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Sassafras Bakery | Worthington, OH

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Sassafras Bakery (Facebook / @SassafrasBakery / Instagram @SassafrasBakery)
657 High St. (map it!)
Worthington, OH 43085
(614) 781-9705
Open Wed-Fri, 8a-5p; Sat, 8a-3p
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/N/N
Kid-friendly? Y

Visited: Many times, but most recently Thursday, August 28, 2014 at 9:00 a.m.

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I’ve gotta be up front with you: this is an easy one to write. In fact, it’s almost easy to take Sassafras Bakery for granted, because a.) Mrs. Bfast w/Nick works a block away from the bakery, and b.) we’ve been fans of everything AJ bakes for years. Sassafras is a prime example of a business that started very small – AJ baking out of her home and selling at farmers markets – and has grown into a brick-and-mortar space. The hard work of braving years of weather and crowds and crazy markets and changing seasons has translated into a trusted brand and dedicated following. And we certainly count ourselves amongst the followers.

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Sassafras is right in the heart of Old-with-an-E Worthington. It’s in good company with places like Worthington Inn, Candle Lab, House Wine, and one of my personal favorites, Igloo Letterpress (because Mrs. Bfast w/Nick works there, to be clear (but also, it’s an awesome place)). The cafe plays host to a few tables, plus a counter, display cases, and a little stand with gift items like jam, cards, and a certain breakfast book. It’s all warm and cozy.

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One of the best parts of seeing Sassafras at the Worthington Farmer’s Market was eyeing the gorgeous displays of baked goods. And now you can do the same with the cases at the cafe. You’ll be tempted by a line-up of everything from scones to cookies to muffins to brownies.

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The benefit of the brick-and-mortar space is more prepared foods like delicious quiches – or at least the chance to enjoy a slice in-house, plus hot or cold soups.

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You can usually find two or three varieties of quiche, of both meat and veggie varieties.

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On my last visit I tore through a fantastic roasted zucchini and sun-dried tomato quiche, with mozzarella and basil. The crust was delicate and flaky, and the quiche itself loaded with veggies.

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For the customer who can’t decide whether they want a donut or a muffin, there’s always the donut muffin. It’s the best of both worlds.

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Despite the warm weather at the time, fall was beginning to creep on the menu. And it took fine form with the apple cider muffin, perfectly moist and tasting like a fresh glass of cider, with a little sweet icing to cap it off. Excellent pairing with a mug of Cafe Brioso coffee.

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One bite of anything at Sassafras and you’ll be hooked.

What I’m showing you here barely scratches the surface. Just fill your Facebook or Instagram feed with Sassafras Bakery and you’ll get to enjoy a steady stream of mouth-watering kitchen sink granola bars, scones, soups, iced cookies, fudge brownies, ratatouille tarts, gooey cinnamon rolls. And the pies. Oh, the pies. AJ makes a bourbon pumpkin tart that is easily my favorite pumpkin thing ever.IMG_4379

The cafe also runs specials like the milk and cookies happy hour. Great way to end any day.

Because AJ sources high quality ingredients, expect lots of seasonal rotation. Your best bet is to keep an eye on the cafe’s online presence to see what’s featured, but let’s face it: you can walk into any time and find something to love.

Sassafras Bakery on Urbanspoon

AJ’s Cafe | Columbus, OH

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AJ’s Cafe (Facebook / @AjaysCafe)
152 E. State St. (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43215
(614) 223-3999
Open Mon-Fri, 7:30a-3p; Sat, 11a-5p
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/N/N
Kid-friendly? Y

Visited: Thursday, May 29, 2014 at 10:00 a.m.

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We were very sad when Taj Mahal Indian Restaurant closed last fall; it was a favorite stop for Indian food, and a regular place to take out-of-town visitors. (It’s since been replaced by the also-good Mughal Darbar.) One of our favorite things about Taj was being greeted by Ajay Kumar. Ajay’s family owned the restaurant; his father started it over 25 years ago, and it was one of the first Indian restaurants in Columbus. Ajay shared an especially warm welcome and a friendly handshake, and we were especially sad to lose that when the restaurant closed.

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Fortunately for us (and the rest of Columbus, I guess), Ajay has worked his way back toward opening his own cafe – AJ’s Cafe downtown. While it’s not exclusively an Indian restaurant, he’s still up to a lot of good things, he’s still offering the welcoming smile, and some Indian flavors have naturally crept onto the menu.

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The cafe is in a good-sized space at the corners of State St. and North Fourth St. (formerly the C-Town Market). It’s a couple blocks east of the Ohio Statehouse, and is easily visible while jetting up Fourth (Fourth is one-way, but State is two-way). There’s plenty of metered parking lining the streets.

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As you might expect from a downtown cafe, the focus is on simpler grab-and-go items. Expect to see quickly-made hot sandwiches and wraps + pre-made cold sandwiches. This is in addition to assorted bagels, drinks and some locally baked snacks.

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Ajay serves Upper Cup Coffee from nearby Olde Towne East.

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He also makes a ginger spiced chai, a hot concoction of black tea, milk, and spices like ginger and cardamom.

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On our two visits to the cafe, we tried both breakfast and lunch dishes. Ajay was especially proud to show off a house-made potato salad, which is seasoned perfectly. I love me some potato salad, and this was up there with some of the best I’ve had.

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We combined some breakfast and lunch (there’s got to be a word for that) with the zen wrap and the lentil and spinach soup. The wrap mixes rice, spinach, lentils, sliced carrots and apples, and a tamarind-cilantro vinaigrette. It’s a nice refreshing combination – I think it needed a little more vinaigrette. The soup is rich but light-bodied and little lemony. Both dishes are vegan, too!

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The bacon and egg wrap is just what it sounds like: a wrap with scrambled eggs, cheese, and bacon. Simple but well executed.

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A good example of the Indian flavors making their way onto the menu is the raja wrap. It features tandoori chicken, rice, red onion, jalapenos, and a cilantro chutney familiar from the Taj Mahal days. Other good Indian examples are the CTM wrap, made with chicken tikka masala, and the spiced chickpea wrap. I’m hoping that Ajay can continue to distinguish his cafe with these flavor profiles.

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If Indian food isn’t your favorite (and why isn’t it?!), the cafe offers lunch classics like a corned beef reuben, a turkey meatball sub, a tilapia sandwich, and the Bourbon St. Philly with spicy chicken.

AJ’s Cafe obviously has competition downtown, but it’s close to some crowded buildings, and there’s enough interesting dishes to set it apart from nearby options. And you can’t beat the warm welcome from Ajay and his crew! If anything, we’re glad to have the chance to see him on a regular basis and experience his hospitality again.

Aj's Cafe on Urbanspoon

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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[UPDATE: Jerry's has closed.]

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

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