Monday, July 28, 2008
193 Thurman Ave. (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43206
Open Tues-Sat, 6:30 a.m. - 3 p.m.; Sun, 8 a.m. - 3 p.m.
Accepts cash and credit/debit
Date of Visit: Friday, June 27, 2008 at 10:00 a.m.
IMPRESSIONS: German Village Coffee Shop has been on my list of local to-visits for a while, and just recently my wife and I stumbled upon it during a Saturday afternoon drive through German Village. Ever have that? One of those moments when you've heard of a place - say, a restaurant - many times over, and always intend to go, but you never actually do it until you see the place yourself. Such was the case for me with the GV Coffee Shop.
The Shop is in a strip of restaurants on Thurman Ave. in southern German Village, just south of Schiller Park. In the same row stands the Easy Street Cafe and the Columbus-landmark Thurman Cafe, which serves up the best and biggest burger in town. The GV Coffee Shop's small exterior makes it easy to pass by, and thus more of a treasure when you do discover it.
ATMOSPHERE: This breakfast joint is classic small diner. Cuh-lassic. Open the door, step inside, and you're standing on top of half the patrons. To your right sits the grill, with a long counter and swivelly stools observing it. To the left is a row of booths. Mere feet above your head is the ceiling. And that's it.
My breakfast partner Chip and I counted 5 thin booths, 2 bigger tables, and about a dozen stools at the counter. From the ceiling hangs one - ONE - florescent light. Aside from a small series of lights at each table (see below), there's nothing else to light the place. Like many classic diners (think Goody Boy in Short North or Nancy's in Clintonville), your meal is a group affair, whether you like it or not. You can overhear (and be overheard) every conversation in the room, over the sound the grill. This is great if you're a regular. And a steady stream of them poured through the door; we watched two couples at the counter share pictures of their kids.
The fake wood-paneled walls sport old black-and-white pictures of the cafe, and each table has the little wooden set-up pictured above. I suppose it's a nice space-saver, this little condiment shelf. I love the stack of napkins way up top.
FOOD: Oh, and now to the food. Chip and I frankly enjoyed it. The German Village Coffee Shop offers some of the standard diner fare, with a few stand-outs and a few weak spots. First, we both ordered coffee - we always do. This coffee is good diner coffee, if a little weak. But one of the big things about the GV Coffee Shop menu is that it's cheap! You can get a handful of eggs for $2.25, 3 slices of French toast for $2.50, your coffee is .75, and the most expensive thing on the menu, an omelet, is $5.25. That's amazing.
I ordered the standard breakfast combo: eggs, bacon, potatoes, and toast. That all came for about $3.50, and everything was pretty much as good as you could hope. Nicely done eggs, hashed browns were brown enough, bacon nice and crispy, and the toast was good, though a bit dry. None of the food was mind-blowing - let's face it, diner food rarely is - but at $3.50 for the whole bunch, it was hard not to like.
I decided to stretch the budget and blow $2 on a couple slices of French toast. This is where things got a little interesting. Do you see that dull glow on the top of the toast in the picture? Yeah, that's butter. Lots of it. It was probably the single most excessively buttered breakfast item I've ever laid eyes on. Seriously, I pressed down on it gently with my finger, and the butter pooled around it. Oh, my heart! Needless to say, this meant it tasted awesome, but that I could only eat three bites before I had to stop. I kindly decided to share the butter-with-a-little-toast with Chip.
Quick picture here of Chip's omelet - apparently GV Coffee Shop is known for these. Chip picked one of their standards that came with meat and veggies, and he said he enjoyed it very much.
SERVICE: Service was pretty good. Diner servers typically know all the regulars, and sometimes you can feel out of place as a newcomer. It didn't help that our server was a little snotty at first; when we ambled toward an open table, I asked him if we could sit there, and he curtly replied "Well, let me clean it off first!" Not a good start, but it got better from there. Certainly won't keep me from returning.
OVERALL: Speaking of returning... yes, I could go eat at the German Village Coffee Shop again. It's probably the cheapest breakfast I've had in Columbus, and I welcome the ratio of cheap prices to filling portions. So I recommend taking a peak at the shop, as well as that whole strip of restaurants on Thurman Ave., and, if you haven't been, all of German Village!
-> Page on German-Village.com
Saturday, July 12, 2008
Date of Visit: Sunday, June 1, 2008 at 12:30 p.m.
154 W. Pennsylvania Ave.
New Stanton, PA 15672
Open Mon-Fri, 6 a.m. - 10 p.m.; Sat & Sun, 6 a.m. - 11 p.m.
Accepts cash and credit cards
IMPRESSIONS: Quick survey: Who here has been to a Cracker Barrel? Hmm? Who here has been to a Cracker Barrel while on vacation? Who here has ever driven out of their way, following Cracker Barrel signs for miles down the highway, in order to enjoy yet another made-from-scratch home-cooked meal from one of your favorite restaurants?
This, indeed, is the M.O. of true Cracker Barrel fans. Whenever they visit a new city, the first question they ask is, "Where is the Cracker Barrel?" (My wife and I worked at a car rental agency for a few years, and I can't count the number times I had to map out the route to the ONE Cracker Barrel in town, even though it was on the opposite side of the city.) I myself have been to a handful of Cracker Barrels in my life, always while on vacation, and always while traveling somewhere in the South. My handful of visits to Cracker Barrel have occurred on trips to Florida, Tennessee, and Pennsylvania.
ATMOSPHERE: Cracker Barrel, like Starbucks, is the model of consistency. No matter where you are, if you stop at a Cracker Barrel, you will find the same rocking chairs out front, the same general store with knick-knacks and country goods, the same layout of the same wooden tables and chairs, the same food on the same menu. And I don't necessarily mean to mock the sameness. Say what you will about corporate globalization homogenization etc etc etc, places like Cracker Barrel are able to offer you a consistent experience, no matter if you're stopping at the Cracker Barrel all the way up in Traverse City, MI or the one furthest west in Boise, ID. Apparently Cracker Barrel has so successfully created a consistent, memorable experience that fans will drive miles out of their way to find one.
So, the actual atmosphere attempts to seem as much like a comfortable country home as possible. The tables and chairs - all wooden - resemble those you may find in your dining room. Every Cracker Barrel I've been to has a large stone fireplace that appears to have been used (or decorated brilliantly to look like the family has gathered around it regularly for hot soup on a winter's day). The fireplace and the walls are decorated with country kitsch: old wash boards, bowls, license plates, pictures, and more. The wooden lattice dividers keep the large restaurant feeling like small dining rooms, but leave it open enough that it's not too dark.
This is the table setup that you can expect from every Cracker Barrel: an oil lamp, a small dessert menu, salt and pepper shakers, and the golf tee game (I forget the name currently). The game is harder than it looks, therefore it's seriously addicting, and therefore they sell it in the general store.
Grrr... I just can't get it.
FOOD: Food-wise, Cracker Barrel tries to match the homespun atmosphere with homemade comfort food. Our sister-in-law Marcia, one of our fellow diners, has a brother who works at a Cracker Barrel, and he says that everything is made from scratch in large batches using the same recipes.
Even though it was lunchtime, I ordered breakfast (served all day!). I opted for the Old Timer's Breakfast, one of those filling combo meals that gives you a little bit of everything. This includes 2 eggs, a choice of meat, grits, biscuits & gravy, and a hash brown casserole. Their menu features a number of such combos, usually named after fictitious (I'm assuming) family members. They've got all the breakfast basics: pancakes, meat, potatoes, cereal, etc. Nothing too wild like breakfast burritos, etc. (On a side note, I chuckled when I read the Low Carb Breakfast menu, which includes three items: the Double Meat Breakfast, the Country Grilled Sampler, and the Eggs n Meat... light on carbs, heeeeeaaaavy on the protein.)
The breakfast overall was pretty good. Nothing amazing and extraordinarily flavorful, but it's tasty and filling. The eggs were just fine. The biscuits and gravy were nice - not a super flavorful one, like some peppery and meaty offerings I had before.
The bacon was nice, and the hashed brown casserole was interesting. It reminded me of a lot of the casseroles I've had throughout my life. So that added a specific "home-cooked" quality to the meal.
Overall, I think Cracker Barrel's fare is delicious and easy to eat, although I think some of their food is under-spiced in a way to make it pleasing to all. Perhaps that's why it's a favorite of so many travelers. And this is not to say that the food is bad; I've enjoyed every meal I've had at Cracker Barrel.
SERVICE: Service at Cracker Barrel is fast and friendly. The servers all wear aprons, are somewhat matronly (the women, at least), and really add to the down-home atmosphere. Our server was just what you would want out of a server: she handled everything quickly, our food came out fast, and she took care of us. Again, just like at home!
OVERALL: You know, I'll be honest... I'm going to eat at a Cracker Barrel again. Although probably not until the next time I'm driving east or south with my family on a vacation, and we need a familiar place to sit down and have a home-cooked lunch. Cracker Barrel is one of those experiences that I certainly welcome - I mean, who doesn't look forward to a home-cooked-like meal? - but don't necessarily seek out when I want to go out to eat. But if you've never been, I recommend a visit, at least to see what the experience is like.
-> Cracker Barrel on Wikipedia
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
Just had to share a story on London's best breakfasts from Time Out magazine. The did a feature last April about the best place to find breakfast in London. I usually keep an eye on Time Out because it's the best source for everything in London: theatre listings and reviews, concerts, restaurant suggestions, and interesting articles about many aspects of London life. This article will show you where to find variations on the famous English breakfast in all of London's diverse neighborhoods.
I've had a number of amazing breakfasts in England. Typical English hotels and bed & breakfasts serve a wonderful sit-down breakfast. Some of my fondest breakfast memories hearken back to my travels in the U.K. I remember the excellent daily breakfast in the tiny basement room of the Avalon Hotel, the cozy home-cooked deliciousness of the Hardwick House in Stratford-upon-Avon, with the BEST. SAUSAGE. I have ever tasted, the Wassells House Bed & Breakfast in Cheddar, in which the middle-aged woman serving us told us to get our elbows off the table, and the Berkeley Arms Hotel in Berkeley, with a blazing hot breakfast and coffee so caffeinated I got an amazing amount of work done every morning. Heck, even the dormitory where I stayed on study abroad trips served a cafeteria-style English breakfast, complete with toast, eggs, bangers, potatoes, tea, and coffee, all with that sub-average cafeteria quality. Oh... now I want to go back to London even more.