Twinkle, twinkle, little Star

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Clintonville's Evening Star Cafe is tucked away in - you guessed it - a ho-hum little strip mall. Yet somehow this pleasant, clean and bright place manages to both exceed and embrace its bland setting.

It's a modest neighborhoody coffee shop that serves breakfast all day long. It's a solid lunchtime option that exhibits a deft touch with a list of reliable sandwiches served with righteously cooked french fries (proud regulars swear by the cheeseburger).

It has a good measure of Asian character that seeps into a few appetizers, entrees and chalkboard specials. It has a fully stocked bar. And, hearteningly, it does this all at outright cheap prices, under independent ownership and with a hardworking staff of what seems like only two or three people.

Walking past the small patio into this quiet and wee restaurant, it feels simultaneously generic yet quaint. Its no-fuss, no-stain tablecloths are sunny yellow oilcloths with grapevines splashed onto them. Walls are painted in alternating flat, bright tones like blue, green, red and yellow.

Decor-wise, adornments hang higgledy-piggledy and mostly herald established brand names or retro "Euro bistro" miscellany such as "Nestle Chocolat," "Campari" and so forth. If the TV is on, a regular (they seem to comprise a large fraction of business) will likely switch it to a preferred channel.

A rocking way to get things rolling is with an adult beverage - especially since the pour is deep yet the price is shallow (try a spicy Bloody Mary). Then for breakfast, there's bagels, muffins and morning sandwiches ($1.50-$5), which can be light (with cream cheese) or not-so-light (with sausage, egg and cheese).

Hungrier munchers would do well to start with the Star Breakfast ($6). That three-egg mixed scrambler incorporated strips of deli ham, diced onion, a smidgeon of cheese and the place's distinct, good breakfast potatoes (thin, golden brown chip wedges speckled with black pepper) into a loose, satisfying mass.

The dandy tubers also accompanied a Vegetable Omelet ($6). That one was big and fluffy and easy on the cheese, if heavy on the crunchy veggies - which were diced onions, peppers, tomatoes and, unusually, sweet cooling cucumbers.

Moving away from the expected meals with eggs, Evening Star shone particularly brightly with its wonderful, if simple (and Russian-like), homemade Chicken Vegetable Soup ($3 for a big bowl). Chicken broth and thin strands of chicken mixed with copious clumps of cabbage, celery, carrots and a touch of tomato to make a light yet completely comforting chilly-weather remedy.

Also stellar was a (seemingly perennial) chalkboard appetizer special of Asparagus Shrimp Rolls (three for $5). Thin wonton wrappers tightly bound shrimp to a green spear, and the whole deal got deep fried. The rewarding result yielded a rich, nifty crunch plus attractively darkened crispy asparagus. A warm, sweet Asian mayo-based sauce was the literal icing on that inspired starter.

From the sandwich board (there's almost 20 listed), the hamburger was indeed a standout. It was fresh ground beef, hand-pattied and cooked juicily to order with a slight crust - in short, an old-fashioned homey thing probably similar to what your loving mother once made for you.

As with most sandwiches - which all cost $6.25 - it came on a nicely toasted bun with crisp, carefully selected leaf lettuce and wispily sliced onions; oh, and sided with crispy great fries that weren't greasy and were sprinkled with black pepper.

Also bound by bread, I had: a reuben (solid, with grilled rye and standard deli corned beef); the chicken ranchero (two thin pan-seared chicken breast cutlets with roasted red peppers and ranch dressing); and grilled pork loin (a smallish slice that, if a tad chewy, was made interesting by a sweet, salty stir-fry sauce uniting a ton of dark-cooked onions).

The Evening Star also has a couple of entrees (like fusiony pastas), and my favorite from that bunch was the golden tilapia ($8.25). It was two honkingly huge filets given a great Southern-fried-chicken treatment and paired with steamed broccoli enlivened by a mild garlic and sesame-oil seasoning.

In the end, though this place can occasionally transcend its very decent dinery grub (with that soup, tilapia and asparagus starter), even when it doesn't wholly rock your world, it will likely have you happily leaving while humming a catchy little tune.

Evening Star Cafe

5060 N. High St., Clintonville