10:15 a.m. and classic oldies, along with the fermented, salty scent of soy sauce, seeped leisurely into the room. So did the single server in the filling-up restaurant. Understandably, it took a while to get menus. But as I gazed out the window at the lazily streaming by traffic on High Street, I realized that neither I nor anyone near me was in a hurry - nor should we have been.
When the server eventually made her way over to take our orders, she was so casually delightful that I forgot about any slight inconvenience. After the food arrived surprisingly quickly - and in big, good-looking portions - I relaxed and just let the day unfold. That's how things roll at Sunday brunch in Whole World Natural Bakery and Restaurant.
Similar to the restaurant's patrons, Whole World's meatless menu is a blend of fairly standard fare and offerings a bit more exotic. From the latter category is a fermented tea drink (not made in-house) called Kombucha Kvass ($3.50). It tasted like chilled and fizzy, seriously sour apple cider. I actually found it refreshing even if gelatinous blobs of yeasty stuff occasionally flowed out.
Staying in the uncommon vein was the Big Breakfast ($8) when ordered with the "scrambled eggless" option (you could get two eggs any style - but where's the fun in that?). "Scrambled eggless" was a minerally and black peppery-tasting mass of soft, tofu curds glowing in an ethereal shade of yellow. Probably seasoned and colored by turmeric, it's not for everyone but I thought the faux ova were a wacky kick to chomp on.
The Big Breakfast also comes with house-made vegetarian sausage patties (interesting - herby, a little perfumy, a bit dry) and oven-roasted potatoes or a nifty and garlicky vegetarian hash (sweet with onions, shredded carrots, corn, broccoli and spuds). Though this "eggless" Big Breakfast was certainly eccentric, I found it a relief from the grease and tedium of so many ho-hum breakfasts.
Ditto for the recommended Scrambled Tofu. Very different from the Scrambled Eggless, it was an enormous serving of tofu cubes deeply marinated in a soy sauce - I mean tamari! - base. As with most dishes here, it came with Whole World's top-notch, hearty, in-house-baked toasted breads (my faves are the black and whole wheat).
Alternately, you could pick a housemade buttermilk biscuit (craggy, pale white, not particularly moist). If so, go with a side of Vegetarian Gravy ($2). Made with soy cream and eating substantially better than it sounds, it was black peppery, garlicky and a surprisingly viable replacement for that pasty, cholesterol bomb of sausage gravy you often get elsewhere.
More conventional palates can be happily sated with a Southwestern Omelet ($7.25). A big and fluffy three-egger, it came packed with good and cuminy black beans, red peppers and a judicious handful of jack cheese.
There's also a du jour vegetarian quiche ($9.25). The day I ordered it, I got a huge, rich, sturdy and dense door stopper crammed with cheese and spuds and bearing a nice, thick and buttery crust (comes with one of Whole World's great homemade soups).
Pancake lovers can get a fix that'll last for weeks with Whole World's manhole-cover-sized discs. Three preposterously large but properly homemade flapjacks (marginally drier vegan versions are available) can be had - and I recommend this - with a fruit of the day topping (Special Pancakes, $6.25), like a nice warm sort of cherry compote.
For more local food news and reviews, click to G.A. Benton's blog at blog.columbusalive.com/underthetable