Tag Archives: ohio

Where to eat in Columbus, Ohio: Northstar Cafe

There was no shortage of excellent food during my recent trip to Ohio. Some dishes–like my Dad’s blueberry pancakes, my mom’s Italian-style lentils, and my aunt’s buckeye candies–were served up at home, while others came from the various restaurants we visited in both Athens and Columbus. We are a family that enjoys life’s little edible pleasures, so we made sure to fit in one last meal out before Sasha and I had to hop our flight back to London.

Although we’d spent the night at a hotel that was so close to the airport we could see a runway out our window–and despite the fact that breakfast there was free–we packed up the car and drove over to the Easton Town Center in order to visit the Northstar Cafe. I’ve been there a couple times before, for lunch and for dinner, but I’d never started the day there. We were all very efficient at getting ready that morning and actually arrived at the restaurant before they were even open; we ended up being some of the very first customers through the door.

My mom started the day with hot cider

Northstar has an unusual arrangement that is kind of a cross between cafeteria and sit-down restaurant–not unlike a Subway or a Costa. When you walk in, you grab a menu from a container on the wall and decide what you want while you wait in line (the place is so popular that there is almost always a line). You place your order at the register and are given a little table marker so the waitstaff can find you once you’ve sat down. If you want a baked good (they have huge cookies, decadent scones, and sumptuous muffins/cupcakes), you can pick it out at the front of the store; likewise, you can help yourself to any soft drinks you might have ordered. Even with a queue, all of this tends to happen rather rapidly, so I always feel as though I’m rushing to decide what I want to eat and drink–all while trying to spy an open table that I can claim once I’m ready to sit down. That’s not really a complaint; I just find it kind of weird because the food at Northstar is such good quality that it doesn’t seem like the sort of thing you should be getting from a place where you aren’t ordering at your table and paying at the end. (Or maybe I just have a silly obsession with familiar routines…)

My breakfast: homemade granola with cherry compote, apples, pistachio brittle, and Greek yogurt
Also, a side of bacon.

During this particular visit, I decided to eat fairly heartily so that I wouldn’t be hungry before our late post-landing lunch at JFK Airport. In addition to the inevitable cup of breakfast tea, I had a bowl of homemade granola with a side of bacon (because American bacon is the best). Sasha had the “cloud nine pancakes,” which are made from ricotta and are served with bananas and maple syrup:

Sasha’s second helping of American pancakes. Someone has an obsession (says the person who ate bacon almost every day for a week).

My parents went in a more savory direction. My mom chose the winter vegetable strata, which contained kale, gouda, ham, and butternut squash, with an arugula side salad. Whereas I used bacon to offset the healthiness of my breakfast, my mom opted for a cup of hot cider with maple syrup whipped cream.

My mom’s strata, which was so generously sized that she could only eat half.

My dad ordered what must be one of his all-time favorite dishes: hash. The Northstar version is made with sweet potatoes and turkey, and is topped by two sunny-side-up eggs:


It was such a delicious breakfast that I ate too much and found myself wanting to go crawl back in bed for a couple more hours of sleep and digestion. Unfortunately, that option was not on the menu, and we had to head to the airport for check-in instead.

I’m glad that we had such a good final meal with my parents because Sasha’s and my lunch in New York was pretty awful. Not only was the service slow (and grumpy), but my salad was so wilty that I had to send it back to the kitchen, and my “medium” burger was basically raw in the middle. All in all, not the most satisfying of culinary adventures–and definitely not worth the $60 that we had to pay for it. I’d already started off feeling positive about Northstar Cafe, but found it even more appealing after comparing it to the Palm Bar and Grill.

There are, of course, many other dining options at Easton besides Northstar. If you want a more upscale sit-down meal, you might opt for Mitchell’s Ocean Club or McCormick & Schmick’s; perhaps you’d like an Italian meal at Brio, sushi at Kona, or a wine flight at Cooper’s Hawk. If you’re pressed for time, you might just want to grab a drink at Planet Smoothie, or a cup of soup at Panera. I could go on, but you get the drift. The point is that, despite being surrounded by all these other venues, Northstar holds its own, and is a valid option no matter what style of fare you’re used to or what sort of experience you’re after. Having now eaten breakfast, lunch, and dinner there, I can honestly recommend the cafe for any and all meals–but no matter when you head over, don’t be surprised if there’s a bit of a crowd; I’m not the only one who knows how good the food is!

Northstar Cafe can be found at 4015 Townsfair Way, Columbus, Ohio, 43219.

Where to eat in Columbus, Ohio: Spagio

Spagio Restaurant, an establishment that serves “European and Pacific Rim cuisine” was opened by Chef Hubert Seifert and his wife Helga thirty years ago in scenic Grandview Heights, Ohio. It began as a delicatessen and then morphed into a restaurant and wine bar; its name reflects a philosophy of serving healthy food (“spa-“) from around the world (“-gio”).

Nearly as old as I am, the restaurant has been patronized by my parents pretty much from its beginnings. Even though their culinary tastes have expanded and matured over the years, my parents continue to return to Spagio–a true reflection of the restaurant’s quality, given that these are people who visit Michelin-starred eateries and take cooking-themed holidays.

All of this is to say that Spagio has a history of quality and reliability, even if these traits weren’t consistently on display during our recent visit.

My mom’s appetizer: stuffed dates

Things started off all right. My mom enjoyed an order of Medjool dates, stuffed with bleu cheese, wrapped in applewood smoked bacon, and drizzled with Ohio maple syrup. My dad had a chopped salad, and I ordered the Spagio salad–topped with almonds, triangles of Manchebo cheese, and a sherry vinaigrette.

My dad’s appetizer: chopped salad
My appetizer: the Spagio salad

The problem was the main course–to be specific, my dad’s wiener schnitzel.

The traditional wiener schnitzel, served with creamy peas and fries. This is not to be confused with the Jaeger schnitzel, which is accompanied by a mushroom and bacon cream sauce.

The sides were all right, but my dad and mom both agreed that something was “off” about the schnitzel. Both of my parents have eaten proper schnitzel in Austria, among other places, so they have enough experience to know that they’ve been served a wonky version. My dad actually ended up sending his dish back to the kitchen, which is something I’m not sure that I’ve ever witnessed. Considering that this is a man who will eat leftovers long past the time when I’d have tossed them out (sorry, Dad, but it’s true!), this was a serious indictment of the meal. The waiter very kindly ensured that we didn’t have to pay for the schnitzel at the end of the night, but I had been hoping for a more satisfying conclusion to the episode. Mostly, I just wanted some assurance that someone in the kitchen had tasted the dish, identified what was wrong, and taken steps to ensure that the problem wouldn’t be repeated. I didn’t like the idea that the chefs might have thought that my dad was merely being entitled and troublesome.

In any case, the schnitzel shenanigans ended up being a blessing in disguise, because both Sasha and I had excellent meals that were too big for us to handle; we both gave my dad portions to ensure that he didn’t leave the restaurant hungry. I ordered the wood-fired gorgonzola pasta, which was served in an adorable ceramic dish with wee handles:


The pasta was delicious, but I was disappointed that it only came with two pieces of broccoli. The description on the menu somehow left me with the feeling that there would be more greenery; a mere two pieces is effectively just a garnish. At least the rest of the dish was tasty.

Sasha also ordered pasta–the veal meatball rigatoni, which both he and my dad raved about:


My mom, having already nibbled on an appetizer while she and my dad waited for Sasha and me to finish watching Interstellar prior to our dinner date, chose to have a lighter meal. She opted for the salad Niçoise, which came topped with seared ahi tuna:

The salad was huge and provided some nice leftovers, as did my bowtie mac and cheese. One or both of my parents must have had an excellent lunch the day after our visit to Spagio!

Although the rest of us were full after completing our savory courses, Sasha managed to save room for dessert. Spagio doesn’t have a sweets menu, per se; instead, they have a dessert case that you can peruse in order to pick out what looks most appealing. Sasha selected one of the mini Key Lime pies, which had a very unusual air-hockey-puck sort of shape:


As you might have guessed, given its appearance, the pie had a nice velvety texture, and a refreshing citrus flavor. We didn’t try any of the other desserts, but we did eyeball them as we walked past on our way out of the restaurant. There was quite a large selection and they all looked intriguing.

If I had to rate our Spagio experience on a scale of five, I’d maybe give it a 3–not perfect but not terrible, with clear hints of what the restaurant is actually capable of. If the cooks could just be more generous with the broccoli, and more careful with the schnitzel, I think a 4 or even a 4.5 would be doable. It’s worth noting that, though there were some issues with the food, the staff were consistently friendly and helpful; they didn’t mind the fact that we were a few minutes late for our reservation, and our waiter didn’t make us feel awkward about the fact that my dad complained about his meal. It’s that kind of customer service that inspires you to give people the benefit of the doubt, and return for a second attempt at some point in the future. I’m sure my parents’ long history with Spagio wasn’t ended on the evening of December 27th.

Spagio can be found at 1295 Grandview Avenue, Columbus, Ohio, 42312.



Where to eat in Columbus, Ohio: Black Creek Bistro

My parents have tried a huge number of the many restaurants that Columbus has to offer, so when there is a particular place that they list amongst their favorites, and to which they return time and again, that’s a good sign that it is special. Black Creek Bistro, a restaurant/bar/gallery/wine shop located towards the center of the city, certainly fits the bill.

They took me there once before, and I ordered a gnocchi dish–with lamb, cranberries, and a light cream sauce–that I still remember to this day. However, I did not have a camera handy, so I wasn’t able to document the experience. I made up for this last week when we visited after watching the final Hobbit movie at Easton Town Center (what is Christmas without a trip to Middle Earth?).

The incredibly friendly and knowledgeable waiter–who was one of only two servers working that night, but who still found the time to be very attentive–seated us in the corner under a sparkly painting of a grumpy-looking rockhopper penguin. Many of the other decorations in the room also had a nautical theme; there was a large narwhal on the opposite wall, along with some maritime landscapes. All the art was on sale, hence the “gallery” portion of BCB’s subtitle.

It had been a while since we’d eaten our relatively early lunches, so we all felt the need to start with an appetizer. My parents shared an order of the bistro fries with a duo of sauces (white truffle aioli and spiced ketchup); Sasha had a cup of the chicken chili, accompanied by the most amazing rolls and pear butter; I had the pear crisps (sliced pears topped with pancetta, goat cheese, thyme, and a drizzle of Ohio honey); and my mom ordered the bistro salad (greens topped with gorgonzola cheese, candied walnuts, seasonal fruit, and shaved red onion).

The bistro fries
The chicken chili and accompanying rolls–freshly baked and still warm
The pear crisps, with amazingly circular pancetta
The bistro salad

Sasha and I both ordered the seared day boat scallops as our main course. We got three large scallops sitting on top of a bed of portabella mushroom risotto, surrounded by a charred tomato emulsion:


I wasn’t able to eat all of mine in one sitting, so I took it home in order to enjoy it again the next day as my lunch. The scallops were huge and perfectly done, and the emulsion had a really nice texture–none of those little rolled up pieces of skin you sometimes get when you cook with tomatoes.

My mom also ordered a risotto:


Hers was the risotto du jour, which, on this particular day, was made with gouda cheese and arugula.

My dad had the stuffed pork loin chop with apple cider sauce:


The stuffing contained apples, pears, and cranberries. There was also a side of green beans, which appear to have been a bumper crop in Ohio this year–when we recently visited Athens’ Casa Nueva, green beans were featured as the vegetable of the day; my mom had them in her burrito, and I got them in my seasonal veggie soup of the day (a sesame green bean soup, which was amazing).

Someone had the bright idea to order desserts even though we were all pretty stuffed by the end of our main courses. Sasha had the dessert special, which was a mint chocolate creme brûlée:


I’m not a big fan of creme brûlée (or, indeed, any dessert that is not fruity), but I did admire the incredible smoothness of the dish, and the subtle hints of mint.

My parents shared the butterscotch pudding, which is a perennial favorite with them:


In addition to having really delicious food, Black Creek Bistro also has reasonable prices and a comfortable, laid back atmosphere. There are very generous happy hour prices Monday-Friday, and a discounted ($20) three-course dinner Monday-Thursday. The restaurant changes its menu seasonally in order to take advantage of whatever is available from local suppliers, and they engage in sustainable practices such as composting, oil recycling, and cardboard shredding (for use as animal bedding). That may not change the flavor of the food you eat there, but it definitely helps make the overall experience all the more enjoyable.

If you’re in Columbus and in search of a good restaurant, I (along with the rest of my family) strongly recommend Black Creek Bistro. Thanks to its location, you can probably get there within 10-15 minutes no matter where you are in the city, and there is easy parking just across the street. Given how highly my parents rate the restaurant, I wouldn’t be surprised if you see them there. Wave hello and send them over an order of the butterscotch pudding!

Black Creek Bistro can be found at 51 Parsons Avenue, Columbus, Ohio, 43215.