161 Diner (Facebook / @WFM_Columbus)
3670 W. Dublin-Granville Rd. (inside Whole Foods Market) (map it!)
Dublin, OH 43017
Open Mon-Fri, 11a-9p, Sat & Sun, 10a-9p (brunch served Sat & Sun, 10a-2p)
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? N/N/N
Date of Visit: Saturday, December 17, 2011 at 10 a.m.
IMPRESSIONS: Breakfast in a grocery store? Yes, you read right. Those familiar with Whole Foods Market know that their goal is to create more than just an average shopping experience. Instead, they want to keep you wandering the store for hours, sampling wines, buying gelato, tasting a wood-fired pizza, and more. In short, they are trying to recreate a central city market, in which small cafes or street vendors sell you meals on-the-go while you visit your favorite cheesemonger, butcher, and coffee roaster. Or even while taking your regular spot at your favorite diner counter. Yes, they’ve done even that. Enter the 161 Diner.
ATMOSPHERE: The 161 Diner is indeed a counter inside the Dublin Whole Foods. This WF is the first and largest one in greater Columbus, located in a plaza near the intersection of Sawmill Road and Dublin-Granville Road (Route 161). This means you have to brave the traffic of some of Columbus’ busier thoroughfares, which not everyone is keen to do. You can find the diner on the east side of the store, in the very large prepared foods section. 161 Diner is their version of the American diner, situated amongst Italian food, sushi, pizza, baked goods, and more. Brunch is only served on weekends, and it’s a busy affair. Even though 161 isn’t a traditional diner, it still has its regulars, and the counter stays full.
FOOD: I found a spot at the stainless steel counter and ordered a coffee. I believe they use some of the Whole Foods-brand coffee, but I don’t know for sure. Still, it’s well-brewed – not the acidic “angry water” (as my father-in-law calls it) that you find in most true American diners. Bonus points for serving cold cream with it. I had to search the counter for one of the jars of raw brown sugar. It seems fitting to the type of coffee you’d expect Whole Foods to serve.
I relied on the kitchen staff to suggest unique dishes to eat. They all recommended the sweet potato biscuits first. You don’t see these often enough on breakfast menus, and when they’re done well, they’re great. These very good, although not the best I’ve had. They make use of the sweet potato flavor, although they came out a little on the crunchy side for me.
This is helped by the serving of 365 brand (Whole Foods’ private label brand) jams. A crispy piece of sweet potato biscuit smeared with jam = all right in my book.
For my entree I again relied on the cooks behind the counter, and they all said, “You need to try Danielle’s Meat Cakes.” Um, what? If there’s any phrase that should give you pause in life, it’s “meat cakes.” Danielle’s meat cakes are loaded pancakes – three of them, to be exact – layered with meat, cheddar cheese, topped with strips of bacon, and sprinkled with more cheese. Oh, I’m sorry, does this picture make the dish look small to you?
Maybe this is better. As you would expect, the meat cake is served sizzling and pouring over with goodness. I didn’t even take a picture with the maple syrup (real, mind you) drizzled over the top. In terms of sheer breakfasty flavorfulness, it’s hard not to like it. Pancakes with meat in the batter? Check. Bacon? Check. Cheddar? Check. Crispy fried on the flattop? Check. It’s a breakfast blogger’s dream. Now, is it healthy? Eh… probably not. It’s a lot of food, and a lot of food straight from frying.
SERVICE: In case you were wondering, yes, Danielle, creator of the meat cakes, is a real person, and that’s her cooking my breakfast. All three of the servers working that morning were very friendly and accommodating. The food is all cooked right in front of you, and they clearly have regulars at the counter, even if this is a diner in a different context. That shows you they’re doing something right. A lot of people seemed to come straight to the diner, too. They weren’t dragging grocery carts behind them, just happening to stop for a bite to eat. They came to the store to eat at the diner.
OVERALL: Admittedly, I’m not a regular shopper at Whole Foods. It’s not in my neck of the woods, and the pricing is often beyond my budget. But whether Whole Foods is your grocery store of choice, or not, I think it’s worth at least one trip to the 161 Diner. I tried more of the loaded fair, but there is a lot more to explore: chocolate chip pancakes, prosciutto eggs benedict, even sweet potato biscuits and gravy. The pricing is a couple steps higher than a $4 breakfast platter, but I think the quality and quantity of the food is commensurate. (Sorry, I was jut looking for an excuse to use that word.) Whole Foods is known for well-chosen ingredients, so the construction of their prepared foods is pretty solid as well.
-> view photos of their updated menu (3/30/12)