Linden Cafe (Facebook)
1393 Cleveland Ave. (map it!)
Columbus, OH 43211
Open Monday-Saturday, 8 a.m. – 2 p.m. (bfast served until 11 weekdays; all day Sat)
Accepts cash and credit cards
Vegetarian/vegan/gluten free? Y/N/N
Date of Visit: Tuesday, September 7, 2010 at 8:45 a.m.
IMPRESSIONS: I’ve been hearing about Linden Cafe for years, but have never known anyone who’s been. They do have a Facebook page, although it’s relatively dormant. But whispers around town say they have the best chicken and waffles in Columbus, and in doing some “research” into the dish for (614) Magazine, I paid this mainstay soul food joint a visit on a quiet Tuesday morning.
You’ll find the Linden Cafe at the southwest corner of 11th and Cleveland Avenues, nestled in the heart of South Linden. This intersection, known as the Four Corners Project, has been revamped in recent years. The surrounding buildings – like the one housing the Cafe – feature new brick and gleaning glass fronts. The cafe itself is easy to to drive by. Look for the pink neon sign above the door; you’ll find parking around back.
ATMOSPHERE: Tuesday morning is clearly a calmer time for them (although I’ve seen much busier times at later visits). Inside, the space is nice and new. Recreated tin ceiling, laminate floors, a counter built of stone, 11 tables, plus a simple, open kitchen. You can see the flattop, deep fryer, and waffle iron all in action.
Bright morning sun poured in through the huge windows. Relaxing jazz played over the speakers.
FOOD: Linden Cafe serves breakfast and lunch only. The breakfast menu is a single slim sheet, so your options aren’t plentiful, but I always prefer places that only do a few things really well. The breakfast menu features omelets (Sante Fe and the Nature’s Bounty veggie are their signatures), Breakfast Sandwiches, Pancakes, Morning Traditions (2 eggs + meat; give their turkey sausage a try), plus Sides & Drinks.
The real star of the show, however, is their Chicken and Waffles. Linden Cafe serves their signature dish all day, every day, and they’re often lauded the best in Columbus. This is a notion I gladly support.
I got to chat with owner Michael Mayfield, and he spilled the beans (or batter, actually) on their famous dish. He offers the option of chicken wings or tenders with your meal. The chicken is brined twenty-four hours, then seasoned and fried to order. Michael spikes the waffles with vanilla and nutmeg, then garnishes them with a lemon and your choice of side. Served with a small pot of syrup and, yes, melted butter.
And, oh, dear reader, the chicken and waffles are delicious. It’s a big portion of solid comfort food; I can’t imagine ordering anything else there. I chose the chicken tenders (generally don’t like bones in my breakfast), and they are super tender – just so moist and well seasoned. The waffles are thick, crispy, and almost cakey. They’re not soggy in the least, although I think the syrup is necessary. You can really taste the vanilla in the batter, and the combination of the sweet waffles and savory chicken is to die for.
I chose a side of hash browns. They were good, although I’m always suspicious when food comes out in blocks. Probably pre-frozen. But I can’t complain on the taste.
SERVICE: Service was very friendly and attentive, although I was one of only a handful of customers. Michael told me a little more about the business while I ate. The Cafe itself has been around for several years; he and his wife Tamara took it over in June of 2009 and headed up much of the refurb. While they gave the restaurant a new look, they knew enough to keep up the chicken and waffles tradition.
Even though the Cafe hustles and bustles, 75% of their business comes through catering. You can also rent the Cafe space itself, either the front room or a conference room in back. They also feature wifi for anyone who wants to linger. If you’re interested in coming back for the lunch menu, take a look at their daily specials like Meatloaf Monday, Turkey Tuesday, Wednesday Wings, Thursday Soul Food, and Friday Fish.
OVERALL: I’m still craving Linden Cafe’s food, so what does that tell you? The refurbished cafe is bright and cozy, the whole crew is welcoming, and man oh man those chicken and waffles are delicious. My vote for the best in Columbus!
-> my (614) Magazine write-up on chicken and waffles (includes blurb on Linden Cafe)