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Sunflower Chinese Restaurant & Lounge | Dublin, OH

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Sunflower Chinese Restaurant & Lounge (Facebook)
7370 Sawmill Rd. (map it!)
Dublin, OH 43235
(614) 764-7888
Open Mon-Thurs, 11:30a-11p; Fri, 11:30a-12a; Sat, 11a-12a; Sun, 11a-11p
(smaller dim sum menu served daily; full dim sum served Sat & Sun, 11a-3p)
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/N/N

Visited: Saturday, February 1, 2014 at 11:00 a.m.

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Oh, it’s been too long since we’ve been to dim sum at Sunflower Chinese Restaurant & Lounge. Sadly, there aren’t many places for dim sum around Columbus now (the nearby Lee Garden closed a couple years ago). While there are a plethora of Chinese restaurants around town (some the Americanized, some very authentic), there aren’t many that serve authentic dim sum.

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Quick background, in case you’re not familiar with dim sum. Dim sum is essentially Chinese brunch. It’s a late morning/early afternoon meal that’s typically eaten as a group. The meal consists of tea and mostly small plates meant to be shared.

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In the true dim sum experience, the small plates are served tableside from carts. Different servers wheel their carts from table to table, allowing you to select plates that interest you. A typical dish is already divided into pieces for easy sharing.

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The carts come quickly at first, so your table will fill up in no time. I remember the first time we had true dim sum, at a place called Jing Fong in New York City. The carts came at us so fast that we barely had time to react. The experience is a little more subdued at Sunflower, and the servers are all very polite, so don’t feel bad if you decline a plate. And don’t hesitate to ask what’s what.

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We started with a lot of dumplings, some steamed and some fried.

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The dumplings are loaded with things like shrimp, pork, and veggies.

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They’re steamed in metal or wood containers that stack on the carts, and the servers deposit them with tongs.

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There are also plates with stir fries of rice noodles and veggies. Our boys loved these.

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This dumpling (I don’t know what it was called) had a delicate and flaky exterior.

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I also love these rice noodles, filled with shrimp and doused with a sweet soy sauce.

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These dumplings were similar, filled with shrimp.

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These fluffy steamed pork buns were a hit, too, with a big, pillowy breading surrounding sweet and rich pork.

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One dish includes chicken, rice, veggies, and a quail egg steamed in a lotus leaf.

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Here’s the interior of the lotus leaf, complete with quail egg.

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There’s a cart with drinks and desserts, too, so you can supplement your tea with cold bubble tea and finish off the meal by indulging your sweet tooth.

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At the beginning of your meal, you’re given a card listing the general categories of the dishes. As you select plates from the cart, the server will mark the appropriate line with a stamp or initials. Then at the end of your meal, you take the card up to the cashier and they add everything up.

The dim sum experience at Sunflower is delightful, especially if you go with a large group and enjoy the company while sampling dishes. We were pretty conservative with our choices (because this was a first experience for our boys), but there are more adventurous plates, too, like fried chicken feet.

Is Sunflower the best Chinese restaurant in the city? Probably not. Is it one of the only restaurants serving dim sum? Yes. And a very fine meal it is.

Sunflower Chinese Restaurant & Lounge on Urbanspoon

Tuula’s European Cafe | Dublin, OH

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Tuula’s European Cafe
(Facebook / @TuulasEuroCafe)

3856 Hard Road (map it!)
Dublin, OH 43016
(614) 923-3083
Open Mon-Sat, 9a-6p; Sun, 10a-4p
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/Y/N
Kid-friendly? Y

Visited: Saturday, October 5, 2013 at 10:00 a.m.

There are a lot of restaurants out that that go by someone’s name. Sometimes the name points to their history, like Jack’s Sandwich Shop or Dan’s Drive-In named after the original owners. Sometimes the names don’t have much meaning, but they still linger, like Michael’s Goody Boy or Fitzy’s Diner. And sometimes it’s named for the person standing behind the counter, the person who made and serves you your food, like Colin’s Coffee, or Tuula’s European Cafe.

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Tuula’s space is a single room cafe with a strip mall storefront. It’s a little difficult to find, with its front toward Hard Road, a little west of Sawmill Road. It’s a high-traffic area, but there’s no clear driveway from the road into the parking lot of Tuula’s. We drove past it, then took our first right and had to cut through the back parking lot of a larger shopping center. Still, we found it!

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Our stop at the cafe took place on our way to a pumpkin patch for some autumnal goodness. The skies were threatening at first, so Tuula’s was a cozy respite while we waited out the rain. Tuula’s is meant to be just such a place: a casual and quiet spot for a small lunch or a quick snack plus coffee, or to relax, read, or get some work done.

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The cafe counter gives you the opportunity to drool over all of the fresh-baked goodies. There are cookies, cakes, and pies, or you can go savory with a quiche or a frittata.

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And behold: standing behind the counter is Tuula herself! She’s very sweet and welcoming. These are the types of places you want to go, where you can meet the owner. It changes the experience entirely.

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Tuula certainly knows how to present her handiwork. Towers and plates of the baked goods practically sell themselves.

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We were in a sweet snack mood, so we chose a pulla, with is made out of a yeast dough with various spices and fruits.

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The pulla is fluffy and very lightly sweet, with fruit mixed in plus a little glaze and some powdered sugar. It’s big, a little chewy, and good for sharing – it cuts easily with a fork.

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Same for the cinnamon roll, which is about as big and seems to be made of the same yeast dough. It’s nothing like the over-saturated garden variety cinnamon rolls. Just a little sweet and easy to pull apart.

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Top these pastries off with a wicked latte – especially on a cool fall morning – and you know you’re in the right place. Whether you find yourself regularly in the Sawmill Road area or not, I think Tuula’s is worth stopping in, especially if you need a quick snack, a cup of coffee, or quiet place just to hang. Knowing that the restaurant’s namesake will most likely be there only makes it better, and even more worth the visit!

Tuula's European Cafe on Urbanspoon

Barnstormers Grill | Columbus, OH


[UPDATE: Barnstormers Grill has closed, but has been re-opened under new owners as Jack & Benny's Barnstormer Diner.]

Barnstormers Grill
2160 W. Case Rd. #13 (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43017
(614) 292-5699
Open Mon-Sat, 7a-3p (bfast served all day!)
Accepts cash and credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/N/N
Kid-friendly? Y

Date of Visit: Tuesday, May 8, 2012 at 9:20 a.m.

IMPRESSIONS: Oh, how I had loved the idea of The Barnstormer. Breakfast in an airport? Are you kidding me? Two of my favorite things! But alas, it wasn’t meant to be: I visited once in late 2009, had an okay experience, and then the restaurant quietly closed a couple years later. It was a missed opportunity. Until two days ago, when a reader sent me a message saying that the restaurant was re-opened under new management and serving good food! On top of that, the reader pointed out that you can you can go up in the old control tower, now converted into a simple observation deck. Needless to say, less than twenty-four hours after finding this out, I was eating breakfast and watching airplanes with my boys.

ATMOSPHERE: The restaurant space isn’t radically changed, although there are a few more dashes of OSU colors, and it’s brighter overall. Still a lot of aviation-themed decorations. It’s a three-and-a-half-year-old’s dream. (Oh, heck, I loved it, too.) There are plenty of tables scattered throughout the space; only one other was filled while we ate.

FOOD: The menu is simple and straightforward: four omelets (including a vegetarian option), four combination meals, and a kid’s menu. There’s plenty of a la carte items, too. Breakfast is like that. My son chose the Little Flyer: eggs, toast, bacon, and a drink. He didn’t have much of his bacon, so I tried some. Crispy, just the way I like it.

I was in a sausage gravy and biscuits mood (the dish is a new addition to the menu). It came with a heaping side of two eggs and hash browns. This is just one of the plates. Good crispy hash browns, and the eggs were wet enough, although they tasted slightly of that generic diner flattop cooking oil.

And this is the plate of biscuits and gravy. Two dense biscuits halved, covered in gravy. It was perhaps the thickest, meatiest sausage gravy I’ve had. Very dark, and pretty well seasoned.

At $5.75, it’s a lot of food, and a fairly heavy meal.

Our breakfast companion, Bill, ordered the pancakes and gave me a taste. Overall, very good. It was browned well on the grill, but spongy throughout. Good example of diner pancakes.

SERVICE: We were treated very nicely by our server and by owner Jodi Perez. It certainly helped that there weren’t many people in the restaurant, but they were very attentive and our food came out quickly. Our server left this card with us at the end of the meal. I don’t think I’ve seen a breakfast punchcard before!

OVERALL: I think the new management and little makeover for Barnstormer (now renamed Barnstormers Grill) is just what it needed. The space is brighter, the menu is more focused (I’m told they have good burgers for lunch), and it’s a little better connected with the airport itself. The improved food makes me want to return, whereas the previous version didn’t. And knowing more about the airport grounds makes me want to visit every morning. The restaurant is just a small room connected to one of the hangars. This is the view through the service door that leads into it.

Of course the boys and I went exploring afterward. Just outside the door to the restaurant is this entrance to the airport terminal. At the top of the picture is the old control tower, now the observation deck. It’s reachable by a series of short flights of stairs.

But the view from the top is pretty awesome. You’re right next to the runway and the plane “parking” area. There’s a table and chairs, so you could order your breakfast to-go and then come up here. Just sayin’…

Breakfast and some plane-watching made for an enjoyable morning, especially given the company.

Barnstormer on Urbanspoon

161 Diner | Dublin, OH

161 Diner (Facebook / @WFM_Columbus)
3670 W. Dublin-Granville Rd. (inside Whole Foods Market) (map it!)
Dublin, OH 43017
(614) 760-5556
Open Mon-Fri, 11a-9p, Sat & Sun, 10a-9p (brunch served Sat & Sun, 10a-2p)
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? N/N/N
Kid-friendly? Y

Date of Visit: Saturday, December 17, 2011 at 10 a.m.

IMPRESSIONS: Breakfast in a grocery store? Yes, you read right. Those familiar with Whole Foods Market know that their goal is to create more than just an average shopping experience. Instead, they want to keep you wandering the store for hours, sampling wines, buying gelato, tasting a wood-fired pizza, and more. In short, they are trying to recreate a central city market, in which small cafes or street vendors sell you meals on-the-go while you visit your favorite cheesemonger, butcher, and coffee roaster. Or even while taking your regular spot at your favorite diner counter. Yes, they’ve done even that. Enter the 161 Diner.

ATMOSPHERE: The 161 Diner is indeed a counter inside the Dublin Whole Foods. This WF is the first and largest one in greater Columbus, located in a plaza near the intersection of Sawmill Road and Dublin-Granville Road (Route 161). This means you have to brave the traffic of some of Columbus’ busier thoroughfares, which not everyone is keen to do. You can find the diner on the east side of the store, in the very large prepared foods section. 161 Diner is their version of the American diner, situated amongst Italian food, sushi, pizza, baked goods, and more. Brunch is only served on weekends, and it’s a busy affair. Even though 161 isn’t a traditional diner, it still has its regulars, and the counter stays full.

FOOD: I found a spot at the stainless steel counter and ordered a coffee. I believe they use some of the Whole Foods-brand coffee, but I don’t know for sure. Still, it’s well-brewed – not the acidic “angry water” (as my father-in-law calls it) that you find in most true American diners. Bonus points for serving cold cream with it. I had to search the counter for one of the jars of raw brown sugar. It seems fitting to the type of coffee you’d expect Whole Foods to serve.

I relied on the kitchen staff to suggest unique dishes to eat. They all recommended the sweet potato biscuits first. You don’t see these often enough on breakfast menus, and when they’re done well, they’re great. These very good, although not the best I’ve had. They make use of the sweet potato flavor, although they came out a little on the crunchy side for me.

This is helped by the serving of 365 brand (Whole Foods’ private label brand) jams. A crispy piece of sweet potato biscuit smeared with jam = all right in my book.

For my entree I again relied on the cooks behind the counter, and they all said, “You need to try Danielle’s Meat Cakes.” Um, what? If there’s any phrase that should give you pause in life, it’s “meat cakes.” Danielle’s meat cakes are loaded pancakes – three of them, to be exact – layered with meat, cheddar cheese, topped with strips of bacon, and sprinkled with more cheese. Oh, I’m sorry, does this picture make the dish look small to you?

Maybe this is better. As you would expect, the meat cake is served sizzling and pouring over with goodness. I didn’t even take a picture with the maple syrup (real, mind you) drizzled over the top. In terms of sheer breakfasty flavorfulness, it’s hard not to like it. Pancakes with meat in the batter? Check. Bacon? Check. Cheddar? Check. Crispy fried on the flattop? Check. It’s a breakfast blogger’s dream. Now, is it healthy? Eh… probably not. It’s a lot of food, and a lot of food straight from frying.

SERVICE: In case you were wondering, yes, Danielle, creator of the meat cakes, is a real person, and that’s her cooking my breakfast. All three of the servers working that morning were very friendly and accommodating. The food is all cooked right in front of you, and they clearly have regulars at the counter, even if this is a diner in a different context. That shows you they’re doing something right. A lot of people seemed to come straight to the diner, too. They weren’t dragging grocery carts behind them, just happening to stop for a bite to eat. They came to the store to eat at the diner.

OVERALL: Admittedly, I’m not a regular shopper at Whole Foods. It’s not in my neck of the woods, and the pricing is often beyond my budget. But whether Whole Foods is your grocery store of choice, or not, I think it’s worth at least one trip to the 161 Diner. I tried more of the loaded fair, but there is a lot more to explore: chocolate chip pancakes, prosciutto eggs benedict, even sweet potato biscuits and gravy. The pricing is a couple steps higher than a $4 breakfast platter, but I think the quality and quantity of the food is commensurate. (Sorry, I was jut looking for an excuse to use that word.) Whole Foods is known for well-chosen ingredients, so the construction of their prepared foods is pretty solid as well.

OTHER LINKS:
-> view photos of their updated menu (3/30/12)

Sweet Clove Sunshine Cafe | Columbus, OH

Sweet Clove Sunshine Cafe
6630 Sawmill Rd. (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43235
(614) 764-1717
Open Mon-Sat, 7-3; Sun, 8-3 (bfast served all day)
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/N/N
Kid-friendly? Y

Date of Visit: Monday, May 30, 2011, at 11:00 a.m.

IMPRESSIONS: I’ve gotten a few notes from readers over the past few months about Honey Baked Ham opening a concept store up on Sawmill Road, and I’ll admit that I was intrigued. Columbus has long been known as a test market for food chains and the like: Wendy’s, Donato’s, White Castle, and Max & Erma’s started or are headquartered here; McDonald’s marketing firm is based here; cable television first debuted in town; the list goes on. So it was no surprise that Honey Baked would debut a new restaurant here in town, attached to one of their existing stores.

ATMOSPHERE: We ventured out on a hot Memorial Day, and found ourselves in essentially a modern country setting. Big, square yellow tables, bright yellow walls with black and white pictures of the Honey Baked Ham founders and their early stores. In one corner is a fireplace; out front is a small patio.

FOOD: We started with some coffee, which was pretty good. The server said it was a standard bulk food service roast, but they grind the beans fresh. Points for automatically bringing a small mug of cream.

Shortly after you sit down, they bring your table what they call “A gift of friendship,” which is a small, warm crumb cake with maple butter. It’s a very welcoming start to the meal.

The Sweet Clove menu is designed to feature the Honey Baked Ham product, so it shows up in a lot of the dishes. Case in point: their Signature Benedict. Features your standard English muffin, poached eggs, hollandaise, plus slices of their ham. Served with a side of potatoes. Overall, very nicely done. It’s a very filling dish. The key point in a benedict (for me) is the hollandaise, which was light and tasted fresh, not canned.

This is the Original French Toast. Four big slices. Cooked just right, so it’s a bit custardy and cut-able with a fork. Big bonus that it’s served with a side of real Vermont maple syrup.

And then there are variations on the signature dishes. This is the Bacon and Ham Benedict. One had their classic ham, one had a couple slices of bacon. Again, filling, and again, a very good benedict. Side of potatoes was very nice, too.

Small kids menu, too. Scrambled eggs and toast for my son.

I had a reader suggest I try the Blueberry Ginger French toast, so this was on my mind the moment we decided to visit. Just like the regular French toast, it’s cut thick and very soft. I couldn’t taste the ginger that much, but I assume it was in the batter. Blueberries were nice, as was the real maple syrup.

The folks at Sweet Clove understand some of the performance of food, too. One of the big selling points of the French toast is that your server comes around with a GIANT BOWL OF WHIPPED CREAM to dollop onto your dish.

The benefit of this (for the restaurant, at least) is that you see servers dole out the whipped cream to other tables, so instantly your appetite is whetted.

SERVICE: Our server was quiet but very nice. She had a good sense of humor, everything came out quickly, and she kept an eye on us. Overall, the table setup is appealing, too: orange square plates, salt and pepper grinders, bamboo centerpieces, fun little honey bowl (for sale in the shop, of course).

OVERALL: Because Sweet Clove Sunshine Cafe (say that five times fast) is a concept store for Honey Baked Ham, it’s attached to the store itself. So you can wander through their gift shop or order ham to take home.

So what can I say about the Cafe? Yes, it is the beginning of a new chain restaurant, but so far they seem to have a lot of things right. The overall experience is comfortable, the food is well prepared and very filling. The prices are higher than your diner breakfast – $10-12 per entree – but the portions are appropriate for it. Sawmill Road isn’t exactly in my neighborhood, but the Cafe was full when we visited, and I’m still craving another bite of that French toast.

I’d be very curious to know what others think of it!

Sweet Clove Sunshine Cafe on Urbanspoon

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