First look: Downtown's Red Velvet Cafe

Beth Stallings, Columbus Crave

Recent Ohio State grad Krizzia Yanga was out with friends at 16-Bit Bar and Arcade when she saw a "for lease" sign in the window of a nearby storefront. Looking around the bustling Fourth Street business district, she was taken aback by how much was going in this part of town.

"It's such a great place for a small business," says Yanga, who had been looking for a spot to open a Columbus location of her parent's popular Pickerington Red Velvet Cafe. "And seeing how much of a collaborative neighborhood it is encouraged us to go through with that spot."

Red Velvet Cafe opened in a quaint brick-walled storefront in March and has been serving coffee, cupcakes and Filipino-style sandwiches to a healthy crowd of lunch-goers since. When the shop first opened in Pickerington, they served classic deli sandwiches. But then Yanga's parents began experimenting, filling paninis with traditional Filipino-style dishes.

"My mom still makes all of the dishes. They're traditional family recipes that have been passed on forever," Yanga says. There's pulled pork and sweet ham basted in a pineapple and maple syrup marinade is a family get-together staple.

The most popular is the Chicken Adobo-a dish Yanga says could be considered the national dish of the Philippines. "It has the perfect mix of savory and spice. It's marinated and slow-cooked in soy sauce and vinegar with spices. It's hearty but not too heavy," she says.

Most sandwiches have meaty stars-"Filipino food is centered around meat," Yanga explains-but for those going meatless, order the spicy and fatty off-menu Sriracha avocado grilled cheese. Just like most of the paninis on the menu, this sandwich is slathered in a sweet mayo that's been blended with relish and roasted red peppers dresses most sandwiches here. It's Red Velvet's house dressing that pulls inspiration from a typical Filipino spread smoothed on bread for a mid-day snack.

While Yanga's mom gets the credit for the cooking, the coffee bar is all her dad. He's always had a deep interest in coffee and the way it's prepared in different culture, Yanga says. Showcasing how various cultures brew and serve coffee was something they wanted to bring to Columbus. So in addition to ice and cold-brew coffee, drip and pour-over (all using beans from One Line), there's also dense Turkish brews and Vietnamese (the most popular), coffee sweetened with condensed milk.

The Cuban is worth seeking out, served traditionally with sugar whipped into the first extraction of espresso. It's sweet, sure, but that only heightens the complexity of the beans.

There's also a variety of bubble teas, matcha lattes and seasonal smoothies, like the light and refreshing watermelon. Grab a cupcake on your way out. Five or six flavors are offered daily, and taunt under glass at the counter. There are two you should look out for: crème brulee and taro.