Northstar Cafe (Short North) | Columbus, OH

September 10, 2009

Northstar Cafe
951 N. High St.

Columbus, OH 43201
(614) 298-9999
Open 9 am to 10 pm everyday
Accepts cash and credit cards

Date of Visit: Sunday, August 16, 2009 at 11:00 a.m.

IMPRESSIONS: Once upon a time I reviewed Northstar’s Beechwold location and gushed and gushed and gushed about how perfect the breakfast was. I don’t necessarily retract my praise for the restaurant – it’s still a solid breakfast, a Columbus institution, and a fine example of a restaurant with a well thought out food philosophy – but I like to think that time has tempered my taste (and hopefully my writing style, goodness).

For starters, I used to live within walking distance of this location – the original one, by the by – in Columbus’ Short North. So my wife and I frequented often, especially during the beautiful spring and summer months when we could sit on the patio with our Yellow Lab. Northstar was an easy favorite with easy favorite dishes: the Northstar burger, the salads, the flatbreads, the pancakes, and especially for me, the Big Burrito.

ATMOSPHERE: The interior of Northstar is both large and spacious, and small and close. Depends where you sit. The main dining room is wide open, with huge glass windows looking out at High Street and the patio. Branching off this is a smaller, cozier hallway that leads to the restrooms. The ceiling is lower here, so those tables are quieter and better for the mid-morning coffee-drinking studying crowd.

Seating is a mix of table sizes, a counter along the High Street window, some taller seats and tables around the pillars, and a small lounge area with stacks a magazines. Decor is a stylish modern that fuses the existing building elements with some dashes of new. Mostly light wood accents and modern lighting, accented by the curving slate wall around the kitchen and counter.

FOOD: Northstar has a limited breakfast menu – six or seven main items plus several a la carte – and they hit a few home runs.

Potatoes: big chunks, well seasoned, nice and brown.

The Cloud 9 Pancakes. Made with ricotta, which makes them fluffy and yet dense in just the right proportions. Sliced bananas on top, and real maple syrup. Honestly, some of the best pancakes I’ve ever had.

And the Big Burrito. I always get this when I’m having breakfast at Northstar. It costs $8 ($10 if you add the bacon, like I always do), but you can easily split it between two people. Sweet potatoes, onions, red peppers, cheddar cheese, fried eggs, black beans. And add the bacon. So good: it gets my vote for the one breakfast item that I would eat every day for the rest of my life, if forced. I guess that’s a pretty big vote.

SERVICE: Northstar’s service setup seems to work well. It’s designed to bring you up front to order your food, then move you out into the dining room. You take a number, get your mug for coffee or cup for soda, then find a table, and the food is brought out to you (except specialty drinks like the fresh orange juice or the smoothies). Etiquette (and signs) tell you that you can’t reserve a table until you’ve ordered, which is fair. Besides, even in its busiest moments, the line typically flows quickly enough that you don’t have to wait long. Just be prepared if you come with a big party during prime lunch or dinner time (or brunch time on the weekends).In terms of actual service, I’ve always encountered friendly people at Northstar, although there have been times when I’ve felt hurried out the door during a busy rush.Nothing that anyone has actually said, but just a general feeling. Also, Northstar tells you not to tip the staff – presumably because they’re paying their staff a good enough wage.

OVERALL: Like I said, I don’t visit Northstar all that often anymore, but every time I return – especially for breakfast – I’m reminded why it’s a favorite. I think they could stand to open a little earlier for the breakfast/coffee crowd, but they did expand their hours already. And the prices are a little higher – this is definitely not the place for your $5 eggs/bacon/potatoes/toast/coffee breakfast. But if you agree with their food philosophy of local, organic, sustainable food sources, it’s probably worth the price. And, really, the food tastes excellent.

One last note… I find it funny that Northstar is across the street from a ratty-looking White Castle.

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FOOD + TRAVEL WRITER

I go by Dr. Breakfast, but in addition to restaurants and recipes, I write about family travel, breweries and distilleries, the arts, outdoor fun, and so much more.

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