A new restaurant has arrived to stimulate the discriminating taste buds of Oberlin residents and offer an alternative to standard coffeehouse fare. Thanks to the dreams and dedication of owner Joe Waltzer, OC '98, hungry souls can satisfy their desires at the new Black River Cafe. Open since Oct. 13, the restaurant is located on Main Street in the space formerly occupied by the Mercantile. The menu is structured to include local and organic offerings and caters to the vegan, vegetarian and carnivorous palates alike.
Waltzer, 23, managed Irene's (the cafe formerly above the Co-Op Bookstore) during a year off from school and also logged in time at the Feve before deciding to start his own restaurant after graduation.
"I knew Oberlin and wanted to open a business that I could run by my ideals," he said. Lest the youthful age of the staff should frighten off potential customers, Waltzer wants to make it clear that the atmosphere of the Black River Cafe will suit everyone in town, not only students.
The restaurant features environmentally-themed artwork by former Oberlin students, including a mural by Max Truax, OC '98, and photographs of the Black River watershed by Mike Dwyer, OC '97. Chairs and tables constructed of bleached wood give the dining area a light and airy feel and each table boasts its own unique set of salt and pepper shakers. The atmosphere is relaxed and friendly with stools at a front counter encouraging patrons to pop in for a quick cup of strong coffee.
An environmental studies major during his years at Oberlin, Waltzer designed the menu with the goal of what he calls "sustainable cuisine" in mind. For the uninitiated, he offers this explanation of his restaurant's approach: "Ideally we will maximize local foods, make the menu more seasonal, and buy food products without certain chemicals, fertilizers and pesticides that are detrimental to land and farmers. We support agricultural practices which will be able to be sustained indefinitely." Judging from the amount of people Black River Cafe serves during the lunch hour it seems that customers are receptive to Waltzer's plans.
Local foods found on the menu include items such as pumpkins, feta cheese and Amish eggs. The milk, apple juice, coffee, grains and most produce used by the restaurant are also organic. Waltzer develops the recipes himself by flipping through cookbooks and experimenting with whatever sounds tempting. He said many of the dishes featured on the current temporary menu will be retained on the permanent version.
Highlights of the menu include fresh soups-potato-rosemary and mushroom-rice, for example-and sandwiches featuring tasty homemade focaccia. Vegetables abound, but meat lovers can still satisfy their cravings with BLTs, tuna salad and a tender marinated chicken sandwich. Large, colorful salads offer still more options. Additionally, most breakfast foods are available all day.
Prices are competitive, especially considering that Black River Cafe is a sit-down restaurant. Most lunch options are around $5 and come with a side dish, but some portions are a little skimpy. The portobello mushroom or the roasted red pepper and fresh mozzarella sandwiches offer diners the most for their money.
Waltzer's goals include the addition of a dinner menu and increased seating in the dining area. With Oberlin grads as its chefs, Black River Cafe is doing a bustling business in its opening weeks and will hopefully sustain itself and its cuisine long into the future. Now if only someone would open a Ben and Jerry's franchise, Oberlin would have it made.
Black River Cafe: Joe Waltzer, OC '97, serves coffee to a table of customers at his new restaurant on Main Street. (photo by Stephen Menyhart)
Copyright © 1998, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 127, Number 8, November 6, 1998
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