I've found many great cafes just by exploring, but I've also been introduced to many through recommendations from friends and locals – valuable sources. My latest recommendation was Cafe Saji and Ice-Cream House (Aisu no Ie).
I'd actually seen it before...sort of. In the Ayashi neighborhood of Sendai, just off the Ayashi Bypass when heading west, is a garden center. It has the memorable name of Garden Garden. High above it is a giant ice-cream cone, which I'd passed by countless times, wondering what kind of ice-cream it represented. Was it just soft-serve? Then I was told that Garden Garden had a great cafe, where you could get a delicious meal and finish it off with great ice-cream next door. With that, I had to go.
The cafe, while located on the right-hand side of the main building, is actually a separate business from the garden center. It does use some furniture from its neighbor in the outdoor seating area, though, and shares the same toilets. There are quite a few tables outside, which are nice to sit at in good weather. Although this makes it pet-friendly, access is via a few stairs, so the cafe isn't wheelchair accessible. Families fare better, as child-friendly bowls and cutlery are offered.
Indoors, there is air conditioning, making it comfortable all year round (although it is closed for a while during winter). It's a small cafe, and it looks exactly like someone's house. This homely feel extends to the home cooking-style slow food. At lunchtime (11:30 to 14:30, which can get quite busy), they sell limited amounts of Japanese set meals. There are also Western-style sweets for purchase, like cookies and scones.
The set is brown rice with miso soup and a delightful array of side dishes. On the day I went, there were potato and zucchini fritters with cheese (delicious), spicy tomato squid (with a satisfying, deep tomato flavor), breaded fried tofu with miso (fruity and crispy), and various types of salad. For dessert, there was fruit, seasonal watermelon and pineapple, both really fresh.
If one dessert isn't enough, you can order ice-cream, either in the cafe or outside after you've paid.
A set meal and an ice-cream only cost about ¥1000! You can choose from a cup or a cone, and there are over 20 flavors (more in summer than winter) as well as a vanilla soft-serve. A single scoop of this creamy Hokkaido ice-cream is ¥270, and comes with a taste of a second flavor of your choosing.
Cafe Saji is a lovely cafe that caters for a variety of customers, with superb food at great prices. Even if you don't have lunch here, don't miss out on the ice-cream next door!