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Photos: Roasting with Thunderkiss Coffee

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Last week I spent the evening with Jason Valentine of Thunkerkiss Coffee while he roasted coffee. Jason is a small batch coffee roaster here in Columbus; he roasts out of his garage and distributes his beans to area vendors and restaurants. Even if you don’t know his stuff directly, chances are you’ve had it or seen it around Columbus.

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I’ve taken a number of workshops on coffee and coffee roasting, attended tastings, etc., but I’ve never had the chance to just sit and ask endless questions about the roasting process. We began in Jason’s basement, where he stores bags of green coffee beans. He roasts 1-2 nights per week. Before roasting, he weighs and sorts the beans into labeled containers, all based on a spreadsheet listing the customer, the roast(s) they’ve requested, and how they are to be delivered (6 oz bags, 12 oz bags, etc.). Some vendors brew his coffee for their restaurants, some retail bags of whole beans, and some do both.

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Jason roasts single origin coffees, meaning they come from one specific place, although he does make some of his own blends, such as the espresso blend. The green beans can be stored for a long time; they are processed out of cherries from the coffee plant. The cherries have been pulped so we’re left with just the internal bean, and sometimes the mucilage, a thin layer surrounding the bean itself. Some Ethiopian beans, for instance, are dried out before de-pulping, which lets the mucilage harden around the bean, adding a certain flavor when roasting. Even before these beans are roasted, you can identify different characteristics just by sticking your nose in the bag.

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Roasting takes some time, so we started with a shot of espresso made from his espresso blend.

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Jason has been roasting for a couple years now. He keeps detailed notes of the timing and temperature from each roast.

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All of the essential supplies.

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As the roaster is heating up, the green beans are placed in a hopper on top.

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Jason roasts on a Diedrich infrared roaster. This type of roaster is compact, more energy efficient, and it uses a radiating heat to roast the beans, rather than a direct flame on the drum.

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The entire roasting process takes roughly 20 minutes, depending on the bean, the amount you’re roasting, and the type of roast you’re aiming for. The real factors of roasting include time, temperature, and air flow. The final roast depends on the manipulation of these three elements. While certain beans innately contain different flavor and aroma profiles (some are naturally earthlier, some brighter and fruitier), they can be roasted at different temperatures and for different times to highlight these characteristics.

The first stage of roasting is called the drying out phase. It lasts approximately 4-5 minutes, and heats the beans to the point where the water in them evaporates. Even at this stage, Jason can control how much air is flowing around the beans. Adding more at this point results in a brighter, more acidic roast.

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This tool allows Jason to check samples of the beans during roasting. He can examine the color and aroma.

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At this point the beans are entering the second phase: the maillard phase, also known as the “cinnamon phase.” This happens around 300 degrees F, and here the color begins to develop. (I learned later that “maillard” refers generally to the browning that happens when food is cooked, like bread or meat.)

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Once the cinnamon phase has passed, the roaster is working toward first crack. At this point there’s a literal crack – a whole lot of them, in fact – as the center of the bean is fracturing and the sugar in it melts. It sounds a like tiny little popcorn popping. After this you are headed for second crack, when the sugar crystallizes and burns into carbon, and the beans express oil that can coat them. Most roasts are stopping just short of this point because the burnt sugars lead to more bitterness. Once the roasting is complete, Jason opens the hopper that dumps the hot beans into a lower tray. The darker the roast, the smokier the process, and the more oily the beans will look.

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A series of levers in the tray begin swirling the beans around. At this point, Jason shifts the airflow to a fan that draws air down through the beans. This cools the beans and stops them from baking any further. Given the colder temperatures of December, the beans cooled quickly.

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At the front center of the tray is a flat plate without any air holes. Once Jason turns off the levers, he brushes the beans off this plate. The plate has heated up after coming into contact with them, so brushing the beans away keeps them from burning.

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Here’s a full cooled batch.

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Once they’re cooled, he can slide the plate open, turn on the mechanism, and the arms sweep every last remaining coffee bean into buckets. While this is happening, the roasting drum is brought to temperature and prepped for the next batch.

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The completed roasts are labeled and dated, and ready to be delivered or sorted and sealed into smaller bags.

I very much enjoyed hanging out with Jason. He does incredible work, and his passion for coffee and everything about it shows through his willingness to talk about it and teach it. We’ve been sampling a number of his roasts at home, and have loved every one of them. If you haven’t tried his coffee yet, do so soon. Look up his website (thunderkisscoffee.com) for a list of where to purchase his beans or which restaurants are serving them.

The Bean | Columbus, OH

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The Bean
219 E. Arcadia Ave. (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43202
(614) 564-9383
Open Mon-Sat, 7a-7p

Visited: Monday, December 16, 2013 at 10:00 am

As a Clintonville resident, I’m always happy to have more coffee in the neighborhood. This is even with Yeah, Me Too, Cup o’ Joe, and even Thunderkiss roasting nearby. I also drive up and down Arcadia Avenue frequently, so it’s great to see the little corner space at the Calumet terminus filled in, especially right next door to the awesome Dabble & Stitch.

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The Bean has been open for a few weeks now, but has been deliberately sailing under the radar with no advertising or social media presence, like an extended soft opening. The little corner space is painted colorfully and brightly lit with its big windows.

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I spoke with John, who co-owns the shop with his mother Susan. He said they’re keeping a low profile while they get the feel of running a coffee shop. At the moment their service is limited to brewed coffee, tea, and hot chocolate complemented by baked goods, sandwiches, and a la carte salads and slaw. They’re brewing Seven Hills coffee out of Cincinnati, but John indicated they’re talking with local roasters.

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The space is nicely appointed, with wooden floors and a stainless-steel-and-tile counter top. There are some small tables, a bench, and a television. They’re clearly in it for the long haul, judging by the gift cards already available.

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Most of the baked goods are provided by Four & Twenty Bake Shop, a good friend of mine who produces some tasty scones, muffins, cupcakes, and more.

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I was just stopping in for coffee and a lemon blueberry scone, but I took a peek at the sandwich menu, too.

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Although The Bean is just offering the basics right now, you can help the endeavor by stopping in for some coffee, a snack, or a sandwich. It’d be nice to see this little corner develop!

South of Lane | Upper Arlington, OH

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South of Lane (Facebook / @SouthofLane)
1987 Guilford Rd. (map it!)
Upper Arlington, OH 43221
(614) 586-2233
Open Mon-Sat, 6:30a-2:30p
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/N/Y
Kid-friendly? Y

Visited: Thursday, December 12, 2013 at 9:15 am

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This year we’ve seen some notable new breakfast places open up, ranging from over-the-top to fancy to simple and casual. One of the newer additions opening in May is this little spot in Upper Arlington: South of Lane. There are many things about this place that scream “Upper Arlington:” the location (obviously), the clientele, the cozy cafe atmosphere. But there are some delightful little surprises, too, a sneaky little irreverent charm evidenced by the full embracing of the initials “SoL.” (Ask around if you don’t know what that stands for.)

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South of Lane also fills a void in the Columbus breakfast map. The greater Upper Arlington area lacks some solid local breakfasts, aside from Chef-O-Nette, La Chatelaine, and nearby spots like Cambridge Tea House (which is technically Marble Cliff), or a First Watch or Bob Evans.

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SoL is not just a breakfast and lunch cafe. It’s a full-blown vintage store, too. You can expect shelves full of jams, plates, hats, jewelry, pillows, you name it.

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Amongst the crowded kitsch, you’ll find some fun little elements, too.

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I liked the branded mugs. That shows commitment, when a breakfast spot will get its own mugs made.

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In fact, it takes a little discernment to figure out where the vintage items for sale end and where the counter or the self-serve coffee ends.

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Continuing back into the space, the wooden top tables and loaded shelves transition seamlessly into the ordering counter and the open kitchen.

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The breakfast menu is simple and all good. Major categories include omelets, waffles, eggs, “grains and goodness” (which means yogurt, oatmeal, and granola), and sides. Coffee comes from Thunderkiss. We chatted with the owner Catherine as she strolled around greeting customers, and in conversation I got the sense that Jason’s no-nonsense attitude matched hers.

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We picked one of the features, the SOL omelet with a side of rye, with peppers, onions, and pepper jack cheese. I have a love/hate relationship with omelets, but this one turned out to be one of the better examples I’ve had in recent memory. The ingredients are layered properly, the omelet is folded tightly, the eggs aren’t overdone, and there’s a little spice to it.

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The PB3 waffle is a good example of the smirky attitude underlying the curio shelves and quiet atmosphere. You might not expect to see waffles loaded with bacon, peanut butter, Nutella, and bananas in a little cafe like this, but here it is. The PB3 tastes exactly as you would expect: crispy waffle, lots of soft and warm PB and Nutella, and a definite crunch from the well-cooked bacon. I mean, eying a list of ingredients like that, it’s hard not to be pleased by it. (You’ll also note the artful presentation throughout.)

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It’s also served with a little glass mug of maple syrup that reeks of “awwwww” adorableness.

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The side of hash browns stands up to any I’ve had. Ohio may generally be home fries territory, but I’ll always prefer the crispy texture of properly done hash browns.

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We had our two-year-old in tow that morning (the restaurant is kid-friendly, but maybe bring your own booster seat), and he enjoyed the two eggs, which are appropriately soft scrambled (which earns points from me) and come with a side of toast.

We’ve heard good things about South of Lane, and we found them to be all true. I think SoL is a good indication of Columbus’ growing breakfast/brunch scene, which doesn’t just mean more restaurants, but more restaurants with real personality serving their neighborhoods and offering solid breakfasts in creative combinations.

South of Lane on Urbanspoon

Beyond Breakfast: Mughal Darbar | Columbus, OH

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I’ve spoken before of our family’s love for a lot of cuisines, highlighting passions for Ethiopian and Mexican food, but I haven’t said much of our love for Indian cuisine, too.

Well, it’s time to rectify that.

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When our family falls in love with a place, we fall hard, and our loyalty sometimes prevents us from branching out as much as we should. Columbus has its fair share of top-notch Indian restaurants, but for many years our hearts were true to Taj Mahal just north of OSU’s campus. We were regulars at Taj. We were on a first-name basis with the owners. We even hosted some events with them at Wild Goose Creative. We love that they had history as one of the first Indian restaurants in Columbus, opening more than twenty-five years ago. But then they quietly closed earlier this year.

The general word (confirmed by the new owners) is that it was sold to distant family members. The building was fixed up, the menu revamped, a few of the prices lowered, and it re-opened as Mughal Darbar. The “Mughal” in the title refers to the Mughal Empire that once ruled much of India, and this translates into a little more Persian influence in the food. If you were a fan of Taj, pretty much everything you loved on the menu is still there, and there are some new favorites to boot.

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Entrees are served in metal dishes, and you spoon it over rice. This makes it perfect for sharing. Above are three of our favorites. At the top is coconut murgh, or coconut chicken, in a sweeter sauce with big chunks of tender chicken. To the right is saag paneer, a tangy combination of spinach (the saag) and paneer, a spongy white Indian cheese. On the bottom left is baingain bartha, a rich and slightly smoky eggplant dish.

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Mughal also has a full bar. I appropriately ordered Elevator Brewing’s India Pale Ale to pair with our meal.

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Indian food is typically served with naan, a thin crusty bread that’s baked on the side of a tandoori oven. There are a multitude of flavors, but we usually go for the garlic naan and the paneer onion kulcha, which includes cheese and onion.

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Much like Ethiopian cuisine, Indian food can be eaten by tearing pieces of naan and scooping bites of the meat, vegetables, and rice.

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Mughal includes a type of naan called peshwari naan, too, which usually has nuts and fruit in it. We were so-so on this one – it was a little dry – but our impressions are unfair because we absolutely loved this bread when we studied abroad in London.

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Our recent visits took place during Dewali, and Mughal offered a wider range of desserts than they normally do. We enjoyed some rice pudding.

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As well as these sweet, crispy honey fritters (I can’t remember their name).

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Mughal hosts a lunch buffet regularly, and it’s especially popular on Sundays.

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Their food holds up to the buffet treatment, and it’s a chance for you to sample a lot of different dishes, plus appetizers, salad, naan, and dessert.

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You can’t really see it from these pictures, but the owners at Mughal Darbar have done some much-needed updates to their space, with fresh paint and decorations, refurbished of wood floors, and better lighting. The restaurant is an old house on High Street, just north of campus, and they’ve done a wonderful job of making it feel even more homey.

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Our last trip to the buffet included meals with vegetables, beef, potatoes, chicken, and lamb.

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And you have to finish a run at the buffet with a couple (or four) of these spongy fried cake balls. They’re hot and soaked in honey, and therefore delicious.

We certainly miss Taj Mahal and the family that ran it, but Mughal Darbar has taken a beloved experience and improved on it. So it will continue as our go-to for Indian food in town.

If you want to visit:
Mughal Darbar
2321 N. High St. (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43214
(614) 429-0700
Open Tues-Sat, 11a-2p, 5-9:30; Sun, 11:30a-2p, 5-9p
Find them on Facebook

Mughal Darbar on Urbanspoon

L’Appat Patisserie & Cafe | Columbus, OH

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L’Appat Patisserie & Cafe (Facebook)
1159 Oak St. (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43205
(614) 252-6822
Open Mon-Fri, 7a-7p; Sat, 8a-5p
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/N/N
Kid-friendly? Y

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“Welcome! You’re in Didi’s house now. I’m about to make you very happy.” That was our greeting from Didier Alapani – Didi – when we stepped in the door of L’Appat Patisserie. Didi’s welcome into his little cafe, for first-time customers like us, set the tone for our entire meal.

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L’Appat Patisserie is a small corner cafe located in Olde Towne East, a couple blocks east of the more developed corner that Yellow Brick Pizza, The Tavern, and The Angry Baker call home.

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Out of this elegant little cafe, Didi and his family produce beautiful, flavorful, and welcoming food with African and French influences. My family and I visited for a mid-day breakfast on a Saturday. There were only a few other customers, most of them picking up pastries to go. I’d say the cafe was quiet, but the conversation flowed continuously as Didi welcomed and hugged regulars.

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We sat at a corner table while Didi and his family prepared a lovely breakfast for us and our boys.

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The thing to understand about the meal is that it takes time. I wouldn’t call the service slow by any means, but it’s not rushed. We observed this as we compared it to the typical American restaurant experience, which is focused on speed. Get in, get seated, get served, and out you go. Not so here. Here you want to experience the meal as a community. Talk about what you’re trying. Sample different things. Didi and his family seemed eager to show off their creations. After we placed our orders for breakfast, we were brought samples of tea and lemonade made in0house. The lemonade was flavored with watermelon and the tea with mango. Both were sweet and refreshing.

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To keep our boys’ ravenous appetites at bay (I seriously don’t know how we’ll afford to feed them when they’re teenagers), we ordered cookies. They were warm and fresh out of the oven, and like the drinks, they were flavored with fruit: mango and strawberry.

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Mrs. Bfast w/Nick and I ordered coffee. Again, instead of cheap diner mugs or styrofoam to-go cups, the service was focused on sipping and enjoying. We were each brought individual pots of coffee and matching white mugs, plus a couple creamers, no sugar.

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In case the word ‘patisserie’ didn’t give it away, L’Appat serves a lot of pastries. Like any bakery, a big part of their business revolves around the tarts, cookies, quiches, and cakes lining the shelves. We sampled one – okay, we started with one – of their mini quiches, a rich tomato and bleu cheese. It was packed with flavor while being flaky and holding together nicely.

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Half the fun is drooling over the displays and wondering what else you could order.

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Didi clearly draws his influences from all over the world. Expect to see flavors from Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean mixing with classic European dishes.

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All throughout the meal, Didi checked in with us. How was this? Did we like that? Have you tried these? He and his family kept busy in the back, but the cafe is small enough that they can interact with you easily.

The main breakfast menu is small. Its current iteration includes three items: a breakfast sandwich, beignets, and a spinach potato dish. So we ordered the entire menu. We let our boys split the egg and cheese panini, a dense sandwich with scrambled egg and cheese, grilled to picture-perfection.

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Next our family split the beignets. The plate is piled generously with them, a smaller and denser version than ones I’ve had before. They’re served with sides of whipped cream cheese and a blueberry coulis, and between the four of us we polished them off quickly. They were sweet but not greasy, crispy on the outside, and simply amazing when dipped in the cream cheese and fruit. I can’t claim to have had that many beignets in my life, but these are easily some of the best.

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And then the Mrs. and I split the spinach potato platter. Oh, colorful breakfasts – how I don’t see enough of thee. This dish, along with the beignets, will show up as one of the highlights of Breakfast 2013. The main feature of the dish is the pile of potatoes, onions, corn, zucchini, asparagus, peppers, spinach, and loads of spices and herbs. Our server asked us our preferred heat level and we went for medium. I’m so glad we did; there just aren’t enough breakfasts that really leave my mouth tingling with spice. Everything was cooked and balanced perfectly. I just wanted to keep eating it.

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Aside from the potato mixture, there are two sausage links, buttered toast, and a beautiful circle of soft scrambled eggs. We scooped bites of the potatoes, cut some eggs, and layered them on the toast. Just wonderful. The Mrs. and I rightfully fended off the boys from this dish. It was all ours.

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At the end of such a flavorful meal, our server convinced us to try one last special pastry, the pandan chausson. Pandan, she explained, is used in a lot of southeast Asian cooking. Chausson means “slipper,” and refers to the above-shaped flaky pastry.

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Pandan’s flavor is difficult to describe, but it’s lightly sweet and a little coconut-y. Its soft texture is an ideal filling for a layered and crispy pastry like the chausson. It was a fitting end to a rich meal, a little sweet dessert to mellow out the heavier spicing of the potato spinach platter.

Didi promised he would make us happy, and he did. It’s hard not to fall in love with the experience of eating at L’Appat. The intimate setting just emphasizes the community of the meal, the pacing encourages you to savor the food and the company, and Didi’s smiling face makes you feel like you’ve just discovered a new home.

And clearly breakfast in only one small piece of the picture at L’Appat! They offer a full range of tarts, cakes, and cookies, and Didi hosts different international nights. Currently there’s Caribbean night every Tuesday, and Pan-African night on Thursdays. (Keep an eye on Facebook to see what’s coming next.)

L'Appat Patisserie and Cafe on Urbanspoon

Milo’s Deli & Cafe | Columbus, OH

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[Update, February 2014: Milo's Deli is now closed and serves as their catering center. Consider visiting the Capitol Cafe By Milo's instead!]

Milo’s Deli & Cafe (Facebook / @MilosCatering)
980 W. Broad St. (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43222
(614) 224-0104
Open Mon-Fri, 7a-2p
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/N/N
Kid-friendly? Y

Visited: Wednesday, November 6, 2013 at 7 a.m.

I’m finally completing the trifecta of Pappas family-owned restaurants. I’ve breakfasted multiple times at the Franklinton institution Tommy’s Diner (easily one of Columbus’ more beloved diners). I’ve enjoyed Italian benedicts in the historical underground location of the Capitol Cafe by Milo’s. And now I’m completing my triathlon of breakfast awesomeness with simple sandwiches and coffee at Milo’s Deli & Cafe.

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Milo’s was the second edition to the family of restaurants after Tommy’s Diner. It’s actually named after Tommy and Kathy Pappas’ two boys, Michael and Louie: Mi + Lo. In addition to offering a small restaurant front, Milo’s plays host to the larger catering business. I haven’t been for lunch, but I get the sense that in-house breakfast isn’t their busiest of times. One of the employees actually seemed surprised to see people walking in the door at 7 a.m.

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The cafe is bigger than it looks from the outside, with rows of small tables extending along the front and to the back of the space.

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There’s clearly a bigger focus on lunch and catering, but breakfast isn’t completely neglected. True to the form of a deli, Milo’s offers plenty of options for hand-held breakfasts, like egg sandwiches, paninis, and wraps. Standard dishes are available, too, including omelets and plates of two eggs, bacon, and toast. There’s nothing fancy about the breakfast, but it’s simple and filling. It’s a bonus that – because you’re in a deli – you’ve got solid toast options like pumpernickel and rye.

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I felt like I needed to get something deli-ish, so I picked the wrap with eggs, corned beef, and cheese. I added the side of home fries: thin, thoroughly cooked slices of potatoes. They’re a little tougher than the chunkier and softer home fries I’m used to, but they were salted appropriately and I wolfed them down. Better to think of them like thick potato chips, perhaps.

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I liked the wrap, too. I’m a sucker for corned beef, so when you layer that with fried eggs and Swiss cheese, you’ve got a breakfast I can love. There isn’t much to the wrap beyond those simple components, but it was quickly prepared, a filling portion, and hit all the right notes for breakfast.

If you’re in Franklinton or just passing through, Milo’s is worth a stop. They’re only there weekdays, but they open the doors early enough that you can grab a panini or a wrap and a cup of coffee and be good to go for the day!

Milo's Deli & Cafe 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

The Little Donut Shop | Columbus, OH

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The Little Donut Shop
(Facebook)

1716 N. High St. (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43201
(614) 725-4940
Open daily 9a-4p
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/N/N
Kid-friendly? Y

Visited: Saturday, October 12, 2013 at 11:00 a.m.

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A new donut shop? What?! This is big news for any breakfast aficionado, as well as any red-blooded, pastry-loving American. So imagine my surprise when I read online about a new donut shop opening across the street from Ohio State’s campus. It snuck up on me! So on our first available Saturday we sought out the new shop with the quaint name: The Little Donut Shop. You can find The Shop on street level below The Big Bar (get it?), part of the Newport Music Hall building facade.

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Little Donut Shop’s space is clean, new, and nicely packaged. Their branding is solidly designed and consistent throughout.

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The interior includes a small ramp up into the space (which eventually leads to the staircase up to the bar). There are cab tables and counters spread along the walls. It’s fairly open and easy to access for the grab-and-go customers.

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The menu sports a good variety to begin with, and I’m sure they cycle in some specials once in a while. The pricing is pretty standard, at $1 per donut, $5 for the half dozen, and $8 for the full dozen. I didn’t think to ask how many donuts come in the Late Night Bucket. What’s a little odd is that the current hours – 9am to 4pm – aren’t exactly of the “late night” variety, so I’m not sure when is the ideal time for such a bucket.

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Little Donut Shop’s donuts are a little smaller, maybe about three inches across. The intention seems to be that customers can put away two or three of these, in lieu of a single giant bismark or a thick cake donut.

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They make up for the smaller size, though, with an over-the-top line-up of toppings, glazes, and flavorings. They seem to draw inspiration from some of the wackier donut shops out there, like VooDoo Doughnut in Portland, Oregon. Which is good, in some ways, because Columbus doesn’t have anything quite like that (although Heather at Destination Donuts gets pretty creative). They use one type of cake donut as the base and then go all out with the toppings. See above: the Oreo and the M&M donuts, covered in a white glaze and generously smothered.

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Or, of course, the maple bacon.

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There’s the raspberry lemonade.

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The chocolate and the strawberry shortcake (I think?).

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Or the powdered and the Dirty Worm.

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We grabbed a good variety: maple bacon, M&M, chocolate, samoa, Milky Way, and sprinkle. The verdict? Good, but not mind-blowing. Certainly very sweet and fun to eat: a big hit with our kiddos. The base donut is pretty simple, and the toppings are very creative, but they came off as overly sweet. Case in point: the Milky Way is a donut that’s glazed and drizzled with caramel and mini chocolate chips and more chocolate. It’s just a lot of sugar packed into one small bite. I guess my ideal for this size of donut is something like Duck Donuts in North Carolina and Virginia, which uses a simple yeast donut as their base, and then dips them in sweet but balanced toppings.

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Little Donut Shop is certainly differentiating itself with a lot of creative flavors. They’ve done a wonderful job with that space and the branding, and hopefully the nearby student population will take notice. Their challenge will be carving out a niche when nearby tried-and-true spots like Buckeye Donuts have already been winning over donut fans for decades.

The Little Donut Shop 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

Surly Girl Saloon | Columbus, OH

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Surly Girl Saloon (Facebook / @SurlyGirlSaloon)
1126 N. High St. (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43201
(614) 294-4900
Open daily 11a-2a (brunch served Sat & Sun, 11a-4p)
Accepts cash & credit/debit
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/Y/N
Kid-friendly? Y

Visited: Sunday, July 14, 2013 at 12:30pm

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In many ways it’s really easy to write about Surly Girl Saloon, because I’m generally pre-disposed to liking Columbus Food League restaurants. Maybe they’re not the most cutting edge eateries in Columbus, but I don’t think they’re trying to be. CFL spots “understand their DNA,” to borrow a phrase from Alton Brown; they’re built around a certain theme and they run with it unabashedly: hot dogs for Dirty Frank’s, tiki lounge for Grass Skirt, Ohio comfort food for Tip Top, you get the picture.

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Surly Girl’s DNA is that of a kick-ass cowgirl bar. The name says it all: the old-timey title of saloon, and the reference to the surly girl. True that form, menu items have different surly names, and women-led breweries are highlighted on the beer menu.

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Over-the-top decorations, including an assortment of gaudy chandeliers, hearken back to the saloon and the rowdy music hall.

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Saturday and Sunday brunch take the appropriate tone, with spicy comfort foods backed up by an array of beers and cocktails, like a sassy and slightly spicy Bloody Mary.

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Or a very cool and simple mimosa.

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For my tastes, CFL restaurants always have a solid beer selection. I can easily find 5-6 things I’ll like, which makes places like Surly Girl an easy choice if you want drinks and food, even as late as 2 a.m. (which is not generally the case for me, but it’s nice knowing the option is there). At this brunch, I snagged a Jackie O’s (out of Athens, OH) IPA. Admittedly, a big IPA like this one doesn’t always play well with others on the palate, but it hit the spot.

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Like the rest of Surly Girl’s menu, the brunch menu focuses on pretty simple and likeable comfort food, all with a southwest-y kick. Case in point: the West of the Pecos nachos, an easy-to-demolish pile of nacho chips, cheese, eggs, veggies, sour cream, and salsa. Many of the CFL restaurants use a white cheese sauce that’s completely addictive.

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The southwest shells & cheese comes off the regular menu. Like the nachos, its base ingredients are pretty simple but very, very easy to like.

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I opted for the black bean huevos surlitos, the house version of huevos rancheros. It’s an open tortilla filled with black beans, veggies, eggs, avocado, ranchero sauce, plus I added the pulled pork. Overall, I liked it – the tortilla does get a little too crispy when it’s toasted, and I think the pulled pork is necessary – it really makes the dish. It comes with a side of well-seasoned potatoes and orange slices.

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And then we topped it off with The High Noon, a version of Surly Girl’s BLT&A sandwich (a BLT + avocado) with an egg. It’s a really tasty breakfast sandwich, also coming with a side of potatoes.

Surly Girl – like all of the CFL restaurants, I think – is a solid bet for brunch. They always have a reliable line-up of drinks, the menu has a little variety while staying true to their identity as a southwestern cowgirl bar, and the food itself is easy eating, especially if you’re catching up after a late night. Also, not many places will serve brunch until 4 p.m.!

Surly Girl Saloon on Urbanspoon

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