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Loving and Hating Ghost Kitchens

20 Years of Waiting on The Banks

by Carrie Blackmore Smith

by David Holthaus

The joys and challenges of family-owned restaurants


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F E AT U R E S M A R C H 2 02 1 FAMILY STYLE A FEAST FROM ORIENTAL WOK, A RESTAURANT INSTITUTION STARTED BY MIKE WONG NEARLY 50 YEARS AGO.

P.

38

ALL IN THE FAMILY

COVID-19 has turned a lot of things upside down, including the restaurant industry. We highlight local restaurant families to find out how they’ve responded to these challenging times. Spoiler alert: It’s not all doom and gloom.

WHO’S AFRAID OF GHOST KITCHENS?

P. 52

The local restaurant industry forms a love/hate relationship with delivery-only meal concepts, hoping to keep up with changing consumer demands. BY CARRIE BLACKMORE SMITH PHOTOGRAPH BY JEREMY KRAMER

THE WAITING IS THE HARDEST PART

P. 56

The 20-year journey to redevelop Cincinnati’s riverfront takes another step forward as the Andrew J Brady ICON Music Center finishes construction. The Banks still isn’t finished, though. BY DAV I D H O LT H AU S M A R C H 2 0 2 1 C I N C I N N AT I M A G A Z I N E . C O M 5


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the 1950s

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D E PA R T M E N T S M A R C H 2 02 1 ON OUR SITE

16 / CONTRIBUTORS 16 / LETTER FROM THE EDITOR

FRONTLINES

FOOD NEWS

21 / DISPATCH

COVID-19 openings, closings, and pivots.

FC Cincinnati’s fresh start

22 / SPEAK EASY DIY rehabber Venus Kent

22 / POP LIFE Cincinnati City Hall gets its close-up in a new book

24 / STYLE COUNSEL 26 / HOMEGROWN Table Bar, Lower Price Hill

28 / REAL ESTATE A College Hill house in the woods

30 / DR. KNOW Your QC questions answered

COLUMNS

32 / WELCOME TO MIDDLEHOOD Letting go of the fear and giving in to movement BY JUDI KETTELER

112 / CINCY OBSCURA Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest BY J AC LY N YO U H A N A GARVER

DINE

90 / TAKEOUT HERO

92 / TABLESIDE WITH… Naomi Sams of Like Mom’s Only Vegan

94 / PANTRY

CITY NEWS

Decoding our civic DNA, from history to politics to personalities.

Taste on Elm, Ludlow

96 / DINING GUIDE Greater Cincinnati restaurants: A selective list

HOME + LIFE

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illustration by CHRIS DANGER

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In-depth stories exploring local issues and people.

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LISTEN TO LEARN MORE On this month’s episode, we dive behind the scenes with Cincinnati restaurant owners, plus other stories we’re excited to share. Subscribe and listen on iTunes, Spotify, and Stitcher. It’s free!

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IMAGES BY (TOP) CHRIS VON HOLLE / (MIDDLE) ZACHARY GHADERI / (BOTTOM) DYLAN BAUER

WLWT anchor and reporter Megan Mitchell


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1 2 C I N C I N N AT I M A G A Z I N E . C O M M A R C H 2 0 2 1

CORRECTION In February’s Local Love Album, we used the wrong maiden name for one of the brides featured, listing Tracy Minich as Tracy Miller. We regret the error.


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M A R C H 2 02 1

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF John Fox DESIGN DIRECTOR Brittany Dexter

PUBLISHER Ivy Bayer

DIRECTOR OF EDITORIAL OPERATIONS

SENIOR ACCOUNT MANAGERS

Amanda Boyd Walters SENIOR EDITOR Aiesha D. Little DIGITAL EDITOR Katie Coburn ASSOCIATE EDITOR Lauren Fisher CONTRIBUTING EDITORS Jim DeBrosse,

Kathleen Doane, Jene Galvin, Jay Gilbert, Alyssa Konermann, Polk Laffoon IV, Lisa Murtha, Kevin Schultz, John Stowell, Linda Vaccariello, Kathy Y. Wilson, Jenny Wohlfarth, J. Kevin Wolfe EDITORIAL INTERNS Jenna Calderón,

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OPERATIONS DIRECTOR Missy Beiting SENIOR ART DIRECTOR Emi Villavicencio ART DIRECTORS Zachary Ghaderi, Jen Kawanari ASSISTANT ART DIRECTOR Stephanie Youngquist JUNIOR DESIGNERS Carlie Burton, Paisley Stone PHOTO INTERN Christopher Pasion CONTRIBUTING ARTISTS Lance Adkins, Ryan Back,

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L E T T E R F R O M T H E E D I TO R M A R C H 2 02 1

T

CONTRIBUTORS

DAVID HOLTHAUS

T H E M A R C H I SS U E O F C I N C I N N AT I M AG A Z I N E I S A LWAYS A “ K E E P E R , ” A S S U B scribers tell me. It’s one of three monthly issues each year focused on a recurring theme—Top Doctors every January, Best Restaurants every March, and Best of the City every December—that readers say they keep around the house to refer to over and over. (I hang on to every issue for years, but I’m a pack rat.) In a normal year, our March issue would feature a ranking of the area’s top 10 restaurants and write-ups about their latest menu successes and personnel changes, along with stories on restaurant scene trends and rising stars. We spend months eating at Cincinnati’s best spots and debating the merits and shortcomings of each, because we know our readers (and local chefs) anticipate these ratings. I’ve also learned that some of you use the top 10 list to literally eat your way across the city. Understatement alert: This hasn’t been a normal year. The food industry has been turned upside down by the pandemic, and our best restaurants haven’t been immune from the damage. Restaurant L, No. 4 on our list last year, closed permanently. Our top pick, Please, reopened recently for private dining parties but isn’t back to usual hours yet. Mita’s and Bouquet focused staff efforts on feeding furloughed restaurant workers and supplying soup kitchens, respectively. Abigail Street, Boca, Sotto, and others in our top 10 closed for long stretches and reworked their menus to offer carryout and cook-at-home meal kits. As a result, we decided not to do a normal March issue of Cincinnati Magazine in 2021. It just didn’t feel right to scrutinize fine dining restaurants during so much uncertainty and chaos, when chefs and owners are just trying to keep the doors open and staffs employed and when the dining experience centers on cardboard to-go containers and sidewalk pickup. Instead, this month’s issue highlights family-owned restaurants (“All in the Family,” page 38) and their unique struggles to keep going during the pandemic. Keep them—and all restaurant owners—in your thoughts and prayers, and on your speed dial.

J O H N F OX

EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

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ILLUSTR ATIO N BY L A R S LEE TA RU

In “The Waiting Is the Hardest Part” (page 56), longtime Cincinnati journalist David Holthaus provides a glimpse into the past, present, and future of development at The Banks, a 200-acre project that has transformed Cincinnati’s riverfront. “Although it’s taken a long time, it’s been a pretty remarkable project,” he says. You just might catch Holthaus enjoying a walk in The Banks’s Smale Riverfront Park in his free time.

GRANT FREKING As FC Cincinnati makes big moves despite big losses (page 21), Grant Freking’s reliable voice is here to chat about it. He’s worked for 15 years as a jack-of-all-trades reporter and writer, but has spent much of his time on Cincinnati-centric sports writing. “I’m a sports nut,” he says, “born and raised in Cincinnati.” Catch Freking’s weekly coverage of FC Cincinnati’s upcoming season at cincinnatimagazine.com.

CHRIS DANGER For freelance artist Chris Danger, who is Korean-American, the opportunity to illustrate an Asian family felt like a perfect fit. Danger depicted Hideki and Yuko Harada of College Hill’s Kiki in his trademark colorful, cartoon-inspired cover. “That idea of thinking positive and adapting to circumstance is really important,” he says. “And that’s the message I truly gave with this cover.”


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SISTA GIRL’S SKILLS P. 22

MEGAN MITCHELL’S NEWS STYLE P. 24

CUSTOM TABLES P. 26

A HOUSE IN THE WOODS P. 28

FIELD OF DREAMS After two years of last place finishes, FC Cincinnati looks for a fresh start in its new West End Stadium. GRANT FREKING

I

N A T YPICAL WORK ENVIRONMENT,

logging two successive years of unsightly performance would be met with a directive to pack up your cubicle. Or, in our current health landscape, uninstall any company-owned software on your computer. But the mechanisms of professional sports don’t align with the corporate world, which is why FC Cincinnati embarks on its third Major League Soccer season as the toast of the town despite finishing dead last in each of its first two years. The mere existence of an MLS club in Cincinnati remains remarkable, to be sure. Less than six years have passed from FC Cincinnati occupying nothing more than cells in FCC President Jeff Berding’s brain to this spring’s public debut of the $250 million West End Stadium, a stateof-the-art soccer-only structure on Central Parkway. FC Cincinnati’s establishment in 2016 birthed a seemingly overnight swell of support from both citydwelling, young professional–dominated supporters groups and suburban families seeking to fulfill their children’s soccer obsessions beyond video games and CONTINUED ON P. 22

ILLUSTR ATIO N BY B LO O D B R O S .

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DISPATCH

ARCHITECTURE

HALL PASS

Cincinnati City Hall is one of 15 U.S. buildings featured in City Hall, a new book by writer/photographer/film director Arthur Drooker. The second oldest hall featured, it’s noted for its historic stained glass windows and image of “moral authority.”Available at Joseph-Beth Booksellers 2 2 C I N C I N N AT I M A G A Z I N E . C O M M A R C H 2 0 2 1

SPEAK EASY

SISTA GIRL SHARES HER SKILLS X Venus Kent bought an “abused and abandoned” 1924 Cape Cod from the Camp Washington Community Board for $10,000 and tracked her three-year DIY restoration journey on the Sista Girl With Skills blog, racking up 70,000 views from readers in more than 60 countries. The Cincinnati native shares what she learned along the way.

an architect at the time and you got his services. I had planned to do much of the work myself from day one.

How did you find your dream home? I knew I wanted a fixer-upper, so I was drawn to doing something where I could put my own mark on it. I had lived all my life in my childhood home [in Forest Park] and never knew my style—I was looking to finally find me. Is restoring a 100-yearold home really like what you see on HGTV? I would say it’s exactly what you see on the TV shows, especially ones like Rehab Addict and Good Bones. I started with architectural plans. When you bought a house from the community board, they had

How did you jump in and start DIY-ing? The day I closed on the house, I came inside and saw this giant old plumbers wrench, a tiny little hammer, and a really rusted handsaw. I just started knocking holes in the wall. I was so fortunate all of the house’s original wood molding was still there, so I removed every piece and wrapped them in plastic to be able to put them back up. What’s your advice to anyone considering restoring or rehabbing a historic home? There are some key contractor positions you need to have, so get a good architect, a good plumber, and a good electrician. And plan for more time than you think you’re going to need. —SARAH M. MULLINS READ A LONGER CONVERSATION WITH VENUS AT CINCINNATI MAGAZINE.COM

PH OTO G R A PHS BY J O N ATH A N W I LLI S

I L LU S T R AT I O N S BY Z AC H A RY G H A D ERI / ( A R C H I T EC T U R E) PH OTO CO U R T E S Y A R T H U R D R O O K ER /S C H I FFER P U B LI SH I N G

YouTube highlights of Lionel start to some, but FC Cincinnati will cement itself as the MLS laughingstock if it Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. finishes last in points once again. And that was when the club was playIf one squinted hard enough at the ing in the United Soccer League, then the third tier of American soccer. As the pitch last season, progress was made. team found consistent on-field success Head coach Jaap Stam, a veteran of in USL, fan support soared. In 2018, FC high-profile European soccer, is comCincinnati smashed single-game and petent and unafraid to experiment with season attendance marks in its final USL formations. General Manager Gerard season before placing third in average Nijkamp’s in-season additions of defensive midfielder Kamohelo Mokotjo attendance during its inaugural MLS campaign in 2019. and 20-year-old winger Alvaro Barreal FC Cincinnati broke ground on its were inspired, with the former bringing new stadium in late 2018, but since then defensive solidity and the latter adding the club’s supporters haven’t flair on the flanks. Midfielder been rewarded with wins. FCC Frankie Amaya, the No. 1 completed a trifecta of despair overall pick in the 2019 draft, in 2019: a poorly constructed took a step forward, too. Kick Off The success of this year’s roster shuffled through three FC Cincinnati opens head coaches, scored the fewest squad will come down to the 2021 season goals in the league, and allowed scoring more goals. Lots of and debuts its new the most goals in MLS history. stadium in early April. them. And FCC took a huge In the COVID-shortened 2020 fccincinnati.com step forward by signing season, the club repeated two 21-year-old Brazilian star of those feats: three head coaches and a Brenner, announcing its largest free agent league-low tally in goals scored. The dedeal ever in February. He’ll certainly take fense improved from “historically defiscoring pressure off of Jurgen Locadia, cient” to “below average.” the high-profile English Premier League And now 2021 becomes a critical transfer who flopped in 2020, bagging a season in Cincinnati. Last year, a pair of single goal in 17 matches. expansion sides, Inter Miami and NashCOVID will force the West End ville, qualified for the postseason in their Stadium into a no-fan or modified atmaiden MLS voyages. Another expantendance arrangement for a while this sion team debuts this season in Austin, season, inhibiting the opportunity for Texas, with more to come in the next few many of us to experience the shiny new years. And FCC’s “Hell Is Real” rival, the stadium right away. Let’s hope FCC’s Columbus Crew, won the championship. scoring opportunities translate into Locally, the club may still be a cuddly upmore wins without us.


Ohio businesses have changed to keep us safe. Now, it’s time for all of us to do our part. Let’s put safety first, so we can make memories that last. Find out more at Ohio.org


STYLE COUNSEL



Megan Mitchell OCCUPATION: Anchor and reporter, WLWT-TV; TikTok star, @megan.mitchellll STYLE: Fresh, clean, tomboy How has your style evolved throughout your career? [When] I came out in college, I was going to school for broadcast journalism. One of the things my parents were concerned about was my career. Obviously, it’s in the public eye, and they were very much like, You should probably be quiet about [being gay], just so you don’t lose out on jobs. So, in the beginning it was a lot of typical dresses. . . . The thing about local news is it’s pretty rigid in terms of gender roles; you always see the female and the male sitting next to each other, and one of them is wearing a dress, and the other is wearing a suit, and you don’t see that mixed up a lot. I started wearing suits about a year ago, and it’s funny because sometimes I’ll get mean comments about it, but once I posted it to TikTok, it’s all been really great feedback. What inspired you to make TikToks about being a queer newscaster? When I was growing up, there were queer role models, but they all lived in L.A. or New York . . . so I thought, Maybe it would be fun to showcase that there’s someone in your own city, where we don’t necessarily have the resources or the role models of LGBTQ representation that the coasts have. What kind of feedback have you received? It’s been really nice to see that so many people either relate to it or have said, Hey, you’ve given me the courage to wear a pantsuit to the dance, or a lot of people say, You’ve give me the courage to get an undercut. It’s been really mind-blowing quite honestly. Tell me about your undercut. When I got to Cincinnati, I was like, What’s a way I can really bend the rules? And I [decided] to get an undercut, because you can see my anchor bob on the desk, but when I’m not there, I gotta be myself. And now it’s kind of morphed into one. —ELEANOR BISHOP

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PHOTOGRAPH BY MARLENE ROUNDS


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HOMEGROWN

FAMILY TABLE

FOR NOAH SEURKAMP, CUSTOM TABLE MAKING IS ABOUT CONNECTION. — J A C L Y N Y O U H A N A G A R V E R

W When he was 12 years old, Noah Seurkamp helped his dad make a table as a surprise for his mom. She clearly loved it: “This thing gets used every Sunday for a giant family dinner that we pile 12 people around,” Seurkamp says. The second time he made a table was years later, for his thengirlfriend, Kelsey, which reminded Seurkamp how much he enjoys woodworking. Today, Seurkamp and Kelsey (now his wife) own Table Bar, where they make custom tables from their Lower Price Hill workshop. Woodworkers often start out small, but Seurkamp jumped right in with his huge, centerpiece-of-a-room items. For such large pieces, woodworkers consider everything from the temperature and humidity of the workshop to the dryness of the wood to the pressure used to put everything together. Seurkamp figured out these details through trial and error. “I ended up making free things for people

BEHIND THE SCENES 1: Noah and Kelsey Seurkamp in their Lower Price Hill workshop. 2: The finished product. 3: A table in progress.

[starting out] because I didn’t know what I was doing,” he says. “I feel super proud of the level I’ve hit with stuff, the quickness I can get stuff done. I’m constantly [thinking], How am I able to do this right?” For Seurkamp, it’s all about the message a table sends. “It’s one of the only pieces of furniture that forces people to sit down faceto-face and communicate with each other,” he says. “When you equip someone with a badass table that they’re really proud of and love having at their house, all they want to do is bring people over and put them around it.” Each order takes about six weeks, since he typically works on five to seven tables at once. First, Seurkamp

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interviews buyers and asks questions like What stage of life are you in? How much space do you have? What’s your house like? Next, he finds the right color of wood from Ohio Wood Connection in Blue Ash or Outdoor Living Group in Moraine, taking into consideration the customer’s table size and style needs. Finally, he uses an oil- and

2

wax-based finish that accentuates the wood’s color and grain pattern, so each table is truly one-of-a-kind. Seurkamp hopes to one day have a space where he and Kelsey can meet with customers. What he describes sounds more homey than a retail space: a wood-burning stove, fun lights, and a cozy vibe. Kelsey says, “We hope people can come hang out and feel excited about planning their table.” Table Bar, tablebar.co

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REAL ESTATE



MAKING INROADS

MERYTON PLACE IS AN ANOMALY: A CITY STREET SMACK IN THE MIDDLE

of a nature preserve, itself just steps from the fast-developing borough of College Hill. A one-mile jaunt up the road past the gilded age Laurel Court mansion (also known as the former LaRosa’s corporate headquarters) will put you right in the center of a business district on the move. On a map at least, Meryton’s short strip of single-family homes in the otherwise dense and hilly Fox Preserve looks almost comically out of place, as if a giant pushed a lawnmower straight through the woods and sprinkled in a miniature neighborhood. But for the home buyer who dreams of morning forest walks and evening sidewalk strolls, of uninterrupted treetop views and a crop of close neighbors, then Meryton is truly the best of both worlds. In short: if you’re part City Mouse, part Country Mouse, then it may just be the most wellappointed street in the city. This house, one of just two dozen or so on the whole street, is sort of a business-in-thefront-party-in-the-back situation: The facade 2 8 C I N C I N N AT I M A G A Z I N E . C O M M A R C H 2 0 2 1

is a straightforward and exceedingly respectable two-story traditional abutting a wide two-car garage. But the back deck will stop you in your tracks. It’s a huge wraparound affair with its own screened-in porch, which is visible from the street, all overlooking a steep hill down into the preserve. “The location of this place is just beautiful,” says Nancy Pater, the listing agent with Keller Williams Seven Hills Realty. “That screened-in porch? I would live there. I would be on the back porch probably six months out of the year.” That very special feature, along with its pristine locale, would likely be enough to sell this 1925 home to most buyers in our very tight local real estate market (and the house was indeed under contract at press time). But the interior, with its stately layout, four sizable bedrooms, and two full bathrooms, has also been lovingly maintained by the owners, who lived there for 45 years. Large banks of windows on the first floor flood the rooms with filtered light, and a walk-out basement gives instant access to the great outdoors.

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THIS STRIKING COLLEGE HILL HOME SITS IN A ONE-OF-A-KIND LOCATION. — A M Y B R O W N L E E


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Dr. Know is Jay Gilbert, weekday afternoon deejay on 92.5 FM The Fox. Submit your questions about the city’s peculiarities at drknow@cincinnati magazine.com

 DR. KNOW

How can you people call that stuff chili? The reason you don’t know the year when Cincinnati outlawed horse-riding on public streets is because that year still awaits. Should you ever get around to having a horse, feel free to mosey on over to Fountain Square without fear of arrest. You might want to check with someone before attempting to trot along a surviving section of the Skywalk, though. Officer Darryl Jones, who once rode in the Cincinnati Police Department’s Mounted Patrol, will give you the answer that you’ll endorse: If a horse is properly trained and if all traffic laws are observed, it is perfectly legal to ride on city streets. As for finding a hitching post that takes credit cards, you’re on your own.

Q+ A

I’m not a Cincinnati native. When someone told me that the original Baldwin Building burned down in the 1960s and was rebuilt, that seemed impossible; such a glorious structure can’t just be replaced. But then someone else said they do remember, as a kid, a huge fire at Baldwin Piano. Did this really happen? —AM I BEING PLAYED DEAR PLAYED:

Can anybody ride a horse on a Cincinnati street? I don’t mean a horse and buggy or a cop, but any private citizen with a horse and a saddle. If I clopped over to Fountain Square right now, would I get arrested? In what year did this become illegal? I’m just curious; I have no horse. —WITH NO NAME

DEAR WITH:

These past months of “uncertain times” and devil’s playground idleness are undoubtedly responsible for the most weirdly random questions in this column’s history. The Doctor will know things have returned to normal when his inbox presents predictable comforts like

3 0 C I N C I N N AT I M A G A Z I N E . C O M M A R C H 2 0 2 1

Ah, those pesky mists of time. They blur our memories, making us unsure about things like the exact day of infamy when the Japanese bombed the Hindenburg. Your friend is correct about the Baldwin Piano Company experiencing an enormous fire; it was one of the largest in Cincinnati history. But the magnificent building on, ahem, Gilbert Avenue (see our February 2019 issue) sustained only minor injuries. Much of Baldwin’s piano manufacturing had moved to other cities by 1964, leaving several empty buildings nearby. They were in the process of being demolished to make way for the new I-71 when, on the night of March 4, an intentional fire of scrap material developed intentions of its own. Two hours later, four buildings were completely in flames. Only some ILLUSTR ATIO N S BY L A R S LEE TA RU


ASK THE EXPERT

I was house-hunting in Mt. Washington and came upon an unusual street: Antoinette Avenue. Along both sides it’s got petite one-story concrete homes with flat roofs. I’ve never seen houses like these in Cincinnati, much less an entire block of them. This one-story street must have a story; can you find it? —WHAT’S THE STORY

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§ăû§ƕƛłØŅ̐ŎƕŅăŬŎė First Edition Rare Books, shares trade secrets on how he assesses the value of rare books.

DUST JACKET

• SCARCITY NŎƕłØŅƛõŎŨĤăŰ are available for sale and is ŹĠăŬăØłØŬķăŹėŎŬŹĠĤŰòŎŎķ̗ • PROVENANCE Is this book signed by the author or was it ŎƕŅăûòƛØŅŎŹØòĺăƱęƀŬă̗RŹ̵Ű really exciting when you can ŨƀŹŹŎęăŹĠăŬØòŎŎķ̵ŰŎƕŅăŬŰĠĤŨĠĤŰŹŎŬƛ̖

DEAR WHAT:

Here’s the story. . .of a lovely lady. She was in the process of selling her home on Antoinette Avenue just as the Doctor was nosing around about the history of her unique street. The lady graciously invited him to the closing of her sale, so that he might further nose around through the infernal pile of documents one must slog through at closings. It’s just another example of the Doctor’s somewhat disturbing commitment to finding answers. Think of this as an episode of NCIS: Mt. Washington. A Mr. Trapp and Mr. Cobb, prominent Mt. Washington developers, appear to have commissioned the block’s construction in 1946. Tattered blueprints of the home also identified the contractor, a Mr. Frank Bush, whose name the Doctor subsequently discovered in a 1947 newspaper article. It has photos of Antoinette Avenue, showing a quick and inexpensive solution to Cincinnati’s urgent postwar housing shortage: poured concrete homes by Mr. Bush. He was most likely responsible for building the entire pop-up block of houses. That’s the way they all became the Bush Bunch. Sorry.

,VLWGLIĆFXOWWRĆQGDĆUVWHGLWLRQRI The Old Man and the Sea? RŹ̵ŰŬăĺØŹĤƔăĺƛăØŰƛŹŎƱŅûØƱŬŰŹ ăûĤŹĤŎŅŎėŹĠĤŰNăłĤŅęƕØƛõĺØŰŰĤõ̐òƀŹƱŅûĤŅęŎŅăĤŅŹĠăŨƀòlisher’s original dust jacket is ŹŎƀęĠ̖§ĠĤŰõŎŨƛĤŰØƱŬŰŹŨŬĤŅŹĤŅę̐ĤŅØƱŬŰŹŰŹØŹăûƀŰŹĴØõķ㏠ƕĤŹĠŹĠăŎŬĤęĤŅØĺŬăŹØĤĺŨŬĤõăŎė $3.00. A book in this condition ĤŰĺĤķăØŨĤăõăŎėØŬŹƕŎŬķ̖RŹ̵Ű ØĺłŎŰŹŎŅăŎėØķĤŅû̖ :KDWGR\RXORRNIRUZKHQSXUFKDVLQJDERRNRUERRNFROOHFWLRQ" • CONDITION Have the books been well cared for? Do they ĠØƔăØŅƛŎƫăŅŰĤƔăŎûŎŬŰ̗ nĤŰŰĤŅęŨØęăŰ̗

SPINE CONDITION

above-and-beyond firefighter heroics kept the main headquarters from joining them. The Baldwin building, now luxury apartments, has had no southside neighbor since that night. But later this year Cincinnati Ballet will open its new headquarters and dance center next door. We doubt any apartment residents will complain about loud music.

ADDS VALUE A photo of Hemingway was only included on the dust jacket of the first and second printings of The Old Man and the Sea.

'RHVP\JUDQGIDWKHUèVERRN FROOHFWLRQKDYHYDOXH" Just because a book is old, ûŎăŰŅ̵ŹłØķăĤŹƔØĺƀØòĺăŎŬ ŬØŬă̖òĤòĺăėŬŎł˘˟˜˗ĤŰØŅ “old book,” but not necessarily ŬØŬă̖ÉŎƀłØƛØĺŰŎĠØƔăŹĠăŎŅĺƛ ķŅŎƕŅõŎŨƛŎėØòŎŎķ̐òƀŹĤŹ ûŎăŰŅ̵ŹłăØŅŹĠăŬă̵ŰØłØŬķ㏠for that book. Start by doing research online, then call if you’d like to discuss the collection.

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M A R C H 2 0 2 1 C I N C I N N AT I M A G A Z I N E . C O M 3 1


WE LCO ME TO MIDDLEHOOD BY JUDI KETTELER

Steady Now OVERCOMING FEAR AND REMEMBERING TO JUST LET GO AND MOVE.

WHEN THE PANDEMIC HIT, I FOCUSED ON THE FACT THAT NO MATTER WHAT SHUT DOWN OR what happened with my kids’ schooling, I could still do one thing: run. And so I ran. A lot. I’ve been running for 25 years. Most of that time, I’ve averaged about 60 miles a month. Last spring, I started logging 100 miles a month. Running became my No. 1 mental health practice. Not only did it offer the rare chance to be away from everyone in my house, it was also a moving meditation. You breathe. You move. Time and miles pass. You come back home feeling more alive. What’s better than that? Aside from some achiness and bouts of tendonitis here and there, I’ve stayed uninjured these past three decades. So when I rolled my left ankle in the middle of a run in May, I didn’t think much of it. It definitely hurt, but I was still able to run the three miles back 3 2 C I N C I N N AT I M A G A Z I N E . C O M M A R C H 2 0 2 1

home. It wasn’t pleasant, but I didn’t think there was any real damage. I iced. I rested a few days. And I went back at it. About a month later, I rolled the same ankle again while running. Not quite as badly as before, but it still hurt. Not only that, I feared it now fell into the category of “recurring problem,” which runners don’t like to acknowledge. AROUND MID-AUGUST, PROBABLY because my gait was slightly off from protecting the ankle, I developed plantar fasciitis in my left foot—a condition that feels like someone is sticking needles in your heel. I swapped out one of my running days for swimming laps at the Y, looked up stretches to do, and fought my way through it. And then, at the end of that month, I fell while running. I got neither a concussion nor a black eye—two things friends of mine have suffered from running falls—but I banged up my right knee, hand, and shoulder pretty badly. My knee was especially gruesome. I cleaned it up with the tissue I had and continued to run. For eight miles. As I was gritting through the pain, blood visible on my knee, I knew my decision was questionable. But the weather was so nice! I couldn’t waste a Sunday run on a silly little thing like a bloody knee. Within about a week, though, my knee became infected. The infection, which looked like a rash of big pimples, soon spread all over my right leg and part of my left (shaving my legs may have been the culprit). I washed my legs with alcohol, slathered on antibiotic ointment, and kept them covered for a few days. It healed, just in time for a giant callus to develop on the bottom of my left foot, which hurt with every step. And the plantar fasciitis came back. And everything about my gait was strange, like I couldn’t quite pick up my feet in the right way. What I’ve always loved about running is that it’s such a simple pact between you and the ground: I will keep putting one foot in front of the other, and you will keep supporting me. It’s exquisitely low-tech. But more and more, the ground was feeling like an antagonist rather than a trusted ally. The reasons weren’t secret. I was getting older. I was overtraining. I was having some bad luck. Nonetheless, the feeling of unsteadiness ILLUSTR ATIO N BY D O L A SU N


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WELCOME TO MIDDLEHOOD was, well, unsteadying—inside a year that had already unsteadied us all anyway. With every run, it seemed, I was waiting for the next thing to happen. Which of course it did. On a sunny Friday in mid-October, I rolled my left ankle again and crashed to the pavement. But this time there was no doubt

other. As she showed me the tiny white dot of a bone fragment on the X-ray, I thought of breaking the wishbone on Thanksgiving with my brother when we were kids. Snap. On the bright side, I didn’t need surgery. But the doctor told me no running for eight to 12 weeks. And then she handed me a boot.

FEAR ISN’T A GOOD RUNNING COMPANION. IT’S HEAVY AND TIGHT, AND PLAYS CRUEL GAMES. WOULD I BE PERPETUALLY AFRAID, OR WAS I GOING TO FIND MY FOOTING AGAIN? that something was very wrong. The pain was shocking. Luckily, it happened at the very end of my run, when I was only a few blocks from home. I was a frightful, limping, sobbing mess when I walked in the door. After X-rays, my doctor confirmed what I suspected: I had broken my foot. Fractured one bone and cracked a piece right off of an-

“Really?” I said, staring at the plastic and Velcro contraption.“Yep, if you want to heal.” I did. But it all felt insurmountable. I STARTED RUNNING MY JUNIOR YEAR OF college when I was out for a walk one night. I had a ton of reading still to do, and I realized I would get home more quickly if I ran.

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I had also gained some weight after quitting gymnastics and was looking for a way to get back into shape. It was hardly a love connection at first. I struggled to breathe and didn’t understand pacing. But I stuck with it, and as I got better, my reasons for running began to shift away from weight loss or expediency. At some point, running simply became my space to think, with those solitary miles providing the chance to work out problems. Or grieve. Or celebrate. Or just let off steam. Without running, how would I function? A conversation with my mom helped me reframe. My sisters and I were (safely) visiting her one Sunday, when she told us about how she got out of her winter funk. “Well, I was feeling down because it was cold out and getting dark so early,” she said. “But then I remembered, Oh, Mary, you’re a person who likes winter!” My sisters and I laughed, because that was so Mom. She’s an 85-year-old widow, and despite a bevy of challenges and losses she’s stayed one of

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the most contented people I know. I tried her technique: Judi, you are a person who likes challenges! It worked well enough. I looked up physical therapy exercises for strengthening feet and ankles. I worked on shaving five minutes off my mile time for swimming. I bought an exercise bike for the basement, signed up for the Peloton app, and started cycling a few times a week. I focused on feeling grateful for all the privileges I had, like health insurance, a flexible schedule, a Y membership, and money to buy exercise equipment. I wanted nothing more than to ditch that boot and hit the road. And yet, when my doctor gave me the OK a few months later to do just that—slowly, she cautioned—I was strangely ambivalent. My foot had healed, but my trust for my own body still felt fractured. I took some walks to start, trying a few running steps. It didn’t hurt. But I was afraid. And fear—though helpful in its ability to keep us away from danger—isn’t

a good running companion. First of all, it’s heavy and tight. Secondly, it’s loud as hell and plays cruel games with you. I was no stranger to mental blocks about physical things, having been a gymnast who dealt with fear around certain tricks. On some, I overcame the fears. Others, I just stopped doing. I took them right out of my routines. Nope, not doing that vault ever again. What would it be with running? Was I going to be perpetually afraid of my feet betraying me? Think about every step? Stop running altogether? Or was I going to find my footing again? A few weeks of halting walk/runs had given me nothing but sore calves and anxious breaths. One cold Sunday when I was feeling particularly low, no sooner did I start running than it poured down rain. To avoid the overflowing sidewalk puddles and road spray from cars, I took a detour to the high school track near my house. There was no one there, because who would be there on a cold and rainy winter Sunday? I started

laughing. Really hard. I didn’t realize until that moment how utterly serious I was taking all of this. Which is what I always did. Crawled inside my head and made things matter to an impossible degree. I remembered an editor for a website I used to write for and how I’d call her all stressed about how to organize the pages and what information to include. Sometimes she’d laugh and say, “Oh Judi, it’s just content.” Oh Judi, it’s just running. Neither your children’s futures nor the health of our democracy hinges on these footsteps of yours. It’s just running around a totally abandoned track on a stupid afternoon. So go! Maybe it was because a track is a good, safe surface for running. Or maybe it was because I remembered that, although I’d battled fear as a gymnast, it was mostly really fun to let go and move. I ran around that track and laughed and got thoroughly soaked. And for the first time in a long while, my feet were just along for the ride.

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S TAT E


ALL IN THE

ALL HANDS ON DECK Mike and Helen Wong (seated) and their family pitch in to keep Oriental Wok serving on both sides of the river.

FAMILY 38


Family-owned restaurants have been particularly hard hit by COVID’s economic disruption, but many have found encouragement in their strong bonds and community support. Our annual restaurant issue dishes on Cincinnati’s resilient food families.

PHOTOGRAPHS BY

Jeremy Kramer

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For decades, Cincinnati Magazine’s March issue has featured our annual ode to the area’s best restaurants and chefs. In this unfortunate pandemic period, though, we forgo our usual top 0 ranking. Too many quality restaurants are closed, paused, or focused on carryout to allow us to properly evaluate and compare dining experiences and menus. Instead, this issue highlights family-owned restaurants across the region and examines how they’ve been challenged—and stuck together—in ways only families can understand. Their love, ingenuity, and hope are inspiring.

No Longer Pie in the Sky O Pie O owner Lou Ginocchio knows the importance of taking care of customers, employees, and the community. — K A I L E I G H P E Y T O N

A

t the beginning of March

2020, tangible signs that our lives would soon be turned upside down were emerging. On March 11, the World Health Organization officially categorized COVID-19 a global pandemic, with around 1,000 cases in the U.S. and just shy of 120,000 worldwide. The first tri-state cases were diagnosed in Butler County on March 13. The next day wouldn’t have spectac-

ular significance, except to mathematics fanatics and anyone looking for an excuse to eat pie. “Pi Day [3.14] is one of our biggest days of the year,” says Lou Ginocchio, owner of O Pie O in Walnut Hills and Over-the-Rhine. He and his team had been paying attention to the virus’s spread in other countries, eyeing the possibility it could have a major effect on their business. Ginocchio called a company meeting March 5 to begin contingency planning.

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The best option, he decided, would be to close the dining room before Pi Day—just before the official state mandate—to keep his staff safe. “We were trying to figure it out,” he says. “How do we have the kind of day that we depend on, that our employees depend on, while providing a safe environment with such an influx of people? And so we closed down the dining room and never reopened it.” A former teacher, Ginocchio launched O Pie O in 2014 as a popup vendor at Findlay Market—along with his sister, Laura Ginocchio, and her partner, chef Ian Sobeck—with the goal of serving the “best pie in the world.” What would elevate their sweet and savory pies above the rest? Along with sourcing high-quality ingredients, cutting butter into the dough instead of mixing it in. The result is an uber-flaky, meltin-your-mouth crust, but at a cost. “That means making a lot of choices in terms of labor that aren’t necessarily the most efficient,” says Ginocchio. “So we spend more time and money on this process for higher quality.” That same philosophy has come into play managing the business during the pandemic. Making sure his employees are taken care of has driven management decisions, he says, rein-


The positive news was we felt our menu was carryout friendly.”

forced by trying to be adaptable and creative. Curbside carryout has been key. “The positive news was we felt we could survive this, that our menu is carryout friendly,” Ginocchio says. Shutting down the dining room unfortunately meant some employees had to be let go, but Ginocchio was able to keep others on, particularly those who wouldn’t qualify for unemployment benefits. O Pie O created a school lunch program to feed neighborhood children who were learning remotely in Walnut Hills and in Lower Price Hill, where the company has

I L L U S T R A T I O N B Y © V I D H YA N A G A R A J A N 2 0 2 1 , L E V Y C R E A T I V E M A N A G E M E N T, N Y C

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a baking facility. The staff raised funds to purchase hand pie ingredients, cover labor costs, and find volunteers to serve 4,000 student lunches, keeping some workers employed while giving back to the community. Ginocchio created a modular scheduling system, wherein workers on the same recurring shifts avoid outside exposure and reduce the risk of shutting down the entire restaurant. “[We ask] that they limit their out-of-work and out-ofhousehold social interactions,” he says. “It’s a big ask, but it’s brought us together.” They try to mimic the outdoors inside each O Pie O location, focusing on maximum air circulation and ventilation. These steps, along with receiving a Paycheck Protection Program loan, have been critical to staying open. The pandemic has inspired new benefits for O Pie O employees, including sick days, short-term disability, and life insurance, which are practically unheard of in the restaurant industry. Ginocchio plans to keep the policies in place. “I can’t see us going back to that mentality [of few to no benefits], and I don’t think it’s good business practice in retrospect,” he says. Although O Pie O is serving about half as many customers today as it did pre-pandemic, those remaining customers are spending a lot more. “Our Thanksgiving and Christmas, which are two big days for us, were bigger than ever in terms of the number of pies sold,” says Ginocchio. The biggest lesson from the pandemic, he says, is just how quickly uncontrollable circumstances can dictate your success. “Before we would say, We make the best pie. If we provide the most hospitable environment, the food stands on its own, and we’ll be successful. Our perspective has changed. There are more variables out there determining our future than just our products.”


A dream come true at Oriental Wok The Wong family keeps overcoming obstacles almost 50 years after settling in Cincinnati. — K A I L E I G H P E Y T O N

T

he school bus didn’t drop

Susanna Wong Burgess and Angela Wong Miller off at their house after elementary school. It took them to their parents’ restaurant, Oriental Wok, in Ft. Mitchell. Instead of playing “house,” they played “restaurant.” (Susanna was the cook—and still is, her sister says— and Angela was the customer.) “My parents are first-generation immigrants, so they kept us close because they wanted to make sure we were safe,” says WongBurgess. “They were like, This is what we poured our whole lives into. You’re going to be here like it’s your second home.” Their father, Mike, grew up in China. When he was 15, his parents sent him to the British colony of Hong Kong to escape Mao’s Communist Revolution. That’s where he met Helen, his future wife, and they spent their free time watching U.S. films, enamored by the landscapes and stars like Elvis Presley, John Wayne, and Audrey Hepburn. “All I would see is American Hollywood movies,” says Wong. “Beautiful Hawaii, New York, Chicago, the Golden Gate Bridge. And I told myself, I want to go to see that if I have a chance. My dream was to come to America.” He took a leap of faith by himself, leaving for the U.S. in 1972 to build a better life for Helen, a professional musician, and their 3-year-old and

6-month-old daughters. Wong, an engineer by training, used a Hong Kong contact in Cincinnati to help him land a restaurant job. Once his shift was over at one of the few Chinese restaurants here at the time, he sometimes offered to work front of house and spent hours in movie theaters to learn English. Wong was granted a green card after two years, and Helen and the girls joined him here, along with the family piano. They opened their own restaurant, Oriental Wok, across the river so as not to

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compete with the business that helped him get his start. “It was November 1977, just before Thanksgiving,” says Wong Burgess. “My dad knew it was a big American holiday that had something to do with turkeys.” Naturally, he made a special dish for the occasion: turkey chow mein. But the dining room was empty. “This man came in, and he was like, Hey, Mike, what are you doing? It’s Thanksgiving. Why don’t you close up and come to Thanksgiving at my house. We’ll show you what it’s all about. It


GOOD OLD DAYS (Clockwise from top) Susanna (far le) and Angela Wong with their parents in 1977; Mike Wong in Hong Kong Harbor in 1964; Mike and Helen Wong on Oriental Wok’s opening day, November 17, 1977.

was a window into the greatness of the Midwest and America and acceptance of new immigrants.” When the pandemic hit last spring, the sisters’ home away from home became a classroom for their own children, a small silver lining to emerge from the turmoil that included closing their dining room to customers. “They hunkered down on the tables, we got a stronger WiFi, we just did it,” says Wong Miller. “I considered it a blessing in a way because I knew that they were safe coming with me to work.” Although Mike and Helen didn’t intend for their daughters to carry on the business, after continuing their educations and both earning master’s degrees, they’ve poured themselves into it. They helped open an Ohio location in Hyde Park, and Susanna and husband Guy have been working to launch a national cooking sauce brand. Like other restaurant owners, the pandemic has forced tough decisions, including laying off staff—some of whom have been with the family for

two decades—and a switch to carryout only until dining rooms opened back up in the summer. They also faced challenges unique to the divisive times that their industry cohorts likely haven’t: abusive prank calls. “For the past three days, someone has called our restaurant maybe 100 times a night saying all kinds of inappropriate, racially charged craziness,” says Wong Miller. “We’ve had so many phone calls, Oh, are you making bat soup? Are you guys serving COVID-19 specials?” says Wong Burgess. They take it in stride, though. “I would say 99 percent of the community doesn’t tolerate that,” she says. The Wong sisters can feel brighter days ahead. The dining room is open— still socially distanced, of course—and their parents, now in their 70s, have received vaccines. Aside from being able to travel again, Wong Burgess says they’re all looking forward to getting back to what they miss most about running a restaurant: “It’s where people go to celebrate and be together.”

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Open(ing) for Business These restaurant families didn’t let COVID cancel their expansion plans. —KATIE COBURN

FIFTY WEST BURGER BAR Despite the pandemic, Fifty West Brewing Company owner Bobby Slattery pressed on with plans to add a burger bar and beer garden to the family brewery’s Mariemont-adjacent campus last April. “Either I was going to have to continue letting go people I cared about, or we were going to figure it out,” he recalls. On the heels of the expansion’s success, Slattery opened a second location 90 miles east in Chillicothe in January, also along U.S. 50. The entire experience, he says, taught his team resilience. “The world doesn’t have to stop. You just have to think differently than you did before.”

THE STANDARD After two-plus years of planning their fourth Covington eatery, The Standard, restaurant couple Paul Weckman and Emily Wolff—the brains behind Frida, Otto’s, and Larry’s—

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delayed the new spot’s opening from April to July. “At the end of the day, we thought that offering a large, beautiful outdoor space for people to safely gather in made sense,” Weckman says about the converted auto service station at Fifth and Main streets. He says his “better half,” Wolff, “has been creative in developing outdoor events that allow customers to get together safely.”

TEAK THAI AND OAKLEY FISH HOUSE Construction complications pushed Chanaka De Lanerolle’s plans to reopen Teak in Over-the-Rhine from last winter to April 2020. Then the pandemic pushed them to July. “A lot of my close friends think I’m kind of crazy to do this,” he says, but Teak is busy with to-go orders. Inspired by the success, De Lanerolle and his wife opened Oakley Fish House in November. “Our staff has been very responsible,” he says.


FAMILY AFFAIR ItiYah Yisrael (le) and daughter Jazlyn Mason at TiYah’s Table in Northside.

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A Seat at TiYah’s Table

and churning ice cream together. “I always enjoyed watching my mother create stuff,” says Mason, the restaurant’s kitchen manager. “She loved entertaining and inviting people over and would make a huge meal in just a couple hours, complete with dessert. You knew if my mom fed you, that was her way of showing love. Now we’re blessed to spread love all around this city.” Mason has been working in the food industry since she was a teenager, and says working with her mother in a restaurant setting is something she always hoped to do. “It feels great to be able to work with someone you can trust,” she says. “The best part about working with family is the accountability, being able to rely on one another.” Mason’s husband Levi pitches in around the restaurant, doing maintenance work and helping to keep things moving in the kitchen. She says laughter takes the edge off of the stress of managing a business. “It can also be very fun at times,” she notes. “My family has a great sense of humor, which can be helpful when things get stressful.” Her knowledge of how to run a commercial kitchen along with Yisrael’s passion for good food and service are evident at TiYah’s Table. The pair uses local ingredients whenever possible, growing their own herbs and making their own sauces. Customer favorites include a salmon croquette burger, BBQ bourbon wings, Philly sliders, and loaded salmon fries. “I love cooking,” says Yisrael, who left a health care career to follow her restaurant dreams. “It’s therapy for me, a sheer joy.” Warm weather in the summer and fall months allowed TiYah’s to keep serving in person while following COVID guidelines, using the Northside Gardens patio area for outdoor dining. As temperatures fell, though, outdoor seating lost much of its appeal for diners, and Yisrael and Mason—like most restaurant owners across the region—relied on carryout orders and delivery services such as DoorDash and Uber Eats to stay afloat. In December, the restaurant was one of nearly 300 dining establishments and bars to receive funding from the city as part of the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber’s Taste of Cincinnati All Winter Long program. (Read more about the program on page 49.) Yisrael has faith that she and her daughter will see the other side of the pandemic with their business intact. “The hardest thing has been not knowing if the governor will allow us to stay open and the many COVID-19 restrictions placed on the food industry,” she says. “But with our tenacity and endurance, nothing will stop us from continuing to live out our dream and prepare delicious bites for our beloved customers.”

This mother and daughter duo call their homestyle restaurant a “blessing” and a “dream” despite the stress of launching during the pandemic. — A I E S H A D . L I T T L E

tiYah Yisrael recalls going out to dinner with her daughter, Jazlyn Mason, and often leaving unsatisfied. “We frequently said, We could have cooked this at home,” she says. “We were never really pleased with our meals.” So when Dan Wells, owner of MixWells, decided to rebrand the LGBTQ-friendly Northside bar last summer, Yisrael jumped at the chance to be on the other side of the table. She met with Wells, laid out her proposed menu offerings, and the two hit it off. “We just clicked,” she says. “He loved our menu and the taste of the food.” Shortly thereafter, TiYah’s Table set up shop next door to the bar in space that used to house the Cambodian restaurant Mahope. Specializing in homestyle dishes with a fresh, organic flair, the eatery now serves as the go-to food spot for Wells’s new beer garden and courtyard oasis Northside Gardens. “With all of the compliments I’ve gotten from folks I’ve invited to eat my cooking over the years, it just seemed like the right thing to do,” Yisrael says. “It was perfect timing and a great blessing.” Some might say that opening a restaurant in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic is a risky move. A depressing number of establishments have closed up shop over the past 12 months, after all. But this mother-daughter duo continues to bet on their creative flair to keep customers coming. While TiYah’s Table is her first brick-and-mortar location, Yisrael spent years catering small events and selling Sunday dinners she made at home. She often told her daughter about watching her own mother bake homemade apple pies

I

I love cooking,” says ItiYah Yisrael, who le a health care career to follow her restaurant dreams. “It’s therapy for me, a sheer joy.”

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Bridges Straddles the Pandemic and Possibilities A

sh Chipalu stresses two things when discussing

When life gives you lemons, says the Chipalu family, make gundruk and frozen momos instead. — A K S H A Y A H U J A

a zippy, often gingery flavor; and a separate palette of spices. Ash describes them as a bit lighter than restaurant Indian, with their own unique character. COVID has done its damage, of course. The downtown location on East Court Street, which depends on workday foot traffic, closed for several months. Like most people in the industry, though, the Chipalus saw what they could do with what remained and improvised. The kitchen in the downtown location, which is open again but still slow in terms of its usual business, has become the main prep space for both locations. The spirit of economy—of turning potential problems and waste products into benefits—is a hallmark of every traditional cuisine. It’s also the origin of one of Bridges’s most distinctive offerings, gundruk, which I’ve never seen available in a restaurant. Rose Chipalu noticed that the restaurant was generating lots of leftover brassicas and greens, things like torn-off cauliflower leaves, and decided to salvage and transform them in a classic Nepali way. The pieces are cut small, soaked in water until they ferment, and dried above the restaurant stove. They’re then mixed with roasted garlic and a variety of spices (you can get a mild, medium, or a spicy version) and served as a kind of chewy condiment. Gundruk is difficult to describe, but I find it profoundly addictive and keep discovering new things to sprinkle it on; scrambled eggs are a current favorite. Many of the ideas developed at Bridges before the pandemic have come in handy as in-store dining slowed. The momos, a distinctively Himalayan steamed dumpling, were so popular in the restaurant that the Chipalus began selling them frozen, even briefly via pop-up stands inside Kroger stores. Diners can now order bags of them online and pick them up at the restaurant. Quick and delicious, momos have become one of our household’s favorite no-stress weekday meals. The name of his family’s restaurant, Ash says, is about connection—building a bridge between America and the culture of their homeland. Even as the pandemic has pushed people apart, these connections are clearly holding firm.

Bridges, his family’s restaurant: first, that his mother deserves all the credit for their food, as it reflects her vision and recipes; and second, that they’ve been fortunate over the past year. As the pandemic drags on, his main note is gratitude—for his family, for the neighborhood support, and for the food scene niche they’ve found. This COVID-19 crisis, one senses, is nothing they can’t handle. The restaurant, in fact, was born out of a much larger cataclysm. Bridges probably wouldn’t exist if not for the catastrophic 2015 earthquake in Nepal that left millions of people homeless, including Ash’s parents, Rose and Manoj, whose apartment building sustained severe damage. Ash had been studying to be a nurse in Cincinnati, and they decided to join him here rather than stay in Kathmandu. Working in restaurants to pay his bills and tuition, he’d often share his mother’s food with friends and coworkers. After years of ecstatic reactions, the family thought, Why not build a business around her food? The Chipalus started with a stall at Findlay Market and tables at farmers’ markets in Madeira and Northside. They caught the attention of a building owner with an empty retail space on Northside’s main drag, Hamilton Avenue, and opened their first brick-andmortar location. It was soon followed by another one downtown. When the pandemic hit, their origins in the farmers’ market scene were helpful. The Bridges focus on a mixture of items, all combined in a single bowl, enabled the family to switch to carryout without reinventing their menu. “We got really lucky with our food style,” says Ash. Much of it is easily portable—things like momos, samosas, big bowls of mixed curries—and translates well to an online ordering app. Newari cuisine, the distinctive flavors of the tribe that has historically lived in the Kathmandu Valley, might be surprising to people expecting Indian food, particularly its Americanized variety. There are similarities in some of the spices and ingredients used, but the Bridges curries are rarely creamy and tomatobased. Instead, they tend to have a thicker, legume-based gravy;

The spirit of turning potential problems into benefits is a hallmark of every traditional cuisine.

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A Juggling Act For restaurants with multiple locations, the pandemic presented unique challenges. —LAUREN FISHER

JEFF RUBY’S Dinner at Jeff Ruby’s may feel like a quintessential Queen City experience. But with locations in Kentucky and Tennessee, CEO Britney Ruby Miller found herself in a careful balancing act over the past year, juggling different rules and restrictions in three

separate states. “You never get used to it,” she says. “You learn to be as strategic as possible while still flying by the seat of your pants.” Miller, a fierce advocate for Cincinnati’s restaurant scene in the pandemic’s early days, placed her trust in the white-glove expertise of her general managers, expecting each one to

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take full ownership of their locations.

STATION FAMILY + BBQ AND CWC A year ago, it seemed that culinary sister act Caitlin Steininger and Kelly Trush had concocted the perfect recipe for a local restaurant success story, as CWC and Station Family + BBQ were local staples. But along came the pandemic and, with it, uncertainty. CWC closed in October, when Steininger stepped away to focus on her family. Station BBQ has

maintained with a skeleton crew of staff, says Trush.

DEWEY’S PIZZA Being a pizza restaurant has its perks. In the pre-COVID days, 30 percent of orders placed at 24 nationwide Dewey’s locations were for carryout—so when the industry was hit with widespread restrictions on in-person dining, the pivot to curbside pickup seemed manageable. President Chuck Lipp met uncertainty by expanding employee benefits and offering managers paid time off.


Keeping Hope Alive at Kiki Hideki and Yuko Harada gain new perspective on the importance of joy in the restaurant business.

—A K S H AY A H U J A

K

iki was supposed to be a res-

taurant in the izakaya style. The way Chef Hideki Harada describes it, people in Japan sit around a bar, have a conversation with friends over drinks, and the food arrives as it’s ready. It’s mostly small plates, freshly and quickly prepared in the kitchen, and you all dig in together. A year into the pandemic, this sounds like a fantastical paradise. Did we once gather together over drinks? Huddle together to chat with our faces uncovered? Did we actually share food? When the pandemic hit, a lot of things about Kiki had to change, and quickly. When Harada and his wife, Yuko, opened the College Hill restaurant in August 2019, they didn’t even offer carryout. After the shutdown, the menu had to be revamped, as did much of their way of doing business. Things like fresh oysters and sushigrade fish—perishable, expensive, and sensitive to fluctuations in demand— dropped off of the menu. Most of the staff had to be let go. Then, they began to adapt. “You have to be creative at this time,” Harada says. He sees this kind of creativity in restaurants all around the region, whether

making meal kits or selling take-home Christmas dinners. You either learn some new tricks, basically, or you don’t get through this thing. Much of the menu, from ramen to gyoza, could survive the transition, but

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Harada knew Kiki would have to find ways to appeal to the growing take-out mindset. One new item became a do-ityourself sushi kit. (Harada, who studied in Japan under masters of the art, luckily doesn’t have to Continued on page 50


The Bottom Line The pandemic crushed restaurant industry economics. Here are three ways food folks got back on their feet. — J O H N F O X TASTE OF CINCINNATI ALL WINTER LONG The city of Cincinnati put up $4 million of its CARES Act stimulus funds to support restaurants and bars through a grant program administered by the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber Foundation. A total of 272 businesses were given grants of either $5,000 or $10,000 in January and asked to offer customer discounts under the Chamber’s Taste of Cincinnati event brand. Kentucky announced similar grants of up to $10,000 for restaurants across the state, allocating $40 million from federal stimulus funds.

KROGER BACKS AN INCUBATOR KITCHEN Kroger gave grants to five local food entrepreneurs to pay for equipment access, mentorship, and peer support throughout 2021 at the Incubator Kitchen Collective in Newport. Rachel

ROLLING WITH THE CHANGES (Clockwise from bottom le) Yuko and Hideki Harada, photographed with daughter Elly, at Kiki in College Hill; curry pan, fried and filled with potato, onion, and carrot; Hideki at the stove; kakiage fritter, which is more like a pile of vegetable shreds with light tempura; folding a dumpling.

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DesRochers, who founded the organization in 2013, helped choose the grant winners from more than 30 applicants. “We support people,” she says. “Healthy people create healthy businesses, [which] make for a thriving community and economy.”

THE WRIGHTS HIT “PAUSE” Daniel and Lana Wright shut down their restaurants (Abigail Street, Senate, Pontiac, and Forty Thieves) after Thanksgiving to save money while riding out the winter COVID-19 surge. After enjoying what Daniel jokingly calls “semi-retirement,” they reopened most of their spots in February with new menu items and to-go meal options and scouted a potential new venue in Terrace Park. “The past year has been one big wave crashing over us,” says Daniel. “We just tried to duck under it and keep paddling.”


Continued from page 48 see the wonky handrolls I produce at home.) New items pop on the menu depending on the seasons, like yakiimo, a roasted sweet potato dish with miso butter that exemplifies Kiki’s homey directness. When the restaurant reopened for in-person dining in May, one of their rooms started to feel too confined for the pandemic, so Harada decided to construct a little Japanese market in its place. From imported packaged chips, candy, and beer to his own house-made sandwiches, plus artisanal soy and miso offerings from local outfits like CinSoy, the market has provided another avenue for reaching customers. None of it is a simple endeavor, from the endless chopping and packing for the sushi kits, which have 10 separate elements, to tracking a whole new area of inventory. And Harada admits—with a young daughter to keep occupied and on her school video calls, and with he and Yuko bearing almost all of the load—the work can be exhausting. Still, he says it’s been a wondrous journey to owning this restaurant, from working and learning in Japan and Europe and serving as executive chef at Kaze in Over-the-Rhine to innumerable pop-up ramen nights at the Northside Yacht Club. “You don’t give up on something like this

FOCUS ON THE FOOD Yuko and Hideki Harada serve a bowl of ramen (top) and gyoza pork dumplings at Kiki.

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You don’t give up on something like this without a fight,” says Hideki Harada. without a fight.” There’s another intangible element that’s kept Kiki going: joy. Whenever we go pick up food there, we always find little extras, like an origami kit tucked into the bag or silly Japanese candy shaped like a hamburger. It’s a dark time, Harada admits, and everyone needs to do their part to keep some light shining for those around them. He credits the city and organizations like the College Hill Community Urban Redevelopment Corporation not just for the obvious and muchappreciated financial help—including rent abatement and financial aid programs—but for little things like putting up a Christmas tree in the park across from Kiki or setting up a mobile library with wrapped gifts for children outside his door. All of these touches, he says, help keep a sense of hope alive. Little by little, the restaurant Harada dreamed about is coming back, even as the pandemic drags on. He’s introduced sushi nights and is rehiring kitchen and service staff. There is a safe shore on the other side of this challenging time, and it’s just possible to make it out now. The crisis has certainly changed him and Yuko. Problems that once seemed like a big deal—a staff shortage or some equipment problem in the back of the house—are now seen in a different perspective. “If you can survive this,” Harada says, laughing, “all those little things become like nothing.”

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Finding a Way Forward Looking ahead might just be the best way to survive the pandemic. —RODNEY WILSON

THE APERTURE

SACRED BEAST

PLEASE

Chef Jordan Anthony-Brown was set for a summer 2020 opening of The Aperture in Walnut Hills’s Paramount Square redevelopment. But about a month before construction started, COVID put the project on hold. He pivoted by serving Mediterraneanby-way-of-Appalachia cuisine at a few pop-ups over the course of the year, but the constraints were real. “Not having space to cook was probably the most difficult thing,” he says. With hope finally in sight, though, Anthony-Brown eyes an Aperture opening later this year.

“I figured, If I don’t have the money now, I sure won’t have the time to pay it later,” says Jeremy Lieb, cofounder (with his wife, Bridget) of Over-the-Rhine’s Sacred Beast. “So we laid off 42 people and went to work.” They created Beast Mart, a makeshift bodega selling supplies like toothpaste and toilet paper, during the height of the pandemic, alongside meal kits. They also led the charge on outdoor dining, which the city eventually made permanent with its “streateries” initiative. “You have to be positive,” says Lieb.

For a while, it seemed like only an act of God would stop the momentum of Chef Ryan Santos and Please, which Cincinnati Magazine named the No. 1 local restaurant last year. Then, COVID. After pausing and cooking in homes when opportunities arose, Santos re-opened Please in December for private dining, offering beverages and a $1,000 tasting menu for up to eight people. “With little support for the restaurant industry,” he says, “I had to figure out a way to reopen in the best and safest way we could.”


P H O T O G R A P H S B Y ( K I T C H E N ) WAV E B R E A K M E D I A M I C R O/ S T O C K . A D O B E . C O M / ( B U R G E R ) M A R A Z E M G A L I E T E / S T O C K . A D O B E . C O M / ( F R I E S ) D AV I D C H U K A L E X E Y/ S T O C K . A D O B E . C O M / (H A N D S) P R O S TO C K-S T U D I O/S TO C K . A D O B E .CO M / (R E S TAU R A N T E X T ER I O R ) C H R I S PA S I O N / (S A L A D) G C A P T U R E /S TO C K . A D O B E .CO M / (B AC KG R O U N D) M ED I A-JA /S TO C K . A D O B E .CO M

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T

he art and posters on the walls of Keystone Bar & Grill in Hyde Park are covered in holiday wrap, but there are no customers inside enjoying the festive touches. It’s lunchtime the Monday before Christmas, a time the restaurant would normally be open, but COVID-19 has sidelined lunch service.

In the kitchen, though, a cook busily prepares food. He’s making Keystone orders for delivery, but he also cranks out retro style burgers, fries, and milkshakes under the Danny Boy Burger brand and fresh salads and homemade soups under the Leaf + Ladle brand. As the dining room sleeps, Keystone is in the ghost kitchen business. “This was a year of survival,” says Dan Cronican, cofounder of Four Entertainment Group (4EG), which owns three Keystone locations and Mac Shack, a quick-serve Keystone offshoot, as well as a slew of other bars and restaurants in Cincinnati, including The Righteous Room, Rosedale, The Lackman, and Igby’s. “We’re just trying to keep our doors open until this storm passes.” Virtual ghost brands are the company’s COVID pivot, Cronican says. Customers can find them on DoorDash or through social media accounts on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. When someone orders a Danny Boy burger, she probably doesn’t know it’s coming from Keystone. After furloughing more than half of Keystone’s employees and watching sales dive amid stay-at-home orders, long stretches of 10 p.m. curfews, and strict capacity rules, the company had to do something when the end of patio season approached in the fall, Cronican says. He also wanted to continue supporting local growers and vendors who supply his restaurants. 4EG wasn’t alone. The Tavern Restaurant Group—operators of Nicholson’s, deSha’s, and locations of The Pub in Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Florida— launched two ghost concepts at the end of 2020: The Pub Fish and Chips and Nick’s Southern Kitchen. Hootie’s Bait & Tackle and Hootie’s Burger Bar come out of regional Hooter’s locations. Kroger and Frisch’s, powerhouse local brands, have found a corner of the ghost kitchen market, too.

SURVIVAL STORY DAN CRONICAN SAYS HIS TO-GO-ONLY GHOST BRANDS HELPED KEEP KEYSTONE BAR & GRILL OPEN THROUGH THE PANDEMIC.


“We used to say, Location, location, location, that your business had to be in a place with high drive-by or foot traffic,” says Christopher Muller, a restaurant and hospitality expert and former dean of the School of Hospitality Administration at Boston University. “Now, it’s what your icon looks like on a cell phone.”

have been around for years, with early versions created by venture capitalists like Uber cofounder Travis Kalanick, who launched Los Angelesbased CloudKitchens in 2016. But COVID has accelerated their propagation as a survival tool for hobbled restaurants, muddying the waters a bit on their definition. Initially, the “ghost” or “cloud” kitchen industry was fueled by consumer trends favoring food delivery, which grew 300 percent faster than dine-in experiences from 2014 to 2019, according to a report from L.E.K. Consulting. With the creation of third-party delivery services such as DoorDash, Uber Eats, Grubhub, and Postmates, Americans (and other first-world citizens) could suddenly get whatever they wanted delivered. Today, nearly every restaurant is available on a third-party delivery app, from fast food chains to fine dining establishments. There are some arguments as to what defines a ghost kitchen in 2021, but everyone appears to agree on two factors: You order the food online, and it’s available only for delivery and sometimes pick-up. Ghost brands could be coming from a rented warehouse or kitchen trailer. Or they might be made in a brick-and-mortar restaurant like Keystone or even your neighborhood Frisch’s Big Boy. Consultants are calling ghost kitchens the “secret sauce” for restaurants to stay in business. Food service vendors such as US Foods are creating ghost kitchen programs that vow to help struggling restaurant operators launch a ghost brand for less than $5,000 in less than three weeks

and reap a 30–35 percent increase in profits. Meanwhile, three-quarters of Ohio restaurant operators reported sales dropping between 20 and 70 percent in December 2020 compared to December 2019, according to a survey by the Ohio Restaurant Association. The result is a flood of new choices when you open your delivery app of choice. But are they any good? Do they hurt existing restaurant businesses? Will they dampen our desire to eat out? Society’s expectation of food service and relationships with restaurants are

“We used to say, Location, location, location, that your business had to be in a place with high drive-by or foot traffic. Now, it’s what your icon looks like on a cell phone.”

changing, says Muller, and that trend will continue after the pandemic passes. Americans now report eating about half of their meals in a restaurant of some sort, he says, but more and more they want their food to come to them instead of going to the food. “It’s not good or bad; it’s inevitable,” says Muller. “Just as fast food was inevitable.” Parts & Labor, a Cincinnati ghost concept, doesn’t really consider itself competition for other restaurants. “We see

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ourselves competing with the grocery store purchase,” says Jeffrey Miller, one of the chef partners behind the small-batch seasonal comfort food that’s available in individual, two-person, and family sizes. “Our customers might be tired of cooking and want a new experience, but they aren’t going into restaurants right now.” Miller had imagined opening a brickand-mortar restaurant before the pandemic but decided instead on a virtual service, first out of a kitchen in Over-the-Rhine and now operating at Oakley Kitchen, a new in-

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cubator and shared kitchen space. Parts & Labor produces fresh entrées and side dishes such as chicken schnitzel and chipotle roasted carrots; the meals are developed to be eaten that day or the next day. “It’s an exciting opportunity, but it’s a whole different ‘restaurant’ vibe,” says Miller. “Virtual brands are slowly growing in the Midwest but have been around for a while on the west and east coasts. It could end up saving a lot of restaurants.”

these days can be tricky. Some, like Danny Boy Burger and Nick’s Southern Kitchen, communicate directly that they’re from an established kitchen. Others don’t or won’t disclose their kitchen location. P.Za Kitchen, which makes Romanstyle individual C O N T I N U E D O N P A G E 7 8


By David Holthaus

The 20-year journey to redevelop Cincinnati’s riverfront takes another step forward as The Andrew J Brady ICON Music Center finishes construction. The Banks still isn’t finished, though, and the pandemic operates on its own timetable.


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Photograph by Lance Adkins


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civic project ever undertaken here, requiring unprecedented teamwork from city and county leaders, their counterparts in state and federal governments, and private real estate interests. The “nothingness” has become something, to be sure, but after all this time it still isn’t finished. The latest addition to this massive work in progress has the potential to be the most impactful since the stadiums themselves: the much anticipated and much debated Andrew J Brady ICON Music Center. It should give The Banks something the development has needed from the beginning: a way to attract people with money to spend

when the Reds or Bengals aren’t playing. The ICON Music Center will host 80 to 120 events a year, says Ed Morrell, who handles talent booking for owner and operator Music and Event Management Inc. (MEMI). That should mean another 200,000 to 250,000 visitors to The Banks annually. “This will bring people to The Banks who have not been here in a long time,” says Jean-Francois Flechet, who opened his fifth Taste of Belgium restaurant there in 2016. “If you’re not a sports person, chances are you haven’t been to The Banks in a really long time.” The music venue is all but finished now and awaits the return of a world where it’s safe once again to gather shoulder to shoulder, dance, sway, and sing along to live music. When that time will be here isn’t certain, but MEMI leaders say they have shows ready to go. “We are preparing for a late spring, into summer, schedule of events at all of our facilities,” says CEO Mike Smith. (MEMI also handles bookings for Riverbend, the PNC Pavilion, the Taft Theatre, and Rose Music Center near Dayton.) Also anticipating a return of crowds, Mayor John Cranley announced the city would make The Banks a Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area in the spring, allowing people to carry and consume alcoholic

1990S PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY KENTON COUNTY PUBLIC LIBRARY

The Cincinnati Reds owner and the former mayor were describing what downtown Cincinnati’s riverfront was like about 15 years ago. Two expensive new stadiums had been erected, with the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center situated between, but surrounding them was a lot of dirt and acres of parking lots. Today, of course, nothing less than an utter transformation of the riverfront has taken place, as the mud pit became The Banks— a $2 billion-plus 200-acre playground of pro sports, restaurants, bars, green space, walking paths, a carousel, and (sometimes) a giant Ferris wheel. It’s the most ambitious

CURRENT DAY

MID-1990S

BOB CASTELLINI CALLED IT A “MUD PIT” AND “DUST BIN.” MARK MALLORY CALLED IT A “BUNCH OF NOTHINGNESS” AND “PILE OF DIRT.”


BANK ON IT ( PREVIOUS SPREAD ) THE ANDREW J BRADY ICON MUSIC CENTER, PHOTOGRAPHED ON FEBRUARY 3. IN THE 1990S ( FAR LEFT ), WHAT WE KNOW AS THE BANKS WAS MOSTLY HOME TO PARKING LOTS AND WAREHOUSES. TODAY ( LEFT ), IT’S A PLACE TO LIVE, WORK, AND PLAY.

beverages in the streets. A portion of East Freedom Way near Great American Ball Park is to be closed to traffic permanently, creating a pedestrian plaza. The story of The Banks is epic in scale, and the ending isn’t written yet. We discuss its winding, halting journey with key players, including four mayors who had a hand in the project, as well as the one person who knows more about it than anyone else. WITH ITS FIVE VENUES, MEMI, A CINCINNATI SYMphony Orchestra subsidiary, is the region’s dominant music promoter. The new ICON Music Center will fill a live concert niche in its stable. Riverbend holds 20,000 people in a mix of reserved seating and general admission; PNC Pavilion next door holds 4,100, all in seats; and the Taft holds 2,500, all in seats. “What the market didn’t have is that midsized live music experience venue,” Smith says. Now the market will have two of them, as PromoWest Productions, a division of one of the world’s largest music promoters, is building one across the river in Newport. More on that later. Indoor-outdoor venues geared to young audiences that prefer to be mobile rather than assigned to a seat is a trend across the country, as Smith and his team discovered C U R R E N T DAY P H O T O G R A P H BY T I M B AY E R

during field trips to other cities. Denver’s Mission Ballroom opened in 2019 with a capacity of 3,950. In Minneapolis, The Fillmore debuted at the start of 2020, as the world’s largest concert promoter, LiveNation, continued opening a chain of concert halls using the legendary Fillmore name, which it now owns. Most of the new venues they toured were designed for general admission audiences, which create a livelier concert experience. They were particularly influenced by The Anthem, a venue in Washington, D.C., that opened in 2017 with a movable stage allowing capacity to flex between 2,500 and 6,000. “The industry has moved to these new facilities that are bigger than clubs and smaller than theaters, but with the vibe and energy of a club,” Smith says. “They’re a hybrid.” With the expertise of GBBN Architects, MEMI designed a venue that can accommodate audience sizes ranging from 1,500 to 4,400. The main floor will hold 2,700 people in a general admission experience

with no seats. That’s expected to be the set-up for most concerts, but staff can also install cushioned, linked seats on the main floor if performers want them. Two balconies will feature general admission on the sides and fixed seats in the center. That’s meant to create a close, energetic vibe, with the farthest seat from the stage being only 124 feet away, says Smith. “We created an intense amount of patron energy right next to the stage,” he says. “But we also wanted to create an experience for those people who want a fixed seat.” “If someone who is filling arenas has a solo project they want to try, they can come in and try it,” says Morrell. “Adjusting the capacity is the key to boundless opportunities.” Morrell won’t tip his hand on the artists he’ll try to book at the ICON Music Center, saying only, “We’ll entertain anyone who makes sense.” But some of the performers The Anthem in D.C. has rescheduled for dates in 2021 include Louis Tomlinson, former member of Brit boy band One Direction; electronic artist Kaytranada; Icelandic alt rock group Kaleo; and alt metal band Deftones. “When you’re talking about a category of music, with 1,500 to 4,400 people, generally it’s going to be new music, a younger demographic,” says Smith. But the venue’s flexibility will allow for artists who appeal to an older crowd, too. “At the other end of the scale, when we put fixed seats in, it turns into C O N T I N U E D O N P A G E 8 0

THE MUSIC VENUE GIVES THE BANKS SOMETHING IT’S NEEDED FROM THE BEGINNING.

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L to R: Holly Mazzocca, Lori Poole, and Kelley Downing

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WOMEN WHO MOVE CINCINNATI 2021

BARTLETT WEALTH MANAGEMENT

HO LLY MAZZO CCA, PRESIDENT; LORI POOLE, WEALTH ADV I S OR; KELLEY DOWNING, EXECUTI V E CHAI R

Genuine, trusted, highly-credentialed, visionary, and impeccable client service are words often used to describe Bartlett Wealth Management. Which is why it is no surprise that these reflect the legacy of Kelley Downing’s leadership. Recently transitioning from her longtime role as President and CEO, Kelley is passing the baton to Bartlett’s rising generation of female leaders. Incoming

President, Wealth Advisor, and Principal Holly Mazzocca serves as a guiding force for Bartlett clients and within the community, while Wealth Advisor and Principal Lori Poole blends her keen industry acumen, interest in helping people, and strong strategic problem-solving skills in her new role on Bartlett’s Management Committee. Under their leadership, the Bartlett team provides customized

investment and financial planning services to high net worth individuals and their families, foundations, endowments, and nonprofit organizations, offering financial peace of mind and a pathway toward achieving their clients’ dreams. z

600 Vine St., Suite 2100, Cincinnati, OH 45202, (513) 621-4612, https://bartlett1898.com/

M A R C H 2 0 2 1 C I N C I N N AT I M A G A Z I N E . C O M 6 5


WOMEN WHO MOVE CINCINNATI 2021

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LISA COORS MBA, ACE-MES, ACEHEALTH COACH OWNER, COORS CORE FI TNES S; COFOUNDER, PARKI NS ON COMMUNI TY FI TNESS

Lisa Coors, MBA, is the owner of Coors Core Fitness (CCF), the leading medical fitness studio in the Cincinnati area. Started in 2006, CCF has become the referral source for numerous physician practices and physical therapy centers. Lisa is certified through the American Council on Exercise as a Medical Exercise Specialist and Health Coach. Lisa is also a national presenter in the fitness industry where she presents on chronic disease management and Parkinson’s exercise. She has written numerous publications and is one of the authors for the American Council on Exercise: Medical Exercise Specialist Manual. In 2019 she cofounded Parkinson Community Fitness, a nonprofit, 501(c)3 facility located in Blue Ash, Ohio, that provides a place for people with Parkinson’s to go for exercise, support, and social activities. She is also a member of the Xavier University Women of Excellence Committee and the Xavier University College of Professional Science College Advisory Board. Her passion in life is to provide exercise as medicine to the clients and members she serves each day. z 7693 Beechmont Ave., Cincinnati, OH 45255, (513) 233-2673, www.coorscore fitness.com

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WOMEN WHO MOVE CINCINNATI 2021

ELIZABETH MANGAN

CEO, MI LLER-VALENTI NE GROUP

Elizabeth joined Miller-Valentine in 2008 and was appointed CEO in 2018. The company has undergone a significant transformation under her leadership, more than doubling its revenue from construction and development projects while selling multiple ancillary business lines. Elizabeth and the new executive team now own the company, founded in 1963. Elizabeth seized the challenges of 2020 as an opportunity to implement processes that focused on continuous improvement throughout the organization, ensuring the construction team delivered on the commitments to their clients. In addition to completing many high-profile projects, new construction/renovation of more than 5 million SF commenced in several states, including Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and West Virginia. Looking to 2021 and beyond, Elizabeth’s goal of a “Best In Class” contractor remains a top priority, which she shares and instills throughout the company she leads. Elizabeth is a member of the Board of Trustees and Executive Committee of The Good Samaritan Hospital Foundation, and a member of the board for both Adopt-A-Class and the Cincinnati Regional Business Committee. z 9349 WaterStone Blvd., Suite 200, Cincinnati, OH 45249, (513) 774-8400, www.mvg.com

M A R C H 2 0 2 1 C I N C I N N AT I M A G A Z I N E . C O M 6 7


WOMEN WHO MOVE CINCINNATI 2021

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MCM CPAS & ADVISORS

STEVIE UPCHURCH, AS SURANCE SENI OR MANAGER; BRIDGET WRIGHT, AS SURANCE SENI OR MANAGER; A NNA MARIE REILLY, TAX SENI OR MANAGER; EMILY HEIDT, TAX S ENI OR MANAGER

More than 10 years ago, MCM CPAs & Advisors was formed and has now become a large regional accounting fi rm with offices in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana. MCM provides full-service CPA and advisory services to a broad range of clients in diverse industries. The firm operates on their core values: “People Matter, Leaders Inspire, Excellence Rules” and incorporates these beliefs into everything they do. The firm is not only committed to providing relevant services to their clients, solving the problems that keep them up at night, but they are also dedicated to making their employees’ growth and development a priority. The firm has created committees and programs designed to promote the women in the fi rm and has been a seven-time honoree of the Accounting MOVE Project’s “Best CPA Firms for Women” list. The firm not only invests in women, but all of their future leaders by nurturing their skills and fostering relationships with the current management to gain experience and wisdom. z

201 E. Fifth St., Suite 2100, Cincinnati, OH 45202, (513) 579-1717, www.mcmcpa.com L to R: Stevie Upchurch, Bridget Wright, Annamarie Reilly, and Emily Heidt

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WOMEN WHO MOVE CINCINNATI 2021

JERI O’BRIENLOFGREN E X E CUT I V E SAL ES VICE PRES I D E N T, S I B CY CL INE

For the past 29 years, I have been committed to helping Cincinnatians fi nd a place to call home. My business is built on the old fashioned principles of hard work, trust, and building relationships, while continuing to evolve in the ever-changing real estate landscape. I grew up in Madeira and raised my children—two of whom have built their own careers with Sibcy Cline Realtors— in the Montgomery area. We are proud to work for a company that is committed to giving back to Cincinnati, the city that has brought our family, friends, and neighbors so much happiness over the years. I would love to help you, too, fi nd a place to call home. Please reach out to me any time! Warmest Regards, Jeri O’Brien-Lofgren z 9979 Montgomery Rd., Cincinnati, OH 45242, (513) 266-8568, https://jobrien. agents.sibcycline.com

M A R C H 2 0 2 1 C I N C I N N AT I M A G A Z I N E . C O M 6 9


WOMEN WHO MOVE CINCINNATI 2021

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PURE BARRE OAKLEY

SUSA NNAH CROCI A ND KENDRA NORTHGARD, OWNERS

Susannah Croci and Kendra Northgard are on a mission to create, serve, and encourage the local community through Pure Barre. Pure Barre Cincinnati - Oakley is a group fitness and apparel boutique on Madison Road specializing in the original barre technique: Pure Barre. Kendra, Susannah, and their team have helped hundreds of women achieve their fitness and lifestyle goals through this intelligent workout while cultivating an encouraging atmosphere for their ever-growing community. The Pure Barre Cincinnati Oakley environment is a safe and fun place that offers its members accountability, while challenging them both physically and mentally, and achieving positive, life-changing results. Pure Barre is a transformational exercise designed to lift, tone, and lengthen muscles using small, isometric movements. Th is low impact technique is so much more than a workout. It’s a lifestyle. Visit Kendra and Susannah at Pure Barre today to experience this holistic fitness experience that extends beyond the barre. z 3083 Madison Rd., Cincinnati, OH, (513) 321-5800, www.purebarre.com/ oh-cincinnati L to R: Susannah Croci and Kendra Northgard

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WOMEN WHO MOVE CINCINNATI 2021

REGINA CARSWELL RUSSO CEO/CHIEF STRATEGIST, RRI GHT NOW COMMUNI CATI ONS

“Life and Death are in the Power of the tongue.” That proverb is a guiding principle for RRight Now Communications, a Communications Consultancy founded by veteran brand storyteller Regina Carswell Russo. As CEO/Chief Strategist Regina pairs innovation and gold standard strategies from her 30 years of experience as a broadcast journalist, published writer, award-winning marketer, and PR professional to solve some of the most complex communications problems for her clients. Through strategic/crisis communications, public speaking coaching/media interview training, and media relations/ stakeholder engagement, Regina helps her clients connect to their desired audience, getting them to listen, feel, and then act. Not surprising the biggest client base are CEOs—a great number of whom are women who need to use their voices to amplify a message for positive results. Don’t we all want the power to cut through the noise and tell our own story? You can, rright now! z

P.O. Box 8696, Cincinnati, OH 45208, (513) 315-1326, www.rrightnow.com

M A R C H 2 0 2 1 C I N C I N N AT I M A G A Z I N E . C O M 7 1


WOMEN WHO MOVE CINCINNATI 2021

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BARBARA A. TURNER, CRCP

PRESIDENT A ND CHIEF EX ECUTIVE OFFICER, OHI O NATI ONAL FI NANCI AL S ERV I CES

Barbara Turner’s personal mission aligns with Ohio National’s mission to make a difference in your life by helping you (policyholders, field partners, associates, and community) achieve financial security and independence today—and for generations to come. A strong advocate for women and children, she serves the community in many capacities, including as chair-elect/ vice chair of the United Way of Greater Cincinnati Board of Directors, serving Advocates for Youth Education, Cincinnati State Technical and Community College, the Women’s Fund, and many other organizations. “The COVID-19 pandemic validates that Ohio National serves a critical role in society,” Barbara says. “I am passionate that our mission, products, and services help keep families together, businesses going and dreams alive.” Barbara joined Ohio National in 1997, became the 11th president and chief operating officer in November 2018 and CEO on January 1, 2021. She is the first female and person of color to hold this position. z One Financial Way, Cincinnati, OH 45242, (800) 366-6654, ohionational.com

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WOMEN WHO MOVE CINCINNATI 2021

JANET GILLIGAN ABARAY

MA NAGING SHAREHOLDER, BURG SI MPSON OHI O

Janet Gilligan Abaray is the managing shareholder of Burg Simpson Cincinnati. After opening a law office in 2000, she became Lead Counsel in several notable cases, which led to her joining Burg Simpson in 2006. Under her leadership, Burg Simpson’s Cincinnati office has become nationally recognized in class actions and mass torts. Ms. Abaray has received awards from

the National Trial Lawyers, Super Lawyers, Best Lawyers, the National Diversity Council, and the Carl B. Rubin Legal Society. In 2019 she was honored as the Outstanding Alumni of the University of Cincinnati College of Arts & Sciences. z 201 E. Fifth St., Suite 1340, Cincinnati, OH 45202, (513) 852-5600, www.burgsimpson. com/ohio

TIFFANY ALLEN-ZEUCH

EX ECUTIVE SALES VICE PRESIDENT/REALTOR, TI FFANY ALLEN-ZEUCH/ S I B CY CLI NE

I have been a Realtor in the Cincinnati market since 2002. I am a lifelong resident of the northern suburbs of Cincinnati. I have been the No. 1 agent in my West Chester office since 2012 and a top agent at Sibcy Cline for many years. I focus on residential, new construction, and relocation moves. I believe listening, communication, and providing top notch service and marketing to

my clients is what makes my business successful. Whether you are buying/ selling a $75,000 home or a $2 million home, I treat all my clients with the same amount of respect and I think of my clients as friends. z

7677 Voice of America Center Dr., West Chester, OH 45069, (513) 349-7311, www.tazhomes. com

M A R C H 2 0 2 1 C I N C I N N AT I M A G A Z I N E . C O M 7 3


WOMEN WHO MOVE CINCINNATI 2021

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PHYLLIS G. BOSSIN

FOUNDER A ND PRINCIPAL, PHYLLI S G. B OS SI N & ASSOCI ATES

Phyllis Bossin is a practicing attorney, representing clients in complex family law cases, bringing her wealth of expertise to assisting in the resolution of these difficult matters. She proudly mentors law students so that they can enter the practice of law with experience working with clients and understanding the complexity of the law. Phyllis is and has been in-

volved in many capacities with the American Bar Association and currently works actively with the Immigrant and Refugee Law Center, which provides much needed service to the immigrant population as they face daunting legal challenges. z 201 E. Fifth St., Suite 1910, Cincinnati, OH 45202, (513) 4214420, www.bossinlaw.com

CATRENA BOWMAN-THOMAS

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NORTHERN KENTUCKY COMMUNI TY ACTI ON COMMI S SI ON

Catrena Bowman-Thomas has served as the Executive Director for Northern Kentucky Community Action Commission (NKCAC) since July 2018 and has over 25 years of experience with Community Action Agencies. NKCAC is a leading nonprofit in Northern Kentucky, serving over 20,000 individuals with a range of programs to help families on the path to self-sufficiency. During her

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tenure at NKCAC, Catrena has led the agency in creating solutions that reduce and eliminate systemic racism, such as creating a diversity and inclusion policy, implementing internal discussion groups, launching a What Is The Protocol Initiative, and hosting town hall events. z 717 Madison Ave., Covington, KY 41011, (859) 581-6607, www.nkcac.org


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WOMEN WHO MOVE CINCINNATI 2021

CHARM AT THE FARM VINTAGE MARKET

A MY DOYLE A ND JAYME KUENKEL, OWNERS

Five years ago, these besties joined forces to make their rustic dreams a reality, transforming Amy’s farm into the dreamy open-air market now known as Charm at the Farm. Amy is a wife, mom of three, and a city girl at heart. She is passionate about curating only the best, unique vendors and creating a shopping experience like no other. Jayme is the creative force behind the scenes as Charm’s web and

graphic designer. She also runs multiple other local businesses while balancing life as a wife and mom of four girls. Join Amy and Jayme at Charm at the Farm in 2021 as they celebrate five years since Charm began. S AV E T H E D AT E S : June 11–13, August 20–22, October 15–17 z 4953 Bunnell Hill Rd., Lebanon, OH 45036, http://charmatthe farm.com

L to R: Amy Doyle and Jayme Kuenkel

ELLIE KOWALCHIK

REALTOR/ TEA M LEADER, THE MOVE2TEAM

In a few short years, Ellie Kowalchik (of Keller Williams Pinnacle Group) has grown the Move2Team into a top-ranked Cincinnati real estate sales team. The full-service team includes nine licensed agents, a transaction coordinator, marketing director, client concierge, stager, and photographer. The team’s digital marketing specialization maximizes property exposure through fully-integrated advertising campaigns, and their cli-

ent-focused methodology truly sets them apart. Ellie and her team are renowned for providing an unparalleled client experience, using their vast market expertise and the latest technology in a multifaceted approach to guide clients through every step of even the most complex real estate transactions. z

6377 Branch Hill Guinea Pike, Loveland, OH 45140, (513) 6977355, www.Move2Team.com

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WOMEN WHO MOVE CINCINNATI 2021

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SUE LEWIS

EX ECUTIVE SALES VICE PRESIDENT, S I B CY CLI NE

For the past 35 years, selling homes has been an exciting, challenging, roller coaster for Sue Lewis—and especially now that Cincinnati has become the country’s fastest-selling residential market. Sibcy Cline’s Westside Sales Leader for 27 years, Sue has ranked No. 3 in Cincinnati in individual residential sales the last two years. Her recipe for success? A strong work ethic, com-

munity involvement, and being accessible to clients. “You have to act fast and with discernment in this red-hot market,” Sue says, adding, “I’m honored that clients trust me to help them make the biggest fi nancial decisions of their lives.” z

9250 Winton Rd., Cincinnati, OH 45231, (513) 324-8095, www. sibcycline.com/sueslewis

MICHELLE MORALES-DENISOFF CEO, LI ONA ENTERPRI S ES, I NC.

Michelle Morales-Denisoff is the Chief Executive Officer of Liona Enterprises, an information technology firm that develops products and solutions for government and commercial clients. Originally from the Philippines, Michelle and her family moved to Los Angeles when she was 15, where she started her first job with McDonald’s and ignited her interest in business. In 2001, she graduated from Loyola L to R: Beatrice Ridmann, Carley Courts, Michelle Morales-Denisoff, and Lisa Durr

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Marymount University with a degree in business administration, and later received her MBA from Pepperdine University. After working in IT for 15 years, her ambition led her to start her own company after moving to Ohio in October of 2013. z

1212 Sycamore St., Suite 42, Cincinnati, OH 45212, (888) 730-3986, https://lionaenter prises.com


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WOMEN WHO MOVE CINCINNATI 2021

JAMIE M. POWELL, CFP ®

CERTIFIED FINA NCIAL PLA NNER, CAPI TAL ADV I S ORY SERV I CES , LLC

Today, women are determining their own destiny more than ever and I have enjoyed a 34 year career of helping women “take control” of that destiny. Our vision at Capital Advisory Services, LLC is that every client achieve fi nancial independence. My personal goal of adding value to our client’s overall fi nancial health has led to a very satisfying career. Financial planning is generational. We service

multiple generations of clients across the country from our West Chester and Van Wert offices. z Registered Representative of and securities off ered through Berthel Fisher & Company Financial Services, Inc. (BFCFS). Member FINRA/SIPC. Investment advisory services off ered through Capital Advisory Services, LLC. Capital Advisory Services, LLC is independent of BFCFS.

8240 Beckett Park Dr, Ste B, West Chester, (513) 942-7000, CapAdvisor.net

JUDY RECKER

EX ECUTIVE SALES VICE PRESIDENT, JUDY RECKER, SI B CY CLI NE REALTORS

Sibcy Cline realtor Judy Recker has generated over $900,000,000 in residential home sales in her 44-year career. A native Cincinnatian, Judy enjoys being a SPCA Board Member and volunteering with the USO Tribute Committee. She lives in pastoral, tranquil Indian Hill, and counts Indian Hill clients as friends—women who move and improve the city. She salutes: Kathleen Cail, board member for Starfire Council and global

organization POSITIVE EXPOSURE; Jen Painter Castellini, who has co-chaired the Cincinnati Zoo’s Zoofari; Kelli Hamilton, coordinator of a community garden whose bounty will be shared with the needy; and Angie Strader, who oversees COVID-19 vaccinations for a TriHealth location. z

8040 Montgomery Rd., Cincinnati, OH 45236, (513) 500-7003, www.sibcycline.com/jrecker

L to R: Judy Recker and Trudi Ashinger M A R C H 2 0 2 1 C I N C I N N AT I M A G A Z I N E . C O M 7 7


WHO’S AFRAID OF GHOST KITCHENS? CONTINUED FROM PAGE 55

pizzas, is delivered out of Buca di Beppo in Rookwood Pavilion, but we know this only because the restaurant address is listed. At least two other ghost brands—Tyga Bites (boneless chicken nuggets and tots) and Wing Squad (wings, sides, desserts)—are also being delivered from the same address on Edmondson Road. They represent the franchise segment of the ghost kitchen market; they’re ready-made national ghost brands, not created in Cincinnati like Danny Boy or Parts & Labor.

clined to discuss the restaurant’s ghost operations and referred Cincinnati Magazine to the corporate office, where a request for comment was not returned. With that, we’ll start with a quick—but certainly not exhaustive—review of our ghost kitchen experiences. First, Tyga Bites, which got the lowest marks. We ordered two eight-piece bites from Grubhub, one with black garlic dust and one with Peri-Peri dust. Each came with two dips; we chose General Tso, Garlic Parm, Mango Habanero, and Chunky Bleu Cheese. We ordered another sauce, Spicy Honey, for good measure. The food arrived lukewarm and with just one dip. The chicken didn’t taste high quality and was burned in places. Not counting a $3 discount, the 16 nuggets with one sauce cost $28.90. We didn’t finish the food. P.Za was also disappointing. An individual Sausage Bianca arrived cold and looked

THE CINCINNATI DIVISION OF US FOODS CREATED A GHOST KITCHEN PLAYBOOK, OFFERING A DOZEN TURNKEY CONCEPTS TO CHOOSE FROM OR ASSISTANCE IN LAUNCHING SOMETHING UNIQUE, PLUS MARKETING SUPPORT. Tyga Bites, for example, was founded by rapper and songwriter Tyga. In a video clip of an interview with TMZ, he says, “If you own a restaurant and you want to make extra money every month, you basically franchise Tyga Bites. We teach you how to make it. It’s oven-baked, there’s 12 different sauces, and you can basically make it in your kitchen and make extra money.” Tyga Bites, P.Za, and Wing Squad are connected to Virtual Dining Concepts, founded by father and son Robert Earl and Robbie Earl. The elder Earl is the former CEO of Hard Rock Cafe and founder of Planet Hollywood International and Earl Enterprises, which specializes in restaurant and hospitality branding and marketing and operates several brick-and-mortar restaurant chains, including Buca di Beppo. Virtual Dining Concepts promises, “Same Kitchen. More Profits. Zero Upfront Fees.” An employee at the Rookwood store de7 8 C I N C I N N AT I M A G A Z I N E . C O M M A R C H 2 0 2 1

nothing like the picture on the app. The crust had an odd, flaky texture and the cheese, or maybe it was alfredo, created a laminated look. Toppings were scarce. The Caesar salad was decent and the Cajun wings, which came in completely different Wing Squad branding, weren’t bad. Total: $32.80. We’d order Danny Boy Burger again, but here, too, we were a bit let down. The burger was legit. Cronican was right about the quality of that Kentucky-sourced beef— delicious!—but the fries were oversalted, and somewhere in the process my chocolate milkshake didn’t make it. Total bummer. I paid $22.08 for the three items; going through the rigmarole of getting a refund was not worth the $5. Parts & Labor was on a brief hiatus during our reporting, as it was moving between its OTR and new Oakley locations. Leaf + Ladle was not yet available to our address. And, honestly, we weren’t dying to try any others.

SUCH PITFALLS CAN BE AVOIDED WHEN creating a ghost brand, says Laura Kron, a restaurant operations consultant with the Cincinnati division of US Foods. As one of America’s largest foodservice distributors with more than 250,000 customers, US Foods created a ghost kitchen program and playbook last year to provide a lifeline to suffering clients. Kron says she took desperate calls from restaurant owners suffering through COVID shutdowns. Ohio reported the loss of 49 percent of its restaurant jobs in March and April 2020; as of November, the loss was still at 17 percent. Sixty percent of the respondents to an Ohio Restaurant Association survey said in December that if pandemic conditions didn’t improve they’d be out of business in three to six months. Kron helped US Foods design and launch its ghost kitchen program and says dozens of clients in the Cincinnati region have engaged with it, which starts with a consultation. US Foods shares a local market demographics report with the operator and analyzes his or her kitchen capacity and other business details to begin to determine which ghost concept could work best. The company offers branding and digital marketing support and tested inhouse recipes to establish the best action plan. There are about a dozen turnkey concepts to choose from, or Kron can help an operator create an entirely new brand. “It’s not just a template to use, but a very individualized process,” she says. “We create a brand that can be profitable and carry well.” Kron declines to name the local clients she’s working with, because their ideas are still in development. Franklin Junction, a startup out of Atlanta, also offers complete, ready-made virtual concepts. One might sound familiar: Frisch’s Big Boy. Yep, our homegrown chain and its signature hamburger with tartar sauce pass as ghost food in other parts of the U.S. Franklin Junction says it’s in the “host kitchen” business, dropping the “g.” It partners with chains like Frisch’s to create a delivery-only menu that can be made in other restaurants and/or to prepare other ghost brands in their kitchens. The options are endless and a bit dizzying. For instance, last spring Franklin Junc-


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tion rolled out a Nathan’s Famous concept via host kitchens within Frisch’s Big Boy and Ruby Tuesdays chains across the U.S. Both Big Boy and Ruby Tuesdays are owned by NRD Capital Partners, founded by Aziz Hashim, who also founded Franklin Junction. As of January, OrderXOXO, another Franklin Junction concept, was being delivered out of the Frisch’s on Fifth Street in Covington to addresses in the urban core. Rishi Nigam, who says he doesn’t have a title because Franklin Junction is a startup, says they’re bringing food options to the Midwest by introducing concepts like The Captain’s Boil, Fuzzy’s Taco Shop, and Wow Bao, an Asian street food concept. We couldn’t find those in the area yet, though Clifton Heights has a freestanding Fuzzy’s store. Nigram says those delivery concepts and others could be coming out of a Ruby Tuesday or a Frisch’s near you, but Franklin Junction doesn’t disclose the locations. Some are also housed in grocery stores, hotels, convention centers, and universities. Chris Baggott, an Indianapolis tech mogul, created the ghost kitchen business ClusterTruck five years before the pandemic. He’s perhaps best known as cofounder of the digital marketing firm ExactTarget, which was purchased by Salesforce in 2013 for $2.5 billion. Foodconscious Baggott, who owns several Indy restaurants and a working farm, says he was disappointed in the quality of food and service available through delivery and was sure he could do better. ClusterTruck is a virtual food truck concept whose menu has more than 100 items, from breakfast sandwiches to pizza to Pad Thai, so every individual in a family or at a work meeting can get exactly what they want when ordering. Delivery times average 22 minutes, Baggott says, and the food arrives five to six minutes after it was finished being cooked, with no delivery fee. How? Vertical integration and technology, says Baggott. ClusterTruck owns every part of its operations, including its own delivery driver system. Delivery zones are all within a sevenminute drive of the kitchen hub. It’s

currently available in Indianapolis and Columbus, including inside a Kroger store in each market. Ghost brands will come and go just as restaurants have through the years, Baggott says. He knows the following statement won’t be popular, but says it anyway when asked if he feels bad competing with struggling restaurants. “Have you ever read Kitchen Confidential? I was re-reading it the other day. Anthony Bourdain was writing about how awful the restaurant industry is and that 60 percent of restaurants fail, and that was way before COVID. This social concern for restaurants is a new thing. We compete with restaurants, so if we say our food is good, it better be good.” IF YOU BROWSE CONSUMER REVIEWS for ghost kitchens, you’ll notice some pretty bad ones, and that’s what gives restaurant expert Muller pause about their long-term impact on food service businesses.“I still think the restaurant industry was in a race to decline before COVID, because of the delivery system,” he says, noting that consumer trends clearly show that convenience has overtaken experience for the first time in history. Cronican wants Danny Boy Burger and Leaf + Ladle to excel in both. “We were very adamant that we had to execute at the highest level,” he says, “because your only opportunity to impress that customer—to win that customer— is for them to open the box and look inside and be happy with what they got.” While it took a little while for Keystone’s ghost brands to gain traction, Cronican says by the end of December he was “definitely encouraged by the sales,” so much so that Keystone is beginning to cultivate new ghost concepts. More than anything, though, looking around the empty bar and dining room on this less-than-festive weekday, he can’t wait for a full house again. When his restaurants are back humming at capacity, Cronican says he and his partners might stick with their ghost brands, depending on where demand is for delivery options. He isn’t scared to try new ideas; the only thing he’s afraid of is disappointing a customer.

8 0 C I N C I N N AT I M A G A Z I N E . C O M M A R C H 2 0 2 1

WAITING ON THE BANKS CONTINUED FROM PAGE 59

Photograph by Lance Adkins

WHO’S AFRAID OF GHOST KITCHENS?

By David Holthaus

The 20-year journey to redevelop Cincinnati’s riverfront takes another step forward as The Andrew J Brady ICON Music aCenter finishes construction. The Banks still isn’t finished, though, and the pandemic operates on its own timetable.

57

a 2,700-seat house, maybe for a Bonnie Raitt or others who aren’t doing the big shows anymore.” Two semi-private lounges will be available for an upcharge. One holds about 60 people, with views of the river and the Roebling Suspension Bridge, and the other about 40 with a private bar and a one-way, wall-sized window into the backstage area. Adding to the venue’s flexibility will be an adjacent park featuring an outdoor stage and artificial grass in a space that can handle up to 8,000 people for outdoor concerts and multi-day festivals. The space is owned by the Cincinnati Park Board and will be managed and operated by MEMI. Patrons attending outdoor concerts will be able to use indoor restrooms at the ICON Music Center, and the outdoor stage can be serviced from the building—limiting the need to bring in portable toilets and trailers. BEYOND ITS STATE-OF-THE-ART DEsign, outdoor stage, and picture postcard views of the Suspension Bridge and the Ohio River, what may be most impressive about the new music venue is that it was finished at all. Slowing its completion were some of the same controversies that have nagged The Banks since the beginning: disputes between city and county leaders; competition with the more nimble environment in Northern Kentucky; and the Cincinnati Bengals’ ever-looming presence and county obligations to its ownership. Riverfront development was an idea that had percolated for decades. But there were big obstacles to even turning the first shovelful of dirt. The mighty Ohio River, grand as it is, escapes its banks on a regular basis. In the last 60 years, the river has crested above flood stage more than 70 times,


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WAITING ON THE BANKS according to the National Weather Service. Businesses and homes along the river are constantly in jeopardy. The solution was to create one big parking garage and build the streets and commercial properties on top to lift them above most floods. That solved another perennial downtown issue, parking, by creating more than 8,000 new spaces. Most of the money generated by the garages ($14.7 million in 2019) is used to finance future phases of development at The Banks, says John Bruggen, assistant county administrator. The other big obstacle was 10 lanes of interstate highway called Ft. Washington Way. Conceived in the car-happy era of the late 1940s and completed in 1961, the mile-long stretch was meant to distribute traffic into downtown and serve as a floodwall to protect downtown businesses. “The Bottoms,” as the riverfront area south of Third Street was known, would be left to the river’s whims. With its many

sales tax. With the stadiums serving as anchors and bookends, city and county leaders planned to develop the land between them. Early in 1999, they appointed a group of 16 business leaders, the Riverfront Advisors Commission, to come up with a plan. It was, wrote its chair, Jack Rouse, “a once-in-many-lifetimes opportunity to re-create our extraordinary riverfront as a magical centerpiece for our region, a new ‘front door’ for our city, a new hub of activity, a place that connects people of all backgrounds, whether neighbors or visitors.” But for years after the plan was laid out, The Banks existed only as a good idea. Charlie Luken was mayor in 1999 when the riverfront plan was presented. “The project really was not going anywhere,” he says. “It was going to take a great deal of patience.” City and county elected leaders could not agree on how the project would be paid for, who should pay for what, and what

THE BANKS, JACK ROUSE ANNOUNCED IN 1999, WAS “A ONCE-IN-MANY-LIFETIMES OPPORTUNITY TO RE-CREATE OUR EXTRAORDINARY RIVERFRONT AS A MAGICAL CENTERPIECE.” ramps and exits, though, Ft. Washington Way became one of the most accidentprone stretches of highway in the country. It also was a noisy chasm of concrete that divided downtown from the riverfront, making a leisurely stroll to the river a dangerous proposition, if not nearly impossible. Ft. Washington Way is still there and still divides downtown from the riverfront, but a massive project begun in 1998 deepened the roadway, got rid of most of the exit ramps, compressed its width, and created attractive pedestrian-friendly overpasses. That project, largely paid for with state and federal grants, freed up more than a dozen acres of riverfront for redevelopment and made it much easier and safer to walk there from downtown. The freed-up land made the construction of Paul Brown Stadium and Great American Ball Park possible, using money from an increase in Hamilton County’s 8 2 C I N C I N N AT I M A G A Z I N E . C O M M A R C H 2 0 2 1

should go where. It seemed no one was in charge, so nothing happened. Meanwhile, a pair of office towers rose in Northern Kentucky directly across the river from the empty lots in Cincinnati. Developer Bill Butler soon added another office building, luxury condominiums, and a couple of hotels, creating a riverfront development in Covington while Cincinnati’s leadership dithered. Maybe the answer was to bring Butler over to Cincinnati and have him develop The Banks. That’s what Hamilton County leaders did, but they made the decision without consulting their counterparts at City Hall. They “hijacked” the process, as Luken says. But even Butler couldn’t make it work. “It sat there for a few years,” recalls Luken. “It was not a collaborative thing with the city. It just wasted time.” By the time Mark Mallory was elected

mayor, the project had almost become the punch line of one of those “that’s so Cincinnati” jokes. “When I came into office in 2005, nothing had been going on at The Banks,” says Mallory. City and county leaders had retreated to their respective camps and weren’t coming out. “The Banks was an embarrassment, and it became a symbol of how Cincinnati couldn’t get anything done right,” Castellini said at the 2014 groundbreaking for the project’s Phase II. “The relationship was fractured between the city and the county,” says Mallory. “There was such animosity that it was difficult for the two sides to come together.” But early in 2006, the city and county reached agreement on how to get the project moving, a deal brokered by Castellini, an old-school produce seller and Reds owner with little patience for political posturing. Mallory remembers one particularly contentious day in Castellini’s office at Great American Ball Park, negotiating with the county team, then led by Commissioner Todd Portune. They were hammering out the fine print on how the project would be financed and who would control which development parcels. “We went through it piece by piece and negotiated these out and got to a point of impasse where we were separated by less than half a million dollars,” says Mallory. “This was going to be a billion-dollar development, and we were a half-million apart. I said, This is crazy.” Mallory asked Portune to come out into the hallway. “I said, We gotta get this done. He said, I agree. The only thing people are going to remember is we either got this done or we didn’t get it done.” In Mallory’s retelling, the two made a commitment in the hallway to see the deal through. “We shook on it, and went back to the room and basically announced, We’re done.” More than a decade later, Commissioner Portune, who died in January 2020, reached a handshake agreement with another Cincinnati mayor, John Cranley, when the city-county working relationship seemed ready to implode again over the ICON Music Center and other issues. After Mallory and Portune made their hallway pact, the Carter company of At-


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WAITING ON THE BANKS lanta was named master developer for The Banks with a heavyweight financial partner, Wall Street giant AIG. But AIG backed out of the project in mid-2007, and a year later it had to be bailed out by the federal government during the financial crisis. Carter partnered with another Atlanta firm, the Dawson Co., and Carter Dawson served as the development team for the next 10 years. Ground was officially broken in 2008 on the project that the riverfront advisory commission had launched a decade earlier. “That shouldn’t be surprising if you’re thinking about the scale of this development and the resources required,” says Roxanne Qualls, who was mayor when voters passed the half-cent sales tax increase in 1996 to pay for the stadiums. “It’s a compliment to my colleagues and the folks who came after me that they kept plugging away at it.” ROUSE’S VIEW OF THE DELAY IS NOT AS rosy. “We still haven’t finished what we all

outdoor music venue there, similar to what the company had done in Columbus and Pittsburgh. That began a five-year saga that replayed some old debates: Who will build it? Where? And what will the Bengals say? The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra proposed its own plan for a venue to be operated by its MEMI subsidiary. Cranley pushed for PromoWest instead. “PromoWest had a track record of getting bands that would really appeal to young people and young professionals,” he says. “I thought they deserved some credit because they came to us with the idea.” In 2018, the Banks Working Group (since renamed the Joint Banks Steering Committee) recommended awarding the land to the Symphony and MEMI, and city council and county commissioners unanimously ratified the choice. With the local favorite chosen, PromoWest took its plan across the river to Bill Butler’s Ovation development

POLITICAL DISPUTES OVER THE BANKS ARE “PART OF THE LANDSCAPE,” SAYS ATTORNEY TOM GABELMAN, BUT THE CITY AND COUNTY NEED TO FIND “COMMON GROUND.” agreed was the most important part of saving downtown Cincinnati,” he says. But it’s come a long way. A Marriott hotel has been built, along with two apartment buildings totaling about 600 units, a global operations center for General Electric, and the 45-acre Smale Riverfront Park. About a dozen eateries and drinkeries are there to provide sustenance, including Moerlein Lager House, Yard House, and Holy Grail. But many have come and gone, too, including Johnny Rockets, Mahogany’s, W.G. Kitchen & Bar, and Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar and Grill. A music venue was not contemplated in the original Banks design. Near the current site for the ICON Music Center, planners had recommended a boardwalk that would stretch to the river, an anchor attraction with restaurants and other entertainment. Sometime in 2015, concert promoter PromoWest proposed building an indoor8 4 C I N C I N N AT I M A G A Z I N E . C O M M A R C H 2 0 2 1

in Newport. Its venue, also finishing up this spring, is similar in size and design, holding up to 2,700 patrons indoors and 7,000 in an outdoor setting. It has booked concerts “on hold” for late spring, but is more likely looking at July or early fall for its first shows, says CEO Scott Stienecker. “We’re ready to start doing shows in May if the world allows it.” The Ovation Pavilion, as it’s called, will heighten the local competition in an already competitive concert business. PromoWest is owned by Los Angeles-based AEG Presents, the world’s second-largest concert promoter. “It’ll be a competitive environment, most definitely,” says Stienecker. “We’ll both come up with our niche as we move forward.” “They’re going to get some, we’re going to get some,” is how MEMI’s Smith sizes up the PromoWest presence. “What I like about what we’ve built is there isn’t

anything like it—with this flexibility, this quality—until you get to maybe D.C. or maybe Chicago. We’re in the front of the line now. We’re going to fight for every possible act, and we’re going to bank on people coming to the venue.” The ICON Music Center and its outdoor park are built on two lots just east of Paul Brown Stadium. The Bengals’ 20-year-old contract with the county gives the club veto rights over any development on lots next to the stadium, and the team wanted to keep those lots empty for game-day parking and tailgating. That set off a complicated chess game of finding a new spot for Bengals tailgaters at the 17-acre Hilltop concrete facility just southwest of the stadium, then locating a new home for the concrete company and paying it to move. That arrangement reignited the war of words between city and county officials. “The city and the county were supposed to be 50-50 partners on The Banks,” Cranley says. “Behind our backs, [Tom] Gabelman [the attorney representing Hamilton County] is cutting a deal with the Bengals that affects city property. Partners don’t do that to each other.” OVER THE YEARS, THE BANKS HAS COME under the purview of four mayors and at least 10 county commissioners. Attorney Tom Gabelman has been there through all of them, working on the project on behalf of his firm’s client, Hamilton County, for 24 years. It’s likely no one has a deeper understanding of its complexities. “It’s not possible for Hamilton County to make any secret deals,” he says. “Everything we do is public record.” Hatched in secret or not, the deal with the Bengals and the concrete company was made and OK’d by city and county officials, allowing the music venue to move forward. County Commissioner Denise Driehaus voted for it because the Bengals agreed to amend their stadium lease and give up some payments the county was obligated to make to the club, concessions that made the purchase of the Hilltop property possible. “That’s a pretty good deal,” she says. It’s likely more disputes will crop up as development continues. “It’s definitely part of the landscape,” Gabelman says.


says. “But whenever the city and county have come together and found common ground, it has worked extremely well.” “I’ve been involved in local politics since 1981,” Luken says. “I can’t remember a period when it’s been sweetness and light. There’s always going to be competing interests, and the political leaders will fight for their constituencies.” The 2019 agreement between Cranley and Portune may guide the next steps. Several parcels still remain to be developed, and the city and county agreed to divide them up equally. “It’s almost like a peace treaty in a war,” says Luken. “You take this country, and I’ll take that country.” But the two sides need to work together to finish the project so the end result is cohesive, Driehaus says. “Let’s make sure we’re doing it in a collaborative way and make sure we’re not doing things that are redundant and don’t make sense next to each other.” Qualls, who helped birth The Banks, agrees. “There’s a lot of prime real estate left,” she says. “Maybe it’s time to look more holistically at what’s left. Maybe the city and county could come together again on a planning process that could be effective.” The next addition looks to be a 15-story office building, currently being called 180 Walnut, that the county has targeted for a lot just east of the Freedom Center. Dallas-based Lincoln Property Co., one of the nation’s largest commercial developers, is planning it at a time when unemployment is 6.7 percent and working from home has become the new normal. Another idea, a visionary one contemplated since the beginning, is the construction of decks, or pedestrian plazas, over top of Ft. Washington Way to create greenspace and improve the connection between downtown and the riverfront. It would be an expensive proposition, requiring a way to pay for it and teamwork between city and county leaders. The idea seems almost outlandish. But 20 years ago, so was the thought of creating a brand new riverfront district out of a mud pit. We’ve waited this long. Why stop now?

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is a true family affair. Sams, who grew up in North Avondale and Bond Hill, runs her Findlay Market– based bakery with her mother and four children, all of whom are vegan. When did you decide to go vegan? My son was 1 or 2 when we decided to ditch the animal products. We started with the idea that “you are what you eat.” That concept evolved into an understanding that we consume the entire animal, including what they consumed while living as well as their experiences and feelings. In the last decade, we’ve been more focused on trying to consume a healthy, balanced diet.

Mad Good WHILE MAD MONKS’S NEW YORK–STYLE PIZZA IS ARGUABLY BEST ENJOYED WITH A COLD pint at 16 Lots Brewery in Mason, you can definitely make do with takeout. Customize your pie with red or white sauce, and pile on toppings that range from the familiar (Italian sausage, sliced mushrooms) to the gourmet (white truffle oil) to the deliciously unorthodox (fingerling potatoes, anyone?). You can also order one of their signature pizzas, which is where the madness truly kicks in. The #1 IRT Supreme offers up mozzarella and red sauce topped with pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, green peppers, and onions. This decidedly standard pizza is a testament to the restaurant’s mastery of the fundamentals: fresh ingredients, a bright, zesty red sauce, and a crispy-yet-chewy crust that can accommodate whatever toppings the pizza monks might bless it with. For something a little less conventional, try the sweetly spicy Blaze On, a pepperoni, jalapeño, and basil pizza anointed with a spicy honey glaze. The heat and honey evoke the sugary burn of a good barbecue sauce. If you want to go completely off the deep end in the most Cincinnati of ways, get The Gripponator, a white sauce pizza with chicken, onions, a barbecue sauce drizzle, Mad Monks Pizza and (you guessed it), Grippo’s Bar-B-Q potato chips. Be warned: This (at 16 Lots Brewery), 753 Reading Rd., pizza is buried under a mountain of Grippo’s. But as any fan knows, Mason, (513) 486-1819, that’s the only suitable serving size. — B R A N D O N W U S K E madmonkspizza.com. 9 0 C I N C I N N AT I M A G A Z I N E . C O M M A R C H 2 0 2 1

How did you start baking for a living? I’ve always tried to provide the foods for my children that their meat-eating peers enjoyed. I didn’t want them to feel like there was something that they were missing. We shared these foods with family and friends who suggested we sell them. I like baking best, so we decided to try out the baked goods. What’s your best-selling item? It depends on the time of year. In the summer, it’s the Lemon-Cran Poppyseed Cookie. This fall/winter, we created the Hot Chocolate Cookie and that one has done really well. What’s the best thing about running your business? It’s fulfilling a dream of working side by side with my family and building something that is consistent with a value that we hold very close to our hearts.

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IMPACT OF RACISM, SOCIAL JUSTICE ON YOUTH MENTAL HEALTH By Steven Wilson, Ed.D.

“I

N OUR SCHOOL-BASED DAY treatment program, we’ve had many discussions with our young clients when they share negative experiences regarding racism ranging from kindergarten to high school age,” said Kate Barnes, school-based day treatment manager at Best Point Behavioral Health by The Children’s Home. “These experiences can cause anger, anxiety, self-hatred and depression.” Self-hatred. In a kindergarten aged child. Children in various stages of development can be harmed even worse. “What some may not realize is that systemic racism is more than just a social or moral issue,” said Debbie Gingrich, vice president of behavioral health at Best Point Behavioral Health. “The data within the medical community illustrate racism has a very real, and very profound, effect on already vulnerable youth populations.” The mental health counselors and therapists at Best Point are actively addressing this issue within the vulnerable populations served by the agency. One of the first things to do, Gingrich says, is to ensure the mental health community incorporates culturally competent and responsive practices. And that begins with listening. “My job is to listen,” says Brandi Sauerwein, behavioral health services therapist at Best Point. “When a client

says they’re hurting, I listen. My job is not to dismiss their pain, but to hear them and validate their reality, not my own. When I listen, I can see and feel their pain alongside them. There is healing in this process.” Best Point’s staff have undergone a series of trainings designed to increase cultural competencies at all levels of care within the agency. The trainings include subjects like racial injustice, navigating the trauma of racism, and racial inequalities in access to health care, mental health, education and support resources. They also help bridge the chasm of understanding that can exist between different communities. Barnes said over half of the more than 14,000 served by The Children’s Home annually are African American, or people of color, and most clients live at or below the poverty line. These factors create a need for therapists to learn more about specific issues impacting underserved neighborhoods. “As a social worker it’s part of our ethics to continue to be culturally competent and exercise cultural humility,” said Barnes. “This is a way for us to make sure we are showing commitment to that awareness as well to the community we serve.” “Racism is violence,” says Rachel Mousie, behavioral health services therapist at Best Point. “Living under the constant threat of discrimination,

bodily harm, daily micro-aggressions and lack of representation in media and culture has been proven to have negative effects on mental health.” The scientific community agrees with Mousie. A recent study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, and conducted by the Public Library of Science, concluded that racism is twice as likely to affect mental health than physical health and people who experience racism also experience mental health issues like depression, stress, emotional distress, anxiety, PTSD and suicidal thoughts. A separate 2018 research report advised racism is so harmful, it undermines good mental health in areas such as hope, inspiration and resilience while byproducts of racism, like verbal and physical assault, can lead to PTSD and other harmful, life-impacting diagnoses. “Our clients are vulnerable, and many have experienced numerous traumas,” said Alexis Rieck, behavioral health counselor therapist at Best Point. “Racism is often one of them. We can’t really help our clients without acknowledging the systems they live in and working to make changes to the systems that harm them. If I turned a blind eye to racism, I’d be telling my clients, ‘That’s your problem; not mine.’” Best Point therapists are in 66 partner schools in the Greater Cincinnati region, have a presence in over 400 area schools and are in over 150 other community locations. Learn more about Best Point Behavioral Health services at www.tchcincy.org. Steven Wilson, Ed.D. is the communications director of The Children’s Home


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’Ello Gov’nor

“Stately” takes on diner food in old Milford.

INSIDE A SMALL STOREFRONT ON Milford’s Main Street, The Governor playfully elevates diner classics. The restaurant’s cozy interior reflects this 21st century diner aesthetic with walls covered in subway tile and a full bar— featuring craft cocktails—standing in for the traditional counter. In true diner fashion, breakfast is available all day. If you’re looking to greet the morning with decadence, try the ricotta toast. It’s a thick slab of brioche toast smothered in ricotta and fresh, seasonal jams. A dash of lemon juice and a pinch of sea salt counter the sweetness of this dessert-like dish. Sandwiches also get an inventive twist here. The “Governor Tso’s chicken”—a crispy fried chicken breast glazed with a General Tso’s–inspired sauce, topped with coleslaw and served on a toasted sesame seed bun—is a gigantic, happy mess of a sandwich, but its subtlety is what stood out. The sweet glaze faintly evokes the namesake “General” while letting the sublimely fried chicken lead the charge. Order a side of crinkle cut fries and ask for the housemade Maple Thousand Island dipping sauce. (You’ll thank me later.) By the way, if you’re wondering how The Governor got its name, look at the back wall. You’ll see a massive silhouette of former Ohio governor (and Milford resident) John Pattison. This popart portrait is a perfect illustration of the restaurant—rooted in tradition yet unapologetically modern, and proudly local. — B R A N D O N W U S K E The Governor, 231 Main St., Milford, (513) 239-8298, governordiner.com.

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PHOTOGRAPHS BY DYLAN BAUER


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With its mint-green siding, Taste On Elm’s storefront adds to the residential feel of Ludlow’s bustling, eclectic business district. It’s a good fit with the homey vibe that owners and Ludlow residents Lauren and Challis Hodge have created. “Taste On Elm offers an inviting place for people to come together over a glass of wine and a charcuterie board,” Lauren says. “Our belief is that the best way to experience and learn about food is to taste it, to understand where it comes from and how it’s produced.” Emphasizing hormone- and chemicalfree items from small producers, the business caters to neighborhood residents and anyone else who wanders in looking for something different. “We always tell people, if it’s in the market, it’s on our table at home,” Lauren explains. “We want to know where our food comes from, and we believe our customers do as well.” The market, which opened in February 2020, offers a wide range of products, including biodynamic and organic wines, Kentucky bacon and fresh eggs, vegan and keto pastries and cakes, handmade salads, gluten-free buns and pizza crusts, and artisan chocolates. And the Hodges are constantly searching locally and globally for more unique items that can’t be found in grocery stores or at other local retailers. They’ve gotten to know

their clientele so well that they even take product recommendations from customers. “It’s not uncommon for a customer to share a product or bring us a sample,” says Lauren. “We’re regularly offering samples to get customer input on new products.” While the pandemic could have meant the end for their fledgling business, the couple leaned into making Taste On Elm a neighborhood destination. “We opened our

doors only to be greeted by the coronavirus shutdown,” Lauren explains. “Some said we should shut the doors and wait to open after the pandemic, but we knew we had to be there for our community. We have been fortunate to remain open and, more importantly, get to know folks in a way we probably wouldn’t have otherwise. We are so grateful for the love and support of our community. Without them we wouldn’t be here.”

Taste On Elm, 227 Elm St., Ludlow, (859) 916-8488, tasteonelm.com

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9 4 C I N C I N N AT I M A G A Z I N E . C O M M A R C H 2 0 2 1

PHOTOGRAPHS BY CARLIE BURTON


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WHERE TO EAT NOW



AMERICAN 96 BARBECUE 99 CAJUN/CARIBBEAN 99 CHINESE 99 ECLECTIC 101 FRENCH 104 INDIAN 104 ITALIAN 106 JAPANESE 106 KOREAN 108 MEDITERRANEAN 108 MEXICAN 109 SEAFOOD 109 STEAKS 109 THAI 110 VIETNAMESE 111

DINING GUIDE CINCINNATI MAGAZINE’S

dining guide is compiled by our editors as a service to our readers. The magazine accepts no advertising or other consideration in exchange for a restaurant listing. The editors may add or delete restaurants based on their judgment. Because of space limitations, all

of colors and textures belongs to someone who cares for food. 1000 Summit Place, Blue Ash,

AMERICAN

(513) 794-1610, browndogcafe.com. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner Mon–Fri, brunch and dinner Sat, brunch Sun. MCC, DS. $$

THE BIRCH

On any given evening, guests nibble at spicy hummus served with French breakfast radishes and pita bread while sipping slightly spumante glasses of Spanish Txakolina. And while the dinner menu reads strictly casual at first glance— soups, salads, and sandwiches—the preparation and quality is anything but. An endive salad with candied walnuts, Swiss cheese, crispy bacon lardons, and an apple vinaigrette surpassed many versions of the French bistro classic. And both the Brussels sprouts and Sicilian cauliflower sides refused to play merely supporting roles. Both were sensational studies in the balance of sweet, spicy, and acidic flavors. 702 Indian Hill Rd., Terrace Park, (513) 831-5678, thebirchtp.com. Lunch and dinner Tues–Sun. MCC. DS. $

BRONTË BISTRO

You might think this is a lunch-only spot where you can nosh on a chicken salad sandwich after browsing next door at Joseph-Beth Booksellers. But this Norwood eatery feels welcoming after work, too. The dinner menu features entrées beyond the rotating soup and quiche roster that’s popular at noon. Fried chicken? Check. Quesadillas and other starters? Yep. An assortment of burgers? Present, including turkey and veggie versions. Casual food rules the day but the surprise is Brontë Bistro’s lineup of adult beverages, which elevates the place above a basic bookstore coffeeshop. The regular drinks menu includes such mainstays as Hemingway’s Daiquiri, a tribute to the author who drank them (often to excess). 2692 Madison Rd.,

of the guide’s restaurants may not be included. Many restaurants have changing seasonal menus; dishes listed here are examples of the type of cuisine available and may not be on the menu when you visit. To update listings, e-mail: cmletters@cincinnati magazine.com

CABANA ON THE RIVER

VENI VIDI VINO

Endeavor Restaurant Group, run by former Papa John’s CEO Steve Ritchie, took over as the new owner of all five locations of LouVino Restaurants and Wine Bars this winter, which includes the 1142 Main St. spot in Over-the-Rhine.

louvino.com/otr

Norwood, (513) 396-8970, josephbeth. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner seven days. MCC. $

BROWN DOG CAFÉ

If you haven’t had a plate of Shawn McCoy’s design set in front of you, it’s about time. Many of the menu’s dishes show his knack for the plate as a palette. A trio of stout day boat diver scallops—exquisitely golden from pan searing—perch atop individual beds of uniformly diced butternut squash, fragments of boar bacon, and shavings of Brussels sprout. The eye for detail and contrasts

9 6 C I N C I N N AT I M A G A Z I N E . C O M M A R C H 2 0 2 1

Like a big outdoor picnic with a view of the serene hills of Kentucky and the Ohio River rolling by, this is one of those places west-siders would rather the rest of Cincinnati didn’t know about. Its annual debut in late spring marks the official beginning of summer for many. People flock to the Cabana for good food prepared well: grilled mahi-mahi sandwiches, pork barbecue, steak on a stick, Angus beef burgers, Italian and steak hoagies, white chicken chili, and interesting salads. While some of the fare is familiar pub grub, nothing is substandard. Even potato chips are made in-house and seasoned with Cajun spices. 7445 Forbes Rd., Sayler Park, (513) 941-7442, cabanaontheriver. com. Lunch and dinner seven days. MCC, DS. $

COPPIN’S

With wine on tap and an extensive local beer list, Coppin’s is an ideal place to meet for drinks. In addition to plenty of Kentucky bourbon, much of the produce, meat, and cheese comes from local growers and producers. House-cured meat and cheese from Kenny’s Farmhouse and cheese from Urban Stead populate the “Artisan Cheese and Charcuterie Board,” which dresses up the main attractions with honey, dijon mustard, house pickles, and Sixteen Bricks grilled sourdough. The mussels—made with seasonally rotating sauces and chorizo from Napoleon Ridge Farms in Gallatin County—were served with a peppery tomato sauce, perfect for sopping up with bread. The seven-ounce Sakura Farms Wagyu rib eye with wild mushrooms, roasted parsnip, and beef jus is a must have. Or try the striped bass with grape farro roasted broccolini and mussel cream sauce. 638 Madison Ave., Covington, (859) 905-6600, hotelcovington.com/ dining/coppins. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner seven days. MCC. $$

COZY’S CAFÉ & PUB

On a visit to England, Jan Collins discovered the “cozy” atmosphere of London restaurants built in historic houses. She brought that warm, comfortable feeling back to the United States in opening

KEY: No checks unless specified. AE American Express, DC Diners Club DS Discover, MC MasterCard, V Visa MCC Major credit cards: AE, MC, V $ = Under $15 $$$ = Up to $49 $$ = Up to $30 $$$$ = $50 and up Top 10

= Named a Best Restaurant March 2020.

Cozy’s. Though the atmosphere in the restaurant is reminiscent of Collins’s London travels, the food remains proudly American. The produce in virtually every dish is fresh, seasonal, and flavorful. The 12-hour pork shank stands out with its buttery grits and root vegetable hash, along with a portion of tender meat. And when it comes down to the classics, from the biscuits that open the meal to carrot cake at the end, Cozy’s does it right. 6440 Cincinnati Dayton Rd., Liberty Twp., (513) 644-9364, cozyscafeandpub.com. Dinner Tues–Sat, brunch Sat & Sun. $$$

THE EAGLE OTR

The revamped post office at 13th and Vine feels cozy but not claustrophobic, and it has distinguished itself with its stellar fried chicken. Even the white meat was pull-apart steamy, with just enough peppery batter to pack a piquant punch. Diners can order by the quarter, half, or whole bird—but whatever you do, don’t skimp on the sides. Bacon adds savory mystery to crisp corn, green beans, and edamame (not limas) in the succotash, and the crock of mac and cheese has the perfect proportion of sauce, noodle, and crumb topping. The Eagle OTR seems deceptively simple on the surface, but behind that simplicity is a secret recipe built on deep thought, skill, and love. 1342 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, (513) 8025007. Lunch and dinner seven days. MCC. $

EMBERS

The menu here is built for celebration: poshly priced steak and sushi selections are meant to suit every special occasion. Appetizers are both classic (shrimp cocktail) and Asian-inspired (crabcakes); fashionable ingredients are name-checked (microgreens and truffles); a prominent sushi section (nigiri, sashimi, and rolls) precedes a list of archetypal salads; Kobe beef on sushi rolls sidles up to steaks of corn-fed prime; non-steak entrées (Chilean sea bass or seared scallops with mushroom risotto and broccolini) make for high-style alternative selections. Talk about a party. 8170 Montgomery Rd., Madeira, (513) 984-8090, embersrestaurant.com. Dinner seven days. MCC, DC, DS. $$$$

GREYHOUND TAVERN

Back in the streetcar days, this roughly 100-yearold roadhouse was at the end of the Dixie Highway line, where the cars turned around to head north. ICONS BY CARLIE BURTON


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The place was called the Dixie Tea Room then, and they served ice cream. The fried chicken came along in the 1930s, and they’re still dishing it up today. Families and regulars alike pile in on Mondays and Tuesdays for the fried chicken dinner. While the juicy (never greasy) chicken with its lightly seasoned, crisp coating is the star, the side dishes—homemade biscuits, cole slaw, green beans, mashed potatoes, and gravy—will make you ask for seconds. Call ahead no matter what night you choose: There’s bound to be a crowd. Not in the mood for chicken? Choose from steaks, seafood, sandwiches, and comfort food options that include meatloaf and a Kentucky Hot Brown. Or just try the onion rings. You’ll wonder where onions that big come from. 2500 Dixie Highway, Ft. Mitchell, (859) 331-3767, greyhoundtavern.com. Lunch and dinner seven days, brunch Sat & Sun. MCC, DS. $$

MR. GENE’S DOGHOUSE

Cumminsville is home to arguably the best hot chili cheese mett and chocolate malt in Greater Cincinnati. A family owned business that began as a simple hot dog stand more than 50 years ago, Mr. Gene’s still attracts lines of loyal customers at its windows. Can’t stand the heat? Order the mild chili mett—more flavor, fewer BTUs. And if you still haven’t embraced Cincinnati-style coneys, try the Chicago-style hot dog with pickles, onions, relish, mustard, tomato, and celery salt; a barbecue sandwich; or wings (a sign proclaims “So hot they make the devil sweat”). Although the chocolate malt is the biggest seller, we love the $3.25 pineapple shake, made with real pineapple. 3703 Beekman St., South Cumminsville, (513) 541-7636, mrgenesdoghouse.com. Open Feb–Dec for lunch and dinner Mon–Sat. MC, V. $

GOOSE & ELDER

The third restaurant from chef Jose Salazar, Goose & Elder is a more everyday kind of joint compared to his others. The prices are lower, and most of the dishes, from burgers to grits, are familiar. Salazar’s menus have always hinted that the chef had a fondness for, well, junk food. But junk food is only junk if it is made thoughtlessly. Everything here is made with little twists, like the cumin-spiced potato chips and delicate ribbons of housemade cucumber pickles with a sweet rice wine vinegar. Even the fries, crinkle cut and served with “goose sauce,” a mildly spiced mayonnaise, are wonderfully addictive. The restaurant demonstrates that what we now consider “fast food” can be awfully good if someone makes it the old-fashioned, slow way. 1800 Race St., Over-the-Rhine, (513) 579-8400, gooseandelder.com. Lunch Tues–Fri, dinner Tues–Sun, brunch Sat & Sun. MCC. $$

IVORY HOUSE

The menu here generally doesn’t reinvent dishes or introduce outlandish flavors, but simply pays attention to enough little things to make the results unusually good. The Wagyu Frisco is basically a cheeseburger, but the exceptional tomme from Urban Stead gives it that extra something. The cocktails are things you’ve probably seen before, but everything—from the bourbon rhubarb sour to the Queen City’s Bees Knees—had an extra dash of liveliness from a house-made element, like a rhubarb honey syrup or the raspberry shrub. Even when an ingredient seems out of left field, like the burnt grapefruit hot sauce on the pork belly and tenderloin, it never tastes as unusual as it sounds. Tthe hot sauce is just a hint of sweet citrusy spice that melts into the grits—a softly intriguing element rather than a slap in the face. Ivory House also has an excellent brunch. 2998 Harrison Ave., Westwood, (513) 389-0175, ivoryhousecincy.com. Lunch Tues–Fri, dinner seven days, brunch Sat & Sun. MCC. $$$

THE NATIONAL EXEMPLAR

The classics are here—prime rib with horseradish and au jus; liver and onions; an eight-ounce filet with bernaise— plus some new favorites, including short rib pasta. Or have breakfast, English-style: fried eggs, bacon, sausage, stewed beans, roasted tomatoes, and buttered toast. The dinner menu also features burgers, risotto, pasta, seafood, and plenty more lighter options. 6880 Wooster Pke., Mariemont, (513) 271-2103, nationalexemplar.com. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner seven days. MCC, DS. $$

9 8 C I N C I N N AT I M A G A Z I N E . C O M M A R C H 2 0 2 1

THE NORTHSTAR CAFÉ

In Northstar’s first outpost beyond the Greater Columbus area, the space itself reflects the ethos of the food: warm and comfortable, but still modern and fresh. The dinner and cocktail menus are fab, as is the large bar. But breakfast is worth waking up early for. Take the mushroom frittata, made with meaty mushrooms, caramelized sweet onions, and Gruyère. The portions are no joke—that frittata comes with breakfast potatoes and a dense, perfectly crumbly-butmoist housemade biscuit—yet it doesn’t feel gluttonous or excessive. In large part that’s due to the freshness (e.g., the sausage made in-house daily) and the abundance of healthy options. One of our favorites: the shooting star juice, a balanced blend of carrot, ginger, orange, and lemon. 7610 Sloan Way, Liberty Township, (513) 759-0033, thenorthstarca fe.com. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner seven days. MCC. $$

OTTO’S

Chef/owner Paul Weckman opened Otto’s, named after his father-in-law, with $300 worth of food and one employee—himself. Weckman’s food is soothing, satisfying, and occasionally, too much of a good thing. His tomato pie is beloved by lunch customers: Vine-ripe tomatoes, fresh basil, and chopped green onions packed into a homemade pie shell, topped with a cheddar cheese spread, and baked until bubbly. Weckman’s straightforward preparations are best. The shrimp and grits with sauteed shrimp spinach, mushrooms, Cajun beurre blanc atop a fried grit cake, short ribs braised in red wine and herbs, served over mashed potatoes with green beans and caramelized baby carrots that will bring you the comfort of a home-cooked meal. This is, at its heart, a neighborhood restaurant, a place with its own large, quirky family. 521 Main St., Covington, (859) 491-6678, ottosonmain.com. Lunch Mon–Fri, dinner seven days, brunch Sat & Sun. MCC. $$

PUTZ’S CREAMY WHIP

When your tongue touches the frozen white Nirvana on top of a Putz’s cone, every moment of every joy of every summer of your life is condensed into one simple swipe. It’s the sweetness, the creaminess, the cloud-like texture. I dare you to close your eyes, taste it, and not think of your first summer love, or getting invited to the new neighbor’s pool on the second day of August. Putz’s coneys are also very popular. But it’s the simplicity of vanilla on a cone that has made this place. When I-74 was being built, the expressway would have landed three feet from Putz’s back door. As bizarre as this sounds, the U.S. Department of Transportation actually moved the freeway for Putz’s. They do that kind of thing for holy shrines. 2673 Putz Place, Westwood, (513) 681-8668, putzscreamy whip.com. Lunch and dinner seven days, seasonally. Cash. $

QUATMAN CAFÉ

The quintessential neighborhood dive, Quatman’s sits in the shadow of the Our Lady of the Holy Spirit Center, serving up a classic bar burger. Look elsewhere if you like your burger with exotic toppings: This half-pound of grilled beef is served with lettuce, tomato, onion, and pickle. Sometimes cheese. The no-frills theme is straightforward and appealing. A menu of standard sandwich fare and smooth mock turtle soup; beer on tap or soda in cans (no wine or liquor); and checkered tablecloths, serving baskets, and plenty of kitsch is served daily. Peppered with regulars, families, political discussions, and the occasional fool, Quatman’s is far from fancy. But it is fun, fast, and delicious. 2434 Quatman Ave., Norwood, (513) 731-4370, quatman cafe.com. Lunch and dinner Mon–Sat. MC, V. $

RED FEATHER KITCHEN

Historically peasant-grade cuts of meat get the full Pygmalion treatment at Red Feather in Oakley, where there’s deep respect for the time and tending necessary to bring a short rib, pork chop, or hanger steak to its full potential. After a quick sear to lock in juices, the steak takes a turn in the wood-fired oven. While primal cuts play a leading role, the supporting cast is just as captivating. The hot snap of fresh ginger in the carrot soup was especially warming on a winter evening and the crispy skin on the Verlasso salmon acts as the foil to the plump, rich flesh. Service here only improves the experience. 3200 Madison Rd., Oakley, (513) 407-3631, redfeatherkitchen.com. Dinner Tues–Sun, brunch Sun. MCC. $$

RED ROOST TAVERN

At its best, Red Roost Tavern—located in the Hyatt Regency, downtown—meets its singular challenge with verve:

offering a locally sourced sensibility to an increasingly demanding dining public while introducing out-of-town guests to unique Cincinnati foods. Take the goetta, rich pork capturing the earthiness of the steel-cut oats, served as a hash with sweet potatoes and poached eggs. The seasoning added a restrained, almost mysterious hint of black pepper. But the kitchen’s talent seems straightjacketed. Chefs thrive on instincts not covered by the five senses; restaurants thrive by taking careful risks. Red Roost seems to be struggling to find its third eye, and sometimes the entrées don’t live up to their ambitions. 151 W. Fifth St., downtown, (513) 354-4025. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner seven days. MCC,DS. $$$

RON’S ROOST

They stake their reputation on their fried chicken, serving 10,000 pieces weekly. It takes a few minutes, since each batch is made to order. Ron’s also serves chicken 18 other ways, including chicken and waffles and chicken livers in gravy. It’s all about the chicken here, but that’s not all they have. The menu is five solid pages of stuff good enough to be called specialties: Oktoberfest sauerbraten, Black Angus cheeseburgers, fried whitefish on rye, hot bacon slaw, lemon meringue pie (homemade, of course), and the best Saratoga chips this side of Saratoga. 3853 Race Rd., Bridgetown, (513) 574-0222, ronsroost. net. Breakfast Sun, lunch and dinner seven days. MCC, DS. $$

THE SCHOOLHOUSE RESTAURANT

An old flag stands in one corner and pictures of Abe Lincoln and the first George W. hang on the wall of this Civil War–era schoolhouse. The daily menu of familiar Midwestern comfort fare is written in letter-perfect cursive on the original chalkboard. Once you order from a woman who bears an uncanny resemblance to your high school lunch lady, the elevated lazy Susan in the center of the table begins to fill up with individual bowls and baskets of corn bread, slaw, salad, mashed potatoes, chicken gravy, and vegetables. The deal here is quantity. More mashed potatoes with your fried chicken? More corn bread with your baked ham? You don’t even have to raise your hand. 8031 Glendale-Milford Rd., Camp Dennison, (513) 8315753, theschoolhousecincinnati.com. Lunch Thurs & Fri, dinner Thurs–Sun. MCC, DS. $

SUGAR N’ SPICE

This Paddock Hills diner, with a second location in Overthe-Rhine, has been dishing up wispy-thin pancakes and football-sized omelettes to Cincinnatians since FDR was signing new deals. Breakfast and lunch offerings mix oldhat classics like steak and eggs, corned beef hash, and basic burgers with funky iterations that draw on ethnic ingredients such as chorizo and tzatziki. Get here early if you don’t want to stand in line. 4381 Reading Rd., Paddock Hills; 1203 Sycamore St., Over-the-Rhine, (513) 242-3521, eatsugarnspice.com, Breakfast and lunch seven days. MCC. $

SYMPHONY HOTEL & RESTAURANT

Tucked into a West 14th Street Italianate directly around the corner from Music Hall, this place feels like a private dinner club. There’s a preferred by-reservation policy. Check the web site for the weekend’s five-course menu, a slate of “new American” dishes that changes monthly. You can see the reliance on local produce in the spring vegetable barley soup. Salads are interesting without being busy, and the sorbets are served as the third course palate cleanser. Main courses of almond-crusted mahi-mahi, flat-iron steak, and a vegetable lasagna hit all the right notes, and you can end with a sweet flourish if you choose the chocolate croissant bread pudding. 210 W. 14th St., Over-the-Rhine, (513) 7213353, symphonyhotel.com. Dinner Thurs–Sun, brunch Sun. $$

TANO BISTRO

Gaetano Williams’s Loveland bistro is comfortable, with reasonably priced food and amenable service. The menu is tidy—25 or so dishes divided between appetizers, salads, and entrées, plus two or three specials—its flavor profile partially influenced by a childhood growing up in a third generation Italian family. Most of Tano Bistro’s main courses lean toward the comfortable side of American. For instance, Williams serves a stuffed salmon and potato-crusted chicken. The simple roast chicken is also worth a trip to Loveland, sweetly moist beneath its crisp bronze skin.


204 W. Loveland Ave., Loveland, (513) 683-8266, foodby tano.com. Lunch and dinner Mon–Fri, brunch and dinner Sat & Sun. MCC. $$$

TELA BAR + KITCHEN

Classically conceived but casually executed comfort food, including mini-Monte Cristo sandwiches with tangy house-made pimento cheese stuffed into sourdough bread and fried crisp, mac and cheese topped with a Mr. Pibb–braised pulled short rib, and steak and potatoes. Servers are slightly scattered, yet enthusiastic and friendly, with a good grasp of the beverage program. 1212 Springfield Pke., Wyoming, (513) 821-8352, telaba randkitchen.com. Lunch and dinner Tues–Sat, brunch Sun. MCC. $$

TRIO

Trio is nothing if not a crowd pleaser. Whether you’re in the mood for a California-style pizza or filet mignon (with side salad, garlic mashed potatoes, sauteed swiss chard, and mushroom jus), the menu is broad enough to offer something for everyone. It may lack a cohesive point of view, but with the number of regulars who come in seven nights a week, variety is Trio’s ace in the hole. A simple margherita pizza with roma tomatoes, basil, Parmesan, and provolone delivered a fine balance of crunchy crust, sharp cheese, and sweet, roasted tomatoes. Paired with a glass of pinot noir, it made a perfect light meal. The service is friendly enough for a casual neighborhood joint but comes with white tablecloth attentiveness and knowledge. Combine that with the consistency in the kitchen, and Trio is a safe bet. 7565 Kenwood Rd., Kenwood, (513) 984-1905, triobistro.com. Lunch and dinner seven days. MCC, DC. $$$

THE WILDFLOWER CAFÉ

Wildflower Café is not the sort of place that tries to wow anyone with feats of inventiveness. Its formula is simple but satisfying: lots of mostly local meat and produce, a menu that continuously changes with available ingredients, a nice selection of wine and beer, and well-made, homey food. The small, focused menu has a classic American quality (salads, steaks, burgers) with enough surprises to keep things interesting. Many of the dishes are designed with open spaces to be filled with whatever is available in the kitchen that day, an advantage of an unfussy style. You don’t go to Wildflower expecting a certain kind of perfection; you accept that your favorite dish from last time might be made differently tonight, or no longer available. Like the farmhouse that Wildflower occupies, the imperfections are part of the charm. 207 E. Main St., Mason, (513) 492-7514, wildflowergourmetcafe.com. Lunch and dinner Tues–Sat. MCC. $$$

YORK STREET CAFÉ

Five blocks from the Newport riverfront, Terry and Betsy Cunningham have created the sort of comfortable, welcoming environment that encourages steady customers. A dependable menu and quirky atmosphere appeal to a broad range of diners, from non-adventurous visiting relatives to non-attentive children. Desserts have always been one of the stars: flourless chocolate hazelnut torte, bittersweet, rich and moist; butter rum pudding that would be equally at home on a picnic table or a finely dressed Michelin-starred table. 738 York St., Newport, (859) 261-9675, yorkstonline. com. Lunch and dinner Tues–Sat. MCC, DS. $$

BARBECUE ELI’S BBQ

Elias Leisring started building his pulled pork reputation under canopies at Findlay Market and Fountain Square in 2011. Leisring’s proper little ’cue shack along the river serves up ribs that are speaking-in-tongues good, some of the zazziest jalapeño cheese grits north of the MasonDixon line, and browned mashed potatoes that would make any short order cook diner-proud. The small no-frills restaurant—packed cheek-by-jowl most nights—feels like it’s been there a lifetime, with customers dropping vinyl on the turntable, dogs romping in the side yard, and picnic tables crowded with diners. The hooch is bring-your-own, and the barbecue is bona fide. 3313 Riverside Dr., East End, (513) 533-1957, elisbarbeque.com. Lunch and dinner seven days. MCC. $

SINNERS & SAINTS TAVERN

You won’t leave this Texas smokehouse/sports bar hungry. From the Not Yo Mama’s Fried Bologna sandwich to the slowsmoked brisket—served with Texas BBQ sauce, white bread, and pickles, or in a hoagie—you can’t go wrong with these rich barbecue flavors. Several dishes, like the house-made sausage links, draw on German influences found in both Texas and Cincinnati cuisine, while the sides take flavors back to the country (try the creamy coleslaw, crispy onion straws, and chili-spiced cornbread). The restaurant’s character shines through its decor, which includes hanging hockey memorabilia, pictures of public figures and tables made from real NBA courts. 2062 Riverside Dr., East End, (513) 281-4355, sinsaintsmoke.com. Dinner Tues–Sun. MCC. $$

WALT’S HITCHING POST

A Northern Kentucky institution returns. Roughly 750 pounds of ribs per week are pit-fired in a small building in front of the restaurant, with a smaller dedicated smoker out back for brisket and chicken. Walt’s ribs begin with several hours in the smokehouse and then are quick-seared at the time of service. This hybrid method takes advantage of the leaner nature of the baby-back ribs they prefer to use. Each rib had a just-right tooth to it where soft flesh peeled away from the bone. One hidden treasure: Walt’s house-made tomato and garlic dressing. Slightly thicker than a vinaigrette yet unwilling to overwhelm a plate of greens, the two key elements play well together. 3300 Madison Pke., Ft. Wright, (859) 360-2222, waltshitchingpost.com. Dinner seven days. MCC. $$

CAJUN/ CARIBBEAN BREWRIVER CREOLE

More than 800 miles from New Orleans, this may be as close as you can get to the real deal here in your own backyard. The menu fully leans into Chef Michael Shields’s penchant for cuisine from the Crescent City. His six years of training under NOLA’s own Emeril Lagasse comes through in a scratch kitchen menu that spans a range of the city’s classics. The enormous shrimp and oyster po’ boys—the former protein fried in a light and crispy beer batter and the latter in a hearty cornmeal breading—are served on fluffy French bread loaves and dressed with lightly spicy rémoulades. The jambalaya packs all the heat of a late summer day in the French Quarter without masking a hint of its satisfying flavors. Paired with a Sazerac and nightly live jazz, you may just feel tempted to start a second line.  4632 Eastern Ave., Linwood, (513) 861-2484, brewrivercre olekitchen.com. Dinner Tues–Sun, brunch & lunch Fri–Sun. MCC. $

DEE FELICE CAFÉ

To call Dee Felice Café a jazz supper club would be too conventional. The atmosphere is decidedly casual. The music and menu are still true to the original spirit of Emidio Dante DeFelice, a drummer and bandleader who opened the restaurant in 1984 to create a jazz venue that he and his fellow musicians could relax in and enjoy a meal. It made sense to feature cuisine from the birthplace of jazz, New Orleans, and the Cajun and Creole dishes of southern Louisiana still dominate the menu, though there are a few Italian dishes, as well as steaks (the most consistently well-executed dishes on the menu) and salads. The joint is most definitely still jumpin’. 529 Main St., Covington, (859) 261-2365, deefelice cafe.com. Dinner Wed–Mon. MCC, DC, DS. $$

SWAMPWATER GRILL

At first blush, this place is a dive where homesick Cajuns can find a good pile of jambalaya. But thoughtful details like draft Abita Root Beer and char-grilled Gulf Coast oysters on the half shell signal its ambition. Bayou standards like jambalaya, gumbo, and fried seafood also make an appearance. But the extensive menu also features amped up pub-style items for those who may be squeamish about crawfish tails (which can be added to just about anything on the menu). You’ll also find a roundup of oyster, shrimp, and catfish Po’Boys, as well as a selection of hardwoodsmoked meats. 3742 Kellogg Ave., East End, (513) 834-

7067, swampwatergrill.com. Lunch and dinner Wed–Sun, brunch Fri–Sun. MCC. $$

KNOTTY PINE ON THE BAYOU

The Pine serves some of the best Louisiana home-style food you’ll find this far north of New Orleans. Taste the fried catfish filets with their peppery crust, or the garlic sauteed shrimp with smoky greens on the side, and you’ll understand why it’s called soul food. Between March and June, it’s crawfish season. Get them boiled and heaped high on a platter or in a superb crawfish etouffee. But the rockin’ gumbo—a thick, murky brew of andouille sausage, chicken, and vegetables—serves the best roundhouse punch all year round. As soon as you inhale the bouquet and take that first bite, you realize why Cajun style food is considered a high art form and a serious pleasure. And you’ll start planning your return trip. 6302 Licking Pke., Cold Spring, (859) 781-2200, letseat.at/knottypine. Dinner Tues–Sun. MCC, DS. $$

CHINESE AMERASIA

A sense of energetic fun defines this tiny Chinese spot with a robust beer list. The glossy paper menu depicts Master Chef Rich Chu as a “Kung Food” master fighting the evil fast-food villain with dishes like “fly rice,” “Brocco-Lee,” and “Big Bird’s Nest.” Freshness rules. Pot stickers, dumplings, and wontons are hand-shaped. The Dragon’s Breath wontons will invade your dreams. Seasoned ground pork, onion, and cilantro meatballs are wrapped in egg dough, wok simmered, and topped with thick, spicy red pepper sauce and fresh cilantro. Noodles are clearly Chef Chu’s specialty, with zonxon (a tangle of thin noodles, finely chopped pork, tofu, and mushrooms cloaked in spicy dark sauce and crowned with peanuts and cilantro) and Matt Chu’s Special (shaved rice noodle, fried chicken, and seasonal vegetables in gingery white sauce) topping the menu’s flavor charts. 521 Madison Ave., Covington, (859) 261-6121. Lunch Sun–Fri, dinner seven days. MCC. $

CHINESE IMPERIAL INN

The chilies-on-steroids cooking here will have you mopping beads of garlic-laced sweat from your brow. The musky, firecracker-red Mongolian chicken stabilizes somewhere just before nirvana exhaustion, and aggressively pungent shredded pork with dried bean curd leaves your eyes gloriously glistening from its spicy hot scarlet oil. Even an ice cold beer practically evaporates on your tongue. Do not fear: not all the dishes are incendiary. Try the seafood—lobster, Manila clams, Dungeness and blue crabs, whelk, and oysters—prepared with tamer garlicky black bean sauce, or ginger and green onions. The Cantonese wonton soup, nearly as mild as your morning bowl of oatmeal, is as memorable as the feverish stuff. Sliced pork and shrimp are pushed into the steaming bowl of noodles and greens just before serving. Think comforting, grandmotherly tenderness. 11042 Reading Rd., Sharonville, (513) 563-6888, chineseimperialinn.com. Lunch and dinner seven days. MC, V, DS. $

GREAT TANG

Although the (24-page!) menu features classic dishes in every style, the specialty at Great Tang is the refined coastal cuisine of Zhejiang. If you like spice, you can get still the Sichuanese and Hunanese classics. One dish will hint at the surprises in store for people who are mainly used to Chinese takeout: the lovely Xian cold noodle. The dish is exquisitely layered: the creamy and nutty undertone of sesame paste, mixed with notes of tang and spice, topped with the bright pop of cilantro. The combination of textures is also delightful, with crunches of cucumber and sprouted mung and the softness of the flat noodles. And that tofu! It was wonderfully meaty, with dense layers, substantial and satisfying as a counterpart to the noodles. Be as brave as you are in the mood to be. Ask for some suggestions and prepare to be astonished. 7340 Kingsgate Way, West Chester, (513) 847-6097, greattangohio.com. Lunch and dinner Wed–Mon, dim sum Sat & Sun. MCC. $$

HOUSE OF SUN

Take a gander at the authentic Chinese section of the menu. There you’ll find a ballet of smoky, spicy sliced M A R C H 2 0 2 1 C I N C I N N AT I M A G A Z I N E . C O M 9 9


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conch; thick handmade noodles soaking up rich, nostrilsearing brown sauce; and crispy pork ears arranged like flower petals on the plate (think of fine Italian prosciutto). The popular American-Chinese chicken dishes are there, too, including General Tso, sweet and sour, and sesame chicken. 11955 Lebanon Rd., Sharonville, (513) 769-0888, houseofsuncincy.com. Lunch and dinner Mon–Sun. DS, MC, V. $$

ORIENTAL WOK This is the restaurant of your childhood memories: the showy Las Vegas-meets-China decor, the ebulliently comedic host, the chop sueys, chow meins, and crab rangoons that have never met a crab. But behind the giant elephant tusk entryway and past the goldfish ponds and fountains is the genuine hospitality and warmth of the Wong family, service worthy of the finest dining establishments, and some very good food that’s easy on the palate. Best are the fresh fish: salmon, sea bass, and halibut steamed, grilled, or flash fried in a wok, needing little more than the ginger–green onion sauce that accompanies them. Even the chicken lo mein is good. It may not be provocative, but not everyone wants to eat blazing frogs in a hot pot. 317 Buttermilk Pke., Ft. Mitchell, (859) 331-3000; 2444 Madison Rd., Hyde Park, (513) 871-6888, orientalwok.com. Lunch Mon–Fri (Ft. Mitchell; buffet Sun 11–2:30), lunch Tues–Sat (Hyde Park), dinner Mon–Sat (Ft. Mitchell) dinner Tues–Sun (Hyde Park). MCC. $$

THE PACIFIC KITCHEN The monster of a menu can be dizzying. Ease in with some top-notch Korean Fried Chicken. These slightly bubbly, shatter-crisp wings are painted with a thin gochujang

pepper sauce (a foil to the fat). It takes 24 hours to prep the Cantonese duck, between a honey-vinegar brine to dry the skin, a marinade of star anise, bean paste, and soy within the re-sealed cavity, and the crispy convection oven finish. Dolsot bibimbap had plenty of crispy rice at the bottom of the stone bowl, and the accompanying banchan were soothing yet flavorful, especially the strips of lightly pickled cucumber. Even dishes like a Malaysian goat stew resonated with rich, original flavors. 8300 Market Place Lane, Montgomery, (513) 898-1833, thepa cific.kitchen. Lunch and dinner seven days; dim sum Sat & Sun. MCC. $$

RAYMOND’S HONG KONG CAFÉ It has all the elements of your typical neighborhood Chinese restaurant: Strip mall location. General Tso and kung pao chicken. Fortune cookies accompanying the bill. The dragon decoration. But it is the nontraditional aspects of Raymond’s Hong Kong Café that allow it to stand apart. The menu goes beyond standard Chinese fare with dishes that range from Vietnamese (beef noodle soup) to American (crispy Cornish hen). The Portuguese-style baked chicken references Western European influences on Chinese cuisine with an assemblage of fried rice, peppers, carrots, broccoli, zucchini, and squash all simmering together in a creamy bath of yellow curry sauce. Deciding what to order is a challenge, but at least you won’t be disappointed.

at first: appetizers of cold sliced beef and tripe, as well as slices of pork belly with a profusion of minced garlic, lean toward the hot and sweet; mapo tofu freckled with tiny fermented black beans and scallions, and pork with pickled red peppers and strips of ginger root, progress from sweet to pungent to hot to salty—in that order. Alternated with cooling dishes—nibbles of rice, a verdant mound of baby bok choy stir-fried with a shovelful of garlic, refreshing spinach wilted in ginger sauce, a simply sensational tea-smoked duck—the effect is momentarily tempered. 7888 S. Mason Montgomery Rd., Mason, (513) 770-3123, sichuanbistro.com. Lunch and dinner Tues–Sun. MCC, DS. $$

SUZIE WONG’S ON MADISON A few items on the menu resemble those that were once served at Pacific Moon, such as laub gai and Vietnamese rolls, both variations of lettuce wraps. For the laub gai, browned peppery chicken soong (in Cantonese and Mandarin, referring to meat that is minced) is folded into leaf lettuce with stems of fresh cilantro and mint, red Serrano peppers, a squeeze of lime juice, and a drizzle of fish sauce. In the Vietnamese roll version, small cigar-sized rolls stuffed with chicken and shrimp are crisp fried and lettuce wrapped in the same manner. The Pan-Asian menu also includes Korean kalbi (tenderific beef ribs marinated and glazed in a sweet, dark, sesame soy sauce) and dolsat bibimbap, the hot stone bowl that’s a favorite around town. 1544 Madison

11051 Clay Dr., Walton, (859) 485-2828. Lunch and dinner seven days. MCC. $$

Rd., East Walnut Hills, (513) 751-3333, suziewongs.com. Lunch Tues–Sat, dinner Tues–Sun. MCC, DS. $$

SICHUAN BISTRO CHINESE GOURMET

UNCLE YIP’S

Like many Chinese restaurants that cater to both mainstream American and Chinese palates, this strip mall gem uses two menus. The real story here is found in dishes of pungent multi-layered flavors that set your mouth ablaze with fermented peppers and fresh chilies and then just as quickly cool it down with the devilish, numbing sensation of hua jiao, Sichuan pepper. Its numbing effect is subtle

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Long before sushi somehow un-disgusted itself to the Western World, China had houses of dim sum. Uncle Yip’s valiantly upholds that tradition in Evendale. This is a traditional dim sum house with all manner of exotic dumplings, including shark fin or beef tripe with ginger and onion. As for the seafood part of the restaurant’s full name, Uncle Yip has most everything the sea has to offer, from lobster to mussels. The menu has more than 260 items, so you’ll find a range of


favorites, from moo goo gai pan to rock salt frog legs. 10736

cially interesting in favor of the essential. 1214 Vine St.,

tions, gives the food at Bouquet a rustic, soulful quality.

Reading Rd., Evendale, (513) 733-8484, uncleyips.com. Lunch and dinner seven days. MCC, discount for cash. $$

Over-the-Rhine, (513) 421-4040, abigailstreet.com. Dinner Tues–Sat. MCC, DS. $$

519 Main St., Covington, (859) 491-7777, bouquetrestau rant.com. Dinner Mon–Sat. MCC, DS. $$

YAT KA MEIN

This noodle house caters to our inner Chinese peasant. Yat Ka Mein offers humble, everyday Cantonese dishes of egg noodles, tasty dumplings packed with shrimp or pork, fresh veggies, and chicken broth. Almost begrudgingly the menu includes popular American-style Chinese dishes, like the ubiquitous sweet and sour chicken, Moo Goo Gai Pan, roast duck, and so forth. But what makes the place unique are less familiar dishes like Dan Dan noodles, a spicy, sweat-inducing blend of garlic, chili peppers, and ground chicken marinated in chili sauce. 2974 Madison Rd., Oakley, (513) 321-2028, yatkamein.biz. Lunch and dinner seven days. MCC. $

ECLECTIC ABIGAIL STREET

Most people who’ve eaten at Abigail Street have favorite dishes that they order every visit: the Moroccan spiced broccoli, for example, or the mussels charmoula, with its perfect balance of saffron, creaminess, and tomatoey acidity. Many of the new items on the menu have the same perfected feeling as these classics. Working within a loose framework of Middle Eastern and North African flavors, Abigail Street has never fallen into a routine that would sap its energy. New offerings like the duck leg confit, with spicy-sour harissa flavors, firmtender butternut squash, and perfectly made couscous, feel just as accomplished as old favorites like the falafel, beautifully moist and crumbly with a bright parsley interior. The restaurant is always watching for what works and what will truly satisfy, ready to sacrifice the superfiTop 10

BOCA

With its grand staircase, chandelier, and floorto-ceiling draperies, Boca has an atmosphere of grandeur and refinement. There is a sense of drama not only in the decor but in everything it serves. In some dishes, there is a painterly sense of contrast and surprise, like violet-derived purple sugar beside the pain de Gênes (French almond cake). In others, there is a dramatic suspense, like the whole egg yolk quivering in the center of the Fassone tartare waiting to be broken. While staying mostly grounded in the fundamentals of Italian and French cuisine, Boca has an air of international sophistication that sets its food apart. The hamachi crudo, an old standby on the menu, takes Japanese flavors and gives them new dimensions with grapefruit suprêmes and slivers of shishito pepper. This is food of extraordinary creativity and flair. Top 10

114 E. Sixth St., downtown, (513) 542-2022, bocacincinnati. com. Dinner Mon–Sat. MCC, DS. $$$ Top 10

BOUQUET RESTAURANT AND WINE BAR

BRANCH

Located in a huge Art Deco building, formerly a bank, Branch has taken this potentially cavernous and impersonal space and made it intimate. Diners might recognize the vibe from this restaurant group’s first venture, Northside’s The Littlefield. The chef, Shoshannah Anderson, cooks in a mode that we would call “international home-style,” taking inspiration from the comfort food of many cultures. It maintains a balance between cooking to a higher price point and creating an atmosphere of refinement without losing the informal neighborhood feel. The shrimp and grits—served soupy in a big bowl with an addictively sweet-and-sour green tomato marmalade swirled into the creamy grits—are taken surprising heights. Another notable item is a dish that wouldn’t normally get a mention in a review: the french fries. They demonstrate that food that is usually mindlessly inhaled can be worth savoring if it is made with enough love. 1535 Madison Rd., East Walnut Hills, (513) 221-2702, eatatbranch.com. Dinner Mon–Sun, brunch Sat & Sun. MCC. $$

Normally diners aren’t pleased when a restaurant runs out of something. At Bouquet, though, surprise changes to the menu are simply a sign of integrity. Chefowner Stephen Williams is serious about using seasonal ingredients, and if the figs have run out or there is no more chicken from a local farm, so be it. The flavors at Bouquet are about doing justice to what’s available. Preparations are unfussy, complexity coming from within the vegetables and proteins themselves. A tomato salad—wonderfully fresh and vibrant, so you know the tomatoes have just come off a nearby vine—is dressed with chopped shiso, a crimson herb that tastes like a mysterious combination of mint and cilantro. This determination to make something delicious out of what’s on hand, to embrace limita-

CHÉ

This Walnut Street spot draws on authentic Argentine recipes, including the empanadas. Choose from more than a dozen different crispy, perfectly cinched dough pockets, with fillings ranging from traditional (a mixture of cumin-spiced beef, egg, and olives) to experimental (mushrooms, feta, green onion, and mozzarella). There are also six different dipping sauces to choose from, but you need not stray from the house chimichurri. It complements practically every item on the menu, but particularly the grilled meats, another Argentinian staple. Marinated beef skewers and sausages are cooked on an open-flame grill, imparting welcome bits of bitter char to the juicy meat. 1342 Walnut St., Over-the-Rhine, (513) 345-8838,

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checincinnati.com. Lunch Tues–Sun , dinner seven days, brunch Sat & Sun. MCC. $$

CROWN REPUBLIC GASTROPUB

What makes Crown Republic special isn’t its handful of outstanding dishes. It’s the place’s sheer consistency. No single dish is absolutely mind-blowing or completely original, but when almost everything that comes out is genuinely tasty, the service is always friendly and attentive, and (stop the presses!) the bill is quite a bit less than you expected, you sit up and pay attention. The crab and avocado toast, served on grilled bread with lime juice and slivers of pickled Fresno chiles, is a prime example of what makes Crown Republic tick. The cocktails are equally unfussy and good, like the Tipsy Beet, made with vodka, housemade beet shrub, cucumber, mint, and citrus peel. Crown Republic has a mysterious quality that I can only describe as “good energy.” 720 Sycamore St., downtown, (513) 246-4272, crgcincy.com. Lunch and dinner Tues–Sat. MCC. $$

E+O KITCHEN

THE CHIPS ARE DOWN

Utz Quality Foods, owner of Husman’s potato chips, put the hometown snack brand out to pasture this winter, citing declining sales. The brand dates back to 1919, when it was founded by local paper company salesman Harry Husman.

The former Beluga space comes alive with a menu that conjoins minimalist Asian with gutsycum-earthy Latin. The results are hit-or-miss: while guacamole was pointlessly studded with edamame, the pork belly buns are especially tender. Taco plates are a safe bet, with the “sol” pastor—pineapple coupled with Korean kimchi, bulgogi pork, and cilantro—hitting all the right notes. More adventurous palates may opt for the nuanced ramen—the pork and soy broth teeming with cuts of both pork belly and slow-cooked shoulder, while a superbly poached egg lingers at the edge, awaiting its curtain call. Service is friendly but tends to sputter when it comes to the basics of hospitality. 3520 Edwards Rd., Hyde Park, (513) 832-1023, eokitchen.com. Lunch and dinner seven days. MCC. $$

THE LITTLEFIELD

Inside a modest 1,500 square-foot space on Spring Grove, just south of Hamilton Avenue, at least 70-odd bourbons behind the bar drive this little restaurant’s philosophy. The menu is meant to be limited, the better to support and celebrate the bottled flavors up front. There are surprises: a faint hint of curry powder deepens the moody cauliflower fritters; skewered golf-balls of mild, peppery ground lamb get a faint crust from the final sear. You’ll also want to order the smoked pork katsu. Panko crusted cutlets of pork, topped with tonkatsu sauce, served with sesame ginger slaw and kewpie mayo. The signature chicken and corn chowder is exactly what you need on a cold winter’s day. 3934 Spring Grove Ave., Northside, (513) 386-7570, littlefieldns.com. Lunch Mon–Sat, dinner seven days, brunch Sun. V, MC. $

MAPLEWOOD KITCHEN

The latest effort from local restaurant juggernaut Thunderdome, owner of the Currito franchise. Order at the counter, then find your own table, and a server will deliver what you’ve selected. There’s no cohesive cuisine, rather, the menu takes its cue from all corners of the globe: chicken tinga, spaghetti pomodoro, a New York Strip steak, guajillo chicken are all represented, along with a satisfying pappardelle with housemade sausage. Brunch is available all day; try the light lemon ricotta pancakes or the satisfying avocado benedict. 525 Race St., downtown, (513) 421-2100, maplewoodkitchenandbar.com. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner seven days. MCC. $$

MELT REVIVAL

In this Northside sandwich joint, the restaurant’s name pretty much dictates what you should get. Diners have their choice of sandwiches, including the vegetarian cheesesteak—seitan (a meat substitute) topped with

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roasted onions, peppers, and provolone—and the J.L.R. Burger, a black bean or veggie patty served with cheese, tomato, lettuce and housemade vegan mayo. For those who require meat in their meals, try the verde chicken melt: juicy pieces of chicken intermingle with pesto, zucchini, and provolone. Not sure you’ll want a whole sandwich? Try one of the halvesies, a halfsalad, half-soup selection popular with the lunch crowd. 4100 Hamilton Ave., Northside, (513) 818-

music. A Southeast Asian–inspired halibut dish, with its green curry paste, adobo, and peanut brittle, shows how Zappas can break out of the restaurant’s traditionally European comfort zone. Aside from the food, part of the pleasure is simply being in the space, enjoying the jazz band, and watching the grace and assurance of the staff as they present the meal. 35 W. Fifth St., downtown, (513) 564-6465, orchidsatpalmcourt.com. Dinner seven days. MCC. $$$$

8951, meltrevival.com. MCC, DS. $

METROPOLE

Metropole has been remarkably stable since it opened in 2012. Even when chefs have left, the organization has promoted from within, kept popular dishes on the menu, and maintained a certain vibe. Its new chef, David Kelsey, has been with the business since 2016, and his menu will feel familiar, with a balance between sophistication and rusticity. Its vegetarian fare contains many of its most inventive and delightful creations. The chilled cantaloupe soup has a creamy note from coconut milk and a hint of spice floating in at the end of every bite to balance the subtle, melon-y sweetness. The fancy “candy bar,” with its light and crispy peanut wafers and ring of flourless chocolate cake and caramel, encapsulates Metropole at its best: fun and whimsical, but rooted in careful execution of deep and satisfying flavors. 609 Walnut St., downtown, (513) 578-6660, metropoleonwalnut.com. Breakfast and dinner seven days, lunch Mon–Fri, brunch Sat & Sun. MCC. $$

MITA’S

It’s fitting that chef Jose Salazar named this restaurant after his grandmother, because there is something deeply homey about the food at Mita’s. With a focus on Spanish tapas, it always feels, in the best possible way, like elevated home cooking. Its sophistication is modestly concealed. The flavors are bold and direct, whether the smoky depths of the chimichurri rojo on skewers of grilled chicken or the intensely bright sourness of the pozole verde. In dishes like the mushroom soup, the chef hits every register: the acid of red piquillo peppers to balance the earthy mushrooms, the crisp fried leeks against the delicately creamy soup. But what mainly comes through is the warm-hearted affection a grandmother might have put into a meal for a beloved grandson. It’s the kind of big hug everyone needs from time to time. 501 Race Top 10

PLEASANTRY

With only 40 seats inside, Daniel Souder and Joanna Kirkendall’s snug but spare OTR gem—they serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner like a true neighborhood spot—features an engaging wine program aimed at broadening your palate alongside small plates that are equally ambitious. Classic technique and fresh produce anchor an approachable menu—“everything” biscuits with cured salmon, burgers, and chicken salad sandwiches are available at lunch, and the cauliflower with sambal is a comforting mash-up of a rich cauliflower-andcoconut-cream schmear topped with a head of sambal-roasted cauliflower, grapefruit segments, toasted cashews, and cilantro. This is not to say that the proteins aren’t something special. Traditionally a much less expensive cut, the small hanger steak was decidedly tender, served with braised cippolini onions and sauteed mushrooms. c 118 W. 15th St., Over-the-Rhine, (513) 381-1969, pleasantryotr.com. Dinner Tues–Sat, brunch Fri–Sun. MCC. $

PLEASE

It’s hard to describe the food at Please to a person who hasn’t been there, except that it’s like nothing else in Cincinnati. Some of chef-owner Ryan Santos’s culinary experiments have been bizarre, some fascinating, and some simply delicious—and all of it emerges from a dining room–centered kitchen that seems like it belongs in a small apartment. Almost all of his risks hit their marks, from the frothy bay leaf–grapefruit mignonette on the oysters to the cedar-rosemary custard. What has made Please increasingly wonderful is a willingness, at times, to deliver something straightforward, like an outstanding course of rye gnocchi or a spicy green kale sauce with a lemony zing. That this weird and wonderful restaurant exists at all, and is actually thriving, is a compliment not just to Santos and his staff but to the city as a whole. 1405 Clay St., Top 10

St., downtown, (513) 421-6482, mitas.co. Dinner Mon–Sat. MCC. $$$

Over-the-Rhine, (513) 405-8859, pleasecincinnati. com. Dinner Wed–Sat. MCC. $$$

NICHOLSON’S

THE QUARTER BISTRO

To remind local diners that they were here before those young dog-toting punks with their exposed brick and crafty ales in Over-the-Rhine, Nicholson’s branded themselves Cincinnati’s “first and finest gastropub,” and revamped the menu to include plenty of snacks and small plates for grazing, and not-quite-brawny, straightforward sandwiches and main dishes. Try the oatmeal crusted trout, bowl of cock-a-leekie soup, or check out the cranberry-apple or Scottish BBQ style burgers or the turkey burger with apple chutney. And the bar’s clubby intimacy makes it easy to belly up and enjoy their impressive collection of single malts or a Scottish stout. 625 Walnut St., downtown, (513) 564-9111, nich olsonspub.com. Lunch and dinner seven days. MCC. $$ Top 10

ORCHIDS AT PALM COURT

The food at Orchids isthat is wonderfully complex, diverse, and surprising. A dish of parsnip soup has a quinoa chip and apple butter, along with salty duck prosciutto, notes of smoke and spice from the espelette pepper at the base of the bowl, and a touch of acid that crept in on the roasted parsnip. In a few dazzling bites it all comes together like a highly technical piece of

The Quarter Bistro has multiple personalities: one part clubby neighborhood joint, one part dinner and a movie with a dash of lusty romance. The Bistro Burger, a half-pound of black Angus beef, is seasoned but not overly so, with a sturdy-but-not-too-chewy bun. The 18-hour short ribs are the star, and reason enough to skip the movie next door. Braised into a flavor bomb of meat candy, it’s served with papardelle pasta, roasted vegetables, and onion straws. With the no-lip service, The Quarter Bistro could be well on the way to making middle age look sexy. 6904 Wooster Pke., Mariemont, (513) 271-5400, qbcincy.com. Dinner seven days. MCC, DS. $$

RUTH’S PARKSIDE CAFÉ

The spiritual successor of Mullane’s Parkside Café, Ruth’s brings back the vegetable-forward menu with a few concessions to contemporary tastes. Dinner options now include steaks and heavier, braised entrées. But the stir-fries, beans and rice, pasta, and the traditional option to add a protein to an entrée (tofu, tempeh, chicken, or local chorizo) for a $2 upcharge are all old standards. While dishes are generally hearty, they are rarely too rich, leaving room to freely consider dessert. There are a small selection of baked goods, including a gooey butter cake, homemade fruit pies, and


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Madisono’s Gelato.

1550 Blue Rock St., Northside, (513) 542-7884, ruthscafe.com. Lunch Mon–Fri, dinner Mon–Sat. MCC. $$

SACRED BEAST

Sacred Beast advertises itself as a kind of upscale diner, but the real gems are the oddball dishes that don’t quite fit the diner mold. The menu can be disorienting in its eclecticism: foie gras torchon is next to lobster poutine, and a king salmon is next to a diner breakfast and deviled eggs. Winners are scattered throughout the menu in every category. On the cocktail list, the Covington Iced Tea, a lemon and coffee concoction made with cold brew, San Pellegrino, and vodka is oddly satisfying. The service is good, and there is some flair about the place—including vintage touches, from the facsimile reel-to-reel audio system to the mostly classic cocktails—even within its rather chilly industrial design. In short, go for the late night grub; stay for the elegant, shareable twists on classic snacks. 1437 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, (513) 213-2864, sacred beastdiner.com. Lunch, dinner, and late night seven days. MCC. $$

SALAZAR

A freewheeling tour through Korean, Moroccan, Italian, and French flavors—and that’s just on one iteration of the ever-evolving menu. Salazar turns out fresh, wellbalanced dishes dotted with seasonal surprises: the cauliflower steak special (a Moroccan spiced, seared wedge of the cruciferous vegetable complemented by a strong hit of lemon), the chicken liver mousse (so good it deserves its own trophy), and the succulent chicken Milanese (with its musky, sweet-and-sour notes of ground cherry). With its bustling bar and cheek-by-jowl tables, Salazar hums with energy at every meal. 1401 Republic St., Over-the-Rhine, (513) 621-7000, salazarcincin nati.com. Lunch Thurs–Fri, dinner Mon–Sat, brunch Sat & Sun. MCC. $$

SENATE

Ever since it began dishing out its lo-fi eats, Chef Dan Wright’s gastropub has been operating at a velocity few can match. From the howl and growl of supremely badass hot dogs to the palate-rattling poutine, Senate has led the charge in changing the local conventional wisdom about what makes a great restaurant. Consumption of mussels charmoula means either ordering additional grilled bread to soak up every drop of the herby, saffron-laced broth or drinking the remainder straight from the bowl and perfectly crisped and seasoned fries inspire countless return visits. 1212 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine (513) 421-2020, senatepub. com; 1100 Summit Place Dr., Blue Ash, (513) 769-0099, sen ateblueash.com. Lunch and dinner Tues–Sat. (Blue Ash only: Brunch, lunch, and dinner Sun.) MC, V, DS. $

THE STANDARD

Owners Paul Weckman and Emily Wolff offer a pared down menu of six small plates (if you include the fries) and five mains. It’s simple but satisfying, with an interesting PanAsian street food vibe. The two kinds of satay (particularly the lemongrass chicken) and the fried honey sriracha tenders, with an excellent housemade bread-and-butter pickle, are the highlights. In terms of drinks, try the Hot Rod, which has the flavor of kimchi captured in a drink. There is a gochujang (salty, fermented Korean chile paste) simple syrup and a rim of Korean pepper—and the result is wonderful and unique. 434 Main St., Covington, (859) 360-0731, facebook.com/thestandardcov. Dinner Tues–Sun. MCC. $

THE SUMMIT

This “laboratory restaurant” staffed by Midwest Culinary Institute students features a limited but eclectic menu. Soft shell crab goes Latin with black beans, avocado, lime, and chiles. Spanish mackerel is given a Mediterranean twist with yogurt, cucumbers, pickled red onion, and chickpeas. A more traditional pasta dish of hand cut pappardelle with prosciutto, peas, and Parmesan makes an appearance alongside a Kurabota (the pork equivalent of Kobe beef) “hot dog.” Some dishes work better than others: There is

redemption in a rustic combination of morels with cream, shallots, and tangy, smoky Idiazábal sheep’s milk cheese. The complex flavor of earth, wood, and char makes this a classic dish for enjoying, not for analyzing. That’s exactly what culinary students should be striving for. 3520 Central Parkway, Clifton, (513) 569-4980, midwestculinary.com. Dinner Thurs–Sat. MCC, DS. $$

TASTE OF BELGIUM

Jean-François Flechet’s waffle empire grew from a back counter of Madison’s grocery at Findlay Market to multiple full-service sit-down spots. There’s more on the menu than the authentic Belgian treat, though it would be a crime to miss the chicken and waffles: a dense, yeasty waffle topped with a succulent buttermilk fried chicken breast, Frank’s hot sauce, and maple syrup. There are also frites, of course, and croquettes—molten Emmenthaler cheese sticks—plus a gem of a Bolognese. And let’s not forget the beer. Six rotating taps offer some of the best the Belgians brew, not to mention those made in town. 1133 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, (513) 381-4607, and other locations, authenticwaffle.com. Breakfast and lunch Mon– Sat, dinner Tues–Sat, brunch Sun. MCC. $$

20 BRIX

Paul Barraco mixes Mediterranean influences with homespun choices, and he comes up with some marvelous food. Lamb meatballs with melted onions and romesco sauce are sweet and peppery, and their simplicity partners well with a lush Zinfandel. And his chicken and waffles could inspire you to regularly take a solo seat at the bar. The excellent wine list, arranged by flavor profiles within the varietals, features dozens of varieties by the glass in five-ounce or two-ounce pours, which makes it easy to try several. 101 Main St., Milford, (513) 831-2749, 20brix.com. Lunch and dinner Mon–Sat. MCC, DS, DC. $$

TERANGA

West African cuisine consists of mostly simple, home-style dishes of stews and grilled lamb with just enough of the exotic to offer a glimpse of another culture. Be prepared for a few stimulating sights and flavors that warm from within. An entire grilled tilapia—head and all—in a peppery citrus marinade and served on plantains with a side of Dijon-coated cooked onions is interesting enough to pique foodie interest without overwhelming the moderate eater. Stews of lamb or chicken with vegetables and rice are a milder bet, and Morrocan-style couscous with vegetables and mustard sauce accompanies most items. The dining room atmosphere is extremely modest with most of the action coming from the constant stream of carryout orders. 8438 Vine St., Hartwell, (513) 821-1300, terangacinci.com. Lunch and dinner seven days. MCC. $

THE VIEW AT SHIRES’ GARDEN

The name of this restaurant demands that one question be answered first: So, how’s that view? Well, it’s impressive. Especially if the weather cooperates and you can get a seat outside. The cocktail list tells you a lot about The View at Shires’ Garden. Some restaurants create a whole list of original drinks. Here, it’s the classics: things like the Sazerac and the old fashioned. The menu is full of genuinely seasonal dishes, like the spaghetti squash with a creamy pecorino Alfredo sauce. The Asian-inspired skin-on black cod in dashi broth gently flaked apart in a subtle, flavorful miso broth and was served with wontons of minced fish, each with a magical citrusy quality (from lemongrass) that elevated the whole dish and made it special. 309 Vine St., 10th Floor, downtown, (513) 4077501, theviewatshiresgarden.com. Lunch Mon–Fri, dinner seven days, brunch Sat & Sun. MCC. $$$

ZULA

For a restaurant whose name loosely derives from an Israeli slang term for “hidden treasure,” it seems apt that a dish or two might sneak in and stun—like the mussels Marseilles, with its bouillabaisse-style broth, rich with saffron, tomato, and fennel. But Zula is no one-trick pony. With a wood-fired oven on the premises, it’s incumbent on you to try the flatbreads. One zula is the eggplant option, where caramelized onions and marinated red bell peppers pair well with subtly sweet fontina. Not every bite at Zula is a game-changer, but one is all you need. 1400 Race St., Over-the-Rhine, (513) 744-9852, zulabistro.com. Dinner Tues–Sat. MCC. $$

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FRENCH CHEZ RENÉE FRENCH BISTROT

Based on American stereotypes of French food—that it’s elaborate, elitist, and expensive—one might expect Chez Renee to fall on the chichi side. Instead, it’s elegant in an everyday way, operating on the principle that it is better to excel at simplicity than to badly execute something complicated. The formula is not complex: Simple ingredients, generally fresh and from nearby, prepared without much fuss. Asparagus is beautifully roasted and perfectly salted, and the quiche Lorraine (yes, the old standby) has a nice, firm texture, and a fine balance of bacon, mushrooms, and oignons (to quote the menu, which is a charming hodgepodge of French and English). This is solid, tasty food, both approachable and well executed. It’s well on its way to becoming, as a good bistrot should be, a neighborhood institution. 233 Main St., Milford, (513) 428-0454, chezreneefrenchbistrot.com. Lunch and dinner Tues–Sat. MCC. $$

LE BAR A BOEUF

Jean-Robert de Cavel’s upscale alterna-burger-shack features bifteck haché, ground beef patties that are a mainstay of French family dinners, according to de Cavel. His “Les Ground Meat” is available in beef, Wagyu beef, bison, lamb, and fish (a blend of albacore tuna and salmon). Portions are eight ounces, taller than a typical burger, and seared on the kitchen’s iron griddle. It’s easy to turn many of the generously portioned appetizers into dinner. Pair the open-faced beef tongue “French Dip” sandwich with a spinach salad and you’ll have one of the best choices in the house. Or go for mac-and-cheese. The lobster mac always sounds lush, but do consider the humble beef cheek version, enlivened by a touch of truffle oil, instead. 2200 Victory Pkwy., East Walnut Hills, (513) 751-2333, barboeuf. com. Dinner Tues–Sat. MCC. $$

INDIAN AMMA’S KITCHEN

Muthu “Kumar” Muthiah serves traditional southern Indian and Indo-Chinese vegetarian cuisine, but with a sizable Orthodox Jewish community nearby, Muthia saw an opportunity: If he was going to cook vegetarian, why not also make it kosher? Muthiah prepares every item— from the addictively crunchy gobhi Manchurian, a spicy Chinese cauliflower dish, to the lemon pickle, tamarind, and mint sauces—entirely from scratch under the careful eye of Rabbi Michoel Stern. Always 80 percent vegan, the daily lunch buffet is 100 percent animal-product-free on Wednesdays. Tuck into a warm and savory channa masala (spiced chickpeas) or malai kofta (vegetable dumplings in tomato sauce) from the curry menu. Or tear into a crispy, two-foot diameter dosa (chickpea flour crepe) stuffed with spiced onions and potatoes. 7633 Reading Rd., Roselawn, (513) 821-2021, ammaskitchen.com. Lunch buffet seven days (all-vegan on Wed), dinner seven days. MC, V, DS. $

BOMBAY BRAZIER

Indian food in America is hard to judge, because whether coming from the kitchen of a takeout joint or from a nicer establishment, the food will rarely taste all that different. It will generally be some twist on Punjabi cuisine. Bombay Brazier does it just right. Chef Rip Sidhu could serve his dal tadka in India, along with several other extraordinary dishes, and still do a roaring business—and this is not something that can be said of most Indian establishments in America. Try the pappadi chaat, a common Indian street food rarely found on American menus, and you will see what sets this place apart. They do everything the way it is supposed to be done, from the dusting of kala namak (a pungent black rock salt) on the fried crisps to the mixture of tamarind and mint chutneys on the chopped onion, tomatoes, and chickpeas—having this dish properly made is balm to the soul of a homesick immigrant, and fresh treasure for any American lover of this cuisine. 7791 Cooper Rd., #5, Montgomery, (513) 794-0000, bombaybra ziercincy.com. Dinner Mon–Sat. MCC. $$$


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BRIJ MOHAN

Order at the counter the way you might at a fast food joint, except the shakes come in mango and there’s no super-sizing your mint lassi. The saag, full of cream in most northern Indian restaurants, is as intensely flavored as collard greens in the Deep South—real Punjabi soul food. Tarka dal is spectacular here, the black lentils smoky from charred tomatoes and onions, and the pani puri, hollow fried shells into which you spoon a peppery cold broth, burst with tart cool crunch. Follow the spice with soothing ras malai, freshly made cheese simmered in thick almond-flavored milk, cooled and sprinkled with crushed pistachios. 11259 Reading Rd., Sharonville, (513) 769-4549, brijmohancincinnati.com. Lunch and dinner Tues– Sun. MC, V, DC. $

I TA L I A N A TAVOLA

In 2011, Jared Wayne opened A Tavola Pizza with two friends just as OTR was blowing up. A Ferrara pizza oven was ordered from Italy; Wayne, a skilled woodworker, built custom tables; and the menu was fleshed in with trendy crowd-pleasers like charcuterie and craft cocktails. Fast-forward three years. Brother Nick is now a coowner, and the Waynes have opened a second pizzeria: A Tavola Madeira capitalizes on the menu from the Vine Street location, including the fresh and zesty asparagus, artichoke, and feta pizza on a Neapolitan crust; gooey mozzarella-filled arancini, or risotto fritters; and the unequaled Blue Oven English muffin eggplant sliders. Wash down your small plates with a glass of crisp and grassy Sannio falanghina or an ice-cold Peroni lager. Not ones to rest on their laurels, they also fire up a third Italian import—an Italforni Bull Oven—for their take on Roman-style pies (with a thinner, crispier crust). They’re definitely going to need a bigger parking lot. 7022 Miami Ave., Madeira, (513) 272-0192, atavolapizza.com. Lunch and dinner seven days. MCC. $

ADRIATICO’S

Everything about this place says it’s about the pizza: the herbed sauce, the assault of the cheese, the toppings. It’s all evenly distributed, so you get a taste in every bite. Adriatico’s still delivers the tastiest pizza in Clifton. On any given night the aroma wafts through every dorm on campus. It’s that popular because it’s that good. Being inexpensive doesn’t hurt either. 113 W. McMillan St., Clifton Heights, (513) 281-4344, adriaticosuc.com. Lunch and dinner seven days. MCC. $

BETTA’S ITALIAN OVEN

This Italian place hits the spot on all levels. It’s casual—we felt at home in jeans and a T-shirt—but not so casual to rule it out as a date-night spot. It’s friendly, with a staff that stays on top of refilling that Morretti La Rossa beer. And best of all, the food is amazing (especially for the price). We ranked their pizza the best in the city. Dubious? Their pizza Margherita will make a believer out of you. Their lasagna, spaghetti, and eggplant Parmesan will have you crying Mama Mia and other Italian-sounding phrases. Their dessert options (Cannoli! Tiramisu! Amaretto cream cake!) are all homemade, and delicious to the very last bite. 3764 Montgomery Rd., Norwood, (513) 631-6836.

throughout the menu, from the the oyster mushrooms served with Brussels sprouts to the roasted sweet corn on the pizza. Enoteca Emilia does the classics well—the crust on both pizzas we tried was just right, the quattro formaggi a particular highlight—and the prices on these items, along with the wine, were quite reasonable. 110 S. Second St., Loveland, (513) 583-0300, emilialoveland.com. Lunch Sat & Sun, dinner Wed–Sun. MCC. $$

FORNO

Cristian Pietoso’s second restaurant has all the bones of an upscale eatery, but the menu is infused with enough Italian soul to make nonna proud. In most instances, raving about a side of creamed corn wouldn’t bode well for the rest of the menu. Here, that side dish—kernels swimming in a pool of truffle-laced heavy cream that demands sopping up—is evidence that each component prepared by chef de cuisine Stefano Carne is purpose-driven. The red wine–braised honeycomb tripe, which carries a warning label (“Don’t be scared!”), and the pappardelle with spiced cinghiale (wild boar) ragu are examples of the elevated, adventurous comfort food that Pietoso strives for. 3514 Erie Ave., East Hyde Park, (513) 818-8720, fornoosteriabar. com. Dinner Tues–Sun, brunch Sun. MCC. $$

NICOLA’S

Nicola’s has entered a new era of exuberant creativity under the leadership of chef Jack Hemmer. You can still get the old Italian classics, and they’ll be as good as ever, but the rest of the menu has blossomed into a freewheeling tour of modern American cuisine. Any establishment paying this level of attention to detail—from the candied slice of blood orange on the mascarpone cheesecake to the staff’s wine knowledge—is going to put out special meals. Rarely have humble insalate been so intricately delicious, between the perfectly nested ribbons of beets in the pickled beet salad or the balance of bitterness, funkiness, and creaminess in the endive and Gorgonzola salad. Order an old favorite, by all means, but make sure you try something new, too. Top 10

1420 Sycamore St., Pendleton, (513) 721-6200, nicolasotr. com. Dinner Mon–Sat. MCC, DC, DS. $$$

PADRINO

This sister restaurant to 20 Brix is also owned and operated by the Thomas family and their superstar Executive Chef Paul Barraco, who brings his passion for the slow food movement to the Padrino menu. Billed as “Italian comfort food,” Padrino offers the classics (like lasagna and chicken carbonara) plus hoagies and meatball sliders, an impressive wine list, seasonal martinis, and a decadent signature appetizer—garlic rolls, doughy buns smothered in olive oil and garlic. Best of all, Barraco’s pizza sauce, which is comprised of roasted tomatoes and basil, is so garden-fresh that one can’t help but wonder: If this is real pizza, what have we been eating all these years? 111 Main St., Milford, (513) 965-0100, padrinoitalian.com. Lunch and dinner seven days. MCC, DS. $$

PEPP & DOLORES

As with all of Thunderdome’s restaurants, you get a sense that they want to deliver a meal that satisfies many different kinds of people. The prices are reasonable, with pasta entrées about $15. The dishes are familiar in their flavors, but everything feels balanced and modulated and gradually perfected. There is lovely variety: the limone pasta is zippy with lemon and chili flakes, and just the right mixture of tart and creamy; the deep meaty flavors on the mushroom toast are balanced with a nice acidity; and the heat in dishes like the eggplant involtini is just enough to wake up the sauce without overwhelming the flavor. The menu has a wealth of excellent vegetarian and pasta-alternative options. 1501

Lunch Mon–Fri, dinner Mon–Sat. MC, V. $$

Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, (513) 419-1820, peppanddolores. com. Lunch Sat & Sun, dinner seven days. MCC. $$

ENOTECA EMILIA

PRIMAVISTA

Margaret Ranalli revives her O’Bryonville restaurant in a new Loveland space. The menu makes the most of seasonality—which is apparent in the shrimp spiedini. The star of the dish is not the grilled shrimp; it’s the salad of firm diced peaches on which it is served. It is pure summer on a plate. The dish may be off the menu by the time you’re reading this, but any chef who can celebrate an ingredient like this can carry the whole year. Simple presentations of exquisitely fresh ingredients appear

Besides offering the old world flavors of Italy, Primavista also serves up a specialty no other restaurant can match: a bird’s eye view of Cincinnati from the west side. The kitchen is equally comfortable with northern and southern regional specialties: a Venetian carpaccio of paper thin raw beef sparked by fruity olive oil; house-made fresh mozzarella stuffed with pesto and mushrooms; or artichoke hearts with snails and mushrooms in a creamy Gorgonzola sauce from Lombardy. Among the classics,

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nothing is more restorative than the pasta e fagioli, a hearty soup of cannellini, ditali pasta, and bacon. Most of the pastas are cooked just a degree more mellow than al dente so that they soak up the fragrant tomato basil or satiny cream sauces. The fork-tender osso buco Milanese, with its marrow-filled center bone and salty-sweet brown sauce (marinara and lemon juice), is simply superb. Desserts present further problems; you’ll be hard-pressed to decide between the house-made tiramisu or bread pudding with caramel sauce, marsala soaked raisins, and cream. 810 Matson Pl., Price Hill, (513) 251-6467, pvista. com. Dinner Tues–Sun. MCC, DC, DS. $$

SOTTO

There are certain books and movies that you can read or watch over and over. Eating at Sotto is a similar experience: familiar, but so profound and satisfying that there is no reason to ever stop. Unlike other restaurants, where the techniques are often elaborate and unfamiliar, the magic at Sotto happens right in front of you, using ordinary elements and methods. When you taste the results, though, you realize that some mysterious transmutation has taken place. Penne with rapini and sausage comes in a buttery, lightly starchy broth with a kick of spice that you could go on eating forever. From the texture of the chicken liver mousse to the tart cherry sauce on the panna cotta, most of the food has some added element of soulfulness. 118 E. Sixth St., downtown, Top 10

(513) 977-6886, sottocincinnati.com. Lunch Mon–Fri, dinner seven days. MCC, DS. $$$

VIA VITE

Cristian Pietoso serves up crowd-pleasing entrées, including the Pietoso family Bolognese, over penne, right on Fountain Square. (Add in a golf-ball-sized veal meatball heavy with lemon zest, and it’s an over-the-top comforting main dish.) The same applies to the risotto, where a few small touches add sophistication. Carnaroli rice results in a glossier, starchier dish. A puree of asparagus turns the risotto an eye-popping green, and the poached lobster garnish creates a nice back-and-forth between vegetal and briny flavors. Braised lamb shank over polenta is comforting workhorse, and the flavorful Faroe Island salmon with butternut squash puree, caramelized Brussel sprouts and truffled brown butter balsamic vinaigrette. 520 Vine St., downtown, (513) 721-8483, viaviterestau rant.com. Lunch Mon–Fri, dinner seven days, brunch Sat & Sun. MCC, DS. $$

J A PA N E S E ANDO

You don’t go just anywhere to dine on uni sashimi (sea urchin) or tanshio (thinly sliced charcoal-grilled beef tongue). Don’t miss the rich and meaty chyu toro (fatty big-eye tuna), or the pucker-inducing umeshiso maki (pickled plum paste and shiso leaf roll). Noodles are also well represented, with udon, soba, or ramen options available. And don’t forget to ask about the specials; owners Ken and Keiko Ando always have something new, be it oysters, pork belly, or steamed monkfish liver, a Japanese delicacy that you’ll be hard-pressed to find in any of those Hyde Park pan-Asian wannabes. The only thing you won’t find here is sake, or any other alcohol. Bring your own, or stick to the nutty and outright addicting barley tea. 5889 Pfeiffer Rd., Blue Ash, (513) 791-8687, andojapane serestaurant.com. Lunch Tues & Thurs, dinner Tues–Sat. MCC. $$$

KIKI

Kiki started as a pop-up at Northside Yacht Club, then leapt into brick-and-mortar life in College Hill. Your best bet here is to share plates, or simply order too much, starting with the shishito buono, a piled-high plate of roasted shishito peppers tossed in shaved parmesan and bagna cauda, a warm, rich blend of garlic and anchovies. Add the karaage fried chicken, with the Jordy mayo and the pepe meshi, confit chicken on spaghetti and rice that somehow works. And, yes, the ramen, too. The shio features pork belly and tea-marinated soft-boiled egg, but the kimchi subs in tofu and its namesake cabbage for the


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meat. 5932 Hamilton Ave., College Hill, (513) 5410381, kikicincinnati.com. Lunch (carryout only) and dinner Thurs–Sun. MCC. $

KYOTO

Owner Jason Shi seems to know everybody’s name as he chats up diners, guiding them through the extensive sushi and sashimi menu. Five young sushi chefs, all part of Shi’s family, work at light speed behind the bar, a choreography backlit by rows of gleaming liquor bottles. Dinner proceeds with glorious chaos as a feisty Carla Tortelli–like server delivers one dish after another—slivers of giant clam on ice in a supersized martini glass, a volcanic tower of chopped fatty tuna hidden inside overlapping layers of thin avocado slices, smoky grilled New Zealand mussels drizzled with spicy mayo, and delicate slices of a samurai roll—all between shots of chilled sake. 12082 Montgomery Rd., Symmes Twp., (513) 583-8897, kyotosushibar.com. Lunch and dinner seven days. MCC. $$

MATSUYA

WINNER WINNER CHICKEN DINNER North Carolinians now get to experience the joys of The Eagle’s chicken sandwich. The Thunderdome Restaurant Group opened its signature food and beer hall in Charlotte in late January, marking its third out-of-state location. eagleres

taurant.com/locations

At this relaxed little sushi boutique, try ordering kaiseki, a traditional six-course meal that features a succession of small plates but plenty of food. You might encounter an entire steamed baby octopus or yellowtail with daikon radish, pickled mackerel or deep-fried oysters. You can depend on cucumber or seaweed salad, tempura shrimp, a grilled meat or fish, and of course, sushi—and sometimes even the colorful Bento box sampler. There’s a Nabemono—tableside pot cooking—section on the menu featuring shabu shabu: slices of prime beef swished through bubbling seaweed broth just until the pink frosts with white. Served with simmered vegetables, ponzu sauce, daikon, and scallions, the concentrated, slightly sour flavor of the beef is vivid. 7149 Manderlay Dr., Florence, (859) 746-1199. Lunch Mon–Fri, dinner seven days. MCC, DC, DS. $$

MEI

Mei’s menu is meant to represent traditional Japanese cuisine, appealing to the novice as well as the sushi maven. It is divided into sections that encourage a progressive meal of small dishes: One each for hot and cold appetizers, noodles, sushi and sashimi, special rolls, soups and salads, sushi dinners (with miso soup), and combinations (such as tempura paired with sashimi). Deep-fried soft shell crab comes with ponzu sauce—a dipping sauce made of rice vinegar, soy sauce, mirin, and citrus juice—and the kind of yakitori that you can find on the streets of New York. Bento boxes—lacquered wooden boxes divided into compartments—offer the neophyte a sampling of several small dishes. Mei’s are lovely: deep red and stocked with tempura, cooked salmon, sashimi, stewed vegetables, and a fabulous egg custard with shrimp and gingko nut. Mei’s sushi—nigiri, maki, and handrolls—is exceptionally good with quality cuts of fresh seafood. The staff is knowledgeable, extremely efficient, respectful, and attentive, even when it’s at peak capacity. 8608 Market Place Lane, Montgomery, (513) 891-6880, meijapaneserestau rant.com. Lunch and dinner seven days. MCC, DS. $$

MIYOSHI

For too long, Japanese cuisine in America has meant miso soup, sushi and sashimi, and various grilled meats with teriyaki sauce. Yes, you can get excellent versions of all of these at Miyoshi, but what makes this restaurant truly special is the revelation of the true panorama of Japanese cuisine. From ochazuke (tea soup) with umeboshi (a salty-sour pickled plum) to shime saba, marinated mackerel in a delicately pickle-y broth of cucumber and vinegar, there are a dozen items not seen elsewhere. Anyone who enjoys sushi or miso broth has built the foundation to appreciate the rest of this cuisine. Cha soba, green tea noodles with shredded seaweed, chopped

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scallions, and a sweet and soupy broth, has a satisfying umami note, even served cold, and a pleasing bite with wasabi mixed in. The kinoko itame, sauteed shiitake and enoki mushrooms, is surprisingly buttery and sweet, showing a voluptuous quality rarely associated with this tradition, but a perfect counterpoint to the more austere offerings. 8660 Bankers St., Florence, (859) 525-6564, miyoshirestaurant.com. Lunch and dinner Mon–Sat. MCC. $$$

ZUNDO RAMEN & DONBURI

A stark contrast to Styrofoam cup soup, chef Han Lin’s ramens are a deep and exciting branch of cuisine, capable of subtlety, variation, and depth. The simplicity of the dish’s name hides a world of complexity. Zundo uses the traditional Japanese building blocks of flavor—soy sauce, miso, sake, mirin—to create something freewheeling and time-tested. Bowls of ramen come with a marinated soft-boiled egg half, roast pork, green onion, and a healthy serving of noodles. Each has a distinct identity, like the milky richness of the tonkotsu, the rich and buttery miso, or the light and faintly sweet shoyu ramen. A transformative add-in is the mayu, or black garlic oil. Dripped on top of one of the subtler broths, it adds a deep, mushroom-y richness, with the hint of burned flavor that makes barbecue so good. 220 W. 12th St., Over-the-Rhine, (513) 975-0706, zundootr. com. Lunch Tues–Sun. MCC. $$

KOREAN HARU

After the closing of Sung Korean Bistro, Haru is a welcome addition to the downtown scene. Dishes are served along with the usual Korean accompaniment of pickles, kimchi, fish cakes, and other mysteriously delicious dainties. A favorite is the japchae, a traditional dish sporting silky sweet potato noodles with sesame-and-garlic sauce, matchsticks of assorted crisp vegetables, and behind it all a wonderful smokiness that pervades the whole meal. The accompanying pot of gochujang, a fermented Korean chili paste, adds its own sweet and spicy note. The result is a homey, soulful, and satisfying taste that appeals even to those who’ve never eaten a bite of Korean food before. 628 Vine St., downtown, (513) 381-0947, har ucincy.com. Lunch and dinner Mon–Sat. MCC. $$

RIVERSIDE KOREAN RESTAURANT

Come for the jo gi mae un tang—a bowl of sizzling, happy hellbroth pungent with red pepper, garlic, and ginger, crowded with nuggets of fish, tofu, and vegetables. Come for the restorative power of sam gae tang, a chicken soup for the Seoul—a whole Cornish hen submerged in its own juices and plumped with sticky rice and ginseng, dried red dates, and pine nuts. Revered for their medicinal properties, both dinner-sized soups will leave your eyes glistening and your brow beaded with sweat. They’re a detox for your overindulgence, rejuvenation for when you’re feeling under the weather. Expect crowds on weekends. Expect too, that dozens of them have come for dolsot bibimbap, the hot stone pots filled with layers of rice, vegetables, meat or tofu, egg, and chili paste. Characterized by its electric color and addictive flavors, Riverside Korean’s version is a captivating bowl of heaven. 512 Madison Ave., Covington, (859) 291-1484, riversidekoreanres taurant.com. Lunch Mon–Fri, dinner seven days. MCC, DS. $$

SURA

This traditional Korean oasis has been flying well beneath the radar since 2010. Don’t let the pepper count on the menu deter you. Each entrée arrives with purple rice and assorted small

bites aimed at cutting the heat—steamed broccoli, pickled radishes, soy-sauce-marinated tofu, pan-fried fish cake, and housemade kimchi. Korean barbecue staple osam bulgogi—one of only two items meriting a three pepper rating—swiftly clears sinuses with a flavorful duo of pork belly and squid lashed with Korean red pepper paste and served on a sizzling skillet. The two-pepper kimchi jjigae stew marries fermented Korean cabbage with hunks of tofu and shards of pork in a bubbling tomato-based broth. Make sure to order a bowl of the bone noodle soup for the table—a comforting combination of thick noodles and bits of flank steak floating in a umami-rich marrow broth that magically soothes the burn. 7876 Mason-Montgomery Rd., Mason, (513) 2043456, surakorean.com. Lunch and dinner Mon–Sat. MCC. $$

MEDITERRANEAN ANDY’S MEDITERRANEAN GRILLE

In this lively joint with a burnished summer lodge interior of wood and stone, even the food is unrestrained: rough-cut chunks of charbroiled beef tenderloin, big slices of onion and green pepper turned sweet and wet in the heat, skewers of marinated and charbroiled chicken perched on rice too generous for its plate. Coowner Andy Hajjar mans his station at the end of the bar, smoking a hookah pipe that fills the air with the sweet smell of flavored tobacco, while the friendly but hurried staff hustles through. 906 Nassau St., Walnut Hills, (513) 281-9791, andyskabob.com. Lunch Mon–Sat, dinner seven days. MCC. $$

CAFÉ MEDITERRANEAN

Chef-driven Middle Eastern cuisine leans heavily on Turkish tradition here. The baba ghanoush uses seared eggplant, which adds a pleasant smokiness to the final product. Börek is described as a “Turkish Egg Roll,” wrapping feta and fresh and dried herbs into phyllo dough, and frying it lightly to brittle flakiness. The pastry arrives atop a vivid cherry tomato marmalade, which adds a welcome dimension of barely sweet fruitiness. While there is a smooth, simple hummus on the menu, you should go for the classic sucuklu hummus, which is spiked with sujuk, a common beef sausage popular all over the Middle East. 3520 Erie Ave., East Hyde Park, (513) 8718714. Lunch Mon–Sat, dinner seven days. MCC. $$

FLOYD’S

Sure, you can go here for the great baked kibbeh, a blend of delicately spiced ground lamb, pine nuts, and onions, stuffed inside a shell of ground lamb, lamb fat, and bulgur wheat. Or you could visit for the vegetarian moussaka with eggplant, onions, tomatoes, and cilantro. But you’d be missing out on Floyd’s famous tendercrisp spit-roasted chicken and lima beans with chopped parsley, garlic, and olive oil. Not all of the specialties are the real Lebanese deal, but we’ll keep ordering them anyway. 127 Calhoun St., Clifton Heights, (513) 221-2434, floydsofcincy. com. Lunch Tues–Fri, dinner Tues–Sat. MC, V. $

Top 10

PHOENICIAN TAVERNA

No matter how much restraint you go in with, meals at Phoenician Taverna quickly become feasts. There is just too much that’s good, and everything is meant to be shared. With fresh pita bread continuously arriving from the ovens, and a table of quickly multiplying meze (hummus, falafel, muhammara), there is a warmth and depth to the cooking that envelops you. With such traditional cuisine,


you may think there isn’t much left to discover beyond simply executed classics prepared according to timetested methods. But there are always new discoveries as the flavors mingle from plate to plate: the tabbouleh with the hummus, mixed with a touch of harissa, or the smoky baba ghanoush spooned onto falafel. Phoenician Taverna keeps taking these classics a little further. 7944 Mason Montgomery Rd., Mason, (513) 770-0027, phoeniciantaverna.com. Lunch Tues–Fri, dinner Tues–Sun. MCC. $$

SANTORINI Steak, eggs, and home fries. Jumbo haddock sandwich with Greek fries. Chocolate chip hot cakes with bacon. Notice something wrong with this menu? Chicken Philly cheese steak sandwich with Olympic onion rings. Yep, it’s obvious: What’s wrong with this menu is that there’s nothing wrong with this menu. Greek feta cheese omelette with a side of ham. It’s been owned by the same family for more than 30 years. Santorini has diner standards, like cheeseburgers, chili five ways, and breakfast anytime, but they also make some Greek pastries in house, like spanakopita and baklava. 3414 Harrison Ave., Cheviot, (513) 662-8080. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner Mon–Sat, breakfast and lunch Sun. Cash. $

SEBASTIAN’S When the wind is just right, you can smell the garlicky meat roasting from a mile away. Watch owner Alex Sebastian tend to the rotating wheels of beef and lamb, and you understand how Greek food has escaped the American tendency to appropriate foreign cuisines. Sebastian’s specializes in gyros, shaved off the stick, wrapped in thick griddle pita with onions and tomatoes, and served with cool tzatziki sauce. Alex’s wife and daughter run the counter with efficient speed, and whether you’re having a crisp Greek salad with house-made dressing, triangles of spanikopita, or simply the best walnut and honey baklava this side of the Atlantic (often made by the Mrs.), they never miss a beat, turning more covers in their tiny deli on one Saturday afternoon than some restaurants do in an entire weekend. 5209 Glenway Ave., Price Hill, (513) 471-2100, sebastiansgyros.com. Lunch and dinner Mon–Sat. Cash. $

SULTAN’S MEDITERRANEAN CUISINE The meze, a parade of small plates and appetizers—the refreshing yogurt dish with cucumber, mint, and garlic known as cacik, and its thicker cousin haydari, with chopped walnuts, dill, and garlic—is rounded out with flaky cheese or spinach boureks, falafels, soups, salads, and more, while baked casseroles or stuffed cabbage and eggplant dishes (dubbed “Ottoman specials”) augment the heavy focus on kebabs: chunks of lamb and beef on a vertical spit for the popular Doner kebab (a.k.a. Turkish gyro), peppery ground lamb for the Adana kebab, or cubed and marinated for the Shish kebab. 7305 Tyler’s Corner Dr., West Chester, (513) 847-1535, sultanscincin nati.com. Lunch and dinner seven days. MCC, DS. $$

MEXICAN EL VALLE VERDE Guests with dietary issues, high anxiety, and no Spanish may take a pass, but for hardy souls, this taqueria delivers a memorable evening. Seafood dishes are the star here—ceviche tostadas, crisp corn tortillas piled high with pico de gallo, avocado, and lime-tastic bits of white fish, squid, and crab; the oversized goblet of cocktel campechano, with ample poached shrimp crammed into a Clamato-heavy gazpacho; and simmering sopa de marisco came with langoustines, mussels, crab legs, and an entire fish—enough to feed three. 6717 Vine St., Carthage, (513) 821-5400. Lunch and dinner seven days. $

HABAÑERO It’s easy to find a cheap burrito place around a college campus, but you’d be hard-pressed to find one as consistently good as Habañero, with its flavors of Latin America and the Caribbean wrapped up in enormous packages. Fried tilapia, apricot-glazed chicken breast,

hand-rubbed spiced flank steak, shredded pork tenderloin, or cinnamon-roasted squash are just some of the ingredients for Habañero’s signature burritos. All salsas are house-made, from the smoky tomato chipotle to the sweet-sounding mango jalapeño, which is hot enough to spark spontaneous combustion. 358 Ludlow Ave., Clifton, (513) 961-6800, habanerolatin.com. Lunch and dinner seven days. MCC, DC, DS. $

MAZUNTE Mazunte runs a culinary full court press, switching up specials to keep both regulars and staff engaged. Tamales arrive swaddled in a banana leaf, the shredded pork filling steeped in a sauce fiery with guajillo and ancho chilies yet foiled by the calming sweetness of raisins. The fried mahi-mahi tacos are finished with a citrusy red and white cabbage slaw that complements the accompanying mango-habañero salsa. With this level of authentic yet fast-paced execution, a slightly greasy pozole can be easily forgiven. Don’t miss the Mexican Coke and self-serve sangria (try the blanco), or the cans of Rhinegeist and MadTree on ice. 5207 Madison Rd., Madisonville, (513) 785-0000, mazuntetacos.com. Lunch and dinner Mon–Sat, brunch Sun. MCC. $

MESA LOCA Sitting on a corner of Hyde Park Square, it’s easy to see that Mesa Loca has an absolute dream of a location. The pandemic forced a few changes to the seafood-centric menu, but those dishes still on the menu indicate what Mesa Loca could be. The tuna ceviche is nicely balanced: tart, with a little spicy creaminess, and a good crispy tostada. The Baja snapper goes well with a bright pile of grated radish and the mango habañero salsa, one of the highlights of the meal. With minced chunks of mango and a hint of fruity habañero heat, it is a prime example of how you can elevate Mexican food and make it worthy of a higher-than-ordinary price. One of Mesa Loca’s appealing qualities is its dramatic flair: The yucca fries come stacked on the plate like a latestages game of Jenga, and their sour-and-spicy rub is quite delicious and striking against the bright starchy white of the fries. 2645 Erie Ave., Hyde Park, (513) 321-6372, mesa locahydepark.com. Lunch and dinner seven days. MCC. $$

MONTOYA’S Mexican places seem to change hands in this town so often that you can’t get the same meal twice. Montoya’s is the exception. They’ve been hidden in a tiny strip mall off the main drag in Ft. Mitchell for years. It’s unpretentious and seemingly not interested in success, which means success has never gone to their head here. At a place where you can get Huracan Fajitas with steak, chicken, and chorizo or Tilapia Asada, the tacos are still a big item. 2507 Chelsea Dr., Ft. Mitchell, (859) 341-0707. Lunch and dinner Tues–Sun. MC, V, DS. $

TAQUERIA MERCADO On a Saturday night, Taqueria Mercado is a lively fiesta, with seemingly half of the local Hispanic community guzzling margaritas and cervezas, or carrying out sacks of burritos and carnitas tacos—pork tenderized by a long simmer, its edges frizzled and crispy. The Mercado’s strip mall interior, splashed with a large, colorful mural, is equally energetic: the bustling semi-open kitchen; a busy counter that handles a constant stream of take-out orders; a clamorous, convivial chatter in Spanish and English. Try camarones a la plancha, 12 chubby grilled shrimp tangled with grilled onions (be sure to specify if you like your onions well done). The starchiness of the rice absorbs the caramelized onion juice, offset by the crunch of lettuce, buttery slices of avocado, and the cool-hot pico de gallo. A shrimp quesadilla paired with one of their cheap and potent margaritas is worth the drive alone. 6507 Dixie Hwy., Fairfield, (513) 942-4943; 100 E. Eighth St., downtown, (513) 381-0678, tmercadocincy.com. Lunch and dinner seven days. MCC, DS. $

SEAFOOD McCORMICK & SCHMICK’S The daily rotation here reads like a fisherman’s wish list: fresh lobsters from the coast of Maine, ahi tuna from Hawaii, North Carolina catfish, Massachusetts cod. But high-quality ingredients are only half the equation; preparation is the other. Flaky Parmesan-crusted tilapia, with a squeeze of lemon, makes the taste buds dance. The spacious digs and attentive waitstaff bring a touch of class to Fountain Square, and make it a sophisticated destination. It’s likely to remain a favorite. After all, it’s right in the middle of things. 21 E. Fifth St., downtown, (513) 721-9339, mccormickandschmicks.com. Lunch and dinner seven days. MCC, DC, DS. $$

PELICAN’S REEF Over the years Chef John Broshar has developed his niche, inspired by the seasonal availability of fish obtained daily from one or more of the purveyors he uses. Mahi-mahi from the Gulf, swordfish from Hawaii, Lake Erie walleye, wild Alaskan salmon, wreckfish from South Carolina, rainbow trout, and wild striped bass are just some of the varieties that rotate through the extensive features listed on a 10-foot by 2-foot chalkboard. The regular offerings are no slouch: Grilled grouper sandwich with chipotle tartar sauce, chubby fish tacos, perfectly fried piping hot oysters tucked into a buttered and toasted po’ boy bun with housemade slaw, and tart-sweet key lime pie. And of course, the damn good New England style chowder. 7261 Beechmont Ave., Anderson Twp., (513) 232-2526, the pelicansreef.com. Lunch and dinner Mon–Sat. MCC, DS. $$

NADA The brains behind Boca deliver authentic, contemporary, high-quality Mexican fare downtown. You’ll find a concise menu, including tacos, salads and sides, large plates, and desserts. Tacos inspired by global cuisine include the Señor Mu Shu (Modelo and ginger braised pork) and fried avocado (chipotle bean purée). The ancho-glazed pork shank with chili-roasted carrots comes with a papaya guajillo salad (order it for the table); dreamy mac-and-cheese looks harmless, but there’s just enough of a roasted poblano and jalapeño punch to have you reaching for another icy margarita. 600 Walnut St., downtown, (513) 721-6232, eatdrinknada.com. Lunch Mon–Fri, dinner seven days, brunch Sat & Sun. MCC, DS. $$

TAQUERIA CRUZ The menu at this four-table mom-and-pop welcomes you to “a little piece of Mexico.” The huaraches (spelled guarachis here), are flat troughs of thick, handmade fried masa dough the approximate shape and size of a shoeprint, mounded with beans and slivers of grilled beef or chili-red nubs of sausage, shredded lettuce, a crumble of queso fresco, and drizzle of cultured cream. Should you have an adventurous side, you can have your huarache topped with slippery tongue, goat meat, shredded chicken, or pork. There are stews, carne asada plates, and sopes—saucers of fried masa much like huaraches, only smaller. 518 Pike St., Covington, (859) 431-3859. Lunch and dinner seven days. Cash. $

STEAKS CARLO & JOHNNY The stars of the menu are 12 delectable steaks that could sway the vegi-curious to recommit. Not sure which to choose? If you prefer brawny flavor over buttery texture, go for one of the three bone-in rib cuts. Or if it’s that melt-in-your-mouth experience that raises your serotonin levels, C&J features several tenderloin cuts, including the hard to find bone-in filet. There are the usual suspects of raw bar, seafood, pork chops, et al, if you’re interested in non-beef alternatives. 9769 Montgomery Rd., Montgomery, (513) 936-8600, jeffruby.com. Dinner seven days. MCC. $$$$

LOSANTI A bit more upscale than its sister restaurant, Crown Republic Gastropub, Losanti is also more conservative in its offerings. Service is friendly and informal, and though the meal feels like a special occasion, prices and atmosphere are right for, say, a date, rather than a wedding anniversary. The filet mignon, rib eye, and New York strip are cut to order for each table (there are a few available weights for each). The steaks themselves are totally irreproachable, perfectly

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is Jeff Ruby’s Jewel, nearly a pound-and-a-half of bone-in rib eye. This is steak tailor-made for movers and shakers. 700 Walnut St., downtown, (513) 784-1200, jeffruby.com. Dinner Mon–Sat. MCC, DC. $$$$

MORTON’S THE STEAKHOUSE seasoned, cooked to precisely the right point. Losanti even makes the steakhose sides a little special. Sweet and smoky caramelized onions are folded into the mashed potatoes, a nice dusting of truffles wakes up the mac and cheese, and the sweet corn—yes, totally out of season, but still good—is at least freshly cut off the cob and recalls elote with lime and chile powder. 1401 Race St., Over-the-Rhine, (513) 2464213, losantiotr.com. Dinner Mon–Sat. MCC. $$$

JAG’S STEAK AND SEAFOOD Chef Michelle Brown’s food is deeply flavored, if occasionally a bit busy, her steaks of the buttery-mild variety, with not too much salty char crust. All seven cuts are served with veal demi-glace and fried onion straws. According to my steak-centric dining partner, his cowboy rib eye is “too tender and uniform” (as if that’s a crime). “I like to wrestle with the bone,” he adds, though that’s a scenario that, thankfully, doesn’t get played out in this subdued dining room. 5980 West Chester Rd., West Chester, (513) 860-5353, jags.com. Dinner Mon–Sat. MCC, DC. $$$

JEFF RUBY’S Filled most nights with local scenesters and power brokers (and those who think they are), everything in this urban steakhouse is generous—from the portions to the expert service. White-jacketed waiters with floor-length aprons deliver two-fisted martinis and stacks of king crab legs, or mounds of greens dressed in thin vinaigrettes or thick, creamy emulsions. An occasional salmon or sea bass appears, and there’s a small but decent assortment of land fare. But most customers, even the willowy model types, inhale slabs of beef (dry aged USDA prime) like they’re dining in a crack house for carnivores. The best of these

No one has replicated the concept of an expensive boys’ club better than Morton’s. Amid the dark polished woods and white linen, the Riedel stemware and stupendous flower arrangements, assorted suits grapple with double cut filet mignons, 24 ounces of porterhouse, pink shiny slabs of prime rib, overflowing plates of salty Lyonnaise potatoes, or mammoth iceberg wedges frosted with thick blue cheese dressing. Jumbo is Morton’s decree: Oversized martini and wine glasses, ethereal towering lemon soufflés, roomy chairs, and tables large enough for a plate and a laptop. Even steaks billed as “slightly smaller” weigh in at 8 to 10 ounces. 441 Vine St., downtown, (513) 621-3111, mortons.com. Dinner seven days. MCC. $$$

THE PRECINCT Part of the appeal of the Ruby restaurants is their ability to deliver deep, comfort-food satisfaction. And the steaks. The meat is tender with a rich mineral flavor, and the signature seasoning provided a nice crunch, not to mention blazing heat. The supporting cast is strong—the basket of warm Sixteen Bricks bread with a mushroom truffle butter, the addictive baked macaroni and cheese, the creamy garlic mashed potatoes, the crisp-tender asparagus with roasted garlic and lemon vinaigrette— and dinner ends on a sweet note with a piece of Ruby family recipe cheesecake. Neither cloyingly sweet nor overwhelmingly creamy, it’s a lovely slice of restraint.

while managing the venerable Precinct—Ricci has built a life in the hospitality industry. Much of Tony’s menu is right out of a steakhouse playbook: jumbo shrimp and king crab legs from the raw bar; Caprese, Greek, and Caesar salads; sides of creamed spinach, mac-and-cheese, asparagus, and sautéed mushrooms; toppings of roasted garlic or Gorgonzola butters to accompany your center cut of filet mignon. There are boutique touches, though, that make it stand out—a garlic herb aioli with the calamari, steak tartare torch-kissed and topped with a poached egg, a superb rack of lamb rubbed with aromatic sumac and served with mint pesto. 12110 Montgomery Rd., Symmes Township, (513) 677-8669, tonysofcincinnati.com. Dinner seven days. MCC, DS. $$$$

THAI GREEN PAPAYA Inside this simple dining room, replete with soothing browns and greens and handsome, dark wood furniture, it takes time to sort through the many curries and chef’s specialties, not to mention the wide variety of sushi on the something-for-everyone menu. Have the staff—friendly, attentive, and knowledgeable—help you. When the food arrives, you’ll need only a deep inhale to know you made the right choice. The Green Papaya sushi rolls are as delicious as they look, with a manic swirl of spicy mayo and bits of crabstick and crispy tempura batter scattered atop the spicy tuna, mango, cream cheese, and shrimp tempura sushi—all rolled in a vivid green soybean wrap.

311 Delta Ave., Columbia-Tusculum, (513) 321-5454, jef fruby.com/precinct. Dinner seven days. MCC. $$$$

2942 Wasson Rd., Oakley, (513) 731-0107, greenpapayacin cinnati.com. Lunch Mon–Sat, dinner seven days. MCC. $$

TONY’S

SUKHOTHAI

He is a captivating presence, Tony Ricci. Best known for his 30 years in fine dining—including the Jeff Ruby empire

Nestled in the nearly hidden Market Place Lane, this tiny restaurant isn’t exactly slick. A chalkboard lists the day’s

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specials, usually spicy dishes worthy of an adventurous diner. But if it’s noodle dishes and curries you’re after, Sukhothai’s pad kee mao—wide rice noodles stir-fried with basil—is the best around. Served slightly charred, the fresh and dried chilies provide enough heat to momentarily suspend your breath. Pad Thai has the right amount of crunch from peanuts, slivers of green onion, and mung sprouts to contrast with the slippery glass noodles, and a few squeezes of fresh lime juice give it a splendid tartness. The crispy tamarind duck is one of the best house specials, the meat almost spreadably soft under the papery skin and perfectly complemented by the sweet-tart bite of tamarind. 8102 Market Place Lane, Montgomery, (513) 794-0057, sukhothaicincy.com. Lunch Mon–Fri, dinner Mon–Sat. DS, MC, V. $

THAI NAMTIP

Classic Thai comfort food on the west side from chef/owner Tussanee Leach, who grew up with galangal on her tongue and sriracha sauce in her veins. Her curries reign: pale yellow sweetened with coconut milk and poured over tender chicken breast and chunks of boiled pineapple; red curry the color of new brick, tasting of earth at first bite, then the sharply verdant Thai basil leaves, followed by a distant heat. Tom Kha Gai soup defines the complex interplay of flavors in Thai food: astringent lemongrass gives way to pepper, then Makrut lime, shot through with the gingery, herbaceous galangal, all yielding to the taunting sweetness of coconut. Even the simple skewers of chicken satay with Thai peanut sauce are rough and honest, dulcified by honey and dirtied up by a smoky grill. 5461 North Bend Rd., Monfort Heights, (513) 481-3360, thainamtip.com. Lunch and dinner seven days. MC, V. $

WILD GINGER

Wild Ginger Asian Bistro’s ability to satisfy a deep desire for Vietnamese and Thai fusion cuisine is evidenced by their signature Hee Ma roll—a fortress of seaweed-wrapped rolls filled with shrimp tempura, asparagus, avocado, and

topped with red tuna, pulled crab stick, tempura flakes, a bit of masago, scallions, and of course, spicy mayo. It’s tasty, even though the sweet fried floodwall of tempura and spicy mayo overpowered the tuna completely. The spicy pad char entrée was a solid seven out of 10: broccoli, carrots, cabbage, succulent red bell peppers, green beans, and beef, accented with basil and lime leaves in a peppercorn-and-chili brown sauce. 3655 Edwards Rd.,

a side of Indonesian shrimp chips. Or try the okonomiyaki, a traditional Japanese pancake topped with a choice of bacon, prawns, or vegetables. The Vietnamese coffee, a complex, chicory-forward blend, is an ideal way to end the meal. 1331 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, (513) 421-7826,

Hyde Park, (513) 533-9500, wildgingercincy.com. Lunch and dinner Mon–Sun. MCC, DS. $$

The menu does have a substantial Chinese section, but make no mistake, the reason there’s a line at the door on weekend nights is the fine Vietnamese specialties cooked and served by the Le family. Begin with the goi cuon, the cold rolls of moistened rice paper wrapped around vermicelli noodles, julienned cucumbers, lettuce, cilantro, and mung bean sprouts. Or try the banh xeo, a plattersized pan-fried rice crepe folded over substantial nuggets of chicken and shrimp, mushrooms, and wilted mung sprouts. The phos, meal-sized soups eaten for breakfast, are good, but the pho dac biet is Song Long’s best. Crisptender vegetables, slices of beef, herbs, and scallions glide through the noodle-streaked broth. When you’re ordering your entrée, be careful: Mr. Le has a much heavier chili hand than Mrs. Le. Ask who is cooking and order accordingly if you don’t want your eyes to roll to the back of your head. 1737 Section Rd., Roselawn, (513) 351-7631,

VI ETNAM E S E PHO LANG THANG

Owners Duy and Bao Nguyen and David Le have created a greatest hits playlist of Vietnamese cuisine: elegant, brothy pho made from poultry, beef, or vegan stocks poured over rice noodles and adrift with slices of onions, meats, or vegetables (the vegan pho chay is by far the most flavorful); fresh julienned vegetables, crunchy sprouts, and herbs served over vermicelli rice noodles (again, the vegan version, bun chay, is the standout); and bánh mì. Be sure to end with a cup of Vietnamese coffee, a devilish jolt of dark roast and sweetened condensed milk that should make canned energy drinks obsolete. 1828 Race St., Over-the-Rhine, (513) 376-9177, pholangth ang.com. Lunch and dinner seven days. MCC, DS, DC. $

QUAN HAPA

The Nguyen brothers, Duy and Bao, along with partner David Le, have followed up on Pho Lang Thang’s success at Findlay Market by bursting onto the OTR scene with some of the boldest flavors in the city. A tuna ceviche makes use of the fiery sweetness of Malaysian sambal oelek and a banh mi steakburger gains crunch from pickled daikon and

quanhapa.com. Lunch and dinner seven days. MCC, DS. $

SONG LONG

songlong.net. Lunch and dinner Mon–Sat. MCC, DC, DS. $ CINCINNATI MAGAZINE, (ISSN 0746-8 210), March 2021, Volume 54, Number 6. Published monthly ($14.95 for 12 issues annually) at P.O. Box 14487, Cincinnati, OH 45250. (513) 421-4300. Copyright © 2021 by Cincinnati Magazine LLC, a subsidiary of Hour Media Group, 5750 New King Dr, Ste 100, Troy, MI 48098. All rights reserved. No part of this magazine may be reproduced or reprinted without permission. Unsolicited manuscripts, photographs, and artwork should be accompanied by SASE for return. The magazine cannot be held responsible for loss. For subscription orders, address changes or renewals, write to CINCINNATI MAGAZINE, 1965 E. Avis Dr., Madison Heights, MI 48071, or call 1-866-660-6247. Periodicals postage paid at Cincinnati, Ohio, and additional mailing offices. Postmaster: Please send forms 3579 to CINCINNATI MAGAZINE, 1965 E. Avis Dr., Madison Heights, MI 48071. If the Postal Service alerts us that your magazine is undeliverable, we have no further obligation unless we receive a corrected address within one year.

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Forest Friends

ARE THEY THE GIANTS WHO LIVE AT THE TOP OF JACK’S BEANSTALK? OR MAYBE SOME KIND

of mountain trolls who got lost along the way to the Appalachians? Named Mama Loumari (above), Little Nis, and Little Elina, you can find this family of forest giants at the 16,137-acre Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest in Clermont, Kentucky. Danish artist Thomas Dambo crafted the trio of woodland creatures from recycled regional wood to help Bernheim celebrate its 90th anniversary in 2019. Before making the two-hour drive from Cincinnati, visit bernheim.org/forestgiants to watch Dambo read “While the Weather Got Better,” a chapter of his fairy tale about Isak Heartstone, the papa giant who lives in Breckenridge, Colorado. You can also download a map featuring the two-mile trail that’ll lead you to all three giants. While guests are invited to get up close to the trio during non-COVID times, to prevent damage to the sculptures, Bernheim asks visitors to refrain from climbing on Mama Loumari—who, of course, is expecting—and restrict their climbing to the hands and feet of her children, Little Nis and Little Elina. — J A C L Y N Y O U H A N A G A R V E R 1 1 2 C I N C I N N AT I M A G A Z I N E . C O M M A R C H 2 0 2 1

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Cincinnati Magazine - March 2021 Edition  

Cincinnati Magazine - March 2021 Edition