.

Pulled pork and brisket come in sandwich or platter form, with regular, Carolina gold and vinegar-based sauces. The two meats also can be served on macaroni and cheese.

Most items are $10.49 or less.

Rice said that when the liquor license is in place, which he expects in about two months, he plans to expand the hours and menu to include such items as smoked prime rib and Buffalo-chicken dip.

Current hours are 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. For more information, call 614-670-8445.

In what could be a first for Columbus, a Moroccan restaurant is opening in Columbus' Northland neighborhood.

Couscous House is expected to open around May 1 at 1611 Morse Road, just east of Karl Road.

Chef and owner Fatima Idouanzid said the setup is simple: Customers can choose from one of two types of couscous – made from either durum flour or wheat flour – grilled vegetables, salad and three proteins: chicken breast, drumsticks and steak. Soup also will be on the menu.

Prices will range from $7.50 to $8.50.

The small space will offer seating, Idouanzid said.

Columbus-based White Castle has broken ground on its first restaurant in Arizona.

It will be located in the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community Talking Stick Entertainment District near Scottsdale.

A fall opening is planned.

The 1.1-million-square-foot retail destination offers a four-diamond resort and spa, a casino, 36 holes of championship golf, a Major League Baseball spring-training facility and America's largest butterfly conservancy, according to White Castle.

Pho Fast is opening in early May at 1089 Worthington Woods Blvd. in north Columbus.

What started as a food cart in 2015 has developed into a catering outfit, with Pho Fast doing on-site catering events for several corporate clients.

The new location, with pho soups and other Vietnamese specialties, will be mostly grab-and-go; a small number of seats will be available.

Corporate, on-site catering will remain part of the company's business plan.

gseman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekGary