Restaurant review: Tasi Cafe

G.A. Benton, Columbus Alive

If Tasi Cafe were a movie, it'd be one of those unassuming but really smart little indie films that, at the end of the year, you realize you liked better - and would rather revisit more often - than a bunch of big-budget blockbusters you sat through. Chalk that up to the anyone-can-afford-it ticket price, super-high-quality production values, a never-a-false-note script (graceful in several languages) and direction whose artfulness lies in a casual elegance which eschews bombast and pretension. And with that, I'll let the movie metaphors fade to black.

For an urban and urbane breakfast, brunch, lunch and/or (very early) dinner with an adult drink but kiddie costs, Tasi Cafe is impossible to beat. Endowed with a lengthy chalkboard menu whose items rarely scrape the $10 ceiling but are rife with scratch-made "everyday" Rigsby's-style-quality (the cafe's owner is Kent Rigsby's wife, Tasi), it's no wonder this place's communal tables - there are a few two-tops, too - are frequently packed with an eclectic and sophisticated clientele that mirrors Tasi's staff.

Breakfast ranges from great baked goods with an Eleni Christina provenance (the Rigsby's-run bakery across the street) such as a muffin du jour ($2.50) or an indulgent chocolate croissant ($3.25) to the kind of cooking that typifies Tasi - comforting favorites gussied up with top-notch ingredients and international panache.

So there's Buttermilk Pancakes with real Ohio maple syrup and sweet and spicy bacon ($7) and frittate (stuffed with chorizo and potatoes, or mozzarella and roasted tomatoes, or salmon and sour cream) served with a nice little salad ($8) and neat Huevos Rancheros ($7). Two of my morning go-tos are a Latinized play on Eggs Benedict ($7, poachers atop creamy black bean cakes accessorized by tomatoes, terrific crusty bread and a light and lightly spicy jalapeno butter sauce) and a lavish little Upper East Side-style nosh of Potato Latkes ($7, honest, if a tad soft) topped with chivey sour cream and first-rate house smoked salmon.

Tasi offers an alluring selection of excellent sandwiches suitable for all seasons and reasons. If you're looking to munch through a bridge between breakfast and lunch, choose the rich Monte Cristo ($9). Between finger-shining buttery challah French toast, this sweet-and-salty beauty holds really good ham, melted gruyere and an egg.

Daily soups ($5) are also outstanding. Often these speak with a perfect Italian accent, like a wonderful recent ribollita (hearty, with a bean and tomato base strengthened by kale and pancetta) and an intense Italian Sausage and Lentil that had peas, carrots, potatoes and a hint of spicy heat.

For a full-on feast that could probably feed two, the Oven Roasted Chicken is a blue-ribbon winner ($10 -takes 20 minutes, meaning it's a great call-ahead, get-and-go, reheat-and-eat later dinner option). You'll get a huge half bird properly cooked and smeared in a tangy, lemony gravy; it's served with a ton of extra-crispy potato cubes and a mini-green salad.

On the lighter side is a lovely chilled Pulled Chicken Salad ($9). It's refreshing with its lemony, olive-oil-based dressing and fresh crunch from celery, onions and ribbons of sliced romaine lettuce.

The red-carpet-ready Tasi Cafe burger ($9) is such a breakout star on Tasi's current menu that I believe it deserves more movie metaphors. Arriving with an entourage of crispy housemade chips, its leading man is fashioned from glamorous grass-fed Pat La Frieda beef, has a sexy sear on its exterior, and is handsomely dressed with feta, onion and a designer "Evoo roll."

Tasi Cafe

680 North Pearl St

614- 222-0788