Restaurant review: Local ingredients and bold flavors enliven Katalina’s new menu

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From the August 7, 2014 edition

The old adage about good things coming in small packages rings true for Katalina’s. That’s nothing new for longtime fans who regularly pack this hip, quirky and quaint Harrison West stronghold. What is new is Katalina’s revamped menu and improved patio.

Formerly an overachieving sandwich shop called Cafe Corner, Katalina’s still resembles the fancied-up, converted gas station it is. Inside, its artsy and charmingly cluttered space accommodates extremely limited seating. This means Katalina’s inviting patio is the place to be.

Facing a tree-lined residential street, the expanded and roomy wooden deck now sports cuts-above picnic tables sprouting huge umbrellas to protect diners from rain or (too much) shine. Flowers, tomato plants and sparrows contribute to its park-like appeal.

Katalina’s retooled menu is also appealing. Trumpeting an enhanced commitment to local ingredients — and emphatically celebrating Ohio sweet corn — it alternately pops and soothes with Latin and Southern flavors.

Prudently, Katalina’s knew better than to cast off beloved old menu favorites like its deservedly famous Pancake Balls ($11.25), but those crepe-like wonders are now made with Ohio-sourced flour, preserves and maple syrup.

Since my focus was on recent releases though, after ordering the delightful, summer-in-a-glass Watermelon Mint Lemonade ($3; Katalina’s doesn’t own a liquor license), I ripped through one of my favorite new sandwiches: Bret’s Chorizo Patty-O ($12).

A fiery but nuanced, seared homemade chorizo “burger” (created with a North Market Spices proprietary blend) received capsaicin-tempering accompaniment from sharp Amish cheddar cheese, a relish-like slaw (fashioned with Cooper’s Mill pickles from Bucyrus) and perfectly toasted sourdough bread. As with all sandwiches, it comes with superior tortilla chips from Athens-based Shagbark Seed & Mill.

The Latin-meets-Asian Housemade Hominy Bowl with Cracklin’s ($10.25) was equally impressive. It might sound pricey for what amounts to a bowl of zesty vegetable soup, but what soup! The labor-intensive, prettily presented ensemble marries hominy (in-house-produced from Peruvian corn), local radishes, scallions, spice-dusted pork rinds and red peppers in a flavor-bomb broth.

If you prefer a cooling-off soup, Katalina’s chilled Salmorejo ($6) is hard to beat. Patterned after an Andalusian-style gazpacho, its tangy and intense tomato base is thickened with whizzed-in bread and garnished with chopped hard-cooked egg.

The hits kept coming with the colorful, Louisiana-influenced Maque Choux Salata ($8.25). Basically a killer entree salad, it corralled local corn, excellent “live greens,” guacamole ingredients and toasted pumpkin seeds within the lasso of a zippy “3-herb lime vinaigrette.”

There were some whiffs and near-misses too. A little cobette of Guajillo Cuban Corn was underseasoned and overpriced at $4.25. The same mini maize played a more able second fiddle to the carefully sourced and overloaded Pulled Pork Tacos ($10.25). Too bad my delicious cochinita pibil-style pork (Mayan pit barbecue) and Snowville Creamery crema-garnished tacos were served icebox cold.

And though I enjoyed the mammoth Boylan’s Biscuits & Veggie Sausage Gravy ($10) — a three-egg-topped comfort food extravaganza swamped in a zingy and creamy sauce — it seemed odd to pair this deliberately meat-free main course with a hog-fortified side dish. That said, the side in question is a delectable roasted Brussels sprouts, corn, bacon and caramelized onion hash-succotash I’d gladly eat again and again.

Ditto for Katalina’s distinctly dynamic and excellent housemade sweets ($2.50-$3.50). From the chewy Monster Mexican Chocolate Mole cookie (dark chocolate, plus hints of cinnamon and chile) to the Heath bar-textured Sweet N’ Spicy Bacon Bark (with caramel and dark chocolate) to the crazy-great, two-layered Spicy Mexican Fig Brownie, they’re far from single-note treats. And provide further proof that very good things can indeed come in small packages.

Photos by Meghan Ralston