The Sweet Life Savored: Sassafras Bakery

Sassafras has been the source of frequent carbo-loading for the
spouse and I ever since their opening in August of 2013
This review is somewhat overdue, but nevertheless, it's a pretty easy one to do.

This bakery, owned by Northwest Ohio native A.J. Perry (who we found out, in a neat bit of circumstance, grew up in a town within shouting distance of where my spouse was raised) was several years in the making. Perry, who learned the ways of the kitchen early on in her childhood, was forced back to them back in 2007 to earn a living when a downturn in the economy led to her layoff from her regular job. Her baked goods proved to be a hit at area farmers market; her strong relationship to the market in Worthington pretty much made opening up a brick and mortar space in the its downtown area a natural fit.

Sassafras packs a lot of visually pleasing sights in a very small space
Sassafras is definitely not the biggest space in the world; it definitely is a lot easier to grab a seat when the Worthington Farmers Market goes indoors for the colder months of the year, though the flow tends to be nice and steady whenever we've dined in. Dining in is always a visual pleasure, with a wall of pie tins, neatly scripted chalkboard menus, shelves with select local vendors' products (including soon-to-be next door neighbor Igloo Letterpress) and the pleasing view of baked goods neatly displayed just behind or inside glass display cases, of course. Interestingly enough, we've rarely had a problem grabbing a seat when the crowds pile in, which especially is the case when the Farmers Market returns outdoors right outside Sassafras' doors. Most people then tend to buy Perry's sweet treats to grab and go, making people watching an added bonus feature while we enjoy our orders.

As far as our favorites, there really has not been anything that we have tried that we wouldn't order again. Especially excellent are their seasonal savory quiches and galettes, their anchor donut muffin (the perfect blend of textures between both of these sweet treats) and their traditional-style cinnamon rolls. In addition, Sassafras' pies are among the best in the region, not surprising when you consider that Perry's pies have been featured in such publications as Food & Wine Magazine. The cookies are pretty good as well: Sassafras Bakery's unique Cookie & Milk Happy Hour (order a cookie, get either a free glass of milk or cup of coffee brewed with Cafe Brioso beans) has received press as well, courtesy of Country Living Magazine. It is at times a difficult choice to make, but we have found our ultimate decision is always a delicious one at this bakery.

Why can't all difficult decisions end up so delicious?
For awhile, the only thing lacking (so to speak) at Sassafras was that other than the quiche and galettes, there wasn't really a lunch-oriented option for diners. This gap was rectified this year when Sassafras introduced a line of lunchtime salads and sandwiches with the assistance renowned locally-based chef of Matthew Heaggans, who is currently plying his trade at the Flatiron Bar & Diner. Added with a cup of soup, it makes for a nice solid lunch option if you're in the area. I admit my turkey sandwich didn't look like much when I first saw it, but it was actually quite filling with nice flavor twists like the pickled cauliflower bits (their so called Sassafras pickles) and a nice touch of smokiness via the smoked paprika mayo.

Soup and Sandwich? Sassafras now has this combo for the lunchtime crowd
Often times, Sassafras Bakery's sandwich board outside invites customers inside to "savor the sweet life." Suffice it to say, we have taken that invitation plenty of times since my move out here, and this little bakery has easily become one of our most favorite places to visit in the Columbus metro area.

Sassafras Bakery
657 High Street
Worthington, OH 43085
(614) 781-9705
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All Lined Up: Lineage Brewing

Opened by four Clintonville residents, Lineage Brewing has been
welcomed by the neighborhood with open arms 
A basic and important component in a business's success is the connection with their surrounding community. The four co-owners (two couples who met through the local homebrewing club Scioto Olentangy Darby Zymurgists (SODZ)) who founded Clintonville-based Lineage Brewing have this component in spades: two sport long-time family roots to the neighborhood (thus the name Lineage) and all reside within short distance of the brewery's North High Street location. As mentioned in local media articles, it was always their intent to open up within their home community to give residents a brewery to call their own. And based on my first few visits, the community has returned the love in kind and sent Lineage off on a very successful start since its soft opening roughly one month ago.

Lineage's interior fits in that general contemporary/minimalist style, with a lot more room for visitors than one might guess when glancing at the brick-facade exterior. Well-appointed splashes of design can be found within, including the herringbone-style wood backsplash and the large garage door, the biggest hint of the space's former life as a car wash and meant to be left open when the weather permits. Behind the tap area, a chalkboard menu of Lineage's offerings can be found overhead, while windows allow visitors a glimpse of the brewery's barrel system.

Lineage Brewing's roomy and well-appointed interior gives little
hint of the space's previous life as a car wash
Lineage's focus right now seems to be more in the local hangout spot versus one that is geared toward production; this reminds me of the feel I got when we visited Big Beaver Brewing in Loveland during our recent Colorado trip. Similar to Big Beaver, Lineage appears to be gearing to have a rotating, fairly comprehensive selection of beer styles to be enjoyed on site or in growlers.

So far, my spouse and I agree that Lineage has put out a very drinkable collection of brews. Our favorites so far have been the just-enough-coconut Mike Drop Porter, the tart without being too puckery Aunt Bernice Berliner Weisse, and their Ryemora Rye IPA, but in reality there really hasn't been a blah brew in the bunch we've tasted. For those who aren't into or willing to be swayed into beer, a select menu of cocktails, cider, and pop from local craft producer Rambling House are also available.

Lineage offers a rotating selection of very drinkable brews in combo
with freshly made hand pies; cheese plates and dessert are also offered
Unlike other local breweries, Lineage has decided to forgo the food truck route and produce their own food, and their staple product is a bit on the unique side in the form of hand pies. These creations sport four different savory options along with dipping sauces; like their beer, we have found them pretty satisfying fare. We have not come to a favorite yet, but of course there is plenty of time to figure that out. We've found that Lineage's food orders tend to come out in spurts, which may mean that you may get your food at the same time as someone who ordered later than you. However, the opening week kinks with the food ordering and delivery system seem to have been worked out on more recent visits, meaning the food wait isn't too bad except on the busiest of nights.

If you have a sweet tooth, Lineage has come out with something that should provide perfect satisfaction - the very recent introduction of homemade dessert pies featuring dough from local baker Dan The Baker. The pecan with bourbon pie slice was calling my name on my last visit, but I overcame culinary temptation and stuck with the cheese plate and my beer pints,

Of course, I can't promise the same refusal of dessert on my next visit, however.

Lineage Brewing
2971 N High St (Clintonville - Google Maps)
Columbus, OH 43202
(614) 461-3622
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The Art of it All: Denver Art Museum

The Denver Art Museum holds one of the largest art collections
between Chicago, Illinois and the West Coast
The spouse and I have been through a fair number of museums during our travels. Some can be experienced in about an hour or so (the quaint Little Traverse History Museum in Petoskey, Michigan comes to mind) while others take longer. Many of the museums we have visited in both Ohio and California are the types which can be done as part of an itinerary of several destinations within close proximity to each other.

The Denver Art Museum, located In the city's Golden Triangle Museum District, is not one of those places. It lies up there with many of the Smithsonian Museums in Washington D.C. in that to fully appreciate its contents, you really need close to a full day to do so. We had only a few hours to roam around the museum, and we quickly found out it wasn't going to be near enough time to see and appreciate the over 70,000 pieces of art spread out among ten dedicated collections, not counting special exhibitions.

There's a lot to see both outside and just as you enter the museum
Like similar previous posts where the visual medium best tells the tale, I'll leave most of the telling to photographs to hint at what lies within the facility's 350,000 square feet (the museum consists of two buildings connected by an elevated passenger walkway.)

Altar Piece, Keith Haring's final work before he passed away
of AIDS in 1990, was one of the first pieces of art we focused on
The Northwest Coast portion of the museum's American Indian section,
which featured artwork from Tlingit, Nuxalk and Haida peoples.
Not surprisingly, many of the works in the  Pre-Columbian and Spanish
Colonial Art section had religious/Catholic themes

The section dedicated to ancient artwork from Mexico and the
Americas to the south was a favorite of mine.

Some of the quilt works found at the museum, including
one with references to the Buckeye State
This elevator sign gave us a quick primer on some of the art
we wouldn't be seeing on this particular visit
Visitors to the museum can observe employees preparing art
pieces for display, as in this 18th century Flemish tapestry

The Denver Art Museum has lots of interactive opportunities for
its visitors to experience, with hands-on displays, and old-school
(books and magazines) and new-school (iPads) media available.

Denver Art Museum
100 W 14th Ave Pkwy (Golden Triangle)
Denver, CO 80204
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Aurora Appetizers: The Donut House/Sunburst Grill/Coffee Place Cafe

Driving through the very suburban city of Aurora, Colorado, the word "diversity" would not normally pop into your mind. The housing developments (sans the mountain ridges in the distance) aren't too dissimilar to those in the outer burbs in this area such as Gahanna, Reynoldsburg or even Dublin.

However, this outside facade hides the fact that this city of just under 350,000 is one of the more diverse populations in the state. As noted in this Denver Post article, Aurora is the first major city in the state of Colorado to be minority-majority in population, according to the latest Census figures. The City of Aurora is trying to use this fact to its advantage in various ways, including the culinary diversity found within its limits. Prior to our visit last month, I located a fairly comprehensive ethnic eateries guide produced by and located on the website of the city highlighting this very fact.

Indeed, our culinary encounters within the city displayed this diversity to full effect in that they were all the products of immigrants to this country trying to make good, a tale oft told but never seems to get old.

The front of what is arguably Aurora's favorite donut shop
The Donut House - The story of the Dieyleh family will sound awfully familiar to fans of Columbus donut institution Buckeye Donuts. Similar to Buckeye Donuts owner Jimmy Barouxis' tale, Moe Dieyleh currently holds the head baker position of The Donut House, a business his father Omar opened in 2009. Omar, who still is very much involved with daily operations, immigrated from Jordan to Colorado over 30 years ago, integrated and established ties with the surrounding community, and learned the craft by working several years at a local Winchell's Donuts prior to opening up his store. Those ties the Dieyleh family built up over the years, as well as Omar's incredibly welcoming and friendly personality, have helped transform the store into a locally beloved institution.

The Donut House sorts a simple and cheery interior, with a basic focus
of donuts and coffee (plus other assorted goodies)
There's nothing fancy about The Donut House, from its non-descript exterior to its simple but cheerfully painted interior. While there are some unique items you can find here (such as some pre-packaged Middle-Eastern sweets such as baklava and namoura, a cake made from semolina with rose and orange blossom water) the main focus here lies in that revered combo of donuts and coffee.

We stopped here twice for quick bites on the go. Our first time, we had a small sampling of their donuts: texture-wise, while their cake donut was nice enough, the true standout is their standard donuts. These fulfilling creations reminded me of a slightly toothier version of the big airy constructs that Columbus' Destination Donuts puts out.

The Donut House has looked to upgrade their coffee, and has taken steps to upgrade their beans (they now source local coffee roaster Shiva) and their equipment with the addition of an espresso machine. Can't vouch for prior, but the coffee we received was a notch above diner-level coffee.

The donuts were excellent, but the fritters might be even better
On this first visit, we noticed some delectable-looking fritters that we couldn't justify based on our schedule that day. We rectified this on the day we left town when we grabbed a couple fritters and coffee to take on the road. As good as the donuts were, we discovered that the fritters might actually be just a little bit better.

Donut House
3124 S Parker Rd
Aurora, CO 80014
(303) 337-2771
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Behind these doors lies a menu of Filpino standards
Sunburst Grill - While there were many places that my spouse and I would've loved to have visited during our stay, my brother-in-law's family kept both of us very well fed. Still, we did have one day to ourselves, and some childhood bias crept in here as we decided to have dinner at Aurora's lone Filipino restaurant, which started operations in 2008.

Though the home cooking almost always won out, I was blessed to have numerous Filipino restaurants nearby and within the cities where I resided in the San Francisco Bay Area. Sunburst Grill really isn't all too different from many of those restaurants, lying in a non-descript strip mall and sporting touches of the Philippines within its interior. Unlike those restaurants, however, Sunburst Grill is more in the traditional sit down and order style restaurant versus the more common "turo turo" (literally, "point point") buffet style of eatery I was used to.

Sunburst Grill sported a quaint interior and a basic menu of Filipino standards.
Sunburst Grill's menu has a very select inventory of Filipino dishes, including standards such as lumpia and pancit along with a couple items I had not encountered before. I knew I must have been too long starved for the cuisine when I decided, despite my distinct indifference to seafood in general, ordered their Inihaw na Tilapia, a grilled tilapia fish stuffed with tomatoes and onions, along with a swath of other items which we figured would be a probably a bit too much food but easily transportable for later consumption.

Clockwise from Top Left: Lechon Kawali with Adobo Kangkong, Lumpia
Grilled Tilapia, Pancit Canton, and Leche Flan
Of these items, the Lechon Kawali (fried pork belly) and Lumpiang Shanghai (Filipino egg rolls) by far were our favorites. The former was fried up perfectly the perfect crispy exterior and a fatty, juicy interior; it came accompanied by a tasty lechon sarsa (a liver-based sauce) and a side of Adobo Kangkong (one of the items I was unfamiliar with), essentially vegetables cooked Filipino adobo style. The latter proved to be a huge portion of lumpia, more suitable for a party of four, but that didn't stop us from chowing them all down.

The tilapia reminded me why this fish is something I never cared for much, due to its rather bland taste. Coupled with the presence of numerous pin bones, it would be a hard sell for most non-Filipino customers. Still, it was like being at home and I got into the simple fish preparation as the meal went on. The Pancit Canton, which is essentially a variation of Chinese Chow Mein, also reminded me of something you would find in an American-styled Chinese Restaurant versus what I was used to growing up. I'm sure most people would find it perfectly tasty, though.

Service was earnest to the point of almost being TOO helpful at times; there were several visits to our table to confirm the details or give an up-to-the-minute status of our order. I think I got the hint why this might be standard procedure as we got through our meal; a couple of groups of diners who came after us who weren't too familiar with Filipino cuisine were given detailed explanations and occasional reassurances when menu items were explained.

We could not NOT leave this place without some Filipino dessert; since the halo halo (what looked to be a towering version came out for a neighboring table while we were there) was not really an option, we went with their Leche Flan to take back to my brother-in-law's place for later consumption. This version was nicely thick, with a sweet carmelly sauce that brought some fond memories of my mom's version from when I was a child.

Sunburst Grill
2295 S Chambers Rd
Aurora, CO 80014
(303) 752-6389
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Coffee Place Cafe - This was meant as a quick stop over for some iced coffee caffeination the day after a St. Patrick's Day party, but based on my brief experience here, I think more exploration is in order on a return trip. The business' simple name and somewhat hidden location, camouflaged inside a modern-styled strip mall along a major north-south highway with numerous such commercial developments, doesn't exactly scream promising at first glance, but I quickly saw that initial impressions can be deceiving.

If you can locate Coffee Place's location, you can treat yourself to
car-oriented artwork, European-styled pastries, and a Silan-flavored latte
The first thing that caught my eye was the eraser board touting "Fresh Bureks", a big hint that this wasn't quite the usual run-of-the-mill cafe. Thse cheese-filled bureks are the creation of chef Katerina Larden, a Latvian native who immigrated to the U.S. via Tel Aviv along with her husband Nisso and children. These bureks along with other European-styled baked goodies provide the backbone of Coffee Place's food menu, along with a selection of soups and paninis sandwiches for lunch.

The next thing that caught my eye was the iced coffee flavors - along with the usual Torani-syrup variations like vanilla and hazelnut, an intriguing option appeared at the very end of the list. Silan, or date honey,consists basically of boiled down dates and is a common Middle East condiment used in all manner of food preparations. I most certainly had never seen it as a coffee flavoring option.

I passed (regrettably) on the bureks and stuck with the iced latte drinks, one with silan and the other maple flavored. My spouse found the date honey a bit too strong for her tastes and opted for the maple iced latte, which turned out nicely reminiscent of Cafe Brioso's similar creation. On the other hand, I enjoyed the unique flavor profile that the silan had provided; the date syrup had turned the surrounding iced latte closer to mocha colored as it slowly absorbed into the surrounding liquid.

Coffee Place Cafe
2295 S Chambers Rd
Aurora, CO 80014
(303) 752-6389
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Riding Into The Sunset: Surly Girl Saloon

The Surly Girl Saloon is riding off into the sunset after it set up
shop ten years ago in what once was an equally surly Short North
For the first couple years after moving to a new locale, pretty much everything for the typical person is bright, shiny and new. Even though the normal course of change is happening around you in terms of places of business opening and closing, you rarely have the attachment needed to feel the loss of that place compared to those who have lived in the area longer.

I started realizing in the last year or two that I've been here long enough to more acutely feel those losses. They are all fairly sad affairs, but they range from mild disappointment (while I got to experience German Village's longstanding Bierberg Bakery's unique European-style cookies and pastries only once, I still feel happy that I did get to sample their wares.) Others are in the more begrudging category - my completed but unpublished review of Mya's Fried Chicken remains in my inventory ready for a quick addendum in the perhaps vain hope that they'll emerge phoenix-like to return to Columbus' food truck scene.

In the case of Short North based Surly Girl Saloon, my spouse and I feel sad, similar to a good friend who is leaving the area for good, and knowing that you will probably never ever meet again.

I had a longer time than most to develop a relationship with this eatery, a longtime component of Elizabeth Lessner's Columbus Food League of restaurants. Opened in 2005 in what was then an equally surly part of the Short North (things have calmed down considerably since then), the restaurant has continued to receive consistent patronage even up to its surprising but perhaps really unsurprising announcement (based on the local media reports) to shut its operations at the end of this month.

My visits to the Surly Girl started during the long-distance dating phase with my spouse; these regular visits continued after my move out here, our marriage, and beyond. We have been here with friends or family in tow or just the two of us for Sunday brunch. Along with Northstar, Surly Girl has been an eatery that we considered almost always an option, especially when it came to breakfast or brunch.

Surly Girl's funky and seemingly slapdash cowgirl and pirate interior decor in some ways reflected the collection of denizens who would seek a meal within its walls. I've seen the straight-laced, goths, nerdy-types, endurance athletes, the fashion-centric, college students, seeming hipsters and any more people within its walls, and often all at the same time. We'd joked often to ourselves that we were too much of the first category to look like we fit in here, but neither of us ever truly felt out of place at the Surly Girl on our visits.

From the menu to the walls and beyond, Surly Girl Saloon's interior is
marked with a kitschy, almost slapdash mix of pirate and cowgirl media.
A general Southwest theme is found throughout Surly's base menu, with items like Frito Pie, Pulled Pork and Black Bean Huevos Surlitos, Posole Stew and a Bandito Burrito blending in with other various sandwiches, salads and sides. A leftover from their initial startup days, personal pizzas also provide an option to hungry diners. Of course, you can't call yourself a saloon and not have adult beverages, and Surly Girl has plenty of liquor-based options as well as a decent-sized selection of draft beer, including several Ohio-based craft brewers such as Barley's, Hoof Hearted and Great Lakes.

Of course, when we heard the news of Surly Girl's imminent closing Monday afternoon, we knew we would have to pay one of our go-to restaurants a final visit, and decided to go that night to pay our last respects. If this night (a typically slow night in the restaurant world) is any indication, Surly Girl will be closing with plenty of fanfare, as a crowd slowly built up and the line to get in had spilled out to the sidewalk by the time we left.

It seemed only appropriate to grab a beer on this last meal in  and were quite happy with our Fat Head's Starlight Helles Lager and Seventh Son Lost Sparrow Black IPA. We decided we would go the pizza route, simply because it had been quite awhile since we had ordered one of their personal pizzas. In the past, we had pretty much surfed their menu and gotten a wide swath of food items. While nothing we've ever had would be considered gourmet or earth-shattering, Surly Girl's items were consistently tasty and the portions were always filling.

Whether it was the sandwiches, quesadillas, specials (as the breakfast
calzone) or the wraps, Surly Girl was a reliably tasty option for us.
In the various local media reports that were released announcing the eatery's closing, the three original "surly girls" (Lessner, Carmen Owens and Marcy Mays) stated that the combination of new interests and projects as well as the feeling that Surly Girl had finished the job it was meant to do. As Owens mentioned on web-based media source Columbus Underground, "It just feels like it’s up to another generation of businesses and residents to keep the ball rolling here.”

While we personally wish the saloon had a few more years left to go, we can definitely understand the sentiment. We truly wish everyone there the very best, and may the last week for the Surly Girl be as sweet as this Red Velvet Cupcake, a restaurant tradition which is at the same time the very first and, alas, the very last time we have this traditional dessert here.

The Surly Girl will be officially closing its doors this weekend on Sunday, April 26th.

Surly Girl Saloon
1126 N. High St (Short North)
Columbus, OH 43201
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Footloose and Gluten-Free: Eban's Bakehouse

Adrienne Novak, co-founder and creator of Eban's Bakehouse
and its line of appealing gluten-free goods
While taste may be the dominant consideration behind a particular food's appeal, general mouthfeel is not that far behind. In some instances, that can be the largest consideration. For example, the taste of durian fruit on a personal basis for me isn't nearly as unappealing as its uniquely stringy, cottony and chewy texture.

For gluten-intolerant and Celiac disease sufferers, finding gluten-free bread that not only tastes decent but also has that generally pleasing texture that only bread delivers is something of a challenge. However, this was an issue that we generally had no worries about ourselves since we (thankfully) do not suffer from these issues.

This changed recently when we learned that relatives of ours discovered they had some gluten-consumption health issues; this news has put us on the watch for both gluten-free recipes and food products that they might enjoy. One thing they did echo was the bread conundrum: the few gluten-free options they found at their local grocery store were  not terribly good, especially in light of the cost, and they basically had conceded that bread would probably be just something to go without from here on out.

With some time to kill a couple weeks ago before headed up to a family gathering, we decided to drop by a place that we had not been to in quite awhile in the Worthington Indoor Farmers Market. At this and other farmers markets, Dan The Baker has been our regular go-to for bread at farmers markets, and sure enough they were doing their usual bang-up business (we stopped by and walked away with their intricately designed and very tasty springerle cookies.)

We had known about and seen Eban's Bakehouse's stand at this and other local farmers markets, but since we took care of bread needs elsewhere, we simply never had thought about dropping by to look at their goods. Old habits almost took over and we were ready to just stroll by when we remembered that their products were in fact gluten-free. On this day, the booth was staffed by the very charming Adrienne Novak, co-founder of Eban's Bakehouse, who invited us to try the bread samples. On this morning, we were more than happy to oblige.

We admittedly didn't have terribly high expectations, based on our own prior experiences with other gluten-free breads and the tales of such by our relatives and others we know. I popped a sample into my mouth and, well, surprise, it had the feel of regular bread. I then focused on the taste, which turned out to be equally quite nice. We tried other samples and reached the same conclusion: these breads were all pretty darn good. As we were sampling the bread, Adrienne gave us a brief primer on Eban's business and mentioned that it had taken her and her business partner/boyfriend (both of whom are trained chefs) about nine months to get the bread recipes just right.

Eban's offers a selection of gluten-free breads and other sweet treats
This is where our first encounter with Eban's gets a little footloose and a lot coincidental. Coming from California, I've become acutely aware of connections between there and the Buckeye State. Not only did we learn that Adrienne lived for a time in California in an area I loved to visit as a kid (Santa Cruz), but she also grew up in the very same town my spouse did as a child (in fact, she knew of and graduated in the same class as one of my spouse's sisters.) Another fun fact we learned about is the name itself, which is a combination of the initials of Adrienne and her business partner/boyfriend.

According to Adrienne, news is good on the business front for Eban's, as word has slowly but surely gotten out about their gluten-free products. These products are mainly focused on their bread varieties (including but not exclusive to Oat, Cinnamon Raisin and Cranberry Walnut), but they also sport a select inventory of cookies and other baked goods. Distribution has expanded into several surrounding states, and she has even been receiving online orders from the western part of this country, where she had always figured they had comparable, well-thought-of products readily available.

On this day, we left with a loaf of Eban's bread as well as a bag of gluten-free dinner rolls to take up to our family event. The dinner rolls were all consumed eagerly at dinner, and the loaf of bread has been quite well-received by our relatives. Based on our and our relatives' experience, we would not be surprised at all to see the upswing continue for this unique local bakery.

Eban's Bakehouse
4086 Broadway
Grove City, OH 43123
(513) 409-EBAN (3226)
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