G. A. Benton
fans of excellent Emmett’s Coffee in the Brewery District have more options now because a second, more spacious branch of the casual yet sophisticated restaurant has opened and features items not available at the original, pocket-sized Emmett’s Cafe.
Bonus: This new Emmett’s resides in the newly restored, bustling, and historic Open Air building at Neil Avenue and West Hudson Street in Old North Columbus.
Notable: Emmett shares ownership with Kelley Co. Real Estate, the company overseeing the renovation of the Open Air multipurpose building.
Chic old school decor
A wonderfully preserved and wonderfully remodeled three-story brick school building with highly stylized detailing, Open Air was erected in 1927 and designed by Howard Dwight Smith, who is best known for another of his architectural projects: Ohio Stadium.
Exploring the remodeled Open Air – Emmett’s occupies a downstairs room – quickly brought to mind adjectives such as hip, chic, hip and fashionable. But the establishment didn’t strike me as ‘too cool for school’. In fact, the mixed-use center inspired me with a much rarer answer: it made school cool.
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Emmett’s 2.0 occupies a bright, modern, and pretty space filled with natural light, neutral tones, and plants. It’s often packed, but if there’s no room on the (about four dozen) seats at the blond wood tables, customers can eat their take-out food from hardwood stalls opposite the school lockers in hallway (pass not required). Seats on the terrace are planned for April.
Whether on a ceramic plate or in a cardboard box, expect tasty dishes that, like the place that cooked them, enliven a familiar setting with contemporary flair.
The Crispy Chicken Sandwich ($14) and Hudson Street Burger ($15) — both exclusive to the Open Air location and served with salt-crusted, crispy baked fingerling potatoes — are among the best new metamorphoses of fast food.
Rather than cheap meat, the burger featured a sizable patty of high quality wagyu beef. It’s topped with tons of American cheese, “special sauce” (made with mayonnaise, ketchup, and Worcestershire), a nice toasted bun, and sliced onions and sweet pickles that tone down the richness.
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Although accurately titled, the Terrific Crispy Chicken ($14) might add “spicy” to its description. His panko-crusted cutlet straddling buns was given a jaw-dropping side dish of chili aioli accented by emboldened pickle coleslaw.
The salads are also outstanding
The heavy Open Air Salad ($14) was no slouch either. Turmeric-flavoured roasted cauliflower combined with four fine cumin-seasoned falafels to create appealing curry notes. Add pickled onions, goat cheese, roasted beets, toasted almonds, fresh greens, and “whole lemon dressing” and you have a vibrant, healthy, and delicious lunch.
Top quality homemade croutons, small intact romaine leaves and a creamy but lemony dressing fused together in an enjoyable Caesar salad ($10). Tip: To dramatically increase its modest size, order an extra Silky Salty Smoked Salmon ($5).
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Breakfast has healthy options
The Schiller Bowl ($13) is a salad-inspired approach to breakfast. With a quinoa base enriched with beets, kale, squash, mushrooms and bell peppers, this might seem like a curious revelation. But the skillful veggie roasting and seasoning plus poached eggs and Hollandaise sauce resulted in a compelling, vibrant and wholesome riff on Eggs Benedict. Plus, it’s more interesting and a dollar less than the more traditional Old North Breakfast ($14) – a perfectly refined version of ham and eggs put together with prosciutto, arugula and good toast.
I should note that the toast was semi soft when I got it. Likewise, while always super friendly, Emmett’s service wasn’t always prompt.
And crunchy, mouth-watering textures came at the expense of some roasted fry and chorizo from my fantastic Meat & Tato Breakfast Sandwich ($10.50) black-cooked in spots. And the additions—bananas, sweet and salty butter, and serious maple syrup—helped overcome minor dryness in my huge, warm, hearty, cinnamon-flavored, and flavorful buns ($12).
I mention such finicky people because my expectations are very high here. And with other treats such as the huge crispy choco-tahini ($4.50), liquefied ice cream latte ($6), and healthy-yet-delicious green juice ($8), those stellar expectations usually have been satisfied.
Emmett’s Outdoor Cafe
Or: 2571 Neil Avenue, University District
Contact: 614-670-7702, www.emmettscafe.com
Hours: 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily
Price scale: $6.50 to $15
Atmosphere: Located in a wonderfully restored and historic old brick school building, this upbeat, often busy and attractive modern cafe has natural light and abundant plants as well as super friendly, if not always prompt, service; patio seating is scheduled for April.
Children’s menu: no
Liquor license: no
Quick click: Elegant and delicious dishes and drinks that often use healthy ingredients are prepared in this very welcome second branch of a chic cafe.