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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

Block’s Bagels | Columbus, OH

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

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

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

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

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 Not to say it looks outdated.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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Block's Bagels on Urbanspoon

The Social | Columbus, OH

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The Social (Facebook / @WholeFoodsUA / Instagram @wfmupperarlington)
1555 W. Lane Ave. (map it!) (inside the Upper Arlington Whole Foods)
Columbus, OH 43221
(614) 481-3400
Open 7a-10p (bfast served all day)
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/Y/N
Kid-friendly? Y

Visited: Thursday, July 24, 2014 at 9:00 a.m.

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Whole Foods is known for not just being a shopping place but for creating a full experience. This includes a lot of in-store events and a lot of opportunities for in-store dining. Most Whole Foods have an active prepared foods department that does more than just assemble meals for customers. The WF in Dublin, for instance, includes the 161 Diner, a small counter serving brunch, burgers, and beers.

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The fairly new Whole Foods in Upper Arlington, a smaller-scale store that replaced the Wild Oats on Lane Avenue, includes a small restaurant called The Social. The Social is connected to the store but still feels separate. It has its own entrance, which creates more of a feeling of a stand-alone restaurant than, say, the 161 Diner. In Dublin you need to trek through the store to get to the diner, and then sitting at the counter feels a little like sitting in the middle of the store.

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The Social could be any restaurant space. Not to say it’s generic – it just has a life of its own, separate from the store. The space is bright and welcoming, with a long bar at the back and plenty of cafe tables. Chalkboard menus list drinks from coffee to beer (mental note: good beer selection). Full- and half-sized growlers line nearly every shelf. Ordering takes place at the counter.

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Here’s the farm breakfast, a steal at $5 for two eggs, choice of meat (including vegan sausage), toast, and potatoes. All of it was done just right: soft and well-seasoned potatoes, eggs to order, very flavorful sausage. And served with house-made jam. Again, for $5!

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Also, the challah French toast. Two thick slices served with syrup, berry compote, and whipped cream.

A comfortable space and inexpensive prices easily put The Social on the radar for me. It’s a very accessible place with a big enough breakfast menu to serve anyone. And you know I’m eyeing that beer selection for a later visit…

Beyond Breakfast: Hot Chicken Takeover

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Columbus is going chicken crazy right now, and there’s good reason for it. We’ve got lots of chicken. And it’s mostly fried. Our family has been fans of Mya’s Fried Chicken from the beginning, and being Clintonville residents it’s one of our favorite neighborhood dining spots. However, now we’ve also got reason to trek across town for fried chicken. Three words: Hot Chicken Takeover.

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Hot Chicken Takeover is a, well, takeover of the kitchen at the Near East Side Cooperative Market. The Market is on the corner of Oak and Ohio in Olde Towne East, down the street from spots like L’Appat Patisserie and Angry Baker. Joe DeLoss and his crew fry up anywhere from 250-350 meals each weekend day. They’re set up simply with an ordering window (labeled the “chicken window”), long picnic tables under a tent, and a station with sweet tea, water, ranch dressing, and silverware. It’s about as simple as can be, and in my experience, something that is well done and simple can be stellar.

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What is hot chicken? I had never heard of it before HCT opened up. Hot chicken is a popular Nashville serving of fried chicken, in which the breading is heavily dosed with spices like cayenne pepper. The chicken is served on a slice of white bread and topped with pickles. I enjoy a good bit of spice, so I relished the burn on my lips. What’s even better, though, is the meat. They’ve brined it and fried it perfectly, so it’s super juicy and a little salty. Joe said the hot chicken clocks in around 60,000 Scovilles, but if you’re a real hot-head, they served the “Holy Chicken,” which boosts the heat to over 100,000. I love some spice, but that’s probably too much for me.

The chicken brings plenty of heat, but there’s balance to it, too. Each meal is served with a creamy mac & cheese and a sweet cole slaw. You also get refills of a lovely sweet tea and access to rich home-made ranch. Every element works together, and each one nails the mark.

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HCT serves “Cold Chicken,” too. Not temperature cold, but similar cuts with less heat. This was helpful when ordering for our boys. They like some heat, but the hot chicken would have overwhelmed them. The cold chicken is just as juicy and it’s served with the same sides. The meals were big enough that got two – one hot and one cold – and split them between the four of us.

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I didn’t know what hot chicken was before, but I know now – and goodness, I’ve been missing out all these years. HCT will become another regular spot for us, for sure, and I’m really excited to see what happens with them in the future.

Important note: as of now the takeover runs Saturday and Sunday from 12-4pm. I’ve heard tell of long lines, but we strolled right up when stopping by mid-afternoon. They close when they sell out, so it’s a good idea to watch their Facebook page for availability. Joe does a good job of providing updates with the number of meals left for the day.

If you want to visit:
Hot Chicken Takeover
1117 Oak St. (on the side of the Near East Side Cooperative Market)
Columbus, OH 43205
(614) 800-4538
Open 12-4 Saturday and Sunday (they close when they sell out)
facebook.com/hotchickentakeover

Cuco’s Taqueria | Columbus, OH

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Cuco’s Taqueria (Facebook / @CucosTaqueria)
2162 W. Henderson Rd. (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43220
(614) 538-8701
Open Mon-Sat, 8a-10p (bfast served till 11)
Accepts cash & debit/credit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/N/N
Kid-friendly? Y

Visited: Thursday, July 10, 2014 at 10:00 a.m.

In the world of Columbus Mexican restaurants, Cuco’s has long been an easy go-to. Our tastes in Mexican fare have changed over the years as we’ve gotten to know less Americanized taco trucks and brick-and-mortar restaurants, but Cuco’s little Henderson Road strip mall location is still familiar and cozy.

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The restaurant feels just like you’d expect most American-based Mexican restaurants to look: bright colors, signage from popular beers like Corona and Modelo, boisterous Spanish-language music.

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If you’ve been to Cuco’s for dinner, especially on a weekend, you know to expect a wait. The margaritas will be flowing and the salsa bar well stocked. But there’s plenty of room at breakfast. Not to say there aren’t customers – we witnessed a steady stream coming and going – but the early hours are a little more subdued. (Hint: this would make it ideal for a larger group.)

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The breakfast menu takes up one page. Asterisks are penned in next to a few items. We didn’t ask why. Popular dishes? Specialties?

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Notice that there are some straightforwardly American breakfasts: omelets, hotcakes, and the Plato Americano. My recommendation, though, is to try something you haven’t had before, like machaca, moyetes, or chilaquiles. Even huevos con chorizo.

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I ordered coffee with my breakfast. It’s basic diner brown.

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Chips and salsa aren’t normally brought to the table at breakfast, but our server offered to bring some when we asked just for salsa.IMG_3245

 

Our boys split the huevos rancheros. Like all the dishes we had, they weren’t as heavily seasoned as we normally prefer, but they’re served in generous portions at a very good price point. The huevos (two fried eggs) are layered onto tortillas and covered with a red ranchero sauce, with rice, refried beans, and cheese.

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We also chose the oaxaqueña, a platter of three enchiladas stuffed with eggs and potatoes and generously doused with a black bean sauce. They’re big, starchy, and filling.

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I’m almost always in a mood for chorizo when it comes to Mexican breakfasts, so I eyed El Tapatio Platter. It mixes two barbacoa tacos (served like street tacos on two corn tortillas and topped with fresh onion and cilantro), two eggs, and chorizo mixed with potatoes, plus a side of refried beans. All very likable. The barbacoa wasn’t quite as juicy or as heavily spiced as I prefer it, but the chorizo adds a nice kick to the whole dish.

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The waiting area of Cuco’s includes market shelves of beer, sodas, hot sauces, and other ingredients to take home. So you get a little sense of a small, local marketplace and the little taqueria.

It’s funny how a place that’s so busy at night can be so quiet in the mornings. Again, this isn’t say Cuco’s isn’t undiscovered for breakfast (I mean, some guy wrote about it in a breakfast book), but it feels like a hidden gem. Which makes it a comfortable place for breakfast, and a flavorful option if you’re looking to change up your routine a bit.

Cuco's Mexican Taqueria 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

Philco Bar + Diner | Columbus, OH

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Philco Bar + Diner (Facebook / Instagram @philcobd)
747 N. High St. (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43215
(614) 299-9933
Open Mon-Thurs, 8a-11p; Fri, 8a-12a; Sat, 9a-12a; Sun, 9a-11p (bfast served all day)
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/N/N
Kid-friendly? Y

Visited: Thursday, May 22, 2014 at 9:00 a.m.

At the risk of sounding like one of the old folks, it amazes me how much Short North has changed in the twelve years we’ve lived in Columbus. We lived in the heart of Short North our first two years in town, and we’re just now approaching the status of “Back when I lived in Short North…” So, without further ado… back when I lived in Short North, we had Philip’s Coney Island. It was small, cheap, and basic. To be honest, though, we rarely visited. Sure, there were cheap hot dogs and fries, but it didn’t have the same draw as other neighborhood eateries like Press Grill, Mac’s, Betty’s.

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On pace with Short North’s development in recent years, the Philip’s Coney Island space was reborn of late as Philco Bar + Diner, led by the same team as The Rossi, Club 185, Little Palace, etc. The name itself is a nod to the previous life (Philip’s Coney -> Philco), and they’ve retained a sense of the old place, with booths, counter seats, and yes, coneys on the menu. But the revamp has made the space hipper and (in my opinion) a little more comfortable. Plus they’ve added a fine selection of beer and wine.

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The new space certainly feels much classier than the old, with green leather stools and booths, wine racks over the bar, and wood or stainless steel accents.

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There’s still some feeling of the old restaurant, though, where you can sit at the counter and eat hot dogs, with bottled ketchup and mustard on hand. The menu also includes revamped versions of French fries, coneys, and grilled cheese sandwiches.

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There are also your expected booths, which are big enough to fit probably eight people on busy Gallery Hop nights.

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The breakfast menu follows suit with rich, colorful, and sometimes deconstructed versions of diner classics. We split three dishes amongst the family, starting with the biscuits and red eye gravy. Ohio is more sausage gravy territory than red eye gravy, so you don’t see it too often here. Red eye gravy is more of a Southern dish, typically made with the day’s leftover coffee and the pan drippings from frying ham, bacon, or sausage. Our server made sure we understood which type of gravy we were getting, as previous customers have been surprised to receive a lighter and much sweeter gravy than a chunky, cream-based one.

Philco’s biscuits and gravy are dense and rich. The gravy, which leans more toward the sweet side, soaks into the biscuits, and it’s offset by smokey and salty andouille sausage, then topped with two eggs cooked to order (and sprinkled with paprika).

The portion sizes aren’t huge at Philco, but they make up for it by packing a punch.

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Our server recommended the fried egg tacos. Ironically, they don’t automatically come with fried eggs; you can have them cooked to order, so we asked for them scrambled. Again, the tacos aren’t huge, but they’re rich and filling. They’re topped with various salsas (red + black bean & corn), sour cream, and cheddar. And we added the chorizo. (Because when you have the option to add chorizo, you always do.)

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Finally, we chose the huevos rancheros, built on a base of open-face tortillas and eggs. It’s flavored with a verde salsa and a sprinkling of cotija (a white Mexican cheese). Big bonus for the crispy and flavorful grilled peppers and onions. And we added chorizo because, well, you know.

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Our breakfast dishes went three for three at Philco. Again, the portion size isn’t huge (which some might expect from the “diner” moniker), but they make up for it with big flavors in really colorful presentations. In my mind, this makes Philco an easy choice for breakfast in Short North.

(Also, I know weekends are busy and feature an expanded brunch menu, but don’t forget the value of quiet weekday breakfast, too. Philco opens at 8!)

Philco Bar + Diner on Urbanspoon

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