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Crimson Cup Coffee House | Columbus, OH

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Crimson Cup Coffee House (Facebook / @CrimsonCup / instagram: crimsoncupcoffee)
4541 N. High St. (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43214
(614) 262-6212
Open Mon-Sat, 6a-9p; Sun, 8a-8p
Accepts cash & debit/credit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/N/Y
Kid-friendly? Y

Visited: Many, many times

Anyone familiar with coffee in Columbus – or even if you’re not overtly familiar but just drink coffee – will have run into Crimson Cup and its coffees many times. Crimson Cup is a prolific roaster and wholesaler, with many shops around Columbus and far beyond – even much of Ohio State’s food service – brewing their coffees.

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Crimson Cup also has a small tip-of-the-iceberg retail storefront in the form of a Clintonville coffee shop. This shop is a proven mainstay of the neighborhood, and it does well at playing the everything-to-everyone game. First, it has a busy drive-through (they share a building with a credit union) to catch the on-the-go crowd. Then they’ve got the interior space and a small front patio with wifi, tables, couches, and comfy chairs for all those working, meeting, and reading (I’ve been regularly using the coffee shop as a morning writing spot). Finally, they’re delving into the “third wave” coffee shop experience with a full brew bar, experimental brews, and customer education.

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The menus differ between the drive-through and the inside counter (FYI to those of you driving through who don’t want pumpkin spice lattes and flavored ice teas). Clearly they’re playing to the likelihood of what drivers want to order, but if you’re headed into the drive-through, don’t forget you can request nitro-poured cold brew, cappuccinos, and the like. Inside, the brown paper menu provides an updated list of espresso drinks with helpful illustrations of coffee-to-milk ratios.

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If you’re up for trying out different coffee roasts and preparations, you can take a seat at the brew bar to try V60 pour-overs, Chemex coffee, or the variety of cold brews.

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The shop also sells beans, coffee brewing equipment, and small growlers of their cold brew.

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One of their signatures – and as far as I know, the only one you can currently find in town – is their cold brew coffee served on a nitro tap. This is similar to nitro tap beer, where the liquid is infused with nitrogen (rather than the traditional carbon dioxide in beer). Nitrogen bubbles are many times smaller than CO2, so it produces a wonderfully creamy texture. When a properly-made cold brew coffee is served this way, it’s very smooth, full of flavor, and almost devoid of bitterness. It’s a real treat.

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The coffee shop also gives you plenty of options beyond light, medium, dark roasts. The menus list and describe available roasts, plus their wide selection of loose leaf teas.

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While I usually French press coffee at home, I’ve enjoyed smaller and more potent drinks at coffee shops lately. I’m a fan of a good demitasse of espresso.

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But my real preference of late – and not just at Crimson Cup – is the cortado. The cortado is simply a shot of espresso cut with a little warm milk, usually in a 1:1 ratio.

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The cortado is efficient. It’s the richness of espresso combined with a little creaminess. Usually there’s enough milk that baristas produce some tiny latte art.

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Crimson Cup likes to have some fun with their coffees, too. This month they’ve dry-hopped their cold brew coffee; dry hopping is usually done with beer, and refers to adding hop leaves or cones after the boil. This imparts the flavors and aromas of the hops without boiling out more of the bitter acids. This brew may not be for everyone, but it’s worth trying. The hops aren’t overly strong; think of it more like very light porter.

Crimson Cup’s coffee shop covers all your needs: drive-through fuel up, study space, or coffee bar. It’s good to have them in the neighborhood.

Crimson Cup Coffee House on Urbanspoon

Actual Roastery | Columbus, OH

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Actual Roastery (Facebook)
400 W. Rich St. (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43215
(614) 407-5282
Open Mon-Fri, 7a-4p (special Saturday hours on 400 Market days)
Accepts cash & debit/credit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/N/Y

Visited: Most recently, Tuesday, October 14, 2014 at 10:15 a.m.

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There’s lots of good stuff happening in Franklinton, between the continued growth of 400 West Rich, the opening of Strongwater Food & Spirits, Rehab Tavern, Idea Foundry, and Land-Grant Brewing (coming this weekend!).

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The space has transformed over the months as Dinin’ Hall finished its run and Actual Roastery has fully taken over. With the big windows and the garage doors open during warmer weather, the space is bright and quiet. There’s wifi, too, so studiers looking for caffeine and a snack should take note.

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The big community table still remains, and now there are smaller cafe tables and a comfy couch, too.

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Many are familiar with Actual Brewing Company and their top-notch beers (and if you’re not – get right on it!). Their operations are based in an industrial park on James Road near the airport. That’s where they brew, maintain their yeast lab, and roast coffee. Jen Ryan and Jason Montgomery from the coffee-roasting side of things have appeared at markets around town, but the cafe – which opened this summer and is headed up by Jen – offers a nice retail front to things.

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The cafe offers both hot and cold coffee. Hot options include pour-overs, French press, or good old-fashioned brewed. There are also snacks from local vendors like Buttergirl Bakery. Coffee is available to-go or in mis-matched mugs to stay.

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Naturally, the cafe serves Actual roasts. You get a choice of beans for your brew.

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Snacks range from cookies to handmade pop tarts to oatmeal energy “bawls.”

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I’ve enjoyed my stops at the Roastery. It’s a fun and comfortable place (although it deserves to be busier), just over the river from downtown and nestled in a quiet section of east Franklinton.

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The coffees are solid, and the snacks are excellent. I’m particularly fond of Buttergirl’s pop-tarts, with a special place for their apple vanilla and the pumpkin. I appreciate the bright and colorful location – with nice pops of color on the walls and from fresh flowers.

There’s plenty of space at Actual Roastery, so it’s good for meetings, studying, writing, or just relaxing with a book. I recommend anyone traveling through the area – or looking for a new spot to work – stop in for a cup of coffee and a snack. It’d be great if the coffee shop became a Franklinton institution.

Read more: here’s my Q&A with Jen for Columbus Crave.

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

Market: Brunch Bites at the Grand Rapids Downtown Market

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It’s been fun to watch my hometown of Grand Rapids grow throughout the years. Every visit home to see family, we find there are more interesting shops, districts, restaurants, breweries, and attractions cropping up. Grand Rapids has been particularly successful in revitalizing its downtown. The already strong Art Museum, Public Museum, Van Andel Arena, DeVos Hall, and surrounding streets have been bolstered by Art Prize, the Silver Line bus route, and over the past year the Downtown Market. We visited the outdoor farmer’s market last year, but at the time the indoor market hadn’t yet opened. It’s been open for some time now, and Mrs. Bfast w/Nick and I visited on a Sunday after learning about their Brunch Bites event.

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The Downtown Market has a large amount of planning going for it. I remember reading that they visited other urban markets, including Columbus’ North Market, to interview vendors, examine layouts, and get a sense of the challenges facing them. The strength of any of these markets – from North Market to Cleveland’s West Side Market to Cincinnati’s Findlay Market – is the ability to collaborate. So I think it’s vital they do events like this, that keep customers exploring the whole market and uniting vendors under a common theme.

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The Brunch Bites – which seems to run nearly every Sunday – is a perfect example of this unifying event. A temporary bar stands in one corner, where customers can order a customized Bloody Mary. Then they’re welcome to stroll the market to purchase the regular offerings or the specialized menu items created for the day.

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One of the more eye-catching stops is Field & Fire Bakery, with their beautiful trays of croissants, brioche, and breads.

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We sampled a croissant while we strolled, and it was lovely. The owner of Field & Fire came to the market after baking for years at the famous Zingerman’s Deli in Ann Arbor. (Yes, Buckeye fans, good things can come out of Ann Arbor.)

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We also swung by the Sweetie-licious bakery, where they were making crepes.

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At Sweetie-licious we nabbed a baklava crepe. Why have we never thought of this before?! It’s a crepe loaded with walnuts, pistachios, and honey. It was sweet, steaming hot, and delicious. The only downside: the warmth lets the honey sink to the bottom of the crepe. Bonus: the final bite is soaked in warm honey.

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The other market vendors include the usual favorites, like the Fish Lads (with their beautiful logo). There’s also a florist, olive oil shop, grocer, spice shop, juice bar, cheesemonger, coffee corner, and many prepared foods. You can see the current list here.

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The market still has lots of space to grow, but it’s getting there. And you can’t beat the modern construction with lots of natural light, and a solid integration into the neighborhood landscape. There building has an upstairs, too, that’s open to the lower floor. On the upper level are community and classroom spaces.

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There’s also an active greenhouse (with beautiful views of the city) that’s used for classes and events.

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BONUS! If you’re stopping by the market, you can also scout out Madcap Coffee downtown.

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Madcap is a solid “third wave” coffee roaster and shop. The Mrs and I enjoyed a cappuccino and a cafe miel (pictured above and below).

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Similar to a honey latte, the cafe miel features espresso and foamed milk with cinnamon and honey. It’s very rich and tasty. (“Miel” is French for honey.)

Coffee: what is Kyoto-style cold brew?

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At last, winter has loosened its icy grip and summer weather seems to be here! I say “seems to be,” because honestly you never know in Ohio. It could still snow next week.

Regardless, the warmer turn in the weather forces a shift in my morning (read: all day) caffeination routine, away from piping hot mugs of French-pressed coffee to clinking cups of cold brew.

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I’m a coffee snob, but also I’m not. While my preference is for good coffee, well prepared, and served by knowledgeable roasters and baristas, I’ve found myself equally happy with the “angry water” served in diners. It’s all a matter of context, I suppose.

But in the summertime, we get picky about our cold coffee, so I thought I’d share our favorite process. The past Christmas I gave Mrs. Bfast w/Nick a Kyoto-style tower, and we’ve enjoyed fiddling with it since then. Cold brewing is a general method of making coffee slowly and, well, at low temperatures. It’s different than normally brewing coffee, which applies heat to steep the coffee grounds. Brewing coffee then cooling and icing it is okay, but it results in a more bitter cup. Slow-steeping coffee at cold temperatures gives you a smoother, richer drink.

Why “Kyoto-style?” The large glass contraptions were popularized at shops in Kyoto, Japan. According to Wikipedia, cold brew coffee originated in Japan, having been introduced by Dutch traders in the 1600’s, so it’s often known as “Dutch coffee” (score one for my heritage!).

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We first encountered Kyoto-style cold brew at One Line Coffee, and it remains a favorite. In fact, we bottle our homemade cold brew in used One Line bottles. (Other shops now cold brew this style, too, including Crimson Cup and Luck Bros). The tower looks like a miniature chemistry set. The upper chamber is filled with ice, which melts and falls drop by drop in the grounds (held in the middle container), then slowly filters down into the bottom container. Pretty simple, actually.

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Whenever we’re sampling coffee from local vendors, we ask for beans that cold brew well. Recent successes for us have included Roaming Goat‘s Tanzanian Peaberry and Thunderkiss‘ Yirgacheffe Konga. Usually brighter, berry-like roasts translate into nice brews.

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You place a filter at the bottom of the center container, the one holding the grounds. You can find cheap packages of pre-made filters, or you can just cut out pieces of regular coffee filters.

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To help the steeping process, wet the filter and position it at the bottom of the container.

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Then dump in the ground coffee. We’ve worked out to brewing 50 grams of coffee, coarsely ground, into about 500 ml of coffee.

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We’ve learned to gently soak the grounds first.

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We drizzle some water on them and poke around with a chop stick, ensuring all of the grounds are wet. This helps prevent the dripping water from channeling straight through. Instead, we take advantage of the capillary action (yay, science terms!) to let the water wick through all the grounds.

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The top chamber gets loaded with ice. We’ve made the cold brew with home-made ice from city water and from store-bought iced made from filtered water, and we honestly can’t tell the difference in the end product. We prime this chamber with a couple ounces of water, just to help speed up the process.

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The real clincher in this process is controlling the water flow. This is what establishes the slow pace. Too fast and the water soaks and drains without proper contact with the grounds. Too slow, and well, nothing happens. The ideal rate we’ve learned is one drip every second-and-a-half. This nozzle came with the set, but there are more expensive ones made of different materials. From Mrs. Bfast w/Nick’s research, she’s found that people endlessly fiddle with these contraptions, trying to get the perfect flow rate.

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There it is, in all it’s poorly back-lit glory. The process takes anywhere from 8-12 hours. We’ll often let it go overnight. You just need to be sure the top chamber is loaded with enough ice (but not too much, or you’ll thin out the coffee). And don’t be surprised if the drip still needs adjusting. I’ve come downstairs in the morning to find the dripping stopped altogether. Otherwise, it’s fun to check in on throughout the day.

The cold brew coffee is stronger than normal coffee, so it’s typically served over ice. The process is admittedly high maintenance, but the end product is better, and like so many things, it’s about process over product.

We found our Kyoto-style tower on Amazon for only $100, although there are more expensive and complex models available. Interested in trying Kyoto-style cold brew in Columbus (without having to buy the kit)? Visit one of these coffee shops:

One Line Coffee – 745 N. High St, Short North
Crimson Cup Coffee – 4541 N. High St, Clintonville/Beechwold
Luck Bros Coffee House – 1101 W. First Ave, Grandview

RIDEhome | Worthington, OH

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RIDEhome (Facebook / @RideHome43085)
650 High St. (map it!)
Worthington, OH 43085
(614) 468-1409
Open Mon-Sat, 7a-9p; Sun, 12-5p
Accepts cash & credit/debit

Visited: Saturday, May 3 at 11:00 a.m.

With the closing a Scottie McBean a while back, Olde Worthington has been looking for good coffee. Fortunately, it’s well provided-for through Sassafras Bakery armed with Cafe Brioso brews and La Chatelaine‘s consistent presence. Stepping in to further fill the gap is RIDEhome, which is more bike shop than coffee shop, but still serves local beans in pour overs.

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RIDEhome is nestled in the corner of the small strip featuring House Wine, The Candle Lab, and Rivage Atlantic, amongst other things. The coffee shop counter is located near the back and further beyond it is a small sitting/reading area with couches, chairs, and shelves.

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They offer coffee and tea currently. If you pay cash with your order, you get the full experience of their old-timey cash register One cup of coffee retails at $3.50.

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They’re serving Crimson Cup blends and seem to have the pour over process down, complete with Hario kettles. If you’re looking for drive-through speed coffee, this isn’t your stop, but the pour over is generally a strong way to prep a cup of coffee. The process makes it ideal (and I’m sure this was the plan) for wandering the shop and checking out bikes or bike parts while you wait.

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There’s a small shelf with Crimson Cup beans, and they recently had a visit from Worthington-based roaster Roaming Goat Coffee, too.

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If you’re not in a rush, or you’re in the midst of wandering the Worthington Farmers Market, you can sit and relax in the far back.

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Take some time, too, to check all the bikes.

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RIDEhome is helping fill the coffee needs of Worthington, especially the Olde Worthington crowd and the early risers. It’s nice to see them serving local brews and using proper methods, so if you’re in need of caffeination and you’re in the hood, you have another stop available to you.

RIDEhome on Urbanspoon

Ethyl & Tank | Columbus, OH

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Ethyl & Tank (Facebook / @EthylTank)
19 E. 13th Ave. (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43201
Open 7a-2a (full brunch served weekends; smaller bfast menu 7-11a weekdays)
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/Y/Y
Kid-friendly? Y

Visited: Saturday, April 26, 2014 at 10:30 am

Have you heard about this newer place called Ethyl & Tank? It’s a coffee shop close to Ohio State’s campus. Oh, it’s also a bar with a solid 40 taps of beer. And they’re a restaurant serving burgers, tacos, and brisket. Plus, they’ve got an arcade.

Yes, Ethyl & Tank is a little bit of everything, established to serve the student population surrounding them, but accessible to everyone.

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About a block east of High Street – easily walkable but reachable by car only via side streets – is Ethyl & Tank’s long brown brick building, marked by a perpendicular neon sign. Enter through the corner doors and you’ve run into the coffee shop aspect, labeled “Ethyl” in neon. Ethyl sports a full coffee shop menu – cappucinos, machiatos, pour overs – and more.

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Keep moving and you’ll run into “Tank,” or the bar/restaurant. The large open space is very nicely appointed: leather bar stools, exposed ceilings, brick walls, wood floor. Combined with big windows and a patio out front, the space is bright and welcoming.

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Over the poured concrete bar are rows of TVs, so if you’re also looking for a sports bar: check.

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The second level – with more seating, tables, and a small arcade – opens onto the main space.

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The brunch menu covers a couple pages, and it’s focused on big dishes that pack a punch. Fried Egg Chicken Fried Steak? Biscuits and Chorizo Gravy? Creme Brulee Crepes? They’re not messing around. Notice the availability of some vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free items, too.

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We started brunch with a sample of a blend mocha from the coffee shop. It was nicely whipped without being overly sweet. When I first reached to pick it up, I was surprised at its lightness; I expected the thick, heavy sludge of a corporate coffee shop frozen-uccuino.

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And here’s something else to entice you: the $5.00 Bloody Mary bar. This may be some people’s favorite phrase in the English language. You can’t do a good brunch without a good Bloody Mary, so Ethyl & Tank give you a glass of vodka then turns you lose on the accoutrement.

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Everyone likes their Bloody Mary the way they like it. Some like it spicy, some like it mild. Some love garnishes, some love it salty, some like everything pickled involved. Ethyl & Tank gets your started with base mixes ranging from mild to mega spicy.

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Down the line, jars are laden with olives, pickles, peppers, fresh horseradish, chilies, jalapenos.

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At the end are bottles of hot sauce, steak sauce, and jars of salts and powders.

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The challenge with build-your-own Bloody Mary’s is that sometimes you don’t know where to start. In this case a list of suggested additions might be helpful, but with E&T’s pre-made mixes, you’re off to a good start. Here’s the end result of our Bloody Mary.

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By the time we assembled our Bloody Mary and sipped our coffee, brunch arrived. And arrive it did. We split three dishes between our family of four and still had leftovers.

First, which I pretty much had to order, was the chicken and waffles sandwich. It’s a crispy breaded chicken breast served between two waffles (were they Eggo? If so, it didn’t matter) with bacon, a thin coating of melted cheddar, and syrup. It came with a side of thin-cut fries – just how we like them. All in all, it’s a solid dish. The chicken was cooked through and through, but the seasoning was spot on and the syrup and soft waffles made up the difference. I know some people still don’t get the whole chicken and waffles thing, but trust me: you need to try the dish. It’s a little sweet, a little salty, a little spicy. This is what “they” mean when they talk about a balanced breakfast.

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And if chicken and waffles weren’t big enough, we went even bigger with the Tank Pancakes. Just. Look. At. This. Dish.

Tank Pancakes are three big but not ridiculously fluffy pancakes stacked and covered with pulled pork, cheddar, and a Jameson maple syrup. Yes, this dish might seem too over-the-top, but seriously: we loved it. Again, the sweet and spicy balanced each other out. There’s not too much cheese (which could have done the dish in), the pork is tender, and the pancakes are already soaked just right in the syrup. This leaves them soft without being mushy. You’re given a bottle of syrup, but you don’t need it. Another benefit to this dish: it’s perfect for sharing.

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We rounded out brunch with the Breakfast Burger and another side of fries.

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I’ve been craving burgers lately – it must be the turn toward spring – and this hit the spot. It’s built simply with a ground beef patty, lettuce, onion, tomato, cheddar, mayo. The real selling point is a fried egg (to qualify it as breakfast) but also a thin layer of chorizo between the beef and the egg. This little kick of spice adds a certain something that really makes it stand out.

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Of course, before leaving we had to visit the arcade. The games are all set to free play and with plenty of classics to re-visit (Pac Man, Rampage, TMNT, Terminator 2, Street Fighter). It was clear that some customers visit just to grab coffee and play games.

I’m sure you can guess already, but we were impressed with Ethyl & Tank. It was really unexpected, from the well-appointed space, to the breadth of the offerings, to the brunch menu. We were also impressed with the prices, which clearly must be kept in an affordable range for the nearby college students.

Ethyl & Tank is owned by same the folks who own The Crest in Clintonville. Our experience there for brunch was so-so, but The Crest is still going strong, and Ethyl & Tank seems to capitalize on similar strengths. And while The Crest maybe suffered from a little over-hype when they opened a year ago (not necessarily their fault), the opposite seems to be true for Ethyl & Tank. It’s sailed under the radar (at least for us) and so offers a surprising experience. We’ve already added it to the list of places to visit again and bring some out-of-town visitors along.

Ethyl & Tank on Urbanspoon

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