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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

Propaganda Donuts | Grand Rapids, MI

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Propaganda Donuts (Facebook / @PropagandaDonut)

117A S. Division Ave. (map it!)
Grand Rapids, MI 40503
Open Mon, Wed-Sun, 8a-12p; open Fri & Sat, 8p-12a
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/N/Y

Visited: Sunday, March 30, 2014 at 9:30a

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“Danger. Intrigue. Donuts.” That’s the tagline for Propaganda Donuts, a hip new donut shop set up just south of downtown Grand Rapids on Division Avenue. It sets up an air of mystery and curiosity, which is followed through with a location more like a film noir set than a traditional donut shop. The space itself is an old storefront – one I’ve never visited before – with an in-set tiled entryway, a wooden door, and big windows.

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The sandwich board out front gives you another clue that these donuts will be anything but traditional.

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The interior is one long room, the left wall all exposed brick. There’s a small counter, while the rest of the customer space is dedicated to a few seats for waiting and a desk.

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Even the counter itself is stacked with stuff like detective novels, an old wooden filing cabinet, a bottle of moonshine, binoculars.

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A small display case shows off the offerings for the day. It takes a moment or two to triangulate which sign goes with which donut.

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When we visited, 5-6 people were waiting for one of their daily specials – a French cruller – to be made. But we hopped right up to the counter, ordered, and were on our way.

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The old desk in the waiting area keeps up the detective theme, with books, a typewriter, newspapers (some real, some fictional), and photos.

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Propaganda is nailing the style, and it’s not without substance. We grabbed one of each of their daily offerings. These ranged from the standards of plain, powdered, and cinnamon sugar to more unique eats like honey roasted beets, vanilla bean buttermilk with chocolate and raspberry, and a bourbon caramel with mango, pineapple, passion fruit, and sprinkled with coconut. There wasn’t a bad donut in the bunch, although our preference was for the three more creative specials. Even the combinations that might seem too funky for some (honey roasted beets, for instance) worked quite well. And clearly they’re catching on, given the waiting crowd and the fact neighborhood folks were stopping in for coffee and a donut while walking their dogs (that’s always a good sign to me).

Downtown Grand Rapids is experiencing a bit of renaissance, with new restaurants, the new market opening, brewpubs, and more. So it’s fitting that it would get an interesting donut place, too, and I deduce (see what I did there?) Propaganda is filling the niche. With some fun flavor combinations, responsible sourcing of ingredients, and supreme dedication to their branding, they could be on track to becoming a destination like places like Voodoo Doughnuts in Portland.

Propaganda Doughnuts on Urbanspoon

Madcap Coffee | Grand Rapids, MI

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Madcap Coffee
(Facebook / @MadCapCoffee)

85 Monroe Center NW (map it!)
Grand Rapids, MI 49503
(616) 242-9194
Open Mon-Fri, 7a-7p; Sat, 8a-7p; Sun, 10a-3p
Accepts cash & credit/debit

Visited: Saturday, December 27, 2013 at 3:00pm

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What does it say when other people tell ME about cool places to go in MY hometown? Well, it probably says that I haven’t lived there in over a decade, and the place keeps getting cooler and cooler with each passing year. Exhibit A: Madcap Coffee. Opened downtown almost six years ago. I didn’t hear of it until about a year ago. And now we’re finally making it.

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Madcap is a great example of “third wave” coffee (1st = Folger’s, 2nd = Starbucks). “Third wave” shops are the small-batch roasters who treat coffee on par with craft beer, wine, etc. In other words, they’re sourcing, roasting, and brewing coffee beans with care.

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Madcap has a beautiful corner space in downtown Grand Rapids on Monroe Center, a pedestrian-friendly diagonal stretch full of shops and restaurants. The space is brightly-lit, with tall windows, wooden floors, some art spread around the walls, and a large back brick wall.

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Madcap’s branding is also pretty solid.

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They’ve got all the accoutrement for sale: beans, mugs, shirts, etc.

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The counter is arranged like a large U: point of sale is in the middle; specialty drives arrive on the left, and on the right is a row of pour-overs. The menu at places like Madcap tends to be limited, not the expansive half-caf, double-whip, extra-shot menus of most corporate coffee shops. Instead, they focus on doing a few things very well: pour-over coffee, espresso, lattes, etc. I ordered a pour-over of a Guatemalan roast; I often prefer judging a new coffee shop on the quality of a simple pour-over, and Madcap’s was excellent.

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Mrs. Bfast w/Nick ordered a latte, and it was rich and creamy and balanced.

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Madcap seems to have a good thing going. I’m glad to have finally visited, and I look forward to hitting them up again when we’re back in town.

Madcap Coffee on Urbanspoon

SuperChef’s Breakfast & More | Columbus, OH

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SuperChef’s Breakfast & More (Facebook / @SuperChefsOhio)
199 E. Broad St. (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43215
(614) 221-9663
Open 7a-2p
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/N/N
Kid-friendly? Y

Visited: Sunday, September 29, 2013 at 12:30pm

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We recently hit up the new-ish SuperChef’s for a Sunday brunch. I wrote about the busy little downtown eatery for the Daily Crave blog here; take a look for a little bit of their history, plus a highlight of their dishes. We arrived for lunch just after noon on Sunday, and the place was positively humming with activity. We had to wait about 10 minutes for a four-top to open up; at that time on a Sunday, you can expect a surge from the after-church crowd. Meanwhile, we watched servers dashing to and fro with big, beautiful plates of food.

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SuperChef’s is one long room with a front facing East Broad Street. Three rows of tables extend back into the space, and outside are two tables with umbrellas. A couple big windows in the back let you watch the SuperChefs themselves in action.

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It’s a real flurry of activity. The chefs and servers are decked out in bright hats and shirts with logos.

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Let me just say this: SuperChef’s really goes for the “super” in their title, meaning that they go over-the-top with their meals, like a colorful and delightful comic book. The restaurant name, I learned, is a title given to the owner Darnell Ferguson. He was a chef at the 2008 Olympics, and so was dubbed “SuperChef.” So I think the food is best approached with a sense of humor and fun. After a pre-visit glance at their website, I knew we’d be ordering the red velvet pancakes. These are honestly just straight-up slices of red velvet cake. But if they want to layer it with cream cheese, put syrup on it, and call them pancakes, I’m okay with that. Our family devoured these pretty quickly: they’re sweet but not overwhelmingly so, and very soft.

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We went savory, too, with the SuperChef’s eggs benedict. The title “benedict” can only be loosely applied. There’s nothing of the English muffin/poached egg/hollandaise sort. Instead, it’s a deep bowl of spicy red pepper grits, covered with rich house-made sausage, cheese, and two fried eggs. Because it’s served in such a steep bowl, the grease from the cheese, sausage, and grits gathers around the edges. But, well, fat is flavor, so it certainly tastes good. I love a good runny yolk, and the grits and sausage are both very well seasoned.

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We delved a little into the lunch menu as well, with an eye toward the sweet and sour burger, a sizeable burger – cooked just right – with chunky pulled pork in sweet and sour sauce. I didn’t really taste the hot crab spread that the menu includes, I think mainly because the sweet and sour sauce dominates everything.

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That note aside, it’s still a great burger. The beef and the pork are very tender and juicy. I love the toasted bun, and the side of fries are thick cut and seasoned just right.

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We finished the meal with dessert… er, more breakfast. While we waited for our table, we watched order after order of waffles come out of the kitchen. So we tried the Elvis Waffle. Just listen to the ingredient list: waffles with candied bacon in the batter, sliced bananas, peanut butter, chocolate syrup, and whipped cream.

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This is the sort of treat you have just once in a while for breakfast, but oh, what a treat. The kitchen team cuts the waffles into quarters and stacks them on the plate; they come out like a little tower of sweet breakfasty delights. As over-the-top this dish might be, it’s still expertly constructed. The waffles are crispy, and the toppings are applied in the appropriate amounts.

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We really enjoyed our experience at SuperChef’s. The dishes are delightfully crazy, but they were fun to eat and very well put together. The price point is a little higher (expect anywhere from $8-12 for a meal), but the portions are big and easy to split. There’s also a ton of other stuff on the menu: omelets, more crazy pancakes and French toast, and quesadillas. We are certainly excited to return, and I hope Chef Darnell and his crew stay as busy as they were that Sunday.

SuperChef's Breakfast & More on Urbanspoon

Dempsey’s Restaurant | Columbus, OH

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Dempsey’s Restaurant (Facebook / @DempseysDaily)
346 S. High St. (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43215
(614) 586-0511
Open daily 7a-11p (bfast served till 10:45 Mon-Fri, till 1pm Sat & Sun)
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/N/N
Kid-friendly? Y

Date of Visit: Saturday, April 27, 2013 at 9:30 a.m.

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Dempsey’s has been on my radar since they opened about a year ago. Finally, after of year of following their regular updates on Facebook and watching them thrive, we made it out on a Saturday morning. I’ve been interested in Dempsey’s, well, a.) because they serve breakfast, but also b.) they’re a downtown restaurant that’s serving breakfast every day of the week – not just weekdays – and right now early morning Saturday breakfasts downtown are hard to come by.

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Dempsey’s occupies and long, thin space on South High Street, just north of the intersection at Mound, right around the corner from the excellent brunch at Jury Room. The space has been lovingly renovated to preserve the feel of an older downtown bar, one where you might find attorneys seeking solace after a busy session at the county courthouse across the street.

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This is just the type of space I love. On a long brick wall hang photos chronicling Columbus’ history. A big, beautiful wooden bar on one side. Intricate tile floors. It’s big enough while still feeling comfortable and cozy.

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They’re a full-service coffee shop, too. Order up shots of espresso or cappuccinos to go along with your breakfast.

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Which is just what we did: they make one good cappuccino there. Pillowy foam, rich espresso.

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I went for a regular coffee, served in a tall glass with a mug of chilled cream. Dempsey’s serves coffee from Impero in Short North.

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While the menu isn’t off-the-charts innovative, it still features a solid line-up of breakfast classics and enough variety to please everyone. We ordered from all four corners of the menu and really, really enjoyed every dish. First, the mushroom lovers’ omelet, made with fresh mushrooms, Swiss, and onions. Balanced blend of ingredients, cooked just right. Served with a side of toast (we picked rye) and their redskin potatoes, which were soft and well-seasoned (thank goodness – so many breakfast potatoes are served under-seasoned) without being mushy.

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Grandma Dempsey’s steel cut Irish oatmeal. Cooked properly, again without being turned to a bowl of mush. Served with cream and brown sugar. Very hearty. If you’re stopping by the restaurant for a quick breakfast, this is a good bet. And this dish fits with the Irish theme of the restaurant.

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Facing a good line-up of pancakes, we had to order one for our boys. We opted for the chocolate chip pancakes: three thin but fluffy flapjacks packed with chips and drizzled with more chocolate. Impossible not to like.

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My eye was immediately drawn to the hash and eggs. It takes their redskin potatoes and substitutes the corned beef with a slow-cooked brisket. Served with a side of toast and topped with two perfectly poached eggs. This dish really hit the spot with me. Good size portion to match the price, very tender brisket, seasoned well, beautiful eggs. I’m adding this to my list of go-to breakfast dishes around town.

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All in all, we were very pleased with the total package of breakfast at Dempsey’s. Everything seemed on point: the service, the prices, the quality of the food, the atmosphere, the hours. I think Dempsey’s has joined the list of regular spots for our Saturday breakfasting or to take out-of-town visitors.

Dempsey's Downtown on Urbanspoon

Danny’s Deli | Columbus, OH

Danny’s Deli (Facebook / @dannysdeli1)
37 W. Broad St. (entrance is on Front St.) (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43215
(614) 469-7040
Open Mon-Fri, 7a-3p
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/N/N
Kid-friendly? Y

Date of Visit: Wednesday, October 4, 2012 at 7:00 a.m.

Danny’s Deli is one of the many delis and other little grab-and-go breakfast/lunch spots around downtown Columbus. Many of them have been on my list for a long time, especially the delis, and especially any of them boasting of their corned beef. The reuben is one of my favorite sandwiches, and I think I need to better integrate the corned beef love into my breakfast life.

Thus it was that I sat with my son Will at 7 a.m., chowing down on pancakes, corned beef, and eggs in Danny’s little basement space off Front Street.

The restaurant is decked out in bright reds, blacks, and whites, from the signage to the tiled floor to tables and chairs. There’s something very enjoyable about the “hidden-ness” of the space. You have to head down a short flight of stairs, through some double-doors, and then you’ve found this humming little breakfast spot. Even the address can throw you off a bit: Danny’s address is technically W. Broad Street, but the entrance can be found on Front. Fortunately, they’ve emphasized the red in their awning: if you’re looking for it, you’ll find it.

Despite the small size, there’s a lot of seating. Two rows of tables and chairs extend far back into the space, which curves to the right and features a few more seats.

Given that you’re downtown, you can expect to meet with some of the working crowd. I’m guessing that Danny’s, like most of the restaurants downtown, does most of their business over weekday lunches. But on our visit we saw a pretty good mix of clientele.

Will started out with an orange juice, which was a standard bottled type, while I opted for coffee. I loved the tall circular plastic mugs. Super lightweight. The coffee was good diner coffee: hot, a little weak, and caffeinated.

Will’s a pancake man, so he chose the little stack of fluffy buttermilks. Side note: I rarely talk prices on the blog, in order to keep away from the whole $$$ or star rating thing, but I have to note Danny’s cheap prices. Will’s pancakes were only $3.75, while my plate was $5.75. It’s a stellar deal.

I was in corned beef mode, so I knew my order well before we arrived. I picked the Downtown Special: a generous pile of sliced corn beef, scrambled eggs, potatoes, and toast. It hit. the. spot. I just loved piling a single bite of eggs, corned beef, and potatoes on my fork. It’s all done well: eggs aren’t over-cooked, potatoes are crispy enough, toast was good.

If Danny’s is any indication, then exploring downtown’s breakfast scene is going to be fun. Our server was super sweet – she lightly poked fun of Will and how he was goofing off (it’s good she has such a sense of humor at 7 a.m.). But she was very accommodating and helpful, and she even introduced us to the owner, Joe. He, too, was very nice and welcoming. The deli’s breakfast options are pretty straightforward and are only served until 10:30am, but they’re inexpensive, they include corned beef, and the prices are very easy to like.

Danny's Deli and on Urbanspoon

de-NOVO bistro & bar | Columbus, OH

de-NOVO bistro & bar (Facebook)
201 S. High St. (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43215
(614) 222-8830
Open Mon-Fri, 8a-10p (bfast served till 11a); Sat & Sun, brunch served 8a-3p
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/N/N
Kid-friendly? Y

Date of Visit: Monday, July 23, 2012 at 9:00 a.m.

IMPRESSIONS: On the surface, de-NOVO seems like a snappy, cluttered, downtown, after-hours hangout. And maybe it really is those things. After all, it sports a lavishly decorated bar, lots of cab tables with little candles, racks of wine bottles, and huge chandeliers. But would you be surprised to learn that they also serve a wonderful breakfast… starting at 7 a.m… on weekdays? I’ll admit that I was.

Mrs. Breakfast With Nick and I found ourselves downtown on a Monday morning – a Monday, for goodness’ sake – and made our way to de-NOVO’s slim storefront on High Street, overlooking the Columbus Commons.

de-NOVO’s interior, much like their website, can be best described as eclectic. Tall chandeliers, antlers, branches, modern seating, a backlit glass bar, two TVs, shelves full of stuff… this place has got everything! It certainly gives you something to look at, but it’s hard to see a real through-line to the design.

But big lighting with tree branches seems to be a motif.

We did love the local artwork on the walls. Large scale, very colorful. Fitting for the design aesthetic.

FOOD: It was early, and it was Monday, so first: coffee. Two big mugs, plus a box of the sweet stuff, plus a cup of chilled creamer. Our server said they serve one of Seattle’s Best’s blends. It was very good, but I’d love to see a local brew there, especially something from Cafe Brioso or One Line Coffee nearby.

One way of dealing with Mondays is to drink a Bloody Mary. We didn’t have a lot on the docket for the day, so we decided to try one. It was light and spicy. I’ve come to appreciate that a good Bloody Mary isn’t supposed to be thick and heavy like a glass of V8, but instead is a crispy and refreshing beverage, very appropriate for starting your day, whether it’s at 7am or 2pm.

My wife ordered the truffle mushroom omelet, with comes with shitake mushrooms, shallots, truffle oil, and boursin cheese. The eggs were done just right, and the whole omelet just came together very well. Overall lighter flavoring, but the mushrooms really shone through. I’ll be honest: I’m not usually an omelet fan (too many bad omelets will do that to you), but this one I could really get behind. Good creamy texture from the boursin as well.

I went with the chorizo gravy and biscuits. It’s a very flavorful meal. The chorizo gravy is rich, meaty, and a bit smoky, with just the right amount of bite to it. The biscuits themselves are dense but still very moist. It’s a very filling dish, but I really enjoyed every bite of it. I like that they did something interesting with biscuits and gravy, too. Both meals came with a side of de-NOVO’s griddle browns, which are essentially home fries. But they were nice and crispy on the outside without being dry, and were served with homemade ketchup. It’s a bit on the sweet side, and a little tangy, but a great complement to the browns. I just wanted to keep eating them and eating them.

SERVICE: Because we were the only people in the restaurant, we naturally got very personal, attentive service. Our server, who was also the host, kept the coffee refilled and answered our questions, plus our food came out quickly. I’m telling you, if you want a nice, quiet breakfast downtown, this might be your place.

OVERALL: I can’t speak to their lunch, dinner, and bar service, but in terms of breakfast there’s a lot to recommend de-NOVO. The menu offers the very basics (you could just get some eggs and bacon, if you want), but it gives you more creative options, too, like creme brulee French toast, crepes, a crab cake benedict. The decor is a little all-over-the-place, but it’s better than bland cream colors. And if Columbus has another interesting spot for the breakfast – especially downtown – I’m all for it!

Side note: I do think they need a better website. Too much flash, difficult to navigate.

OTHER LINKS:

De-NOVO Bistro & Bar on Urbanspoon

Capitol Cafe by Milo’s | Columbus, OH

Capitol Cafe by Milo’s (Facebook / @MilosCatering)
1 Capitol Square (inside the Ohio Statehouse) (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43215
(614) 728-9231
Open Mon-Fri, 7a-3p
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/N/N
Kid-friendly? Y

Date of Visit: Thursday, December 29, 2011 at 10:30 am

IMPRESSIONS: A few years ago, my wife worked for an event planning company, and one her first big projects was creating new Civil War-era Christmas decorations for the Ohio Statehouse. I helped occasionally with the project, and through that work we both got to know the Statehouse’s layout and history. It’s a grand old stone building, plunked down in what is now the center of Columbus’s busy-and-getting-busier downtown.

During that time, we got to know the Statehouse Cafe, a lackluster basement eatery that served the very basic cafeteria food. Because of their limited hours and slightly hard-to-reach location, the cafe never showed up on our food radar.

Until the summer of 2011, when the Statehouse announced it had been taking bids for a new cafe operator, and that the good folks from Milo’s Deli in Franklinton would be taking over. I’m sad to say I’ve never been to Milo’s (shame on me, I know), but I’m very familiar with Tommy’s Diner, which is owned by the same family, and we love everything about that diner. So the odds were good that we would like the cafe more when it was reborn as Capitol Cafe by Milo’s.

ATMOSPHERE: The Cafe’s change of ownership has resulted in a restaurant than actually has some personality. Sure, there are some aspects of the cafeteria style remaining, but the decor and food quality have taken it far beyond sloppy joe’s on a tray. The entire restaurant has been redecorated, which really maximizes the charm eating in the basement of 150-year-old building: vaulted brick ceilings, portraits of past governors, three small dining rooms. The new cafe owners added a bar in the main room; this meek and mild-looking bar has actually drawn some national attention in a debate over serving alcohol in a government building.

I liked this atmosphere. It’s nice and quiet, and eating in such an historic setting is fun. I kept looking around while we ate, taking it all the details.

FOOD: We ordered a mix of dishes, some standards and some specials. For my three-year-old, we got the plate of 2 Eggs, Homefries, and Toast. This turned out to be a huge plate of food, especially considering that it cost about $4.25. It was more than enough for anyone, and we took home leftovers. Bonus points: it’s all well cooked. Homefries had plenty of brown crispy edges, the eggs weren’t dried out, and the toast was good and buttery.

My wife and I split a couple specials. The first was the Cobb Omelet. This is obviously a cobb salad in omelet form, stuffed with tomatoes, bacon, turkey, and blue cheese, plus a dollop of fresh guacamole. Comes with big sides of toast and homefries. I’m not a huge omelet person, and I generally don’t like blue cheese, but I still enjoyed this omelet. They don’t skimp on the ingredients, and the guacamole itself was great (my wife makes amazing guacamole, so our standards are always high).

The real star of the morning, however, was the Italian Eggs Benedict. Eggs benedict is perhaps one of my favorite breakfasts, and Columbus needs more options for them. This benedict is a special that doesn’t always show up on the menu, but if you can order it, do it. This version is built on a fried polenta cake, then layered with prosciutto, poached eggs, and a rich hollandaise. It comes with a side of crispy red peppers and spinach. It packs a flavorful punch; the only downside for me was that the polenta cake is a tad salty. But this dish now has a place near the top of my favorite-benedicts-in-Columbus list. Serious, my wife and I geeked out about it.

SERVICE:  The kitchen and ordering counter is the first room you encounter when you enter the restaurant. It may seem a little abrupt, and this is where the restaurant feels the most like the old cafeteria. But the process is smooth. You get a brief interaction with the kitchen crew, as you’re standing and ordering, and you can see into much of the prep area. The layout is easy to follow. Once you place your order – either take-out or dine-in – you can have a seat in the dining room and they’ll bring it out to you.

OVERALL: The location and hours work against the Cafe a bit: it’s only open weekdays – obviously aiming for the downtown lunch crowd – and it’s tucked far down in the basement of this gigantic old building. There isn’t any signage outside that would alert a passer-by to its presence. Parking isn’t easy, but it’s readily available: there are meters along Third and Broad, plus an entire garage underneath the Statehouse. But I encourage you battle against these things, because I think the Cafe is more than worth a visit. I’m still craving that Italian Benedict, and the atmosphere is hard to beat. And if you’ve never toured the Statehouse, now’s your time. It’s a beautiful building with a rich history. On the same floor as the Cafe is an interactive museum and the Statehouse Gift Shop (which may or may not carry a certain author’s breakfast book).

As a bonus, we visited when the Statehouse’s Christmas decorations were still up. These are the decorations that my wife created and installed years ago for her event planning job. After enjoying a tasty breakfast, we took some time to revisit them, and I encourage you to do the same when the holidays roll around again.

OTHER LINKS:

Capitol Cafe by Milo's on Urbanspoon

Jury Room | Columbus, OH

Jury Room (Facebook / @jury_room)
22 E. Mound St. (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43215
(614) 220-0964
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Open daily 11a-2a (brunch served Sat & Sun 11a-4p)
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/Y/N
Kid-friendly? Y

Date of Visit: Sunday, December 4, 2011 at 12:45 pm

IMPRESSIONS: Admittedly, it’s difficult for me to write an unbiased review of any of the Columbus Food League restaurants (the organization formerly known as the Betty’s Family of Restaurants). I remember the day when only Betty’s existed, and how soon Surly Girl Saloon joined the ranks, and then Tip Top Kitchen & Cocktails downtown. Then we all followed on Twitter the long journey of Dirty Frank’s Hot Dogs opening, and finally the Jury Room around the corner. (Psst, and there’s more to come!)

ATMOSPHERE: We hit up Jury Room early on a Sunday afternoon, and the place was relatively quiet (hint: a little too quiet). We arrived with a group of eight and the server easily pulled a couple tables together. The restaurant is a large single room, with a long wooden bar and an assortment of tables with big wooden chairs. There’s a big chandelier hanging from the ceiling and a fireplace in the corner. The furniture and decor is selected to fit the history of the restaurant, which dates back to the early 1830s. It’s a cozy pub-like setting, and sidling up to the bar or sitting at a table near the fire means you’re joining a long tradition of folks taking a break from the hustle and bustle, even if you’re not on break from a trial at the nearby Franklin County Courthouse.

FOOD: As it was brunch-time and technically p.m., our party started with a couple drinks. First was their Bloody Mary, which you would expect to find on any brunch menu. Jury Room’s version was spicier than I prefer, but it wasn’t so loaded with other accoutrement that it was awkward to drink. So if you want a Bloody Mary that’s flavorful but easily drinkable, this one will work for you.

They also have a nice selection of mimosas, made with orange, cranberry, pineapple, peach, or bitters. One of our brunchers chose the Peach Mimosa. It’s light, refreshing, and delicious.

The food menu has a great mix of things, including some unique items such as brisket and eggs, a bunch of scrambles, sandwiches, burgers, and French toast. Pictured above is the B.E.L.T.: bacon, eggs, arugula, and tomato. It’s a nice big sandwich, very tasty, and comes with really well seasoned and crispy potatoes.

Any trip to the Jury Room must include a plate of their truffle fries. These are thick-cut, crispy potatoes dowsed in some truffle oil and topped with big flakes of shaved parmesan cheese. Pair them with the aioli sauce, and I could eat them for days on end.

I was in a burger mood, and I love a brunch burger, so I picked up Jury Room’s Breakfast Burger. Excellent burger: cooked just right, including the egg, with crispy onion, arugula, and tomato on it. Includes bacon, provolone, and their spicy aioli, plus a side of  the potatoes. Great burger, whether you eat it for brunch or not.

One of our party ordered the Roasted Ohio Chicken off the regular menu. This is a beautiful dish featuring Amish chicken, potatoes, peas, onions, and a cream sauce. I didn’t have a bite, but I was told it’s delicious. If it tastes half as good as it looks, it must be a great dish. This is one thing that I really enjoyed about the Jury Room brunch (and about food at Columbus Food League restaurants in general) is that the menu is fun and casual while still featuring fairly sophisticated food at a good price. It’s costs more than your average diner breakfast, but the quality ingredients and preparation are worth it. Keep in mind, too, that CFL menus always include solid vegetarian and vegan options.

SERVICE: We were well cared-for by the handful of servers at the restaurant, although there weren’t many customers there. But CFL employees are generally very knowledgeable about their food and drink, and our server certainly had fun with us. He was able to accommodate everything for our group, which was decently big and included a three-year-old.

OVERALL: Jury Room holds the distinction of being Columbus’ oldest continually operating restaurant, since 1831. Liz Lessner and the Columbus Food League crew took over about a year ago, when the restaurant went up for sale, and Columbus’ dining scene has been all the better for it. They’ve given this historic restaurant new life, while still retaining some of the traditions of the location. It’s one more step in building a better downtown food scene. The brunch (at least on Sundays) is a quiet and comfortable affair. Great food in a very cozy atmosphere. I look forward to returning for brunch. Oh, heck, or for any meal there.

OTHER LINKS:

Jury Room on Urbanspoon

Cafe Brioso | Columbus, OH

Cafe Brioso (Facebook / @CafeBrioso)
14 E. Gay St. (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43215
(614) 228-8366
Open Mon-Fri, 7a-4p; Sat, 9a-4p
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/N/N
Kid-friendly? Y

Date of Visit: Friday, November 18, 2011 at 10:00 a.m.

IMPRESSIONS: Ah, Brioso. It’s both easy and difficult for me to write about them. It’s easy because seasoned food and coffee fans of Columbus will already know about Brioso and their amazing roasts, their passion for coffee brewing, and their enthusiasm for sharing and teaching coffee culture. But it’s difficult because there’s not much to write beyond saying that they do coffee, and they do it really well. So maybe I should aim this review toward people who haven’t visited Brioso.

In short: you should go. Brioso is one of downtown Columbus’ premiere coffee stops. It’s conveniently located on the corner of High and Gay Streets. Parking is easily found on Gay Street, in both long- and short-term meters.

ATMOSPHERE: Brioso does all of their roasting on premises, so at the front of the store facing High Street you’ll often find roaster Jeff Davis hard at work, making anywhere from 15-20 different roasts. It makes the whole cafe, and the street outside, smell lovely. It’s particularly inviting in the colder months.

FOOD: In addition to their coffee, they serve a wide range of fresh-baked goods, from scones to cookies to muffins. Their scones rotate from sweet to savory flavors, often incorporating seasonal fruits. One of their top sellers are the blueberry muffins. It’s hard to go wrong when you pair that with a coffee drink.

You can order coffee however you like it: lattes with beautiful art, cappuccinos, cubanos (one of my wife’s favorites), or pour-overs featuring any of their roasts. They usually have a featured pour-over each day, so even if you’re a daily fixture there, you can work your way through the full menu of beans.

They serve much more than just coffee and muffins. Stop in for lunch especially, where they rotate soups, salads, and sandwiches.

SERVICE: The staff at Brioso keeps busy – they have to with the active downtown crowd – but they’ve always been friendly to me, and willing to chat about coffee. Their baristas are also some of the best trained in town, so you know that they’re pulling shots of espresso, pouring latte art, or foaming up your cappuccino the right way. Brioso often hosts regional latte art competitions, so they’re also doing a lot to raise Columbus’ coffee profile.

OVERALL: Whether you have time to stop or are in the to-go mood, the Brioso breakfast serves you well. If you work downtown, or are just bumming around seeing the sights, the cafe is a must-see for a drink and a snack. But if you want to take your love of coffee a stop further, they can lead the way. J.J., one of the managers, has a business card that reads, “Coffee Evangelist,” and that about says it all.

OTHER LINKS:

-> my (614) Magazine write-up about coffee shops, including Brioso

Cafe Brioso on Urbanspoon

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