If you’ve ever driven south from Columbus on Route 23, you’ve more than likely driven past Virginia’s Portside Cafe, and chances are, you probably never even knew it. In fact, the usually full parking lot would probably be the only hint that may give this place away as somewhere that people want to be. Virginia’s Portside Cafe is marked only by an easy-to-miss sign that shares a pole with another business, and a tiny “open” sign behind a slightly tinted front window. Technically, Portside Cafe’s zip code tells us they’re located in Lockbourne, OH, but the diner is barely just three miles South of I-270, and just a half-mile or so up the road past the Scioto Downs Racino.
For as much as the exterior screams “totally random building”, as soon as you walk through the front door you get “rural highway, truck stop diner”. Inside is a big, bright dining area that is actually semi-separated into three different dining rooms. The nice, rustic hardwood floors were the first thing that caught my eye, since I’m usually a big fan. On a busy Saturday morning, the service was seat-yourself, so the wife & boy and I made our way into one of the back two areas and found an open table.
Aside from the floors, the other thing I noticed was how clean the restaurant was. Now, not to say that I was expecting a hole in the wall, but from the outside, you really just don’t know what you’re going to find when you go inside. It’s an older building with an interior that could probably stand some updating in the design and decor departments, but it seemed to me that the owners and staff spend more time focusing their efforts on food quality and cultivating relationships with their customers than worrying about if their curtains are outdated, and I can’t really fault them for that. It’s obvious that they do a lot of business from regulars who have been eating there for years and years, and from truck drivers travelling to and from Columbus. As long as the grub is good, those kinds of core customers usually don’t mind a lack of trendy decorating.
Speaking of decor, we did enjoy looking at some of the different antiques that are displayed in the diner. A couple of old Singer sewing machines sit at the pay counter which were really interesting, and there were also a couple of antique tables in the front lobby area which display some old ceramic pitchers and water basins. Really cool stuff!
The menu at Portside Cafe is 100% classic diner fare. There are lots of simple egg, meat and potatoes combos, classic pancakes and French toast dishes, a nice variety of omelets and breakfast sandwiches, and some a la cart items, too. Most of the prices are amazingly affordable (there are a few steak & eggs dishes at a higher price point in the $13 – $16 range), and are really a steal for the portion sizes you get!
I knew I wanted just a basic diner breakfast, so I ordered the 2 Eggs, Home Fries, Bacon & Toast combo ($5.89), and substituted two homemade biscuits instead of the toast for $.49 more. I also ordered a small bowl of Sausage Gravy ($1.59) on the side. Our server was great, and made sure she got all of our food just the way we wanted it. I ordered my eggs over easy which came out perfect, and the home fries were more like what I would call fried potatoes – they were sliced thin with a soft interior and a slight exterior crust, instead of seasoned and diced like typical “home fries”. My meal included four slices of deliciously crispy bacon that weren’t too greasy, and the coffee was classic diner brown.
I was extremely satisfied with the super moist, homemade biscuits. They were dense and flavorful, and held together well under all that gravy. The sausage gravy was most definitely home-made. It was thick and creamy, but could have used a little more seasoning for my taste. Overall, I was very satisfied with my food, especially for such a good price.
Mrs. Grub Guy ordered the 2 Eggs, Corned Beef Hash, and Toast combo ($5.89). This is where the magic of home-cooking comes alive. The wife grew up on simple foods like canned corned beef hash, so when her plate was brought to the table, she was totally excited. She said that it reminded her of breakfast at home as a kid, which made her enjoy it all the more. The hash had a nice crust on it that she loved. She ordered rye toast which came out nicely buttered, and warm.
Surprisingly, the boy passed on his usual hotcakes or French toast, and wanted the 2 Eggs, Bacon and Toast combo ($5.09). Again, it was a great plate of classic morning food – nicely cooked “dippy eggs”, yummy bacon, and buttered toast.
Another thing Portside Cafe is known for is their delicious, homemade desserts…especially their pies! This beautiful cherry pie was all packed up and ready to go to a customer when the owner offered to give me a peek. They also had a variety of cream pies, cakes, cream puffs and cheesecake in the cooler. Next time, I’ve got to save room for some of this!
We enjoyed our breakfast at Virginia’s Portside Cafe. It’s a great place to visit when you’re in the mood for a simple, straight-forward breakfast in big portions. It’s definitely got the homey feel of a country-style, small-town diner and even though it’s only just a quick 5 minute drive from the outer belt, the semi-rural setting makes it feel like you’ve discovered a great place to eat out in the middle of nowhere.
Next time you’re in the mood for a relaxing, fancy-free breakfast that’s served all day, head south of the city to find Portside Cafe’s friendly staff waiting to serve you a great meal. Just look for the plain-looking building with the jam-packed parking lot!
Virginia’s Portside Cafe is located at 6515 S. High St, Lockbourne, OH 43137 (Map). They’re open 7 days a week from 5:30 am – 10:30 pm, and serve breakfast all day. For more info, check out their page on Facebook.