IHOP and Waffle house are decent go-tos for aficionados of syrup sodden breakfasts, but for those who want to take the pancakes to the next level, there is only one destination: Zen Cha Tea Salon.
Actually, there is more than one destination, as Zen Cha has three locations; one in the Short North, one in Bexley, and a Downtown location that made its debut this fall. And while plenty of downtown eateries close up shop on Saturdays and Sundays, Zen Cha brings out its best stuff for weekend diners: brunch.
Consider an order of Blueberry Lavender Pancakes ($9.95). It’s an artfully arranged pile of cakes topped with a swirl of whipped cream and bias-sliced bananas. Each of the three cakes is loaded with fresh blueberries, and is accompanied by syrup (with lavender that magically accentuates the blueberry-ness of it) that soaks it in sweetness.
Hitting the right flavor notes is something Zen Cha does especially well.
There’s also bright, cheery Maui Pancakes ($9.95) with an addictive mango syrup that again highlights the restaurant’s ability to find a naturally good flavor, and intensify it in a wonderful way.
Beyond the pancakes, there are waffles too. The Strawberry Sunrise Waffle ($9.75) is about as conventional as things get at Zen Cha. It’s the crunchy sort of sturdy waffle, with a vaguely fermented flavor. It’s topped with whipped cream and strawberry slices and teamed with a concentrated strawberry syrup that’s ten times more natural-tasting than anything found at a pancake chain.
The Masala Chai Waffle ($9.95) trades in the traditional yeasty waffle flavor for the exotic spiciness of Chai. It works shockingly well with traditional maple syrup.
Zen Cha’s selection of pancakes and waffles is impressive: the menu also lists Earl Grey pancakes with raisins and apples, pancakes involving Green Tea powder, and an “Arabian Night” waffle that teams citrus with dates and nuts.
Although its creative approach to the sweet stuff puts Zen Cha on the map, there are plenty of options for savory sorts of characters: omelettes, grits, and eggs with hollandaise. The French Style Quiche ($9.50) is excellent (and it can be found on the weekday lunch menu also). What distinguishes the quiche is the buttery-ness of its crust. It outshines all the other elements. At brunch, the quiche is teamed with a heap of diced potatoes and a nicely dressed salad of fresh greens.
For those who prefer less breakfast-y items, there are some mainstays from the daily menu. If the Soup of the Day ($4.95) is mushroom, it’s highly recommended. The mushroom soup is a curious concoction that is neither brothy nor traditionally creamy. It’s a dark brown brew that hides slivers of mushrooms beneath its surface. Every slurp tastes like concentrated mushrooms –and that’s a good thing.
Also found throughout the day are the house Chinese Dumplings ($5.75), the chicken versions are plump pockets of poultry, made interesting with a soy sesame sauce. No complaints, but the dumplings can’t compete with the pancakes.
The downtown Zen Cha Tea Salon can be found at 19 E. Gay Street. Brunch is served on Saturdays and Sundays from 10am-3pm. Beyond the world of brunch, the restaurant is open Mondays through Saturdays from 10am-9pm.
For more information visit www.zen-cha.com.
Photos by Walker Evans.