I had a love affair with Banana Bean Cafe when they first opened, as you could see in my original review. I was thrilled that an independent restaurant was creating dishes that were unusual for the area, and that they came up with interesting combinations of flavors, etc. But as the buzz for their previous location grew, and the inevitable growing pains of having the demand for your food far surpass the amount of business the location could reasonably support, the food and service suffered, it became impossible to get a table without reservations, and they fell out of my favor for a little while. So when I heard that they had moved to a bigger location on Greenlawn Avenue across from Berliner Park, I hoped beyond hope that this was just the thing that Banana Bean needed to become once again the great restaurant I knew they could be.
I am so glad that I gave them another shot. They have definitely redeemed themselves in my eyes, because my experience tonight was fabulous. I almost didn’t make it to Banana Bean for Restaurant Week, since our original reservations were for Rigsby’s (my husband overrode that decision and decided that Banana Bean Cafe would be his one pick for the week). Can I just say that I absolutely love their new space? Their space in German Village was way too cozy for my tastes, and I love the openness and light that this location provides. It suits the restaurant so much more than the Whittier space.
Since we arrived between 4-7PM (their happy hour), they brought us out a free basket of tortilla chips with a very spicy pineapple-habanero salsa. Even though I typically don’t like really spicy foods, this was a good burn, and I kept nibbling anyway. I don’t mind fire at all as long as I get flavor with it!
Even though it wasn’t on the Restaurant Week menu, my husband insisted that I get one a la carte item that he’s been drooling over, Ya-Ya’s Eggplant Fries ($7). These are served with a spicy chile sauce, but our server was kind enough to bring out a little bit of Spicy Island sauce for me, as well. The chile sauce is spicy, but has a nice sweet flavor to it. My favorite was a combination of the two. And eggplant fries? Who would have thought that something that sounds so run of the mill would taste so good? I think these have even managed to surpass sweet potato fries as my favorite pub food.
But, back to Restaurant Week. We pretty much decided to try all 6 menu items, so there were no repeats on this go-round.
I started with a cup of their Cuban Black Bean Soup, which was thick, flavorful, and redolent with the flavor of smoky chipotle. The green onions added a wonderful texture, and the manchego cheese and crema helped tame down the spiciness a bit.
Paul chose the Farm Stand Arugula “Cracker Jack” Salad with Country Ham, Caramel Corn, Spicy Peanuts, Buttermilk Blue and Apple Cider Vinaigrette. I was amazed at how well the flavors in this salad worked with one another – reading the description I was a bit worried, but the saltiness of the ham played off the sweetness and crunch of the popcorn and the peppery arugula was dressed beautifully with a sweet and slighty acidic vinaigrette. We did notice, however, that our salad didn’t have the Buttermilk Blue cheese, and we wonder how it would have tasted had it been there. We hope we’ll see it on the menu again one day to find out.
For my entree, I chose the Savannah “Surf and Turf”, which consists of a nicely grilled Brown Sugar Brined Pork Chop, BBQ Gulf Shrimp, Buttermilk Mashers, Fresh Skillet Beans, and Bourbon Molasses Red Eye Gravy. The amount of food in this entree was staggering, and our server told me that this is pretty much on par with the size of most of their dinner offerings. It was all prepared and plated beautifully, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. The shrimp were cooked perfectly – even though I’m not a shrimp lover, it makes me want to come back to try the other shrimp dishes on their menu.
My husband chose the Pan Roasted Florida Black Grouper with Rock Shrimp, Plantain Fufu, Blistered Spinach and Citrus Dulce de Leche. This one was literally a flavor explosion. So many differing flavor profiles that you wouldn’t think would work together, but just did. The savory fish, the combination of sweet, savory and garlic flavors in the plantain fufu (think plantain mashers, for lack of a better description), the citrus notes of the sauce. Another winner.
For dessert, I chose the Bananas Foster Creme Brulee with Fresh Berries. It turned out to be even better than I imagined it would be. Imagine a caramelized banana flavored custard, with the creme brulee crunch on top, topped with a combination of caramelized banana and fresh berries. Absolutely terrific. If this one isn’t on the regular menu, it should be.
The Chocolate Chile Bread Pudding with Chipotle Creme Anglaise and Caramelized Banana was unlike anything either one of us had ever tried before, in a good way. It was sweet and savory all at the same time, and almost meaty on its finish with the chipotle creme anglaise. I’m not usually a fan of super-sweet desserts, so this one was right up my alley. Again, if it’s not on the regular menu, it should be.
We were thrilled to death with our choice to spend the 2nd night of Restaurant Week at Banana Bean Cafe. It allowed us to fall in love with the place all over again. And since the new location is in our neck of the woods, I have the feeling that we’ll be stopping here regularly. Give it a try during Restaurant Week, because this is an amazing value for $30 per person.
If you’d like to go: Banana Bean Cafe, 340 Greenlawn Avenue, Columbus (Brewery District), 614.443.2262