Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Restaurant Where They Always Know Your Name

Needing to get some personal shopping done today, I decided that I would visit the Lodi Outlet Stores located right off of I-71 and Rt. 83 (exit 204, I believe). Normally when I visit the outlet stores, the food options are pretty limited to the food court and the nearby fast food chains. It suddenly occurred to me that I had never actually visited Lodi proper, the actual downtown area. I had a hunch that there must be something in the downtown area that would serve as a good lunch spot before moving on to my shop-a-thon. Pulling up Yahoo Maps, I located something that sounded promising, the Lighthouse Cafe. They are located at 125 Wooster Street, Lodi, OH 44254. They can be reached at (330) 948-0387. There is no website at this time.

It's actually fairly simple to find the Lighthouse Cafe. When you get off on exit 204, take Rt. 83 north until you get to the downtown Lodi area. The cafe will be on your right, just past the First Merit Bank building. Parking on the square is ample and free. From the street, you will see something that looks like this:

Once inside, you will understand why the cafe is named "Lighthouse". Pictures of various styles of lighthouses hang on the walls and compliment the ocean-based decorating. The restaurant itself has a nice bright, cheery feeling to it. Daily specials are written on a whiteboard on one of the walls by the kitchen. Soon after I sat down, my server brought me a menu:

The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner, although not all are always available any time of the day. Since I was here around noon, I focused mostly on the luncheon menu items. The lunch portion of the menu consists of various sandwiches, wraps, pastas, and homemade soups. Today's soup du jour was beef barley. The menu also had a special insert just for the Angus beef burgers that the cafe offered:

All the burgers are freshly ground 8 ounce patties that are cooked to order and served with a variety of toppings. One of today's whiteboard specials was your choice of any Angus burger (except the monster 1 pound burger) with a side of the fresh cut fries for only $5.75. Yes, yes, gentle reader, I know, there is that phrase again, "fresh cut fries". If you remember any of my previous discussions on fresh cut fries, my experience overall has not been positive. I prefer fries that are crispy on the outside, creamy on the inside, and not greasy. Unfortunately, the vast majority of fries I've been served have been limp, soggy, and in some cases, not even cooked thoroughly. I explained this to my server hoping that she might confirm or deny that their fresh cut fries were different. She seemed to understand what I was trying to avoid and said that their fries were different. So I ended up ordering the bacon cheddar burger with the side of fresh cut fries.

*Sigh* I should just know better by now.

While I was waiting for my burger and fries to come out, I started looking around the room. Today they were offering three different kinds of homemade pie: apple, cherry, and blackberry. I believe the cooler next to the sign is where they keep the pie until they are ready to serve it.

Not being able to help but people watch while I waited, I noticed that the Lighthouse Cafe is a place where the community comes together for fellowship and a good meal. On more than one occasion as soon as someone walked through the door they were greeted warmly and addressed by their name. (At one point I almost half-heartedly expected to hear "Norm!" as someone new walked into the room.) Coming from a smaller community myself, I could definitely see a similar small town charm that so many people look for when traveling to destination spots.

Here is the burger platter that came out after about fifteen minutes:

And a close-up of the fries themselves:

Now when my server first brought the platter out, the fries were just covered in grease (they had obviously JUST come out of the fryer). And if you look closely, you may be able to pick out a slight "wetness" in the above photo. By the time I started to eat the fries, however, the potatoes had absorbed the oil and they were less greasy. Unfortunately, they were exactly the non-crispy limp fries I had been trying to avoid all along. Obviously there was a disconnect when I was trying to describe to my server what I didn't want. On the positive side, the fries were definitely cooked all the way through and were seasoned nicely.

I actually ordered the burger medium hoping that they would slightly overcook it. Which ironically, worked. The burger came out with just the slightest bit of pink but was still wonderfully moist and juicy. Cooked and seasoned properly and paired with some fantastic ripe tomatoes and crisp lettuce, this was a burger that really satisfied. I don't usually comment much on my meal when I am actually at a restaurant, but when my server stopped by to check in on me and asked me how the burger was, I couldn't help but say, "Fantastic!"

I don't know if I would travel all the way from Cleveland just to try one of the burgers from the Lighthouse Cafe. They are good, yes, but not unique enough to justify a lengthy trip just for one meal. However, should you decide that you want take in a meal in conjunction with a visit to the Lodi Outlet Stores, then I highly recommend you give them a try instead of the food court. And at roughly the same price you'd pay if you were at the food court, choosing the Lighthouse Cafe is simply a slam dunk. If you feel like I do about what constitutes a proper French Fry, I'd just pick a different side.

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