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Sidney’s Cafe & Bistro | Elizabeth City, NC

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Sidney’s Cafe & Bistro (Facebook)
507 E. Main St. (map it!)
Elizabeth City, NC 27909
(252) 331-1944
Open Mon-Wed, 7a-5p; Thurs & Fri, 7a-9p; Sat, 7a-3p
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/N/N
Kid-friendly? Y

Visited: Saturday, June 14, 2014 at 8 a.m.

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Every June we’re fortunate to make a family trip down to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. We look forward to it all year, and enjoy a step away from major civilization onto the barrier islands for a couple weeks of reading, playing on the beach, and eating our way around. But the eating starts well before we hit the bridges crossing Pamlico Sound. We typically drive the longest leg of the trip in one day, stopping over in Elizabeth City. We reward the long day’s drive with fresh fried seafood at Quality Seafood. But we also fuel up the next morning, and this year we did our research and discovered Sidney’s Cafe & Bistro on Main Street.

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I got the sense early on that they were a small cafe, and we were coming with a big group, so we called ahead to make a reservation. They were able to accommodate us, although we got the sense that we were pushing the limits of their small kitchen. To their credit, though, the coffee kept flowing and the food rolled out pretty quickly.

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The menu is not extensive but it covers all the bases, and it includes diverse offerings like eggs benedicts, pancakes, frittatas, and burritos.

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A big group means we get to sample nearly everything on the menu. I personally went for the eggs benedict (hint: if it’s on the menu, chances are I’ll order it). All the components were very well done, including the freshly shredded cheddar cheese. Light hollandaise but still very good; I’d be happy if I could make a hollandaise like that. The portion sizes didn’t feel huge, but they were appropriate for the price point, and certainly flavorful enough to keep everyone satisfied.

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From the kid’s menu: a nice-sized pancake and a well-seasoned sausage patty, which seemed to be made in-house.

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vegetable omelet with potatoes and toast. Loaded with veggies.

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And because we’re in the south, someone had to order grits, so there were multiple bowls of the soft, buttery goodness, topped with shredded cheddar.

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Even with a small kitchen, the two-person crew did everything well, including a la carte orders of eggs.

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Solid biscuits and gravy. Soft and warm biscuits, fairly chunky gravy, although everyone quickly noticed the presence of anise in the gravy. We’ve never had that before, and while it certainly wasn’t bad, it was enough to make everyone pause a moment after tasting it.

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An order of blueberry buttermilk pancakes. As good as you could ask for. Thin but fluffy, dusted with powdered sugar, and with a side of nicely done bacon.

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A spicy breakfast burrito loaded with sausage, eggs, cheese, and veggies. Held together perfectly; packed a big punch.

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And the French toast with a side of sausage. Soft but not mushy.

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Our entire crew left Sidney’s satisfied and impressed. Even with their small kitchen they handled the big round of orders, and there wasn’t a single complaint amongst the group. The bonus is the beautiful little cafe space, with a side entrance along an indoor arcade. The cafe itself is situated in the little downtown of Elizabeth City, which has a lot of potential to be sweet tourist spot.

Bonus connection to Ohio: the owner is from Sidney, Ohio originally, thus the cafe’s name!

Sidney's Cafe & Bistro on Urbanspoon

The Hungry Soul Cafe | Columbus, OH

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The Hungry Soul Cafe
(Facebook)

30 S. Young St. (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43215
(614) 224-1944
Open Mon-Fri, 11a-2p, 5-8p; brunch on Sun, 9a-2p (alcohol served after 11)
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/N/N
Kid-friendly? Y

Visited: Sunday, May 4, 2014, at 12:30p

You hear a lot of shops, restaurants, parks, bike paths, neighborhoods referred to as “hidden gems.” These places are special. They’re hidden and known only to you and few others. And it’s important to have hidden gems peppered around a big city like Columbus. It gives us our special places to visit or hide out. It makes it worth our time exploring the city and discovering corners we’ve never visited. If you’re a regular at a hidden gem, you sometimes don’t want them to be discovered by others. A once quiet spot might now be overrun by latecomers who are only now discovering what you’ve known all along.

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If you’re one of those latecomers, however, you get to enjoy the thrill of discovering a new place. That’s what brings me to The Hungry Soul Cafe. To be clear: I’m not the first to discover the restaurant. It’s been open for a couple years (as Hungry Soul – it’s been a restaurant for much, much longer) and many folks have written about it. But this was our first discovery, and the restaurant’s side street (but still very exposed) location and the low-ceilinged, wood-appointed interior feel exactly like a hidden gem should.

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Hungry Soul is situated on South Young Street downtown, just a couple blocks south of East Broad, on the street level of a parking garage – yes, a parking garage. There’s a green awning over the doorway and big, red lettering across the fully windowed wall to mark the restaurant. Nearby surface lots offer parking, but the streets are full of parking meters (which are free on Sundays!).

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The space runs the length of the building, with a main floor that’s carpeted and includes the bar and long rows of tables. An upper level is built entirely of wood – floors, tables, benches – and really speaks to the age of the space. We sat up in this area, and I couldn’t stop staring at the woodwork. Not that it was particularly ornate; it was just so unexpected in a cafe at the bottom of a parking garage.

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This little booth, for instance, just cracked me up.

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Lucky for you we brunched with a big group, so you get a sampling of the full menu. Our boys, for instance, split the Hungry Soul, a plate of eggs, meat, toast, hash browns, and a Belgian waffle. Extra points for nicely browned potatoes, homemade sausage, and a big, thick waffle.

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Special bonus if you like to spike your brunch with a drink: $5.00 Bloody Marys and mimosas. The Bloody Mary was a real winner: a generous amount of vodka, seasoned salt on the rim, appropriately spicy, garnished with olives.

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Hungry Soul’s brunch menu mixes American breakfast classics with a little Hungarian vibe and a touch of soul food. (Oh, I think I just got the restaurant’s name: Hungry Soul = Hungary + Soul.) One such combination is the Palacsinta or Hungarian crepes: thin, sweet crepes filled with different combinations. We ordered the Mama’s Apples featuring southern flavors like apples, apple butter, and sausage.

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Oatmeal lovers will find both plain and fancy versions on Hungry Soul’s brunch menu. The plain – called The Intern – is topped with butter and cinnamon and a side of syrup. The three fancy options like apples and raisins or bacon. We choose Fancy #2, with peaches cooked in bourbon butter sauce.

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It wasn’t all sweet for us. I can rarely turn down a good biscuits and gravy, and Hungry Soul’s did not disappoint. The house-made sage sausage gravy is incredibly chunky, the biscuits soft and chewy.

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The menu includes six omelets ranging from meat-heavy to veggie-friendly.

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They’re all served with sides of toast, hash browns, and colorful fruit.

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Lastly, the Comfort on a Plate exemplifies the cafe’s soul-feeding mantra. It’s just like the Hungry Soul dish minus the waffle, but it’s still a plateful of down-home cooking.

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Hungry Soul has all the right elements to be a regular brunch spot: a solidly earns the “hidden gem” distinction, but for the sake of owners Anita and Georger Keller and all discerning Columbus brunchers, I hope it doesn’t stay hidden for long.

The Hungry Soul Cafe on Urbanspoon

Jerry’s Galaxy Cafe | Hilliard, OH

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Jerry’s Galaxy Cafe (Facebook)
4920 Scioto Darby Rd. (map it!)
Hilliard, OH 43026
(614) 319-4035
Open Tues-Thurs, 9a-9:30p; Fri & Sat, 9a-10p; Sun, 9a-4p
Accepts cash & debit/credit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/N/N
Kid-friendly? Y

Visited: Sunday, February 23, 2014 at 12:30p

Just like the Explorer’s Club, Jerry’s Galaxy Cafe is bit of Columbus restaurant history come to life. While that piece of history that pre-dates my time in Columbus, I can still be excited to see the addition of more good eats, especially on the west side of town. Jerry’s covers much of the same territory as Starliner Diner (Jerry started the diner years ago), and some of his same collaborators of old opened Explorer’s Club. So now Jerry’s going his own way by doing what he does best.

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The cafe opened in a fairly nondescript, beige-sided building. The only signage is the restaurant name scrawled in white chalk paint across one of the doors. We nearly drove by it on our first trip.

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But then the interior is surprisingly bright. Black and white checkered ceiling. Bright yellow walls. Colorful posters.

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One wall – all brick with a fireplace in the center – is lined with shelves full of knick-knacks like trains, porcelain cartoon characters, trucks, old cans. Our two boys were of course fascinated with these.

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The Bangin’ Breakfast menu isn’t huge, but it covers all the bases. The mainstays are Cuban/Mexican/southwestern-themed, while a list of omelets and buttermilk pancakes complete the line-up.

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We started with coffee, a basic diner brew served in smaller mugs. I usually like small mugs; they help the coffee cool more quickly.

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We mixed a little breakfast and lunch (someone should come up with a name for that). The appetizer was fried plantains – soft, starchy, and sweet – served with a creamy house salsa that was a little too heavy on the onion.

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Next was the always-loveable Cuban French toast, which means Cuban bread diced, battered, and fried. They’re like mini donuts dusted in powdered sugar.

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I knew before walking in that I’d be ordering the chiliquiles. They’re one of my favorite breakfast dishes – a savory and spicy mix of beans, vegetables, eggs, cheese, and tortillas – and they’re my benchmark for restaurants offering southwestern fare. Jerry’s version measured up pretty well, although I wanted more seasoning.

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Same with the chorizo burrito, a flour tortilla generously filled with eggs, cheese, beans, and chorizo. It’s a tasty burrito, as far as they go, but I wanted more spice!

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From the lunch menu we sampled the Galaxy steak sandwich at the suggestion of our server (who was a little forgetful but very sweet and friendly). Nicely done steak on a toasted bun, good seasoning, a sprinkling of herbs, still a little heavy on the onions.

Jerry and his crew may be working out some kinks still, but he’s sporting a creative menu, many types of dishes I love, and a cozy location that could easily become a hidden gem for Columbus breakfasters. I suggest making the trek to Hilliard to support his latest endeavor!

OTHER LINKS:
-> read more about my visit to Jerry’s on the Daily Crave blog

Jerry's Galaxy Cafe 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

South of Lane | Upper Arlington, OH

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South of Lane (Facebook / @SouthofLane)
1987 Guilford Rd. (map it!)
Upper Arlington, OH 43221
(614) 586-2233
Open Mon-Sat, 6:30a-2:30p
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/N/Y
Kid-friendly? Y

Visited: Thursday, December 12, 2013 at 9:15 am

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This year we’ve seen some notable new breakfast places open up, ranging from over-the-top to fancy to simple and casual. One of the newer additions opening in May is this little spot in Upper Arlington: South of Lane. There are many things about this place that scream “Upper Arlington:” the location (obviously), the clientele, the cozy cafe atmosphere. But there are some delightful little surprises, too, a sneaky little irreverent charm evidenced by the full embracing of the initials “SoL.” (Ask around if you don’t know what that stands for.)

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South of Lane also fills a void in the Columbus breakfast map. The greater Upper Arlington area lacks some solid local breakfasts, aside from Chef-O-Nette, La Chatelaine, and nearby spots like Cambridge Tea House (which is technically Marble Cliff), or a First Watch or Bob Evans.

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SoL is not just a breakfast and lunch cafe. It’s a full-blown vintage store, too. You can expect shelves full of jams, plates, hats, jewelry, pillows, you name it.

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Amongst the crowded kitsch, you’ll find some fun little elements, too.

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I liked the branded mugs. That shows commitment, when a breakfast spot will get its own mugs made.

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In fact, it takes a little discernment to figure out where the vintage items for sale end and where the counter or the self-serve coffee ends.

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Continuing back into the space, the wooden top tables and loaded shelves transition seamlessly into the ordering counter and the open kitchen.

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The breakfast menu is simple and all good. Major categories include omelets, waffles, eggs, “grains and goodness” (which means yogurt, oatmeal, and granola), and sides. Coffee comes from Thunderkiss. We chatted with the owner Catherine as she strolled around greeting customers, and in conversation I got the sense that Jason’s no-nonsense attitude matched hers.

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We picked one of the features, the SOL omelet with a side of rye, with peppers, onions, and pepper jack cheese. I have a love/hate relationship with omelets, but this one turned out to be one of the better examples I’ve had in recent memory. The ingredients are layered properly, the omelet is folded tightly, the eggs aren’t overdone, and there’s a little spice to it.

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The PB3 waffle is a good example of the smirky attitude underlying the curio shelves and quiet atmosphere. You might not expect to see waffles loaded with bacon, peanut butter, Nutella, and bananas in a little cafe like this, but here it is. The PB3 tastes exactly as you would expect: crispy waffle, lots of soft and warm PB and Nutella, and a definite crunch from the well-cooked bacon. I mean, eying a list of ingredients like that, it’s hard not to be pleased by it. (You’ll also note the artful presentation throughout.)

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It’s also served with a little glass mug of maple syrup that reeks of “awwwww” adorableness.

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The side of hash browns stands up to any I’ve had. Ohio may generally be home fries territory, but I’ll always prefer the crispy texture of properly done hash browns.

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We had our two-year-old in tow that morning (the restaurant is kid-friendly, but maybe bring your own booster seat), and he enjoyed the two eggs, which are appropriately soft scrambled (which earns points from me) and come with a side of toast.

We’ve heard good things about South of Lane, and we found them to be all true. I think SoL is a good indication of Columbus’ growing breakfast/brunch scene, which doesn’t just mean more restaurants, but more restaurants with real personality serving their neighborhoods and offering solid breakfasts in creative combinations.

South of Lane 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

Sunrise Cafe | Yellow Springs, OH

Sunrise Cafe (Facebook)
359 Xenia Ave. (map it!)
Yellow Springs, OH 45387
(937) 767-7211
Open Mon, Wed-Fri, 7:30a-2p; Sat & Sun, 8a-2p (open 5-9 for dinner most days)
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/Y/Y
Kid-friendly? Y

Date of Visit: Monday, August 13, 2012 at 11:00 a.m.

IMPRESSIONS: Readers have long been encouraging me to visit the Sunrise Cafe in Yellow Springs. The small Ohio town, less than an hour from Columbus, makes for a fantastic day trip, what with the shops, trails, parks, restaurants, and the always-enjoyable Young’s Jersey Dairy. And you can’t have a good day trip without a good breakfast. Fortunately, my readers haven’t steered me wrong.

ATMOSPHERE: You can find Sunrise on Xenia Avenue, the main drag leading through the center of town. It’s a fairly tight space, from the entryway full of 90-degree turns, to the smattering a tables in the front of the restaurant, and the thin corridor down the back.

The booths themselves are snug but not uncomfortable. For our family – two adults and two kids – we fit pretty tight together. But the high backs of the wooden booths create a nice little sense of privacy.

FOOD: Readers have given Sunrise’s coffee rave reviews, and I have to agree. It’s a special organic roast (fitting with the general mission of the restaurant), although I was a little surprised that it wasn’t from a local roaster. Still, it’s delicious, comes automatically with cold cream, and is served in tiny mugs. There’s something I really like about small coffee mugs. They cool  off faster, and if you’re a cream-and-sugar type like me, it’s easier to maintain that balance with refills. I know, I know, I’m completely over-thinking this…

I was in a bit-of-everything mood, so I ordered the Morning Fill-Up, a platter of eggs, meat, potatoes, toast, and two pancakes. All of it was very, very good: eggs and toast were spot-on, potatoes have peppers and onions mixed in. A reader suggested asking for the bison patties, which I did. They were dense and lean, but flavorful.

Mrs. Breakfast With Nick tried a couple half-orders. First were the huevos rancheros, a colorful and well-mixed rendition of the Mexican classic. Many versions of this don’t properly blend the ingredients, meaning the salsa is overpowering or the tortilla is dry. But this comes together nicely. And the egg was cooked just right.

These are the pancakes with my order. Sunrise’s cakes are thin and crispy. Most places go for thick and fluffy, but there was something I really liked about these. You get the pancake experience without stuffing yourself on carbs. The mugs of melted butter and real maple syrup help, too.

The Mrs. also tried a half order of the Sunrise Gravy and Biscuits. Like the huevos, they were very flavorful and came together nicely. The buttermilk wheat biscuit was dense, and different than we expected, but I liked it with the white, chunky gravy.

Our son ordered silver dollar pancakes from the kid’s menu. They’re just like the regular pancakes, but smaller, and again less filling.

A view of our table. Obviously, the baby bottle isn’t on the menu.

SERVICE: Our server was helpful, but he did seem a little rushed the whole time. The restaurant was full, with a line out front, and we could only see two servers total. They’re clearly a little pressed to keep up with everyone.

OVERALL: Sunrise exemplifies the overall feel of Yellow Springs: a little hippy, a little touristy, and dedicated to small town life. Using plenty of local and organic ingredients, the restaurant forges a delicious breakfast with a very good variety. Vegan and vegetarian breakfasters: Sunrise has you in mind, too, from sandwiches to omelets to sides. Gluten free breads are also available on request. All in all, this is an excellent spot to start a day of exploring Yellow Springs.

OTHER LINKS:

-> Yellow Springs’ Chamber of Commerce site: www.yellowspringsohio.org

Sunrise Cafe on Urbanspoon

Phoenix Street Cafe | South Haven, MI

Phoenix Street Cafe 
523 Phoenix Rd. (map it!)
South Haven, MI 49090
(269) 637-3600
Open 7 days a week, 7a-9p
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/N/N
Kid-friendly? Y

Date of Visit: Saturday, May 19, 2012 at 9:15 a.m.

IMPRESSIONS: I always say that my favorite way to get to know a city is by experiencing its breakfast. Example: we’re in South Haven, Michigan for some friends’ wedding. Even though I grew up an hour north in Grand Rapids, this is only the second time I’ve been to South Haven. So it’s time to grab some breakfast. We met with a group of friends on a busy Saturday morning, and South Haven’s little beach town vibe was in full swing. Phoenix Street Cafe (oddly enough, located on Phoenix Road, according to Google Maps) is located on the main drag, a fairly small storefront amongst a variety of shops, restaurants, bars, and the like. Phoenix Street/Road leads directly to the harbor and to the South Haven beach.

ATMOSPHERE: The vibe that morning was quintessential West Michigan Saturday going-to-breakfast: people breakfasting with purpose. As you might expect, there was a line at the door and the place was packed.

Phoenix Street has chosen a lot of warm, bright colors for their cafe. The space itself feels fairly new; I’m guessing this restaurant is only a couple years old, or was recently renovated. There’s a lot of seating – although only a small waiting area – and it was all full when we visited.

A fun little detail that I liked: syrup served in an olive oil container.

Ah the small-town cafe, with their paper placemats full of local advertising. It’s always fun to read these while you wait. They give you some sense of the local businesses.

FOOD: The nice thing about eating with a big party is that you get to see and photograph more dishes. This is the sampler breakfast, with eggs, meats, potatoes, and toast.

And the mini breakfast. It seems like Phoenix Street can handle the basics well. Eggs done right, pretty good meat, potatoes seasoned nicely, wide variety of bread choices.

Here was a first for me: quinoa oatmeal! I haven’t seen that on a menu yet, although it makes perfect sense. This is the version with raisins and bananas.

And a version with raisins and cranberries. Our friends who ordered it said they liked it. Quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah) is a very protein-rich grain.

My wife ordered the California benedict, which is essentially a benedict with avocado and some crumbled bacon. Beautifully plated and well-made, although not the most mind-blowing benedict. I think the hollandaise could have used a little more seasoning.

A friend ordered the crispy chicken sandwich from the lunch menu, Florentine style, with provolone, roasted red peppers, and artichokes, and gave it a thumbs-up.

I’m a sucker for a good chicken and waffle, especially when the menu says they’ll cover it in sausage gravy and give you a side of their homemade smoked Jack Daniels syrup. Again, beautiful plating, and all told the dish came together well: crispy chicken, the very smoky syrup, good waffle and gravy, although I do think the gravy needed a better punch of spices. That seemed to be a common problem with the food: good ingredients and plating, maybe a little more creative seasoning needed.

SERVICE: Our server was nice, although the food took quite a while to come out. Granted, we were a bigger group and the cafe was busy, but it felt inappropriately long. There’s also a little confusion at the door, where newly-arrived customers are unsure where to sign in or check in with a server. I’ve seen this problem at a number of cafes.

OVERALL: I think Phoenix Street is a solid visit if you’re in South Haven, even if there are a few misses. There’s a diverse selection of dishes, and although none of them were completely mind-blowing, there are some interesting things that don’t see everywhere: chicken and waffles with gravy, quinoa oatmeal, also some oatmeal cakes and a lox omelet. Be prepared for a big crowd and slower service on the weekends, especially if you have a big day of shopping and beach-reading planned!

OTHER LINKS:

Phoenix Street Cafe on Urbanspoon

Grand Day Cafe | Columbus, OH

Grand Day Cafe (Facebook / @GrandDayCafe)
1284 W. Fifth Ave. (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43212
(614) 481-3363
Open daily 6:30a-3p
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/N/N
Kid-friendly? Y

Date of Visit: Monday, May 28, 2012 at 10:00 a.m.

IMPRESSIONS: I’ve had a number of readers and friends tell me to visit Grand Day. I hadn’t been in the location since it used to be a Rise and Dine (one of my earlier reviews, awwww…). Rise & Dine rebranded into Sunny Street Cafe, and this location was closed. I thought I heard somewhere that a manager of R&D had purchased the location and turned it into their cafe. Whatever happened, they maintained that quintessential feeling of the casual cafe. This type of restaurant – think First Watch, Sunny Street, even Scrambler Marie’s – is a steady go-to for breakfast, even if they aren’t terribly imaginative.

ATMOSPHERE: Like most casual cafes, Grand Day is decorated with soft wood accents, flowers, and lots of beige or pastel colors. I like to joke that First Watch looks a little like a Florida retirement community. And indeed, there is always that sense of the casual, comfortable, mid-morning breakfast about these places. When you enter Grand Day, there’s a small seating area for waiting customers. You usually need to sign in. There are two big seating banks to the right and left.

Straight ahead is a small counter and the entrance to the kitchen.

FOOD: Casual cafes usually do well with the kids. Case in point: our four-year-old’s pancakes with bacon. Nothing exceptional, but he seemed to like them.

My wife makes fun of me for taking pictures of my orange juice. I’ll stop.

My wife ordered the Eggs Blackstone. In case you didn’t know, a blackstone is essentially an eggs benedict but with grilled tomatoes and bacon (as opposed to a florentine, which has spinach). This version came with a slice of avocado and a side of hash browns. The overall dish was decent, but the pale little tomatoes were a little sad. Seriously, folks, let’s not serve tomatoes out of season.

Even since I first peeked at their menu online, I knew I wanted to order the Kentucky Hot Brown. I’ve had a real hot brown in Kentucky, so I wasn’t expecting this version to be perfectly authentic. I figured Grand Day’s version would be adapted to breakfast, which it was: Texas toast, sliced turkey, poached egg, bacon, coated in hollandaise. Side of hash browns, which were brown on the sides but a little underdone in the middle. Generally, I liked the dish – it’s hard not to like bacon, turkey, toast, and hollandaise – but it could have used a little more seasoning. Maybe more flavorful turkey, or a spicier hollandaise.

SERVICE: Our service was so-so. I think we visited on a particularly busy day, when they were trying to crowd in a lot of customers, and the servers were moving so fast that they missed little details here and there. We were initially seated at a table that was nearly in the middle of the waiting area. It began to feel like we were sitting in the waiting area or in the line to pay at the register. When a booth along the wall opened up, we asked to be moved there. We got our meals fairly quickly, but we experienced many of those moments went we couldn’t find our server and had to ask someone else to get little things: a drink, napkins, and a side dish.

OVERALL: As you can tell with some of the food and the service, we had an okay experience at Grand Day. I’ll grant that it was a holiday and the restaurant may have been working a little beyond capacity, but with food that’s again decent but nothing to write home about, I’ll keep it on the list of breakfast places in town, but not one that I’d go running back to.

OTHER LINKS:

Grand Day Cafe on Urbanspoon

The Angry Baker | Columbus, OH

The Angry Baker (Facebook / @TheAngryBaker)
891 Oak St. (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43205
(614) 947-0976
Open Sun & Mon, 8a-5p; Tues-Sat, 8a-7p
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/Y/N
Kid-friendly? Y

Date of Visit: Friday, April 6, 2012 at 10:30 a.m.

IMPRESSIONS: If you haven’t been to Olde Towne East lately, or if you think it’s nothing but a neighborhood of run-down old houses, you need to re-evaluate. Case in point: The Angry Baker and the booming corner of Oak and 18th Streets. Alongside AB, Yellow Brick Pizza is serving up pizza and beer, and The Tavern recently opened next door to the bakery.

ATMOSPHERE: The bakery itself has a bright, colorful little cafe in one corner, with a polished wooden floor and big brick walls.  There are a handful of tables for enjoying coffee and a pastry, or a breakfast or lunch sandwich. There’s even a long counter with stools, overlooking the kitchen itself.

FOOD: Angry Baker offers both the retail bakery experience, as well as the quaint cafe vibe. Their display cases are chock full of baked goods, and three separate chalkboards communicate the bakery items, breakfast, and lunch offerings. I love chalkboard menus. Denounce them as hipster if you like, but an erasable menu means that you can refresh your menu easily to accommodate seasonal changes and ingredient availability.

As Olde Towne East continues to develop, I’m sure Angry Baker has already become one of those neighborhood stops where residents walk over for coffee and a pastry as they begin their day. Just read through this list of goods and try not to get hungry. There’s everything from kolaches and cookies to bear claws, muffins, and scones.

Or you could spend your time at the bakery cases, staring…

…and staring…

…and staring.

And then finding more things to stare at.

For breakfast that morning, we chose one of the breakfast sandwiches, specifically the French toast sandwich. The breakfast menu focuses mainly on the sandwiches, but they also offer baked eggs, vegan pancakes, and biscuits with a mushroom gravy. Points to AB for expanding the vegan breakfast offerings in Columbus. But back to that sandwich… this isn’t the type of sandwich that you eat with two hands. This is a knife-and-fork one. It’s essentially their version of the monte cristo: local ham and cheese between two slices of French toast made with their brioche, then drowned in real maple syrup. As expected, it cuts easily with the side of a fork, and is a delightful mix of the salty and the sweet. If you’re a French toast fan, you need to sample this one.

SERVICE: With the small, intimate space, it’s hard not to get to know the crew there. You can chat with them about their baked goods, and they’ll answer any questions you have. The prepared foods are made on a small flattop right in front of the counter. This is owner Vicki Hink cooking up my French toast!

OVERALL: Angry Baker is well worth multiple visits, to sample the rotating offerings of baked goods and the seasonal changes to the cafe menu. Like I said, it’s great for a coffee-and-a-snack stop or a quiet sit-down breakfast.

OTHER LINKS:

The Angry Baker on Urbanspoon

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