Seminole Heights is an interesting and picturesque neighborhood, with its early 20th century bungalows and large, riverfront park. It's also the home of a burgeoning dining and drinking scene, including Ella's Americana Folk Art Café.
The place is instantly recognizable off Nebraska and Hillsborough. It's a hip, kitschy restaurant known for its unusual folk art, live music and, naturally, a creative food and drink menu. The front walkway is lined with half-buried bowling balls with swirls of blue and gray, framing a small garden of sunflowers and a weathered metal sculpture of a fallen horse. A large wooden patio deck wraps around the side, providing abundant outdoor seating.
Inside, Ella's has cream-colored walls, a high ceiling and high windows to match, but adds splashes of color with eye-catching sculptures and paintings along the walls and a bright, multicolored mosaic behind the bar. The art is heavy on kitsch, ranging from Kansas artist Anthony Pack's retro-modern sculptures of figures made from metal scraps and kitchen tools (among other things) to a full-on Elvis shrine.
Did I mention they serve food? Quite a bit of it actually, and it's very much in keeping with the artistic tone of the place, featuring clever takes on various comfort foods, as well as some high-concept entrees. But I'm no food critic, so let's talk about the drinks.
Six taps of fine craft beer are on hand. Half come from local favorite Cigar City; the other half consist of Fox Barrel cider, Lost Coast Tangerine Wheat, and the fantastic St. Bernardus Abt 12. The draft menu rotates, and there's a decent bottle selection as well. The wine list is fairly comprehensive, with many varieties available, most by both bottle and glass.
And then there are the cocktails. The small, charmingly cluttered bar is crammed full of liquors, cordials, mixers, bitters and garnishes, but I recommend taking a look at the house cocktails list. There you'll find what I consider to be a handful of solid, original drinks — not too complicated but with a good range of styles and flavors.
Some are decidedly to-the-point, such as the Nervous Turkey (named after the local band, whose singer, Ernie Locke, is Ella's chef and proprietor), which is simply Wild Turkey 101 with a shot of Red Bull. Nervous, indeed. Others are quite innovative, such as "sangria" made from Hiram Walker blackberry brandy and triple sec, served with orange, lime and a maraschino cherry. The list covers quite a few bases, without trying too hard or getting ahead of itself.
Times correspondent Justin Grant can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.