Review: Cap City Diner (Columbus, OH)

I have a dream.

A dream that one day the old Vinyl/Diner on Sycamore will be a diner again. Maybe it’ll be a little upscale (would you like foie with your eggs, sir?), but it’ll be open late and serve things that are fried and really good meatloaf. Community members and people who come to OTR just for the bar scene congregate for good food and good service.

You can stop laughing now. It’s not that far fetched.

So when I hopped online at Zagat’s looking for a place for brunch, I found Cameron Mitchell’s Cap City Fine Diner. You may know Mitchell’s Fish House in Newport and West Chester– same guy. Someone referred to him as the Jeff Ruby of Columbus, and that seems to be true. As both Terry and I like Mitchell’s (one of our big bonding moments was “You like the Chilean Sea Bass Shanghai? That’s the only thing I order there!” Yeah, I know.), we figure we’d try one in Mitchell’s hometown of Columbus when we were there for Podcamp Ohio a couple of weeks ago. This was actually our second meal in Columbus (I’ll write about the first one later) and all we wanted was some sort of upscale brunch-type food. We didn’t quite get it (but that isn’t really a bad thing).

This is not the place to go on a diet. They start you off with cinnamon rolls, fresh out of the oven. Cream cheese frosting, cinnamon– they’re not the best I’ve ever had, but a very unexpected start.

I read on Zagat’s that the potato chips were to die for, and mentioned it to Terry, not thinking we’d order it. I mean, who eats potato chips with– I kid you not– alfredo sauce and blue cheese for breakfast? We did. It was in the interest of science and my readers or something. Crispy, kettle-style chips, freshly fried topped with alfredo and blue cheese. Stop my beating heart, no pun intended.

I had a bit of a hard time deciding what to order. I thought about the vegetable plate– I wanted something light, considering the heart-attack-on-a-plate I just nibbled on– but then someone nearby me ordered it and it looked sort of sad, a bit like someone said, “We need something vegetarian, let’s take our side dishes and pile them on a plate!” That was, indeed, the only vegetarian dish on the menu. I ended up with the salmon, probably the least diner-y thing on the menu. It was similar to things I’ve ordered at Mitchell’s Fish House: moist and tender, flavorful, with nice sticky rice and a really great citrus sauce. However, it wasn’t anything special, and it wasn’t terribly diner-y.

Terry went for the diner experience, and it was one of a limited number of dishes that really said “diner”: meatloaf and mashed potatoes with gravy. The meatloaf was tender, almost soft (I am positive that it was made from a blend of meats– probably beef/pork/veal) and the cloud of mashed potatoes was seasoned with garlic and onion and topped with fried onions. The gravy was made with barbecue sauce (Terry begged me to recreate it; I’ll see what I can do) and he proclaimed it the best non-homemade meatloaf he’s had in years, and some of the best gravy (excluding mine. Smart man.). It was pretty darn good, and exactly what I imagine when I think “upscale diner food”– or, as Mitchell puts it, “Fine Diner”.

We didn’t order dessert. Are you kidding? We’d never make it home. This was a fun place for a Sunday morning, and it has won several “best brunch” awards. I’m not so sure about that– they didn’t have a lot of brunch items on the menu– but it was fun. It only fueled my dreams of a real diner in the old Diner on Sycamore– anyone want to pay me and a staff to do it? I promise it’ll have good meatloaf and pies to die for…Cap City Fine Diner and Bar on Urbanspoon

  • Cin Twin1

    Nice to learn something about the foodie scene in our neighbor city!

    You mentioned the best non-homemade meatloaf….got any good easy meatloaf recipes to share? I have had so many bad ones I might be scarred. I did see a recipe where you make them in muffin cups.

  • Julie Niesen

    Ack, muffin cups! Those always dry out. You need to have the right balance of meat, moisture and breadcrumbs to get it right.

    The recipe I use is from Best Recipe/Cook’s Illustrated. It’s found here (but I think you have to pay to get it). I plan on making it soon (even though it’s SO heavy for summer), and I’ll write all about it.

    http://www.cooksillustrated.com/recipe.asp?recipeids=1728

  • Dan

    I LOVE Cap City. I get the Meatloaf every time.

    I would love to own a late night restaurant serving breakfast food at like 3:00 am. If there are any investors out there . . I think it could do really well.

  • Toddy-O

    Here is my tried and true meat loaf recipe. I do this on the grill about once a month or so (yes, even in the winter). And it will not require ketchup. Mashed potatoes is definitely required with this meal!

    Before making the mixture:

    Take 4 LARGE white or yellow onions, cut ends off, cut in half at its equator. Pop most of the onion out, leaving the two outer rings. (USE one of the popped onion core for your meatloaf mixture-see above)

    Pull and make 4 18″ Reynolds Wrap Aluminum foil sheets

    Meatloaf mixture:
    2 lbs ground beef (73% fat)
    1 sleeve Zesta saltines (do not use Sunshine, has to be Zesta)
    1/4 large onion diced and sauteed
    2 eggs
    8 ounce package of shredded cheddar
    1/4 cup half and half
    Kosher salt (usually a palm full)
    Pepper (not a lot…maybe 5-7 turns of a peppermill)

    Hand blend mixture and divide into four portions. Take each portion and form a softball sized ball. Take one of the popped onion shells and cup the meatloaf ball (a meatloaf inside an onion)

    Wrap each filled onion tightly with the foil.

    Either grill for 45 minutes or bake in an elevated foil-lined pan for one hour at 400 degrees.

    Let them rest for 15 minutes.

    Unwrap carefully. There will be some liquid (grease and onion water). Discard that with the foil.
    The outer layer of onion will be either carmelized or carbonized.

    Place on top of the mashed potatoes.

    The meatloaf will be juicy. One per person.

    (Tip: to remove the mixture from your hands after mixing and forming, I have found using Dawn liquid removes it fast and without much fuss)

  • Julie Niesen

    Yours is very similar to the America’s Test Kitchen version, though theirs includes ketchup (and I’m a big ketchup-in-my-meatloaf fan). Yum! Now I’m hungry and it’s only 9 AM…

  • vudutu

    Julie,
    Potato chips for breakfast? Not sure I could do that, his place looks tasty but not very healthy, if he opened one here he could take a cue from Tom Waits and call it “Heart attack on Vine”!

    A note you might think of joining some of the chefs who have banned Chilean sea bass from their establishments because of the problems associated with it. Because of it’s popularity it is fished illegally and causes a lot of harm to the environment.

    “Chilean sea bass, it’s been called the “perfect” fish, but there is a dirty, little secret many patrons don’t know … It’s not really sea bass, and not really Chilean anymore. Its real name is a lot less glamorous: the Patagonia toothfish.”

    “According to Seafood Watch, the Chilean sea bass is currently on the list of fish that American consumers who are sustainability-minded should avoid.”

    Here is a piece NBC did on it

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/12939001/

  • liz

    oh my god i love cap city diner! i ate there while i was in columbus taking the bar. i LOVE the meatloaf! good choice terry!

  • Kate The Great

    Your blog is taunting me!

    My tastebuds are sweating at the very vision of those cinnamon buns and my stomach is rumbling quite loudly.

    I always check in at the most inconvenient times – the occasions when I’m either being held captive by my office work or my living room couch.

    And dammit – I don’t have a bite to eat at either location.

    Thanks for letting me live vicariously…

  • Allison

    Great review! I ate there about a year ago and I was just thinking I’d like to go back and try it again. It’s definitely an all-bets-off place nutritionally speaking. On my visit at dinner time, we were given a basket of rolls glazed with melted butter. I haven’t seen the likes of those outside of my kentucky elementary school’s cafeteria.

    I’m enjoying reading your blog– I’ve just started my own cincy food blog. Great to see other food lovers and writers are out there!

  • Julie Niesen

    Kate– Bwahaha. I am an enabler of the first degree. I’m not the person you ask to talk you out of makeup or a handbag or a new dress or a fattening dinner. I say, “GO FOR IT!” I’m really bad that way, but my friends will tell you that I’m telling the truth.

    Allison– thank you! I’m so glad you like it. I really need to expand to more recipes– I swear I cook, but the reviews tend to take over.

  • KT

    I live around the corner from Cap City. Best meatloaf in town, and those chips ROCK! Shame you missed the carrot cake. Also outstanding. If you want brunch in Columbus go to Jason’s. I promise you will love it. Or your mileage back! Best brunch in Columbus bar none. If you like to travel for food go to Clevelands West End tavern for Sunday brunch. French toast stuffed with blueberry cream cheese!
    http://www.jasonsrestaurantbar.com/locations.cfm

  • Julie

    Vudutu– it wasn’t really breakfast, because we didn’t get there until noon! It wasn’t very healthy at all.

    I’ve heard about the overfishing of Chilean Sea Bass (just realized the whole Patagonian Toothfish thing the other day while reading Reichl’s book). I think I’ll do a little research on sustainable fish and do a post. Thanks for the inspiration!

    Allison: Thanks for reading! Glad you like the blog, and I’ll check out yours.

    KT: Must try the carrot cake. I adore good carrot cake. And I’ll add Jason’s to the list, too!

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