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Classic L'Antibes
by Karen Edwards

October 2006

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© Photos by Gus Brunsman III

Editors Note: Matthew Litzinger purchased the restaurant from Dale Gussett and Larry Williamson in July 2007.

At the end of a quiet line of shops and businesses just off High Street – 772 N. High to be exact – sits L’Antibes, one of the few restaurants in Columbus to serve classic French food, and the only one in the Short North to do so. Being French, L’Antibes could be pretentious, with unpronounceable menu items, stuffy wait staff and one of those intimidating sommeliers who acknowledges your wine selection with a thinly disguised smirk.

But L’Antibes is not pretentious at all. It’s Short North friendly with a warm, inviting, even romantic, ambiance and some of the finest food in town.

You can credit co-owners Dale Gussett and Larry Williamson for keeping L’Antibes at the top of discriminating diners’ lists for the past 13 years – while keeping its French fare both fresh and unpretentious.

Gussett’s talent lies in the kitchen. Trained by Hyde Park, New York’s prestigious Culinary Institute of America (CIA), Gussett makes everything that L’Antibes serves – from appetizers to main course to dessert, and even the restaurant’s bread.

Williamson, an accountant by trade, keeps L’Antibes’ books, does its payroll, and serves as the restaurant’s “face.”

“He started out as host at the front door,” says Gussett, “but then he decided to work one of the service stations because he loves interacting with the diners.”

“I only lasted one week in the hosting job,” Williamson agrees, with a laugh.

Gussett adds a partner
The two men met in the late 1970s, when Gussett owned the highly acclaimed L’Armagnac, a French restaurant located in a private residence on Sixth Street in the heart of the city’s downtown district.

“I had been complaining to my attorney that my accountant was not working out,” says Gussett, “and he told me, ‘You should try mine.’ So, I made an appointment (with Williamson), and we’ve been working together since.”

Gussett’s trail to L’Armagnac and L’Antibes was a slow and steady course that began when he was 16 years old.

“I thought I wanted to be a hotel manager,” he says, so his father, who happened to be renting property to a hotel manager at the time, pulled some strings and landed Gussett a job as a busboy at the Holiday Inn.

The plan was to move him to the front desk, and eventually Gussett did find himself there.

“That’s when I learned I’m not necessarily a people person,” he says. He returned happily to the kitchen, and left for the Culinary Institute of America shortly after graduating high school.

“Of course, we learned how to cook all kinds of cuisines there,” Gussett recalls – but the classic French dishes of Julia Child and Jacques Pepin were the ones he most enjoyed preparing.

Following his CIA training, Gussett moved back and forth through several food service jobs, including stints in Providence, Rhode Island; Virginia Beach, Virginia; and New York City.

Gussett had returned for a second time to Providence when his father told him about a place that had opened up in downtown Columbus – the perfect place for a restaurant.

Dale Gussett's talent lies in the kitchen.

L’Armagnac opens
“I came here and opened L’Armagnac in 1976,” says Gussett. “I named it L’Armagnac because I wanted to be the first in the city to offer Armagnac brandy.”

And he was – though it meant a lengthy paper trail with the state’s department of liquor.

From the outset, L’Armagnac was a success. “It helped that French cuisine was all the rage in the ‘70s,” says Gussett – and that Columbus had few other French restaurants. But it also helped that Gussett was working his magic in the kitchen with fresh ingredients, an imaginative menu and that everything served was made from scratch.

“I was more adventurous with L’Armagnac’s menu,” says Gussett. Brains, sweetbreads and other exotic, foreign-to-American tastes made frequent appearances at L’Armagnac.

Gussett says he hesitates to serve such fare at L’Antibes. “Today, no one would try them.”

In 1982, six years after L’Armagnac opened its doors, Gussett decided it was time to move on. He sold the business and, because he had signed a non-compete agreement that included the entire state of Ohio, he and Williamson left and headed to the East coast, looking for somewhere to settle down and open another restaurant.

“We drove up and down the Eastern seaboard, finally stopping in Portland, Maine. We liked the feeling there, so we stayed,” says Gussett.

He and Williamson soon opened the first L’Antibes.

“A friend had suggested the name,” says Gussett. “She had been to that part of southern France and loved it. She talked about the food, how wonderful it was.”

L’Antibes was a success in Maine, but winters eventually proved too much for the pair, so they packed their bags again and moved to Tampa, Florida, where Gussett worked briefly as a food service director for a retirement center.

L’Antibes in Columbus
By 1992, the pair was back on the road, to Columbus this time, intent on resurrecting L’Antibes in the city that had fallen in love with L’Armagnac.

Although Grandview was one of the places the two considered for a restaurant site, the Short North eventually won out.

Gussett is something of an art connoisseur. He has taken art lessons and his art collection adorns L’Antibes’ orchid-colored walls. Gussett liked that the Short North was an eclectic arts community, and that, at the time, few restaurants existed there. Of course, a landlord’s generous offer regarding rent didn’t hurt the decision to establish L’Antibes in the Short North either.

L’Antibes opened in that quiet strip of shops and businesses off High Street in February 1993. Like L’Armagnac, L’Antibes proved to be an instant success.

Although American tastes have moved from French to embrace a multitude of cultural dishes, Gussett says that’s not a problem for L’Antibes. In fact, he says, it has meant the evolution of a more sophisticated palate in Columbus (brains and sweetbreads notwithstanding). “I’d like to think L’Armagnac had something to do with that evolution,” he says.

Dale Gussett with L'Antibes diners
(l to r) David Voyles, Nancy Jeffrey and Tad Jeffrey.

Most evenings, L’Antibes’ small dining room (it seats 40) is filled with diners of all ages and from all parts of central Ohio and beyond.

“OSU does some of its interviews here, because it’s quiet,” says Williamson, “and we also see a lot of birthday and other types of celebrations.” Given the restaurant’s intimate setting – the candles and fresh flowers on the table – that list of celebrations occasionally includes a proposal or two.

“We’ve been asked to slip the ring into a dessert and even a glass of champagne,” Williamson recalls. “That last one worried me because of the liability. I thought she’d drink it before she saw it.” But the ring was dropped in the champagne flute anyway, and the would-be fiancée proved as eagle-eyed as her suitor had hoped.

“Then there was this one time,” says Williamson. The suitor had dropped to one knee and popped the question. The answer was no. It was an awkward moment. “In a 40-seat restaurant, it’s hard not to see something like that happening,” he says. When the server asked Williamson what to do, Williamson replied, “Give them some space for a while, and whatever you do, don’t talk to them first. Let them lead you on this journey,” he advised.

Such dramas are not usually on L’Antibes menu. In fact, says Williamson, the restaurant is most often filled with local, loyal, repeat customers who come to enjoy the ambiance and excellent food.

Food is star attraction
And there is no doubt that food is the star attraction at L’Antibes. Gussett says he draws his menu inspiration from his own personal tastes, but he also dips into magazines and cookbooks for ideas.

“I stay with the classics,” he says. “I don’t follow trends, really. I just like to give the classics a new, modern twist.” Lately, he adds, that’s included an Asian influence.

If he were to select a dinner from his own menu, Gussett says he’d start with the Roquefort-walnut terrine served on mescaline greens with sherry-walnut vinaigrette. After that, he’d select lobster bisque, and because he enjoys lamb, he’d order the lamb medallions with green-peppercorn sauce. The standard L’Antibes potato-leek puree and three seasonal vegetables would accompany the lamb, of course. For dessert, he’d choose the lingonberry-walnut tart, a rendition of a raspberry version created by a pastry chef he once worked with.

Gussett shops at the North Market for his ingredients, as well as with growers and vendors from all over Ohio.

Because diners these days are generally eschewing the multi-course dinners once served at L’Armagnac, L’Antibes has an à la carte policy. And Gussett says L’Antibes selections are lighter than those once offered by L’Armagnac. “Well, some are lighter,” he says.

Menus used to change every two or three months with the seasons, but regulars complained when they couldn’t find their favorites on the menu. “Now we change menus twice a year, but feature specials on a regular basis,” says Gussett.

Gussett has two staff members working in the kitchen with him, and Williamson works with two other wait staff and a front-door hostess.

A new direction?
Both are proud of L’Antibes – and L’Armagnac before that – but Gussett confided that recently he and Williamson have been thinking of selling L’Antibes.

“At my age, it’s a little tough facing the pressures of the kitchen, and there is pressure,” says Gussett, especially when you’re doing most of the food preparation yourself. So, if and when a buyer comes along, Gussett believes he’s likely to take an offer, and turn yet another chapter in his life.

“I’d like to look at teaching, “he says.

Williamson says if that day arrives, and L’Antibes is no longer in their hands, he’ll miss the people, and the almost-nightly exchanges and interaction he enjoys with L’Antibes regulars and newcomers.

Sure, he’d enjoy a little R & R, he says, but “I have so much fun at L’Antibes that, if that ends, I may just have to go out and find another restaurant to serve,” he says.

For now, however, you’ll find him mingling with guests while Gussett continues to turn out some of the finest French food in the city, if not the state.

And all you have to do to enjoy it is find your way to that quiet line of shops and businesses just off High Street, right here in the Short North.

L’Antibes serves dinners only Tuesday through Saturday night beginning at 5 p.m. For reservations, call 614-291-1666. Visit

Editors Note
: Matthew Litzinger purchased the restaurant from Dale Gussett and Larry Williamson in July 2007.

© 2006 - 2013 Short North Gazette, Columbus, Ohio. All rights reserved.