RSS Feed

Monthly Archives: February 2008

Wildflower Cafe | Columbus, OH

Wildflower Cafe
3420 Indianola Ave. (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43214
(614) 262-CAFE (2233)
Open Tuesday-Saturday 7a-9p (bfast served till 11); Sunday brunch served 9a-2p
Accepts cash & debit/credit
IMPRESSIONS: My brother- and sister-in-law Chip and Marcia visited this place in our neighborhood and suggested I check it out. So Chip and I ventured out on a snowy winter morning. Wildflower Cafe is located on Indianola Avenue, one of the main routes through Columbus’ Clintonville neighborhood. The restaurant is set back from the road, and it’s in a smaller building, so it might be easy to drive by. But there’s plenty of parking out front and on the side.
ATMOSPHERE: Wildflower Cafe has the small-diner charm without the diner cram. There are plenty of tables, plus seating at the counter; Chip and I found a table immediately.

The atmosphere the morning we visited was definitely casual. Of course, the snow day probably helped. In addition to us, the customers included two guys who had apparently just finished a night of snow-plowing, an old couple eating their meal, and two old guys at the counter who had probably been enjoying their newspapers and coffee for hours already.

Some of the decor seems the typical of diners: black and white checkered floor, simple lighting and music, and clattering coming from the kitchen. Plus, there’s a definite wildflower theme: pictures, window drapes, and wall stenciling. Chip pointed out all the mis-matched chairs. Fun stuff.

FOOD: I ordered the standard breakfast mix of eggs, meat, potatoes, and some toast. Portions were appropriately-sized, but I would actually have liked more. Eggs and bacon were good, and the potatoes were very nice. They were scalloped, seasoned, and salty. Well done. Other bits of the breakfast disappointed: the toast came out cold and unbuttered. I like having the option to put butter or jam on your toast, but it’s no fun when it’s cold!

And finally, the coffee was a little weak, or at least a little thin. On a cold February day, when the parking lot is all hilly with packed ice, and your car takes a moment or two to start, I like some bold, robust coffee to warm me up.

Here’s another shot of my breakfast, and my brother-in-law Chip digging into his omelet. He’s awesome. We’re frequent breakfast buddies. Several of my breakfast discoveries in Columbus I owe to he and his wife Marcia.

I just had to capture this little setup on our table. This little grouping of creamer, butter, salt, pepper, various sugars and sweeteners, and the little double-tower of jams and jellies is a must-have for any diner. I hope that there’s a company out there, where you can buy your ready-made diner in one complete package. That package would include the creamer-sweetener-jam setup, along with little coffee mugs (preferably an outdated brown, like they have at Jack & Benny’s), tacky placemats, and cheap metal silverware. I can only hope.

SERVICE: The one server working at Wildflower was nice enough, although she acted a little rushed, even though the restaurant wasn’t busy. So it wasn’t the most personal of service, but she took our orders quickly, kept us caffeinated, and brought out our food pronto.

Here’s another picture of Chip. He’s awesome. Notice the floral-patterned curtains behind him.

OVERALL: Yeah, I would go back to Wildflower Cafe again. It’s relatively inexpensive, it’s cozy, it’s close to home. But I feel like it was missing the needed oomph to make it really special diner food. If you want something out of the ordinary, try Northstar Cafe or Banana Bean Cafe. It you want some straight-up diner food, definitely give Wildflower Cafe a try, although I prefer some other local diners over it.

Wildflower Cafe on Urbanspoon

Banana Bean Cafe (German Village) | Columbus, OH

UPDATE: This location is now home to Skillet. Banana Bean moved to a new location on Greenlawn Avenue but has since CLOSED.

Banana Bean Cafe (@bananabeancafe)
410 E. Whittier St.
Columbus, OH 43206
(614) 443-2262
Open Monday 11-2:30, Tuesday-Friday 11-2:30, 5:30-8, Saturday & Sunday 9-3
Accepts cash and credit cards

Date of Visit: Saturday, February 2, 2008 at 10 a.m.

IMPRESSIONS: Beth and I have been hearing about Banana Bean Cafe for about a year now, including lots of raving on Columbus Underground, so when a Saturday morning opened up for us, I made a reservation and we drove down to German Village to see for ourselves. The Cafe is a tiny restaurant on East Whittier Street, in the southeast corner of German Village. I can imagine this place as a great place to start a day of wandering and shopping in the Village. We found parking on the street right next to the restaurant, even on a fairly busy Saturday morning.

ATMOSPHERE: When you open the front door to the cafe, you are quite literally standing in the middle of the restaurant. Take one step too far, and you’ll bump into a table. I counted a total of nine tables, plus a bar with three seats. When we waltzed in on Saturday morning, every table had a piece of paper noting that the table was reserved. EVERY table.

Here’s a shot of a couple tables. This comprises about half the restaurant. They were playing the music of Pink Martini, and great band from Portland, Oregon. Points!
Here’s a shot out the window next to our table. Beth said I wouldn’t use this picture, so just to prove her wrong, I did. We were seated right next to the front window, and right above a register. So all of my impressions of Banana Bean Cafe are formed by a warm, cozy feeling. Seriously, the hot air from the register, on a brisk February morning, nearly put me to sleep.

The restaurant is simply decorated with flags and pictures from Key West and the Caribbean. Banana Bean features “the patina of Key West,” which means it blends the cuisine of Cuba, Jamaica, the Caribbean, and the Florida Keys. I don’t know about your town, but there’s nothing else like this in Columbus. So, bonus for uniqueness.

Hanging above the bar is a flat screen TV. At first, Beth and I thought it was a live camera trained on the back patio. But then we noticed people setting up tables wearing shorts and T-shirts. We figured something was amiss. We asked our server, and she said it was a live feed from the Hog’s Breath Saloon in Key West, Florida. So cruel, in this cold Ohio February.

You can view the webcam yourself by checking out the Hog’s Breath’s website.FOOD: Remember that vent underneath our table? The one that pumped warm air around us on a cold, cold February day, as we watched a live feed of folks in shorts living in Key West? Now here’s the culinary equivalent of that cozy feeling: the Bananas Foster French Toast.This has become one of Banana Bean’s signature pieces, and quite rightfully so. It’s a heaping mound of custardy sweet slices of French toast, topped with sliced bananas, strawberries, and blueberries. The menu says it’s topped with a Captain Morgan spiced rum sauce, although to us it seemed more like a lightly-spiced syrup. Still, it wasn’t drenched on like high-fructose corn syrup. All in all, this wasn’t the most nuanced French toast I’ve had the pleasure of stuffing in my face, but this certainly was a huge pile of tasty comfortable-ness. I could go back again and again for this dish. Really: you should try it.We also tried another Banana Bean signature: the Eggs del Mar. Another amazing tasty treat: two poached eggs on top of lump crab cakes (!) on a bed of fresh spinach, tomatoes, with a light hollandaise sauce. The seasonings and herbs make this an incredibly tasty dish. It’s the right-sized portion, bursting with flavors.

Here’s another shot of our two breakfasts. Note the big, wide coffee cups. Banana Bean serves Cuban coffee, which is delicious. Fits the breakfast perfectly.

Banana Bean Cafe’s menu is a little pricier, although not bad for what you get. The French toast was about $9, and the Eggs del Mar $12. I think the prices were definitely fair, because the food was so rich and flavorful.

Another challenge to their menu: it’s HUGE! There are so many items on it, and to complicate things, the morning we went they had FOUR specials, all of which sounded great. Overall, it’s great to have a big selection, but it’s overwhelming to the customer. If there were more menu items, I would honestly worry that they were spreading themselves thin with too many specialties. That being said, just reading the menu aloud made my mouth water. I want to do a staged reading of it someday. Check it out: Huey, Louis, Andouille; Roasted Corn & Blueberry Pancakes; Cedar Key Shrimp & Grits; Floribbean Jerk Chicken; Calle Ocho; Oyster Po Boy; Slash & Burn Grouper; Ancho & Coffee Rubbed Flatiron Steak. The list goes on and deliciously on.

SERVICE: Our server was great, and the food came out amazingly fast. Seriously, if it came out any faster, I’d be worried about whether it was nuked or not. Then again, when you’ve got nine tables, two visible servers, and probably another two or three people working the kitchen, it must be easy to keep up.

OVERALL: I can’t wait to go back to Banana Bean Cafe. It was a cozy, flavorful experience. The only things keeping me away are the slightly-higher prices and the absolute need for reservations. Knowing the quality of the food and the overall experience, I’m sure there’s a steady stream of folks heading there for dinner. So you can’t go here for a cheap, spur-of-the-moment meal. There are other places in Columbus for that.

That being said, I’m still planning our next visit here. After all, there are about 40 more menu items we need to try!

Bye-bye!

Aretha Frankenstein’s | Chattanooga, TN

Aretha Frankenstein’s (Facebook)
518 Tremont Street (map it!)
Chattanooga, TN 37405
(423) 265-7685
Open 7 a.m. – midnight everyday
Accepts cash and credit cards

Date of Visit: Monday, January 21, 2008 at 9:30 a.m.

IMPRESSIONS: This is the third and final breakfast review from Chattanooga, Tennessee. When Beth and I were planning our trip, Aretha Frankenstein’s popped up on all the websites, on the Food Network, and in friends’ recommendations (particularly my friend Matt Dunmore). So, on our final day in town, we hit the place up for some early-morning grub.

Aretha’s is a really fascinating place, not only for their fun menu, but for their interesting location and history. The restaurant is in North Chattanooga, on the north shore of the Tennessee River, close to Coolidge Park and the Chattanooga Theatre Centre, with it’s very Short North-like burgeoning arts district.

The restaurant is in an old house in a very residential neighborhood. There’s parking to be found, although you may have to explore some side streets, and be prepared to use that parking brake – it’s hilly! We actually drove by Aretha’s the first time we went looking for it; it’s slightly set back off Tremont. Out front is a wide patio, and the building itself has a big porch. I’ll bet it’s great to have breakfast out front in the summer.

Be sure you check out Aretha’s website. It’s a bit spotty – not everything works on it – but there’s a message board to post your thoughts, a downloadable menu, some photos, and a collection of videos. The videos are the best part. There’s the feature from Rachel Ray’s visit to Aretha’s, plus videos of the fire that gutted the restaurant a couple years ago. Apparently the restaurant burned badly in April 2006, and the owner immediately set to work restoring and reopening it – the fact that they’re doing well speaks to the customer loyalty. The fire videos include a security camera recording of the fire itself, plus some great clips on the clean-up and rebuild. Worth checking out. When you visit the place today, you wouldn’t imagine it had burned so badly.

ATMOSPHERE: We visited in January, so the patio and porch were closed. This left about four or five tables, plus a long bar in the center of the restaurant. Many of the reviews I’ve read mention Aretha’s being pretty busy in the mornings, but we found a table immediately when we arrived. (This may have been b/c of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday.)

The inside of Aretha’s is a fascinating piece of eye candy. It’s full of so many knick-knacks and chotchky: there’s a flat screen TV in a picture frame above the bar. Movie posters, board games, and posters for musical acts line the walls; many of the posters feature Frankenstein’s monster. Two chandeliers hang from the ceiling, and a dual set of oscillating fans hangs from the center. Probably the coolest part is the floor – the owner purchased an old gymnasium floor and installed it. The visit is worth seeing that alone.

Here’s another shot – it turned out a little darker, but gives you a sense of the size. Boxes of supplies line the back walls. In addition to being a happenin’ breakfast joint, Aretha’s serves up lunch, dinner, coffee, and drinks until midnight each night. So part of the decoration includes coffee creamer and boxes of beer.

FOOD: Aretha’s turned out to be the best breakfast in Chattanooga, and that’s saying something for that city of fine food. Their menu is as quirky as the decor, and a majority of the items are spot-on.

First, here is the Chai Tea Latte. The menu describes it as “delicious,” and Beth declared it “unreal.” It really was something, with some subtle, complex flavors that I’ve never tasted in your typical store-made chai. Other beverages include some very good coffee, which I tried, and rich chocolate milk made with Ghirardelli chocolate. Beth also noticed they serve Tazo tea, which is always a bonus.

I was in a steak and eggs mood, so I picked the Flat Iron & Eggs. This is an 8 oz. Flat Iron steak with the expected accoutrement. This prompted the discussion as to what is a Flat Iron. It’s a steak, but isn’t it also a building in New York? And there’s a steakhouse in Columbus called the Flat Iron. So what is it? It turns out the Flatiron is a famous building in New York that tapers on one end, where two streets meet at a sharp angle. A quick look at Wikipedia reveals that a flat iron steak is a cut of shoulder from a steer. But the article doesn’t say where they got the name.

End of digression. My Flat Iron & Eggs was quite good, although not perfect. I ordered it medium, but it came out mostly medium well. But I’ll admit that it’s hard to cook such a small piece to order. I liked how well they combined the three eggs over-easy, but they were a little too cooked on one side. Plus, once I started cutting into the juicy steak and the runny eggs, my plate turned into a pretty sloppy mess.

The grits, however, were the best I’ve ever had. Just the right thickness – not cake-y and not runny – with a smidgen of salt and butter. Really good stuff, although they give you such a big bowl that you’ll never finish it.

The biscuits deserve props as well. They’re absolutely huge! Seriously, one Aretha’s biscuit is double the size of every other biscuit I’ve tried. Below is a picture of Beth holding one, to give you sense of their size.

These are great biscuits. Puffy and sweet, with some coarse sanding sugar on top. The sweet taste is unexpected, but delicious.

Beth went with a selection of sides. She, too, had the grits, although she didn’t like them as much as I did. She did have the biscuits with sausage gravy. They actually give you two biscuits, which are so huge that they cut one in half to use for the gravy. The gravy was really interesting. I think I liked it, but it tasted more like they used a base of a chicken or vegetable stock. Some nice complexity, and not the typical peppery blend.

Beth also ordered a single pancake. Everyone we asked in Chattanooga, at other restaurants, at the hotel, etc. recommended trying Aretha’s pancakes. They also told us that we could never finish the tall stack. Indeed, they were right, so we ordered only one. The pancake was nearly an inch thick, and golden crisp. Imagine ordering three of these!

The menu also features interestingly named items such as Shrimp & Grits, the SuperDave Scramble, the Sodbuster, Elephants Gerald, and the Waffle of Insane Greatness! (The exclamation point is part of the name.) Check out the Rachel Ray video for a look at the waffle.

SERVICE: The woman who served us at Aretha’s was very nice. Like the other employee there, she was casually dressed and very friendly – although not as casual as the other guy, who looked like he rolled out of bed and threw on an old army jacket. When I asked her permission to take pictures, she seemed a little nervous, so I tried to be extra nice the whole time. She had nothing to worry about. She was attentive, fast, and friendly.

I’m not quite comfortable with taking pictures of people I don’t know yet, so I took a picture of something else. This is not to imply that our server was a container of apple butter.

By the by, this is MY type of breakfast joint: a plastic bottle of apple butter on every table. Try putting it on the biscuits. Mmmm…

OVERALL: Although we were in Chattanooga for a weekend, Aretha’s was definitely the most unique and local breakfast experience. If I were to recommend breakfast places for Chattanooga (which I guess I’m doing now), Aretha’s would be at the top of the list. It’s quirky atmosphere makes for a fun place to enjoy your morning meal, and their food is right up there with the best, and with a large enough selection to please all.

OTHER LINKS:
-> An article about the fire from The Chattanoogan
-> The recipe for the Waffle of Insane Greatness! from the Food Network

Aretha Frankensteins on Urbanspoon

Porter’s Steakhouse | Chattanooga, TN

Porter’s Steakhouse
827 Broad St. (inside in Read House Sheraton) (map it!)
Chattanooga, TN 37402
(423) 643-1240
Breakfast 7:30-10:30 a.m. (buffet on Saturday and Sunday)
Accepts cash, credit cards

Date of Visit: Saturday, January 19 & Sunday, January 20, 2008 at 10 a.m.

IMPRESSIONS: Porter’s Steakhouse is primarily an upscale restaurant attached to the Read House Sheraton, an historic hotel now owned by the Sheraton chain. The hotel itself is amazing – a mix of classic architecture with modern amenities. Beth and I stayed here on our recent visit to Chattanooga, Tennessee, and the quality of the hotel ready made the trip. Porter’s has made a name for itself as a steakhouse; apparently their peppercorn steak is famous. I don’t know if Porter’s breakfast is open to the public, or reserved just for hotel guests. We didn’t have to show a room card, and you can access the restaurant from the hotel lobby, so I’m guessing it’s opening to anyone.

Beth and I visited on a Saturday and Sunday morning, when Porter’s does a breakfast buffet. My understanding is that you can order a regular breakfast at that time, too, but most patrons opted for the buffet. The menu online lists fruit, pastries, eggs, meat, potatoes, grits, a waffle station, and biscuits and gravy. In actuality, the buffet had French toast instead of the waffles (and waffle stations are so exciting, aren’t they?).

ATMOSPHERE: The atmosphere is mostly that of an upscale restaurant, with a dash of buffet thrown in. Now this definitely isn’t a Golden Corral/Ponderossa type of buffet (read: long lines of overweight people stuffing themselves with crab legs), but it is a buffet nonetheless. Still, you do get the feeling of eating in a nicer restaurant: cloth napkins and table clothes, high-backed chairs, well-dressed waiters, a host to greet you, and the like. It fits with the overall atmosphere of the hotel.

FOOD: There are always downfalls to buffets, but Porter’s manages to avoid most of them. In fact, it’s one of better breakfast buffets I can recall trying, although my preference is definitely for traditional fare. Buffets are handy if you want to try a bunch of things, or if you want more of one item than another. But they usually mean that food sits longer before it is eaten, or that it’s made generically from pre-packaged items. That was the case with a few of the items at Porter’s.

Here’s a basic run-down of what we tried and what we thought. Probably the best part was the fruit: crisp melon and pineapple, fresh strawberries. Beth was a big fan of those. That’s great for a buffet, and in January. The potatoes were fine (again with the onions and peppers – a Southern thing? Some tell me.). The scrambled eggs were good, depending one where you scooped. If you found the right spot, you get them just the way I like them: just a tad runny. If you looked to the sides of the tray, you get them too dry. The grits were a little greasy, the biscuits quite good, and the sausage gravy above-average, as were the bacon and sausage. I opted for the sausage links over the patties. I just don’t trust sausage meat in patty form…

The French toast was too dry the first day, but nice and melty the second. Again, you never know with buffets.

Drinks such as coffee (which was very nice), apple juice, cranberry juice, and milk are included. There’s also cold cereal (mostly Kellogg’s stuff) in little single-serving containers.

SERVICE: At Porter’s you’re welcomed with a smile by the host, seated promptly, and given the same amount of attention as you would be given in a regular restaurant. You are on your own to go up and get your food. So if you’re hungry, there’s nothing stopping you! The restaurant was never too busy while we were there, and the crew kept the buffet well-stocked.

OVERALL: I usually don’t seek out buffets for breakfast (although they’re appealing, no?), and I found myself surprised to review one. And while Porter’s hasn’t made a name for itself for its breakfast buffet, theirs is certainly above-average. They limit the menu adequately, if only to keep themselves from having to cook so many items. If you’re staying in Chattanooga (especially at the Read House), it’s a great way to begin the day.

Porters Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 279 other followers