Preview: Northstar Cafe and Bar, Opening Soon at Van Aken District

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click to enlarge Rotisserie chicken and avocado sandwich - Courtesy Northstar Cafe
Courtesy Northstar Cafe
Rotisserie chicken and avocado sandwich
In a few weeks, Northstar Café will join its sister establishment Brassica at Van Aken District in Shaker Heights. Construction began last summer on the space, which commands the southwest corner of Farnsleigh and Warrensville. When the craft paper comes down from the windows in the coming days, neighbors will see for the first time a stylish and well-appointed dining room and bar.

“We’re striving for a design aesthetic that is relatively timeless, clean and contemporary that really reflects craftmanship and materials consistent with the way we approach cooking and food,” says Kevin Malhame, who launched the concept with his brother Darren. “There aren’t a lot of fussy ingredients, they’re just good, high-quality ingredients put together with care and craftsmanship.”

Van Aken will be location number six for Northstar Café, which opened in the Short North neighborhood of Columbus in 2004. Guests will find sculpted hardwood booths and benches, full-grain Italian leather stools, warm copper light fixtures and a walnut-topped bar that seats 24. All told, the restaurant will seat 130 plus more on the attached courtyard patio.

The word “café” was an intentional one for the Malhames. Northstar serves breakfast, lunch and dinner every day plus weekend brunches. From the start, the restaurants have been a haven for diners regardless of when they arrive and what they desire.

“I think of a café as being a very flexible type of restaurant – a restaurant that might suit your needs for an afternoon business meeting or a quick bite on your own or a casual family dinner or a date spot,” says Malhame.

On a typical day, a single Northstar Café can feed 1,000 guests between the hours of 9 a.m. and 10 p.m.

The upscale finishes belie the fact that Northstar Café is not a full-service restaurant. Diners are greeted at the door and handed a menu by a staffer, who will answer questions and help keep things moving. Another staffer will handle the order and payment process. Guests grab their own drinks, take a seat inside and their food will find them thanks to a widget. The experience moves as quickly or leisurely as guests prefer.

“It’s one of the elements of the experience that enables it to be so flexible for guests,” Malhame explains.

Customers who sit at the bar, however, can bypass the counter-style service and enjoy a more traditional dining experience.

A large, open kitchen will turn out an American menu of familiar foods made with exceptional ingredients and expert technique. There is some slight menu differentiation from store to store, and Shaker, with its generously proportioned bar, will feature a few more entrees. In the morning, there are items like smoothie bowls, sweet potato hash, mushroom frittatas, ricotta pancakes and biscuits and sausage gravy. The lunch/dinner menu offers fresh and creative salads, burgers made with Niman Ranch beef, brick-oven pizzas and a grilled fish sandwich. To drink, there are craft beers, estate-driven wines, and craft cocktails made with fresh-squeezed juices.

After a period of private training events, the restaurant will host its grand opening on June 1. When it does, owner Kevin Malhame says he will be thrilled to unveil another property in Shaker Heights.

“Shaker has been really good to Brassica, and Van Aken specifically is such a special project; it feels so good to be there,” he says. “And Shaker Heights is such a great community and they’re clearly food lovers of all sorts.”

click to enlarge Northstar Cafe will open soon at Van Aken District. - Douglas Trattner
Douglas Trattner
Northstar Cafe will open soon at Van Aken District.
click to enlarge Northstar Cafe will open soon at Van Aken District. - Douglas Trattner
Douglas Trattner
Northstar Cafe will open soon at Van Aken District.
click to enlarge Northstar Cafe will open soon at Van Aken District. - Douglas Trattner
Douglas Trattner
Northstar Cafe will open soon at Van Aken District.
click to enlarge Northstar Cafe will open soon at Van Aken District. - Douglas Trattner
Douglas Trattner
Northstar Cafe will open soon at Van Aken District.
click to enlarge Nano walls open to a 7-table courtyard patio. - Douglas Trattner
Douglas Trattner
Nano walls open to a 7-table courtyard patio.

About The Author

Douglas Trattner

For 20 years, Douglas Trattner has worked as a full-time freelance writer, editor and author. His work on Michael Symon's "Carnivore," "5 in 5" and “Fix it With Food” have earned him three New York Times Best-Selling Author honors, while his longstanding role as Scene dining editor garnered the award of “Best...
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