Whenever my wife and I feel inclined to go out for breakfast, we always have one place in mind: Sleepy Bee Cafe. Located in East Cincinnati’s Oakley neighborhood, right across the street from the limestone monolith of St. Cecilia’s Catholic Church, this unassuming restaurant offers the highest quality morning fare in the city.
After nearly three years, Sleepy Bee Cafe has become an institution in Cincinnati, and its success has led to the opening of a second location in Blue Ash. Although it might be frequented by hipsters and suburbanites alike, this neighborhood favorite feels quaint and local, all the while being a true trendsetter in the farm-to-table movement.
Unlike most Saturdays, my wife and I were up fairly early on the morning of August 20, so we were able to make our pilgrimage to Sleepy Bee around 9am. Usually, we arrive around 10 or so, and there’s always a queue. Although a 20-minute wait is more than worth it for the delicious food, I recommend coming in during breakfast hours so you can beat the crowd of bruchers and lunchers that start showing up in the late morning.
The restaurant’s interior feels homey and inviting, with the atmosphere of a community hangout. In the waiting area, one can find children’s books from nearby Blue Manatee, and locally made bee-themed artwork populates the walls. The dining areas are spacious – with exposed brick walls and open ductwork for a rustic aesthetic – and there is a full-service coffee bar to the back left of the main dining room.
More than anything though, Sleepy Bee Cafe sets itself apart from other restaurants with its unwavering commitment to locally sourced food. While other eateries around town feature farm-to-table menus – such as BrewRiver GastroPub in the East End neighborhood and Bouquet Restaurant and Wine Bar in Covington – Sleepy Bee takes its dedication to sustainable eating a step further by showing its customers the suppliers they partner with. Above the coffee airpots in the hallway connecting the dining areas, a map hangs on the wall showing the locations of all the farms and producers that work with Sleepy Bee (pictured above).
Moreover, the restaurant only carries organic produce, humanely raised meats and fair-trade coffee. As the name suggests, Sleepy Bee remains dedicated to environmentalism and protecting bee populations by preserving ecosystems and encouraging sustainable agricultural practices and conscientious eating habits. For any restaurant, such a commitment to responsible sourcing would be extraordinary, but for a breakfast and lunch cafe, it’s virtually unheard of. As the owners state on the restaurant’s website, Sleepy Bee serves “food that tastes, makes you feel, and is, good.”
As always, my wife and I ordered a couple of cups of coffee for our meal. The house roast is full-bodied with a deep taste, and it goes perfectly with anything on the menu. Also, the coffee is bottomless, and I always get a cup to-go. If you’re trying to save money, I suggest avoiding the smoothies, juices and specialty coffee drinks as these can be quite expensive – the smoothies and juices start at $7. While these are certainly tasty, because they use organic fruit, are made-to-order and some even include local bee pollen they cost a pretty penny.
For breakfast, my wife ordered her favorite item on the menu – the Queen City Bee sandwich – and I went with my mainstay as well – The Worker Bee. I also ordered an additional blueberry Muffin of the Day. The muffin arrived first, and we dug in immediately. When you think of a platonically ideal muffin, Sleepy Bee’s is sure to come to mind. The top has a deep golden brown crust covered in raw sugar granules, and the inside bake is moist and full of flavor. The blueberries are whole, and they add a vibrant color to the muffin as well as a delicious taste.
Although my wife always contemplates ordering something new, she regularly settles on the Queen City Bee breakfast sandwich. Piled high with goetta, green apple, arugula, an over-easy egg and Sleepy Bee’s “nectar” sauce, this ciabatta sandwich makes an excellent way to start any morning. Add to it a side of roasted sweet potatoes with house-made ketchup and there’s nothing better.
For me, however, the best item on the menu is The Worker Bee, Sleepy Bee’s take on a classic American breakfast platter. Of the available protein, bread and side options, I unfailingly get two over-easy eggs, whole-grain toast, goetta and roasted sweet potatoes. As far as traditional American breakfasts are concerned, Sleepy Bee does it at its finest. Everything is always cooked perfectly, the bread is freshly made and the high-quality ingredients take everything up a level. It always leaves my belly full and my taste buds satisfied, and I love that it reminds me of the country breakfasts I grew up eating.
Both my and my wife’s meals came with Cincinnati’s favorite morning protein, goetta. For those of you not familiar with this German-American foodstuff, goetta is a spiced sausage mush made from ground pork and steel-cut oats. Usually packaged as either a loaf or a tube, goetta is sliced and fried, and it can be found in restaurants and homes throughout the Greater Cincinnati region on sandwiches, breakfast plates and even burgers. As a Cincinnati transplant and a two-year lover of goetta, I can honestly say that it’s hands-down my favorite breakfast protein, and I don’t understand why it’s not more popular nationwide.
After the tip, we paid $33 for our meal. While this may seem like a steep price to pay for breakfast – which is almost always the cheapest meal of the day – the quality of the ingredients along with the attention to detail and outstanding taste of every item make Sleepy Bee Cafe well worth the price. Not only will this restaurant leave you satisfied and feeling full, but you can walk away knowing that your enjoyment helped give back to the environment. And that’s worth every penny.
I hope you can buzz on over to Sleepy Bee Cafe too!