Restaurants have the power to transport their guests to new places.
The vast majority don’t — they are simply a meal that falls somewhere on a sliding scale of satisfaction that rarely goes beyond a six or seven out of 10. But once in a while you stumble across a destination that combines flavorful food, interesting atmosphere, smart décor and delightful service that work together in a symphony to help erase the worries of the day and let you forget where you are for a while.
Over the years I’ve found Coldwater Cafe in Tipp City to be one of these very special places.
The Miami County restaurant, founded in 1994, is a quick 20-minute jaunt from downtown Dayton. Once you’ve arrived in the quaint downtown, the restaurant will begin to charm you the minute you step through its doors.
Housed in a regal former bank building, the exterior doesn’t even begin to hint about what’s inside.
The cozy décor, peppered with flourishes of European-inspired flair, is broken up into several rooms with distinct personalities — a warm, inviting bar, a main dining room, the bank vault, the board room, a private outdoor deck and a second floor that can be rented out for exclusive dining events for larger parties.
The helpful, attentive service matches the setting, clearly aiming for excellence and a satisfied customer on several recent visits.
Owner Nick Hoover and Executive Chef Katherine Fischer rotate menus seasonally and the restaurant has recently turned over a menu with new dishes for spring.
A lunch visit offers plenty of affordable creations to revel in. I’m focusing on lunch for two reasons — it’s a terrific value and feels and tastes high-end for the price. But then, so does the dinner.
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It’s no secret that I love a soup — many times I find they set the tone for the restaurant overall, and, if done well, they are usually one of the best values you can find.
The She Crab soup ($4.95 for a cup, $5.95 for a bowl) is a creamy, delectable dream drizzled with olive oil and scallions and packed with plenty of crab. It’s one of the best seafood soups around, although not the healthiest. It pairs well with the homemade table bread and can make a nice meal if your appetite isn’t at full throttle.
Mussels ($10.95) tossed in a sambuca cream sauce that hints of licorice and served with toasted focaccia, is a classic Coldwater Cafe dish that has been on the menu as long as I can remember.
A silky quiche of the day ($11.95), served with fresh fruit, is made with local Swiss cheese and fresh eggs whipped with fresh cream and gently laid into a homemade pie crust. It will transport you to southern France if you close your eyes. This is a customer favorite, so get there early if you want a wedge before it sells out. >> EVEN MORE FOOD: Two more new pizza restaurants coming, both in Greene County
Sandwich options on the lunch menu like the Cuban ($11.95), made with spiced roasted pork loin and thinly sliced glazed ham, dill pickles, yellow mustard, caramelized onions, local Swiss cheese, and a creamy, savory spinach spread pressed between two pieces of thick toasted French bread, are hearty and solid. The Cuban is served with house-made plantain chips and salsa verde, while the other sandwiches are served with homemade potato chips that can be substituted with a cup of soup, fruit or broccoli-raisin-nut salad for $2 more.
The Coldwater Burger ($11.95) is piled high and deep with an 8-ounce grilled patty topped with bourbon bacon jam, white Irish cheddar cheese, thousand island dressing, house-made garlic pickles, and spring greens served between a buttered housemade kaiser roll. It’s the kind of burger you’ll tell a friend about.
Two tacos stuffed with sesame crusted Ahi Tuna ($13.95), topped with thinly shaved red cabbage and jicama, fresh mango and avocado and drizzled with wasabi crème fraiche and a red pepper gastrique, were delicious. The only disappointment: they were served on flour tortillas billed on the menu as corn; also disappointing was the gummy jasmine rice served alongside. The delicious guts of the tacos deserved something better to be served with — maybe a citrus jicama mango salad to play off some of the kicky flavors the tacos deliver.
A chicken and waffle dish ($11.95) featuring buttermilk fried chicken on top of a cheddar jalapeno waffle, drizzled with honey mustard aioli and served with local maple syrup, is a decadent and filling choice that straddles the hot and sweet.
There are several solid salad options, including an Asian crispy chicken salad ($11.95), chicken pecan salad ($11.95), grilled salmon salad ($14.95), lobster crabcake salad ($14.95), steak salad ($15.95) and a chopped chicken salad ($12.95).
And this is just part of the lunch menu. There is plenty more, all tempting.
The long list of homemade desserts includes the restaurant’s signature butter-drenched warm English Tea Cake, definitely worth a try.
Gucci Muu Muu ice cream tastes like a frozen dark chocolate frozen pudding made with a punch of curry and spices. Topped off with chocolate and cocoanut, it is very different and tasty, but a little goes a very long way — it’s a dish that some folks won’t take to. I credit the kitchen for being very creative with some of the flavor choices, and this in particular was a fun dish to try out.
Coldwater Cafe’s lunch feels like a sophisticated European-inspired bistro with most dishes boasting well-thought-out and satisfying flavor interactions. The setting is sweet, welcoming, easy and lays on the charm. The serving staff is helpful and lovely. This is a destination that, once discovered, will continue to beckon and call.
I need another column to extol the virtues of dinner at Coldwater Cafe, so I will save that for another time. I may have just been there, but I am already planning my next visit.