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Monthly Archives: April 2010

Breakfast news!

A few breakfast-related happenings in Columbus and around the world!

1. The Hills Market starts their pancake breakfasts again on Saturday, May 1st. Only $5 gets you pancakes and sausage out on the veranda. The inaugural breakfast coincides with Market to Market – it would make a great Saturday!

2. The Independent posted an article recently called Breakfast Goes Global. It features pictures, recipes, and descriptions of various breakfasts around the world. (Thanks to Hungrywoolf for the heads up!)

3. Speaking of pancakes, set aside Saturday, May 22 at 11:30 a.m. for a group outing to the Gena’s Restaurant Pancake Challenge. See if you can eat three of their monster pancakes in one sitting! (Check out some photos of Johnny DiLoretto and I giving it a try.)

4. With the opening of the new Ohio Union on Ohio State’s campus comes Sloopy’s Diner, a new 50’s-inspired diner serving all the favorites. I’ll try to visit soon; early reports have mentioned good food and okay service.

Starliner Diner | Hilliard, OH

Starliner Diner (Facebook / @starlinerdiner)
5240 Cemetery Rd. (map it!)
Hilliard, OH 43026
(614) 529-1198
Open Tues-Thurs, 9-3 & 5-9; Fri-Sat, 9-3 & 5-9:30; Sun, 9-3
Accepts cash and credit cards

Date of Visit: Friday, February 26, 2010 at 10:00 a.m.

IMPRESSIONS: In recent months I’ve been getting a series of increasingly aggressive e-mails from readers asking (nay, demanding) why I haven’t been to Starliner Diner yet. Why, they ask, amongst all the breakfasts to be had in Columbus, haven’t you trekked out west to Hilliard to experience one of the best breakfasts in town? I really couldn’t offer an answer, aside from saying that I just hadn’t made the effort. Pitiful, I know. But… excuses, excuses. So when my wife asked me were I’d like to go for breakfast on my birthday, I knew I had to make good and get us out to Starliner. Oh, boy, am I glad we did.

Starliner Diner is located out in Hilliard, on the western side of Columbus. To get there, you need to find Cemetery Road (I found it off the I-270 loop) and head west, so you’re going away from Columbus. You’ll find Starliner just past a set of train tracks, hidden by a small hill. I kinda like this setup – you can’t quite see it from the street (although there’s a sign), so you have to be in-the-know to find it.

ATMOSPHERE: Starliner’s decor reminds me a bit of the fun and funky Aretha Frankenstein’s in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Just like Aretha’s, Starliner is a surprising find, especially given the location, and sports a colorful and eclectic menu and design. The walls are covered with bright paintings and crazy knick-knacks.

Like a wall of clocks!

The entryway sets the tone right away. I knew, the moment I stepped out of the car, that I would like Starliner because of the smells outside, and then in the entryway. Hard to describe, but I’m sure you all recognize it – it’s the smell of good cooking happening somewhere nearby. Like smelling a grill sizzling somewhere in your neighborhood during the summer.

Little prep area in the entryway.

A newer addition to the restaurant. That morning – a snowy February one – was fairly quiet in the restaurant, although some great ambient rock music kept up the fun atmosphere.

FOOD: The breakfast is fairly simple, broken down into your standards (2 eggs, toast, pancakes, etc), Breakfast Tradicionales (Cuban favorites like huevos rancheros, etc), Omelettes, and Sides. The overall focus is Cuban classics + diner food, and they mix very well. For some reason, I knew I was going to order the huevos rancheros before we even left for Starliner. I think perhaps because trusted fellow food bloggers like Hungrywoolf and CMH Gourmand have mentioned the huevos to me. Truth is, I can’t ever remember having huevos rancheros, and I’m not sure why. The dish is easy to like, with 2 eggs, jack cheese, cilantro, ranchero sauce, salsa, and black beans on top of corn tortillas. It’s a big, tasty mess – the fun is letting everything run together and then savoring cornucopia of flavors.

My wife ordered chiliquiles, featuring scrambled eggs, peppers, onions, corn, zucchini, chile cream sauce, cheese, cilantro, black beans, with chorizo added, surrounded by corn tortillas. Another dish that packs a flavorful wallop, although we both agreed that there were a few too many tortillas in it, and it could have used a dollop of sour cream. Still: it’s very good.

One reader recommended the Cuban toast French toast. It wasn’t on the menu, but our server gladly offered it anyway. Nice little cubes of Cuban bread, all fried up and crispy around the edges, then dusted with powdered sugar. You almost don’t need the syrup! We ordered a side of it, which turned out to be the perfect shape and amount for our son, who happily chowed down on the fruit and tiny cubes of French toast.

SERVICE: Service was great, too. Our server was relatively new – she said she had only been working there for a week or two – but she had backup from a seasoned veteran, and despite being a little unsure of herself, she did very well.

On our way out we got to meet owner Molly Davis. She told us Starliner takes its name from her 1960 Ford Starliner, which I believe is parked nearby, or in her garage. She said it makes appearances from time to time. Molly said the menu at Starliner was inspired originally by a restaurant out in California (I forget the name), and that they try to feature a lot of Cuban favorites alongside the classica you’d come to expect with an American diner. Overall, the mix works very, very well, and given the loyal (and vocal!) clientele, Molly and co. are on the right track.

OVERALL: I’ll rush to admit that, oh yes, I’ve been missing out. Oh, yes. The distance out to Hilliard is a bit prohibitive, but Starliner is worth the drive. We sampled just a couple dishes from the breakfast menu, and I know we barely scratched the surface, so return visits are in order. This place may keep busy enough outside the I-270 loop, and I imagine it would be positively swamped if it were located in Clintonville, Short North, or anywhere in or around downtown Columbus. Still, I’d put Starliner up there with some of Columbus’ best breakfasts, so any fan of the morning meal needs to check it out!

P. S. The Starliner website is cute, but needs a little re-design in my opinion. And I’m not a huge fan of the MIDI music on every page.

Starliner Diner on Urbanspoon

Cotter’s Restaurant | Columbus, OH

UPDATE: Cotter’s Restaurant is now closed!

Cotter’s Restaurant
200 W. Nationwide Blvd. (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43215
(614) 221-9060
Open Mon-Fri, 11 am – 10 pm; Sat, 4-10 pm; Sun for special events only
Accepts cash and credit cards

Date of Visit: Sunday, February 14, 2010 at 1:00 p.m.

(In the interest of full disclosure I want to say that this meal was complimentary of the kind folks from Cotter’s Restaurant!)

IMPRESSIONS: My wife and I visited Cotter’s Restaurant (my first time, actually) on Valentine’s Day for their special brunch. Cotter’s is known for their lunches and dinners – my wife’s on-going favorite is their mushroom soup – and is situated in the Arena District in the southwest corner of Nationwide Arena itself. You can hit them up for brunch on special occasions like Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Easter, and more. The restaurant itself is part of Vito’s Catering, a Columbus-based catering business that does some top-notch work.

ATMOSPHERE: As fitting of the rounded corner of the arena, Cotter’s layout is in a wide circle, with the bar stretching across the outside of the building. Tall windows let in a lot of light.

The place was decorated for Valentine’s Day, complete with pink and red napkins. Very comfortable and romantic atmosphere. Valentine’s Day this year landed on a Sunday, and while I mostly think of Valentine’s meaning going out in the evening, Cotter’s managed that same close and comfortable feeling, even on a bright afternoon.

FOOD: For this special occasion brunch, the food was laid out in a large buffet, with a big enough selection for anyone. The buffet looked really good, especially for so late in the day. I usually avoid breakfast buffets because you start seeing a film over everything. It’s no fun pouring separated sausage gravy over stale biscuits. Fortunately, this was not the case here!

Because we tasted so many things, I’ll just have to list some of what we tried with brief descriptions.

The buffet started out with the standard fruit and pastries. I tried a very good blueberry scone.

Roasted veggies. The Brussels sprouts in particular were amazing.

Delicious applewood-smoked bacon. It held up very well despite being on a buffet line – a testament to how well it was cooked at first.

Potato bake with cheddar cheese. Good choice for serving potatoes on a buffet.

One of my favorite elements of the buffet: a puff pastry with sausage and cheddar cheese (there was a veggie option, too). Great balance of crispy and buttery pastry with spicy sausage and sharp cheddar.

Honey-glazed ham.

Boneless baked chicken – another favorite. Again, it stayed very moist and flavorful. Chicken like this is so easily dried out, but this fared well. I went back for a couple more pieces.

My least favorite was the pan-seared salmon. This one item didn’t do too well on the buffet line – it tasted fine, but it was dried out. Fish and buffets often don’t mix well.

Great brunch complement: blood orange mimosas. Wonderful citrusy twang with a lovely sugary sweetness.

Montage of plates…

Tiaramisu for dessert! Very delicate, and delicious!

Manager Reed Woogerd sat and chatted with us for a while. He shared a number of their plans for future months, and treated us to some of his house-made ginger beer, made with honey sugar, lemon juice, and champagne yeast. Very sweet and refreshing – it will be amazing to sit on the patio and drink this come spring/summer.

SERVICE: Service was great! We were of course treated very well. We had opportunities to chat with both Woogerd and Kristen Hurd, head of Sales & Marketing at Cotter’s. Both seem very passionate about their work, and we learned a lot about their special events. As I said earlier, Cotter’s does brunch on special occasions like holidays, but they also do monthly wine tastings, and rotate their menu about every three months.

OVERALL: In addition to being one of Columbus’ great lunch and dinner spots (I imagine their patio in spring/summer would be constantly tempting if you work in the Arena District), Cotter’s offers a solid brunch – a great one especially for special occasions.


Cotters Restaurant on Urbanspoon

The City Bakery | New York, NY

The City Bakery
3 West 18th St. (map it!)
New York, NY 10011
(212) 366-1414
Open Mon-Fri, 7:30 am – 7 pm; Sat 7:30 am – 6:30 pm; Sun 7:30 am – 6 pm
Accepts cash and credit cards

Date of Visit: Sunday, January 31, 2010 at 10:00 a.m.

IMPRESSIONS: City Bakery came as a recommendation during our visit to New York City, and ended up being the last breakfast we had there. We arrived about 20 minutes before they opened, and so we wandered around the neighborhood briefly.

Our original intention was to stop in for some coffee and one of their famous pretzel croissants…

…but instead found ourselves in the midst of a full-blown Sunday morning brunch…

…and took the opportunity to enjoy it.

ATMOSPHERE: City Bakery is a big place, bigger than it looks from the outside. It’s one gigantic room with an upper level balcony and huge pillars running down the middle.

Apparently they’re known for being a bakery, a restaurant, a chocolate shop, plus a beer/wine bar. So many things in that one space. We got to experience some of the above – obviously not the beer and wine at 10 a.m. – and we were treated with some delicious food. Maybe not the best breakfast of New York City, but a few items really stood out.

It took us a little figuring out what was what – there weren’t many signs explaining things. On the lower level, toward the back of the space, was a hot bar of breakfast foods. There were eggs, big triangle slices of French toast, bacon, and more. We found out (after asking) that you paid by the pound for your breakfast.

Behind the hot bar was a counter with bagels, toppings, cold foods, and more. Overall, a pretty big selection.

After you loaded up at the hot bar, you took your tray along the large center bar, which carried drinks, pastries, and more. The pastry selection was B-E-A-utifully laid out. It’s what every Panera hopes to to be!

FOOD: Along the pastry line, you can order said pastries and cookies, your drinks, and other accoutrement. Amongst that lot is…

…the sumptuous hot chocolate. We had heard tell – along with the pretzel croissant – of City Bakery’s hot chocolate, and on a chilly January morning this was the perfect complement to our breakfast.

The best part was watching the slow preparation, stirring up the thick chocolate, tantalizingly pouring it out…

…adding one of their homemade marshmallows…

…resulting in this gift from the gods.

I opted for a simple plate of eggs, bacon, and the three-dimensional French toast. All pretty simple and straightforward, but hot and fresh. The eggs were a little dry (always a challenge on a buffet line), but the bacon was great, and the French toast a lot of fun. The toast was lightly seared and had a lot of the maple syrup sweetness baked into it.

And finally, the famous pretzel croissant. Warm, fluffy, crispy on the outside. Indeed, the perfect melding of a pretzel and a croissant. I don’t know why we don’t hear about more of these.

SERVICE: I know we caught the City Bakery folks just as they were opening, but the service here still left a little to be desired. It had that same surliness we experienced at Ninth Street Espresso, but without the ultra-good product to back it up. The nicest person we met there was the girl who ran the hot bar in the back. Everyone else either didn’t talk much, scowled, or just made you feel a little unwelcome. The woman who checked Beth out got all flustered over the fact that Beth had put her own bagel and toppings together, when there’s no sign saying otherwise, and when it seems perfectly obvious – the way everything’s laid out – that you should do so. A little unacceptable to fly off the handle like that.

OVERALL: Thankfully, City Bakery’s food makes up for the weird service. The location is stunning, there’s a huge selection of breakfast foods – for as big or as small of a breakfast you want – and a few menu items are particularly strong. Definitely, definitely worth a visit, if only for a hot chocolate and a pretzel croissant.

SIDE NOTE ON WEBSITES: City Bakery’s website, while nice to look at, highlights a problem I had with a number of NYC restaurant websites: too much Flash animation or extended intros, and not enough straightforward information! Just look at City Bakery’s website: It’s nicely designed. But if you wanted to find out the hours of the bakery, or their exact address, or maybe a menu… you can find it eventually, in the small text of one of the paragraphs – not the hours, though. Or… well, which alternate website listed below do you choose? The one for their catering, the one for their chocolate festival, or the one about building a green bakery? Fortunately, there’s the one about the pretzel croissant, which leads you through a slow Flash slideshow to a single page with their address, a note that says they’re open 7 days a week (still no mention of hours), or… a link back to their original website.

Not to be overly critical, but I was just amazed by the poor/strange quality of some New York City restaurant websites. I figured that if any place would have good restaurant websites, it would be freakin’ New York City! But, alas… I ran into sites like Jing Fong’s, which looks like a placeholder page from my cable provider, or Sarabeth’s, whose appealing website has a fairly out-of-the-way link to menus or location information, or even Kitchenette’s, which has a light version of the flash intro (with no option to skip it). The internet is about fast information (albeit often too fast, yes), but I personally get frustrated when restaurants make it difficult to find the information I need, so that I can bring my business to them.


City Bakery on Urbanspoon

Article: 8 great brunch spots from the Columbus Alive

(Photo from Jodi Miller; links to article)

The excellent Columbus Alive featured an article this week about eight great brunch spots around Columbus. Some great finds around town, although I’m ashamed to say I’ve been to only one (the amazing Skillet!).


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