Restaurant Review: Roots Cafe
You don’t have to buy into Roots Cafe’s mission, in order to appreciate the food. That said, an evaluation of the edibles alone offers only a tiny window into what it’s all about.
Roots Cafe was developed with the Mid-Ohio Food Bank inside Reeb Avenue Center on the South side. The center is in an abandoned school building, in the middle of a fairly residential neighborhood that’s seen better days. Reeb is a community center, it’s also been called a “hub of hope” and a “beacon for change” in the area. It aims to contribute jobs, childcare, and all sorts of development resources to members of the community.
At the side door, and down a few steps, is the Roots Cafe. It’s directly across from a little market, and the interior entrance can be a little confusing. Follow the cafe seating and eventually you’ll turn a corner to find an order counter.
Roots doesn’t promise artisanal eats, and it doesn’t promise free range or organic. It does pledge to offer fresh, nutritious, affordable foods. And it succeeds.
The menu is printed on cardstock, listing sandwiches, paninis, entrees, and salads. The Clarfield Salad ($6 — pictured up top) actually does have a mildly fancy description, it boasts “Urban Farms of Central Ohio greens”. The frilly greens are soft and velvety, uniformly dressed with a mildly sweet vinaigrette that ties it together with fresh mandarin orange chunks, sprinkles of feta and pickled red onion.
From the entree section, you can customize the Vegetable Alfredo Pasta ($6) with grilled chicken (add $2). That was the win of the day. As delivered, the order yielded perfectly steamed broccoli, long strips of soft zucchini, and sliced grilled chicken in a cheesy alfredo with whole wheat pasta. Typically, kitchens like to drown guests in pasta noodles, because it’s a low-cost filler. Not here; instead, the dish is laden with vegetables and meat. That’s delivery on a promise to be nutritious, it just so happens that nutritious arrives alongside delicious.
In the sandwich department, the BLT ($8) uses a multigrain bread to team a classic combo of bacon, lettuce and tomato with avocado and a spiked mayo -the additions make it interesting, without killing the pure joy of a classic BLT. Even the Jive Turkey ($8) has personality, and putting personality into a turkey sandwich is an accomplishment. Between slices of a seedy rye bread are layers of soft deli turkey, swiss cheese, mildly briny pickle slices, and a super-fun sweet-and-sour braised cabbage and carrot combo that works as relish.
There’s a bean salad that comes with sandwiches, it’s a chunky, textural foil with a light mix of beans and herbs.
And then, dessert? It’s impossible to stand at the order counter, two-inches from gooey brownies and tall, rounded chocolate chip cookies, without distraction. Saying “yes” to both qualifies as a cheap ($1 each) and heady, very chocolate-y thrill that will make you wish you ordered milk.
As for the prices, they’re suggested. Patrons can pay the suggested price, they can pay more to subsidize a meal for a future guest, or they can volunteer time to pay for their meal. The default option is just paying the normal price, but we paid extra, anticipating something wonderful worth sharing with others.
We still got more than we paid for.
Roots is mostly a weekday lunch-time operation. You can find it at 280 Reeb Avenue.
For more information, visit www.reebavenuecenter.org/cafe/.
Food photos by Miriam Bowers Abbott. Building photo by Walker Evans.