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Block’s Bagels | Columbus, OH

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Block’s Bagels (Facebook / @BlocksBagels)
3415 E. Broad St. (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43213
(614) 235-2551
Open Mon-Fri, 6a-5:30p; Sat & Sun, 6:30a-4p
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/N/N
Kid-friendly? Y

Visited: Saturday, August 23, 2014 at 10:30 a.m.

They say there’s no school like the old school, right? Well, if that’s true, then there’s no bagels like Block’s Bagels. Block’s calls themselves the original bagels to Columbus. The Block family moved here from New York City in the late 1960’s. When friends came to visit from New York, they noticed the lack of real bagels in Columbus. Inspired by the comments, Harold Block opened a small bakery and deli in Bexley. Over the years business grew, and now Block’s is chugging along just like they did in the old days.

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Almost thirty years ago now, they moved to their current location a little east on Broad Street. (Their large production facility further east on McNaughten Center includes a second cafe.)

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Judging by the location, not much has changed over thirty years. Not to say it looks outdated. Well, okay, maybe it does a little. It’s just that, nothing much has changed in how they make their bagels and how they serve their customers, so why change it?

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The cafe is fairly large (enough to accommodate bigger groups, hint) and the counters are divided into two sides: deli and bakery.

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The deli side lets you order breakfast, salads, and sandwiches, as well as bulk meats and salads. Plenty of certified kosher items.

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The breakfast menu ranges from simple bagels and cream cheese, to small plates of eggs and meat (lox, salami, bologna, corned beef), but there’s an Egg Beater omelet and challah French toast.

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The bakery side features baskets upon baskets of fresh bagels. Although Block’s produces much of their wholesale goods at the McNaughten facility, you’ll still see them boiling and baking bagels at this cafe.

Block’s serves New York style water bagels. A New York water bagel is made from simple ingredients: flour, water, salt, yeast. It’s boiled first, and then baked. The boiling puffs up the bagel and gives it a chewier texture, while the baking gives it a better crust.

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Block’s makes nearly 30 styles of bagels and bagel sticks. Sesame, poppy seed, caraway. Sourdough, rye, whole wheat. Blueberry, cinnamon raisin, chocolate chip. Plain. Or Everything. Get the Everything bagel. It’s the only type you’ll ever need. In my opinion, a deli is only as good as its everything bagel.

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The dine-in service is pretty simple. Order at the counter and the server there will assemble your order one piece at a time. This means you might wait a little longer for bigger groups. We ordered four different things; the server moved quickly to prep a bagel with cream cheese and the lox platter. Then she disappeared in the back to make my eggs and corned beef. She brought that out, then disappeared in the back to make the French toast. It’s nice knowing everything’s made fresh, but it means there’s a short wait.

The actual presentation is funny, too: thin styrofoam platters. Plastic forks, knives, spoons and napkins are self-service.

So here’s the first thing: a plain bagel with cream cheese for the boys. Great bagel. Generous smear of cream cheese. Excellent pickle.

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The corned beef, eggs, and everything bagel wasn’t exactly up to par, but for some reason I found it more amusing than off-putting. The corned beef and eggs were over-cooked and the beef itself was a little fatty. But the cream cheese and everything bagel were great, of course, and the pickle. But I probably should have ordered this as a breakfast sandwich instead.

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The challah French toast (made using Block’s challah bread – the bakery has a whole shelf of breads), is excellent. Thick slices of fresh challah, eggy and custardy like French toast should be. Dusted with powdered sugar and (a little too generous) coating of cinnamon.

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And the piece de resistance, the dish by which we judge all delis: the lox platter with salmon, cream cheese, onions, tomato, lettuce, and an everything bagel (we had to ask for the capers – we like that salty kick). Block’s is as good as you could hope for.

Next time you’re out exploring, stop by Block’s for a quick breakfast. Everything is worth a try (maybe get a sandwich and not the corned beef and eggs), and the bagels are stellar. If there’s no school like the old school, then you need to stick with the old school.

(Pssst… Block’s is the original New York bagel in Columbus, but they’re evenly matched by Sammy’s. Columbus is all the richer for both of them.)

Block's Bagels on Urbanspoon

The Blue Door Cafe & Bakery | Cuyahoga Falls, OH

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The Blue Door Cafe & Bakery
(Facebook)
1970 State Rd. (map it!)
Cuyahoga Falls, OH 44223
(330) 926-9774
Open Wed-Sun, 7a-3p
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/N/N

Visited: Friday, May 16, 2014 at 11:00 a.m.

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Thanks to my friend Tom over at Exploring Food My Way, I’ve been hearing a lot about Blue Door Cafe & Bakery over the years. Because of Tom, my Facebook feed is regularly filled with photos of French toast, croissants, and benedicts. It’s a beautiful thing. And finally we got to experience it firsthand. On the road for a weekend trip, my family and I stopped in Cuyahoga Falls to track down the Blue Door. And find it we did: a one-story gray, nondescript little building with a jam-packed parking lot and, yes, a bright blue door.

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As the full parking lot hinted, the inside was busy with customers in line for the bakery or waiting for tables in the cafe. We were seated pretty quickly at a table near the door (which got breezy on a surprisingly chilly May day).

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The menu features the blue door again, with the cafe’s mission statement straight up front.

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I’ve learned from watching Tom’s photo feed that Blue Door is true to the “ever-changing” tenet. The kitchen likes to experiment with specials and ingredients. This is usually a good and bad for regular diners: the downside is that you’re conflicted between choosing your old favorites and the daily specials; the upside is that you can always find something new to try at your old haunt.

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We worked our way through some specials and some regular items. From the specials menu we started with a refreshing Blueberry & Basil Lemonade, balanced nicely between sweet, tart, and slightly herbal. It contains all the title ingredients, plus a hint of vanilla.

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Since the bakery element is clearly a stand-out, we made a couple passes at the beautifully stocked shelves and sampled a two items.

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It’s hard for me to ever pass up a donut, especially when it also has the word “brioche” in the title.

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So we gladly welcomed a custard-filled brioche donut to the table, and proceeded to decimate it. It was perfectly soft, full of custard, and generously dusted with powdered sugar – all without being two sweet. That’s the mark of a good donut: it’s not just a sugar bomb, but it balances the sweetness with other flavors.

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We’ve also heard tell of the croissants, and our server recommended a ham and cheese croissant.

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The croissant was stellar: golden and flaky, with just the right amount of ham and cheese inside.

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By then breakfast began arriving. We began with the corned beef hash with two eggs and a choice of breads from the bakery. The potatoes were thoroughly cooked and mixed with a generous helping of a very smoky brisket. The brisket was very tender, although its smokiness tended to overwhelm the entire dish.

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The eggs are cooked to order, and for that day they were willing to poach them; they were served separately in a little cup, and unfortunately were a little vinegary. They were poached properly, but I think the bottom one sat in the cup a little longer and cooked through more.

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We chose the English muffin (homemade, of course) as our bread. It was large and dense – very different than store bought Thomas’ muffins – and topped with a tart blueberry jam (made in house).

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We also picked the Monte Cristo, in order to taste their fabled French toast in action.

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As far Monte Cristos go, it hit the mark. It was filled with the usual suspects, sandwiched between two (maybe a little too) giant but soft and custardy pieces of French toast. It used some of the same ingredients as the ham and cheese croissant, and came with a side of house-made potato chips.

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The real stand-out was the blueberry pancakes, which were up there with some of the best I’ve had. They’re made with yogurt, which results in flapjacks that are big, fluffy, and browned nicely. Topped with Creme Chantilly (a fancy term for lightly sweetened, real whipped cream), fresh blueberries, and Ohio maple syrup, it’s really hard to beat.

During our meal, owner Michael Bruno stopped over to say hi. He answered our questions and chatted about some of their baked goods. On our way out, we picked up some bakery items to go. Michael recommended their brownies (which were dense and fudgy); we also bought another brioche donut and the last ham and cheese croissant. On the recommendation of the server at the counter, we purchased a pair of moist almond cupcakes. All of them were winners; we had to hide them from the kids so they weren’t devoured immediately.

Consensus? Blue Door is clearly a gem in the Akron-area dining scene. As if I didn’t know that from Tom’s posts and pictures already, just the reaction on social media as I posted photos on Facebook or Instagram (/subliminal message) confirmed it. Pretty much anyone who is from the area or travels there regularly is familiar with the cafe and bakery. Blue Door is a popular hangout and a destination. The sincerely and lovingly made food is reason enough to visit, on top of an adventurous rotating menu, a mission of supporting local and responsibly made products, and the genuine enthusiasm of the owner and employees.

The Blue Door Cafe & Bakery on Urbanspoon

Photos: Cravings Carryout Cafe relaunch

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One of our favorite discoveries from last year – Cookie Cravings Bakery – celebrated a re-brand and a revamp this past weekend. Newly christened Cravings Carryout Cafe, the cafe has new signage, branding, and a new menu. They dropped the “Cookie” from their name because they do so much more. The cookies are still there, but the focus is now on sandwiches, wraps, and  other sides, all highlighting the neighborhood carry out element.

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Owners Matt, Lindsey, and Joan Tewanger have made some small changes to the space. You’ll see new equipment, shelves, and menu boards.

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This includes a new retail shelve with T-shirts, granola, plus growlers and bags of Thunderkiss Coffee.

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The boards showcase the new menu, replete with rolls, burritos, sandwiches, and sides.

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There’s iced and hot coffee, plus juice and tea. I completely forgot to photograph the third board that highlights specials.

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We stopped in about half an hour after opening on Saturday, and already they were busy. Matt was working his magic in the back.

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Cravings added some more seating in the side yard, with has great promise for spring, summer, and autumn breakfasts, especially when there’s a welcoming fire in the fire pit.

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We knew we were going to visit over the weekend, but the promise of bronuts pretty much guaranteed we’d come searching. What’s a bronut? It’s a brioche donut. Cravings makes killer brioche, and they’ve mixed the dough with lemon and rosemary, fried it, and iced it. The donuts were perfectly soft, fluffy, and warm. Ours disappeared in a matter of seconds.

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And then it was on to the sandwiches. Oh, the sandwiches. They were beautiful and delicious, stacked high on golden brioche rolls.

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We started first with the Breakfast Roll, featuring cheddar, bacon, a fried egg, and a rosemary aioli. We barely managed to sneak some bites while our boys devoured it. Our five-year-old (who is not picky, but knows his stuff) said it was one of his favorite sandwiches.

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We also snagged a plate of the sausage biscuits and gravy, made using Bluescreek Farms sausage. It was thick and chunky, served with a soft biscuit, and just what you would ask for in biscuits and gravy.

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Our favorite of meal was the BLT. Like the breakfast roll, it was served on a beautiful brioche roll.

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The sandwich was stacked high with thick-cut bacon, greens, a basil mayo, and these stunning tomatoes. We did not expect to find tomatoes like this in March. Usually  you get those sad, tasteless, translucent ones in the winter, but these were dark and red. Matt roasted them to perfection.

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With the firepit going in the side yard, they set out a cute little smores kit.

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So after brunch we enjoyed some smores roasted over the fire.

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All in all, it’s an exciting new stage for the restaurant! Congrats to Matt, Lindsey, Joan, and the crew!

If you want to visit & connect:
Cravings Carryout Cafe
227 E. Third Ave. (off Fourth St. in Italian Village)
Columbus, OH 43201
(614) 725-0090
Find them on Facebook and @CravingsCafe614
New hours are Tues-Fri, 11a-7p; Sat & Sun, 9a-3p

Dan the Baker | Columbus, OH

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Dan the Baker (Facebook / @thebakerdan)
1028 Ridge St. (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43215
(614) 928-9035
Open Mon & Tues, 9a-5p; Wed, Fri, & Sat, 9a-4p
Accepts cash & credit/debit

Visited: Friday, January 10, 2014 at 9:00 a.m.

Daniel Riesenberger, aka Dan the Baker, has long been selling his breads, croissants, and pastries at farmer’s markets around town. I first encountered his goods at a workshop at Wild Goose Creative‘s Too Many Cooksa couple years ago, where he taught everyone how to roll sourdough croissants. We’ve been following Dan’s work ever since then, finding him at the Clintonville and the Worthington farmer’s markets. I also keep seeing his name pop up on restaurant menus, as his breads and pastries are turned into sandwiches and desserts.

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Well, finally Dan and his team have opened up a small retail space attached to their production kitchen in Grandview. The space is a little hard to find, down an odd side street off Dublin Road (just east of the Grandview Avenue intersection), but it’s a bright, clean little space with a few tables, decorated in blues with light wood accents.

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The space includes a small counter and a few shelves. The main shelf behind the counter shows off Dan’s picturesque breads. Serious, follow him on Instagram to get a daily dose of his breads. We ended up picking a loaf of sunflower flax seed bread (bottom center) which was simply delicious. He preferences local and organic ingredients in his bread. The price point is a little higher than grocery store bread, but the flavors, textures, and overall quality are hard to beat.

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He also sells smaller pastries, croissants, and scones.

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Plus cookies, shortbreads, and “tiles.”

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That day there were some fresh and crisp apple galettes.

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Dan also offers full coffee and tea service, with a variety of loose leaf teas.

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He also serves espresso, lattes, macchiatos, cappucinos, V60 pour overs, and more, using beans from Chicago’s Intelligentsia Coffee and Columbus’ Cafe Brioso.

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I had a smooth and creamy shot of espresso to go with the galette.

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The cafe space has a window into the pastry kitchen. It was dormant when we visited, but I can imagine it’d be some fun watching while enjoying coffee and a snack.

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Daniel took us through their production kitchen, too. The space used to be owned by The French Loaf, so when Daniel took it over, it was mostly ready for production. He added some equipment, including a new oven, but it was good to go as a bakery!

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We saw delicious savory croissants.

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And cheddar bacon scones.

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Around the kitchen you can see the remnants of Daniel’s small start, like labeled equipment from his time baking out of the Hills Market’s kitchen.

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As expected, they were busy. We found Colin scoring loaves of sourdough bread and loading them into the oven.

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Daniel and his crew are still getting started with the shop, but they’re already doing quite a bit with it. They’re open most days of the week, and look for an official grand opening soon. You can stop in to grab a snack, or hang out with a pastry and some coffee. It’s a quiet little spot, perfect for some reading, studying, or conversation with friends!

Dan the Baker on Urbanspoon

Clark’s Donuts Plus | Cranberry, PA

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Clark’s Donuts Plus (Facebook / @ClarksNo1Donuts)

7150 U.S. 322 (map it!)
Cranberry, PA 16319
(814) 677-7336
Open Mon-Fri until 3p; Sat until 12p (they open early while donuts are still being made)
Accepts cash & debit/credit

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Over Thanksgiving we were taking the kiddos to ride the Oil Creek & Titusville Railroad, a little historic train that rolls you through the beautiful Pennsylvania hills and past the world’s first oil well. But we can’t just go ride the train, especially when we find there are donuts nearby!

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My father-in-law knows the area well, and had seen cars lining up outside Clark’s Donuts many times, so we joined the throngs to see what all the fuss was about.

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It didn’t take long to find out why. Trays of donuts, that’s why. Trays and trays of fresh donuts.

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Note the “Plus” in the bakery’s name. That’s because Clark’s Donuts Plus is the secondary location of – you guessed it – Clark’s Donuts in nearby Titusville. The Plus store has been open for over 20 years, an employee told us, while the original Clark’s has been around for nearly 75 years.

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Like a true old-school donut shop, they’ve been getting by on the strength of their donuts and not the sophisticated digs or strong social media presence. People know about their donuts because of good old fashioned word of mouth.

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I mean, what’s not to like about seeing trays of donuty goodness? Clark’s was well-stocked, even mid-morning with a steady flow of customers.

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They had a tremendous variety of donuts, too. Cake donuts, fritters, giant bearclaws…

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…longjohns overflowing with creme.

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We boxed up a sample of nearly everything, because, you know… research.

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We didn’t meet a donut we didn’t like, but the longjohns were impressive, not to mention these iced donuts with toasted coconut.

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And these maple-iced beauties that were light and fluffy.

I love knowing that old donut shops like Clark’s are still thriving. The American culinary landscape would be poorer without them. So if you find yourself traveling through the Cranberry area, pick up a box. And grab one for me, too.

Clarks Donuts Plus on Urbanspoon

Tuula’s European Cafe | Dublin, OH

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Tuula’s European Cafe
(Facebook / @TuulasEuroCafe)

3856 Hard Road (map it!)
Dublin, OH 43016
(614) 923-3083
Open Mon-Sat, 9a-6p; Sun, 10a-4p
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/Y/N
Kid-friendly? Y

Visited: Saturday, October 5, 2013 at 10:00 a.m.

There are a lot of restaurants out that that go by someone’s name. Sometimes the name points to their history, like Jack’s Sandwich Shop or Dan’s Drive-In named after the original owners. Sometimes the names don’t have much meaning, but they still linger, like Michael’s Goody Boy or Fitzy’s Diner. And sometimes it’s named for the person standing behind the counter, the person who made and serves you your food, like Colin’s Coffee, or Tuula’s European Cafe.

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Tuula’s space is a single room cafe with a strip mall storefront. It’s a little difficult to find, with its front toward Hard Road, a little west of Sawmill Road. It’s a high-traffic area, but there’s no clear driveway from the road into the parking lot of Tuula’s. We drove past it, then took our first right and had to cut through the back parking lot of a larger shopping center. Still, we found it!

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Our stop at the cafe took place on our way to a pumpkin patch for some autumnal goodness. The skies were threatening at first, so Tuula’s was a cozy respite while we waited out the rain. Tuula’s is meant to be just such a place: a casual and quiet spot for a small lunch or a quick snack plus coffee, or to relax, read, or get some work done.

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The cafe counter gives you the opportunity to drool over all of the fresh-baked goodies. There are cookies, cakes, and pies, or you can go savory with a quiche or a frittata.

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And behold: standing behind the counter is Tuula herself! She’s very sweet and welcoming. These are the types of places you want to go, where you can meet the owner. It changes the experience entirely.

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Tuula certainly knows how to present her handiwork. Towers and plates of the baked goods practically sell themselves.

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We were in a sweet snack mood, so we chose a pulla, with is made out of a yeast dough with various spices and fruits.

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The pulla is fluffy and very lightly sweet, with fruit mixed in plus a little glaze and some powdered sugar. It’s big, a little chewy, and good for sharing – it cuts easily with a fork.

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Same for the cinnamon roll, which is about as big and seems to be made of the same yeast dough. It’s nothing like the over-saturated garden variety cinnamon rolls. Just a little sweet and easy to pull apart.

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Top these pastries off with a wicked latte – especially on a cool fall morning – and you know you’re in the right place. Whether you find yourself regularly in the Sawmill Road area or not, I think Tuula’s is worth stopping in, especially if you need a quick snack, a cup of coffee, or quiet place just to hang. Knowing that the restaurant’s namesake will most likely be there only makes it better, and even more worth the visit!

Tuula's European Cafe on Urbanspoon

Photos: Kolaches With Karina

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It’s Kolaches With Karina! Last week Friday Karina Nova and I hit up Kolache Republic for our September Breakfast With Nick segment on 10TV. The visit gave us time to chat with Doug Sauer, one of the owners, and Ben Russell, one of their employees. Also, it made me fall in love even more with kolaches.

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You can learn more about these sweet-but-not-too-sweet little pastries by tuning in this Saturday morning, but if you’re not in the know, a kolache (pronounced “kol-LAH-chee”) is a Czech pastry that’s made its way to the U.S. over the years through Czech immigrants. It’s become especially popular in a number small Texan towns, which is how it came to Columbus.

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Karina and I spent the morning with Doug and Ben, bothering them while they tried to run their business.

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We caught them just after the morning rush, as they prepped for lunch. Here they are rolling out fresh kolaches.

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The great thing about kolaches are their versatility: the dough is a neutral enough flavor that the filling can be nearly anything, from, well, pumpkin to buffalo chicken.

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Doug makes a fresh batch of dough daily. He said its flavor and texture is more like a dinner roll: lightly sweet and fluffy.

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In addition to the smaller sweet versions, they roll out larger savory ones.

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The inside is a generous dollop of the good stuff. This is their signature bierock, with ground beef, cabbage, onion, and sauerkraut.

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The kolache dough is the right texture for wrapping it around the ingredients.

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The end result looks a little like this one: the breakfast kolache, with scrambled eggs, sausage, and cheese. It’s this perfect little hand-held breakfast.

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When Karina and I were hanging around, they started making the lunch special of buffalo chicken.

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Seriously, just look at these! Other specials include taco kolaches, braised pull pork, and a Cuban kolache with pork, ham, onion, mustard, and pickles.

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Tune in this Saturday morning on 10TV to see Karina and I chowing down on kolaches and chatting with Doug and Ben!

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