Springs awakening

Aleta’s Cafe: as Yellow Springs as it gets

By Paula Johnson

Spring in Yellow Springs has to be among the loveliest combinations of time and place there could be. On a brilliantly bright and cloudless day, still a little brisk, a stroll through the Springs was truly soul-renewing—as well as entertaining. Hipsters and hippies, the well-heeled, those who don’t bother wearing shoes at all, pets, bikers, skateboarders, smokers and tokers and real estate brokers. It’s all there in the parade that is Xenia Avenue. While you’re enjoying the mix, a stop at Aleta’s Cafe is most assuredly recommended for body and spirit.

Octopus’s garden

Aleta’s opened in June 2014 in one of the most charming and eclectic spaces on the avenue, which is saying something. Once a house, the structure has a labyrinthine patio built around it. Feet planted on the patio and looking skyward, it reminded me of an undulating brick octopus. The building’s space is shared by a smoke shop (no surprise there) and the restaurant. The real surprise is in the back, however, where one of the most magical terraced patio gardens complete with outdoor sculpture and koi pond awaits. Dayton City Paper Dining Super Fan Russ and I wished we could have had a leisurely lunch in that splendid garden, but Mother Nature just wasn’t quite ready. So we stayed inside Aleta’s funky, intimate dining space and looked out, imagining future lunches al fresco.

Aleta’s inside is laid back and casual, as most things Yellow Springs are. The brightly painted walls in shades of turquoise and fuscia showcase the work of local artists. Skylights and hanging plants, a painted piano, rock music memorabilia—everything says funky. Owned by Gregg Pastorelle and Matthew Willis, Aleta’s began as a street fair project before its incarnation as a restaurant.  Pastorelle, a graduate of Columbus Culinary Institute, and Willis met through the local music scene and spent more than a year renovating the space. The seating space is limited, as is the all-electric kitchen area, and so consequently is the lunch menu, a small one-page printed sheet with five salads, nine sandwiches and seven pizzas.

Small but mighty

But what Aleta’s offerings lack in size and scope they make up for in quality and execution (I wish more restaurants would concentrate their efforts on a fewer items instead of The Cheesecake Factory approach to menus reminiscent of encyclopedia volumes). Most of this menu is organic and locally sourced or grown on Pastorelle’s farm. All dressings (with the exception of ranch) are made in-house, and Pastorelle smokes his own chicken for the sandwiches. I asked about using only thighs instead of the more typical breast meat.

“I love the deeper richer flavor of the dark meat; white can dry out so easily,” he said, and I heartily agreed. This was underscored when I tasted the Club Sandwich ($10).

First we started with salads, mine the Caesar with homemade Caesar dressing ($7), and Super Fan Russ selecting the Side Salad with a chipotle orange vinaigrette ($3). My Caesar was truly more “Caesar-style,” without anchovy and with the addition of tomatoes, but the house-made dressing was bright and lemony, and the lettuce was crisp and fresh. Altogether a fine effort if not adherent to the classic. The orange chipotle was a great combination, and we both found it had a kick to it—surprisingly spicy and tasty.

In the club

My panini-style Club featured the juicy smoked chicken thigh meat, bacon, tomato, romaine, onion and cheddar, with an herb mayonnaise on a grilled ciabatta. A lovely surprise was the grilled asparagus, which accompanied it. Slightly charred with crunchy grains of coarse salt to accentuate the sweet springiness of the spears, Super Fan Russ and I were in agreement that they were perfect, as was the sandwich. Other interesting sandwiches were the carne asada braised Pork Tacos ($10) and the Beef Teriyaki with onion and mushrooms on ciabatta or naan ($9). The beef teriyaki and the smoked chicken thigh are both available as an add on to the salad offerings.

Super Fan Russ tried the pizza, made on locally baked Naan bread. He chose The Spin Art ($9), with a creamy chunky spinach artichoke dip base and tomato topped with parmesan. Tasty and satisfying, it was a good little lunch portion pizza. (I recommend eating it quickly as the naan crust got a little wet by the end of our lunch.) After tasting the chicken, I would like to order one of the pizza offerings that feature it, such as the Smokehouse ($11) also with bacon and cheddar or the Light Town ($10) with jalapeños and sriracha.

Ending an evening at Aleta’s

I can’t recommend a more charming casual lunch destination, and I look forward to returning to try some of the changing seasonal dinner items Pastorelle has planned for Aleta’s. There’s a certain table at the edge of the garden, private and perfect, where I can see myself winding down an evening. “Oh yeah, that table is really popular! You should call first if you want it,” Pastorelle advised. I plan to take his advice.

Aleta’s Cafe is located at 309 Xenia Ave. in Yellow Springs. For more information, please call 937.319.0066 or visit aletascafe.com.

Dayton City Paper Dining Critic Paula Johnson would like every meal to start with a champagne cocktail and end with chocolate soufflé. As long as there’s a greasy burger and fries somewhere in the middle. Talk food with Paula at PaulaJohnson@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Paula Johnson
Dayton City Paper Dining Critic Paula Johnson would like every meal to start with a champagne cocktail and end with chocolate soufflé. As long as there’s a greasy burger and fries somewhere in the middle. Talk food with Paula at PaulaJohnson@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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