Restaurant review: Sassafras Bakery adds strong savory dishes
A.J. Perry’s baking career sounds like a ready-made screenplay. Act 1 would be Perry learning the kitchen craft at her mother’s knee in an Ohio farmhouse. Though Perry eventually grows up to be a graphic artist, she always harbors a love and fascination for the arts of the oven.
This smoothly segues into Act 2, and Perry’s gig selling wildly popular pies at the Worthington Farmers Market; Perry makes these in her Gahanna apartment. Cut to 2013, and ex-graphic artist Perry is opening Sassafras Bakery in Worthington, right across the street from her farmers market stall.
Fade to a few months ago, and Perry is engaging another talented if itinerant chef — Matthew Heaggans of the Swoop! food truck, Bebe pop-ups, and (currently) Flatiron Bar and Diner — to help design savory menu additions for Perry’s flourishing business. Now cue to a shot of a restaurant critic waddling into Sassafras Bakery planning this review.
Sassafras occupies an utterly charming little space with reclaimed woodwork and canary-yellow walls — one decorated with pie pans. “Lamp shades” are made from cake pans. A cooking pot affixed with a tap is a serve-yourself “water cooler.” Whimsy and good cheer fill the room like the scent of just-baked sugar cream pie.
Head to the counter, where someone on the small staff probably can’t wait to improve your day by serving you something great. That will happen if you order the creatively imagined and expertly realized Turkey sandwich ($8).
Arriving on fantastic toasted ciabatta (baked by food truck veteran Matt Swint of Majita Breads) is a generous stack of thick-sliced, house-roasted warm meat that’s flavorful and juicy from being brined in lapsang tea. Combined with sharp cheddar cheese, butter lettuce, good tomatoes, pickled cauliflower and a smoky pimenton mayonnaise, it triggered a club sandwich-loving area of my brain.
Capitalizing on pork’s compatibility with apple, the Pork sandwich ($8) is another winner. Lean loin meat is apple-brined and flattered by chutney-like “apple ketchup” plus slices of Granny Smith. Shaved onion, melted provolone and Majita’s first-rate, puffy focaccia add to the fun.
The Vegetarian Jerk Mushroom ($8) ensures veg-heads aren’t neglected in the inventive sandwich department. Tropical accents from pineapple-mayo plus peppery and herby Jamaican-style spicing enliven “meaty” roasted criminis. The superior ciabatta roll also holds provolone and copious sprouts.
Sassafras’ large composed salads are texturally complex and also far from boring. The clever Farro ($8) offers toasted walnuts crushed and spiced to imitate chorizo. Roasted poblano strips and queso fresco amp up its Mexican character.
The pretty Roasted Carrot is even better. Celery jutting up from cool ricotta cheese, arugula, peanuts and quinoa provide interest, but warm carrot sticks doused in harissa are the star. If those sweet-and-zesty root vegetables were sold alone by the pound, I’d buy several.
Huge and good-tasting soups ($5) could’ve used some fine-tuning. An otherwise wonderful Broccoli and Cheese was too salty. And although the veggie-heavy Escarole with Parmesan tasted like soulful minestrone, it was served just-warm.
If a quiche is calling, answer it. Because from the puffy lemon-ricotta to a bacon, gouda and chive with gentle egg curds, those $4 slices feature intense flavors and masterful, robust-yet-flaky crusts.
Time for the happy ending montage — Sassafras’ marvelous desserts (most are $3-$4.50). Some recent favorites top Sassafras’ remarkable pie crusts with inspired fillings such as the custardy Indiana sugar cream aromatized with nutmeg and vanilla and the sweet-and-savory, almost molten “salty honey” pie. There are also beautiful cookies, rich brownies and the triple-threat “donut muffin” that tastes like great coffee cake.
Epilogue: Since adding wonderful lunch stuff to the bakery menu proved as easy as pie, I’m hoping for yet another Sassafras sequel.
Photos by Meghan Ralston
657 High St., Worthington