UPDATE: This location is now home to Skillet. Banana Bean has moved to a new location on Greenlawn Avenue.
Banana Bean Cafe
410 E. Whittier St. (on Google Streetview)
Columbus, OH 43206
Open Monday 11-2:30, Tuesday-Friday 11-2:30, 5:30-8, Saturday & Sunday 9-3
Accepts cash and credit cards
Date of Visit: Saturday, February 2, 2008 at 10 a.m.
IMPRESSIONS: Beth and I have been hearing about Banana Bean Cafe for about a year now, including lots of raving on Columbus Underground, so when a Saturday morning opened up for us, I made a reservation and we drove down to German Village to see for ourselves. The Cafe is a tiny restaurant on East Whittier Street, in the southeast corner of German Village. I can imagine this place as a great place to start a day of wandering and shopping in the Village. We found parking on the street right next to the restaurant, even on a fairly busy Saturday morning.
ATMOSPHERE: When you open the front door to the cafe, you are quite literally standing in the middle of the restaurant. Take one step too far, and you'll bump into a table. I counted a total of nine tables, plus a bar with three seats. When we waltzed in on Saturday morning, every table had a piece of paper noting that the table was reserved. EVERY table.
Here's a shot of a couple tables. This comprises about half the restaurant. They were playing the music of Pink Martini, and great band from Portland, Oregon. Points!
Here's a shot out the window next to our table. Beth said I wouldn't use this picture, so just to prove her wrong, I did. We were seated right next to the front window, and right above a register. So all of my impressions of Banana Bean Cafe are formed by a warm, cozy feeling. Seriously, the hot air from the register, on a brisk February morning, nearly put me to sleep.
The restaurant is simply decorated with flags and pictures from Key West and the Caribbean. Banana Bean features "the patina of Key West," which means it blends the cuisine of Cuba, Jamaica, the Caribbean, and the Florida Keys. I don't know about your town, but there's nothing else like this in Columbus. So, bonus for uniqueness.
Hanging above the bar is a flat screen TV. At first, Beth and I thought it was a live camera trained on the back patio. But then we noticed people setting up tables wearing shorts and T-shirts. We figured something was amiss. We asked our server, and she said it was a live feed from the Hog's Breath Saloon in Key West, Florida. So cruel, in this cold Ohio February.
You can view the webcam yourself by checking out the Hog's Breath's website.
FOOD: Remember that vent underneath our table? The one that pumped warm air around us on a cold, cold February day, as we watched a live feed of folks in shorts living in Key West? Now here's the culinary equivalent of that cozy feeling: the Bananas Foster French Toast.
This has become one of Banana Bean's signature pieces, and quite rightfully so. It's a heaping mound of custardy sweet slices of French toast, topped with sliced bananas, strawberries, and blueberries. The menu says it's topped with a Captain Morgan spiced rum sauce, although to us it seemed more like a lightly-spiced syrup. Still, it wasn't drenched on like high-fructose corn syrup. All in all, this wasn't the most nuanced French toast I've had the pleasure of stuffing in my face, but this certainly was a huge pile of tasty comfortable-ness. I could go back again and again for this dish. Really: you should try it.
We also tried another Banana Bean signature: the Eggs del Mar. Another amazing tasty treat: two poached eggs on top of lump crab cakes (!) on a bed of fresh spinach, tomatoes, with a light hollandaise sauce. The seasonings and herbs make this an incredibly tasty dish. It's the right-sized portion, bursting with flavors.
Here's another shot of our two breakfasts. Note the big, wide coffee cups. Banana Bean serves Cuban coffee, which is delicious. Fits the breakfast perfectly.
Banana Bean Cafe's menu is a little pricier, although not bad for what you get. The French toast was about $9, and the Eggs del Mar $12. I think the prices were definitely fair, because the food was so rich and flavorful.
Another challenge to their menu: it's HUGE! There are so many items on it, and to complicate things, the morning we went they had FOUR specials, all of which sounded great. Overall, it's great to have a big selection, but it's overwhelming to the customer. If there were more menu items, I would honestly worry that they were spreading themselves thin with too many specialties. That being said, just reading the menu aloud made my mouth water. I want to do a staged reading of it someday. Check it out: Huey, Louis, Andouille; Roasted Corn & Blueberry Pancakes; Cedar Key Shrimp & Grits; Floribbean Jerk Chicken; Calle Ocho; Oyster Po Boy; Slash & Burn Grouper; Ancho & Coffee Rubbed Flatiron Steak. The list goes on and deliciously on.
SERVICE: Our server was great, and the food came out amazingly fast. Seriously, if it came out any faster, I'd be worried about whether it was nuked or not. Then again, when you've got nine tables, two visible servers, and probably another two or three people working the kitchen, it must be easy to keep up.
OVERALL: I can't wait to go back to Banana Bean Cafe. It was a cozy, flavorful experience. The only things keeping me away are the slightly-higher prices and the absolute need for reservations. Knowing the quality of the food and the overall experience, I'm sure there's a steady stream of folks heading there for dinner. So you can't go here for a cheap, spur-of-the-moment meal. There are other places in Columbus for that.
That being said, I'm still planning our next visit here. After all, there are about 40 more menu items we need to try!
-> Discussion on Columbus Underground
-> Columbus Foodie review
-> Sopressata review