The menu of the two-week-old Northstar Cafe at Easton differs a bit from its siblings. Ditto for the restaurant's expansive yet unshowy design, which is stylish and inviting.
But what this Northstar does have in common with its predecessors is a commitment to excellence, which it regularly achieves by turning high-quality ingredients into short-order but highly appealing, completely homemade, lively and delicious food.
Oh yeah, and as with all Northstar operations, this newbie features a remarkably professional and genuinely friendly work staff - in fact, the company has consistently shown a sort of genius in its vetting process.
What's especially fresh about this new chapter in the bright Northstar cookbook is that the Easton branch is a hybrid of the best of the previous Northstars and its more upscale sibling, Third and Hollywood. That means things like 3&H's suave cocktails, great guacamole-and-pimento-cheese appetizer plus their fantastic fish sandwich all find their way onto the menu alongside the best veggie burger ever, those fiber-tastic Buddha bowls and the rest of the healthy-ish and scrumptious offerings that have made the mini Northstar chain deservedly successful and famous.
The two-tiered space of this thoroughly modern and roomy new Northstar is big, open and airy. Its predominating horizontal planes of dark and light slatted wood are broken up by a tall central octagonal axis.
Inside, the mood is upbeat and busy in the daytime. At nighttime, when the hanging geometrically patterned lamps glow in hushed amber tones, and the tasteful contemporary tunes soften, it feels swanky, even nightclubby.
As expected, the veggie-heavy menu is filled with composed, ultra-fresh salads, handcrafted sandwiches, non-Mexican burritos and excellent flatbreads. There's also rotating chalkboard specials.
From that latter category, a Caramelized Onion soup (i.e. French onion-style, $5) stood out. Eschewing unnecessary cheese gloppiness, and bearing an herby, winey and deeply cooked onion-scented broth, it was one of the better versions I've spooned into lately.
Another specialty in the key of francais was a terrific Half Rotisserie Chicken ($15). The juicy bird arrived with crinkly skin arousingly crusted with salt, garlic and rosemary plus black and red pepper. On the side were a no B.S. mushroom gravy and thin handcut fries that were golden brown and not at all greasy.
A turkey sandwich special ($12.50) sounded kinda mundane, but it wasn't. Its gently smoked, tender deli-style meat was about as good as deli turkey gets. It came niftily tricked out with big clumps of pickly roasted red peppers, a basily aioli and mesclun greens. Enveloping these harmonious components was an oversized, toasted housemade focaccia roll. On the side was a fruity, nutty and wonderfully fun to eat fresh veggie and wild rice salad.
OK, that fish sandwich. Unlike so many bulk-minded, frozen and fried others, this one showcased fresh-tasting, juicy, grill-marked seafood (that night it was mahi mahi) - and lots of it. The gentle oceanic treat came on a great toasted bun and was dressed with an herb aioli plus high quality tomato, onion and shredded lettuce.
The sammie comes sided with those excellent house fries, but I subbed healthier steamed broccoli with a (Buddha Bowl-type) spicy, sweet and gingery peanut sauce. I loved it all.
Now, if that fish sandwich's $14 price tag is too steep for you, by all means, save a few bucks and get one of those industrial, cheap and greasy versions available almost anywhere else. Me, I'll be at Northstar.
For more local food news and reviews, click to G.A. Benton's blog at blog.columbusalive.com/underthetable