Excellent eatery resurfaces in cozy Downtown locale following a two-year absence
It looks like the third name's a charm for Cravings Cafe.
The Columbus Cravings legacy began with Cookie Cravings Bakery — a miniscule, scratch-cooking treat store that opened in Italian Village in 2011. As more and more savory items were added and word spread of its terrific fare, the mom-and-pop operation run by Matt and Lindsey Tewanger rebranded to Cravings Carryout Cafe in 2014. Unfortunately, success bred a roadblock in 2015, when the little shop that could was forced to relocate.
Fast-forward through two long years until the Tewangers could get back in business in September with the delightful Cravings Cafe — a Downtown breakfast-and-lunch eatery that sources locally and is bigger and better than its Cravings predecessors.
Don't take “bigger” to mean “big,” though; Cravings seats fewer than 20 diners. But such folks are treated to an upbeat, charming space where — on the right days — sunshine streams onto exposed brick walls from near floor-to-ceiling windows. Plants, a high ceiling, amusing pictures on an exposed wooden-slat wall and a personable staff also greet diners. So might the odor of varnish on wooden tables, because the radical renovation of the former Saigon Palace space was only recently completed.
Before ordering at the counter, scan the nearby roll of butcher paper for daily handwritten specials. During my visits, these were uniformly rewarding but tended to sell out quickly in the often-bustling spot. If you see the White Bean, Smoked Pork and Kale Soup ($3), get it — if hearty and delicious ham-and-bean soup jazzed up with Parmesan cheese, other veggies (primarily carrots) and Italian flair sounds good.
Another excellent recent special was the Green-Chorizo-Sausage Roll ($9.50), starring a seared, garlicky and zesty, fresh-tasting plump link made locally by the Butcher & Grocer. Also on the toasted soft hoagie roll: sauteed peppers and onions, crisp-edged, melted Monterey Jack cheese and a bright tomatillo-avocado salsa.
Moving to the recently updated single-page menu, the delicious Bulgogi Cheesesteak has been replaced with another beefy all-star: The quarter-pound Downtown Smash Burger ($8.50), created with house-ground beef sourced from the Butcher & Grocer. One of several sandwiches flattered by the buttery and wonderful toasted house brioche roll, the burger's garnishes include melted American cheese, pickles, shaved red onion, plus a rich-and-tangy house sauce made with roasted tomatoes, pickles, a little garlic and mayo.
My only issue with the delicious Cravings Club ($8.25) on toasted brioche is that the high-quality Gerber Amish Farm chicken breast meat on mine was a bit dry. This was partially overcome by thick-cut bacon, melted cheddar, a first-rate and lacy apple-Brussels-sprout slaw, plus rosemary aioli.
Going meatless? The Vegging Out ($8.25) is far from a vegetarian afterthought with its warm, roasted zucchini, peppers and mushrooms; goat cheese; pesto-like sauce; and “tahini-lentil spread.” Like many sandwiches here, it's modest-sized, so you might want to add a side of skillfully fried, herb-and-spice-dusted potato cubes and capers (Greek Hash, $3.25).
I was a fan of the summery All Chopped Up Salad, but it's been discontinued, so I'm looking forward to sampling the new Winter Greens Salad ($8) with arugula, spinach, watercress, Cambozola cheese and an “Ohio maple vinaigrette.”
Locally roasted Thunderkiss Coffee ($2.50) is the featured beverage in the early closing cafe. It tastes even better with treats from a rotating selection. Among these, I enjoyed the popular Bronut ($3) — a fried brioche “doughnut” — but I'd like it better with a smoother frosting.
I unequivocally liked the addictive, toffee-suggesting Malted Blondie Brownie ($2.50) and the two top-notch cookies I tried: the dense-and-chewy Mexican Hot Chocolate ($2.50) with a hint of cinnamon and faint tingle of chile; and the sweet-and-salty, texturally fun Milk Chocolate Pretzel ($2.50).