Restaurant review: The Angry Baker

G.A. Benton, Columbus Alive

"The more things change, the more they stay the same" applies uncannily well to the site of a decades-long succession of disparate-yet-vegetarian-friendly restaurants: 247 W. King Avenue.

Going back to the 1980s, that's where you found the groovy King Avenue Coffeehouse, a counterculture hot spot that eventually gave way to arty Dragonfly Neo-V - the "V" was for vegan - which segued into a renowned biodynamic establishment called Till Dynamic Fare.

To these, add the second Angry Baker Cafe and Bakery, open since September.

Fans of the original, scratch-cooking Angry Baker in Olde Towne East will find more of the same at this Victorian Village-area sequel. That means whimsical art, reclaimed wooden fixtures and mostly OK service in a hip and bustling, mid-priced, casual operation that caters to varied palates and diets.

But the King Avenue location brings new and improved changes, too. These include dinner service with a just-released menu featuring salmon and pea fritters, vegan meatloaf and lamb chops with pumpkin polenta; adult beverages; and a far roomier space than its cramped sibling.

You can take advantage of the enhanced drink menu with about a half-dozen draft beers ($5 each), a decent little wine selection (glasses are $7-$9) or with the lovely and inspired Ohio Apple Cider Mimosa ($6) made with Spanish Cava.

That mimosa is a marvelous match for a Pumpkin Oat Pancake ($2.75 a la carte). It's vegan and gluten-free - so not as springy as the usual thing - but you needn't be on a special diet to like this hearty, healthy and compelling dark flapjack with an oat-flecked, granola-type topping.

The cinnamon-scented French Toast Sandwich ($9.75), served with maple syrup, gets another thumbs up. A lighter-side spin on the croque monsieur, it stars puffy and excellent homemade brioche bread that is gently fortified with egg, pan fried and dusted with powdered sugar. Inside the sweet-and-savory package are thick slices of deli ham and melted Swiss cheese.

Good ingredients go into the Grits Breakfast Bowl ($10.25), but the whole doesn't equal the sum of its parts. That's because cheese grits are not compatible with sautéed apples, even if sautéed onions, a fried egg, sprouts and a balsamic drizzle do their best to obscure that fact.

Conversely, the components of the enormous Bacon and Kimchi Burger ($12.50) - one of the better burgers I've tried lately - fit together like a finished jigsaw puzzle. A great house brioche roll holds a thick and expertly seared, seriously juicy patty flattered by crisp bacon plus the yin-and-yang allure of melted cheddar playing off thick-cut kimchi.

Like all sandwiches here, it comes with a generous salad perked up by a creamy, herby and tangy dressing, or an always-vegan and usually terrific soup du jour such as a recent thick-as-a-bisque bowl of "creamy" roasted squash with a livening hint of curry. A mammoth side of redskin potato-wedge Home Fries ($2.50) was fine if a bit oily.

The Vegan Reuben ($10.50 with soup or salad) isn't going to fool enthusiasts of the genuine corned beef article, but it's still a pleasant sandwich - and it won't raise your cholesterol level. Killer house rye toast is filled with crisp strips of bacon-like homemade seitan garnished with Daiya brand "mozzarella," assertive sauerkraut and vegan-but-rich-tasting Russian dressing the color of scrambled eggs.

The relationship between Angry Baker's Thai Noodle Salad ($11.50) and Thai cuisine is faint at best. But, with its array of healthful, colorful and flavorful warm vegetables and its exemplary tofu treatment - marinated and crisp - I'll gladly order this big and winning ensemble again. My dining partner described it nicely by saying, "It's like a better version of something I used to get at the old King Avenue Coffeehouse."

The Angry Baker

247 King Ave., Victorian Village