Restaurant review: Captain Cream Cheese & Late Night Slice

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

The bright purple flowers growing out of a broken old coffee percolator seemed an apt metaphor for the two nonconformist businesses.

The idiosyncratic ventures in question are morning and evening food purveyors operating, tag-team style, out of a ramshackle shed the two concessionaires take turns occupying. Their shared site is an unscenic parking lot in the Short North.

And like those coffee-potted flowers, which sparkle in the homely lot near a few non-descript tables, these renegade "restaurants" have brought a blast of life and color to their wonky space.

Manning the food shed's helm from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. (or as long as supplies last) is Captain Cream Cheese. The affable captain specializes in eccentric, homemade, hole-less bagels and brashly flavored cream cheeses sold at damn cheap prices. And they are great.

I recommend you not get hung up on how classically "bagely" the Captain's creations are, and just relax and enjoy their fabulously chewy, dense and toasty textures and their unusually yeast-bomby flavors. So yeasty that, when partnered with one of the Captain's fantastic cream cheeses, the extra tartness imparts an attractive sourdough bread-like quality.

The Captain also sells soups (but was out when I visited), good, homemade hummus ($4 - stout, rich and garlicky) paired with crunch-tastic bagel chips, plus some highly recommended eggy breakfast platters and sandwiches.

Of course you can score the Captain's booty to go, but if you cop a squat on his parking lot deck, it affords a primo porthole onto the sea of people buoying up and down the north end of the Short North. In good weather, that's what I prefer.

Thus recently, I sat near a young lady who was reading Voltaire as I navigated my way through the Captain's outstanding "flagship" bagel, the Big Italian ($3 - a floppy six-ouncer with provolone, Italian herbs and peppadew peppers worked into the dough) with knock-your-socks-off jalapeno and Hocking County-ramp cream cheeses ($.75 each).

The great-tasting homemade bagel and alley-like, shackside setting caused me to speculate on the improbable existence of this puny, overachieving food booth. Was it a result of our unstable economy or a proclamation of fierce independence? Probably a bit of both.

In any event, I hope this fun, beach-bummy enterprise with its ruggedly artisinal attitude stays exactly as it is, right here, for a good, long time.

When the sun goes down - and the Short North pub crawlers stagger out - act two of the food shed show takes the open-air stage. And like its daytime counterpart, Late Night Slice (LNS) proves that attitude, good cheap eats and a sense of humor can go a very long way.

To give you a taste of LNS's punky personality, here's a few observations:

• LNS was projecting episodes of the brilliant meta-sitcom "Arrested Development" on a brick wall last weekend.

• LNS seems to attract high-voltage imbibers instead of Voltaire readers.

• One of LNS's squeeze-bottle pizza condiments bears a picture of Paris Hilton - it's called "Slut Sauce" (it's an orgy of all the sauces mixed together).

• LNS has a mobile truck that carries this motto: "Eat, Pay, Leave" (righteously sending up that preciously written best seller "Eat, Pray, Love"). The license plate reads: "Cheezus."

• LNS's printed manifesto begins by stating their right "to close early, open late, or remain closed any day for any reason," moves on to warning LNS isn't recommended "if you are in a hurry, sensitive or accident-prone" and ends on "NO SNIVELING!"

As for the pizza - it's pretty good stuff. Thin-crusted, with an herby and puffy edge, it's topped with a garlicky tomato sauce plus decent ingredients. When cooked long enough (you might have to ask for an extra run through the conveyor-belt oven), it actually reminded me of the very fine slices sold at Sarefino's in the North Market.

My favorites were the "Gourmet" (fresh basil, fresh mozzarella and fresh tomato) and the Spicy-Ass Pepperoni (piled high with banana peppers and pepperoni slices).

Just as I do the Captain, I wish LNS a long and successful run.