I usually don’t like to review chains…and that’s because most chains just aren’t very good. I do, however, make exceptions for certain ones. I enjoy Yard House (http://wp.me/p3jVIR-3R), and Mitchell’s Fish Market (http://www.mitchellsfishmarket.com/) is another one I’ve always liked. It’s been at Newport on the Levee forever…since the Levee first opened in 2001. Mitchell’s is a somewhat upscale (casually elegant?) seafood restaurant that sits on the banks of Newport, Kentucky with one of the best views you could have of the Cincinnati skyline. I’ve had some great times eating there, with friends, family, and dates with my wife. As a matter of fact, my wife and I had our first date there, following a great time at the Funny Bone comedy club, so this place has a special place in my heart and always will.
When you first walk in, you can’t help but notice the nice bar on the left of the entrance. Looking in at the dining area, it’s a spacious room with a couple of dividers, but large and opened up for the most part. There is a lot of dark wood for the furniture and lower part of the walls, with lighter colors on the ceiling and upper part of the walls. Large windows which bright it up and afford some diners some wonderful views of Downtown Cincinnati complete the look, and it’s really nice, actually. There is some outdoor dining, both in the front with a view of the Levee plaza so you can people watch, and in the back where you can relax with the city and river view.
Unlike most chains, the food is where it’s at here. On this particular visit, my mother in law, wife, and myself sat on the back patio area with the river view. As always, we started with their sourdough bread, which is lightly buttered and always soft and perfectly warmed. My mother in law had the Cedar Plank Salmon (balsamic glazed and oven roasted, grilled zucchini and peppers, sautéed asparagus, sun-dried tomato pesto and goat cheese) and my wife had the Chesapeake Bay Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes (Our signature recipe, smashed redskin potatoes, sweet corn sauté). Both were really good and the crab cakes actually consisted of mostly crab, which is shocking at some places. Even the smashed potatoes were good, and definitely not a forgotten side dish. In general, the fish is really good. I’m particular to the Chilean Sea Bass (certified sustainable, of course!) prepared Shanghai Style (steamed with ginger and scallions, served with sticky rice, sesame spinach, and rice wine soy sauce). As usual, that is what I ordered and was very pleased with it. Actually, throughout my many visits to Mitchell’s, I don’t remember ever having a bad meal. I’ve had the Surf and Turf (surprisingly good steak, by the way), Mahi Mahi, and several other types of fish and have always enjoyed what I ordered. Their wonderful Sharkfin Pie (Butter fudge ice cream, honey roasted peanuts, fudge, peanut butter, Oreo cookie crust) is out of control and simply amazing.
Overall, I’d say this is the place to go if you want seafood in Cincinnati. McCormick and Schmick’s on Fountain Square is pretty good, but I’d go with Mitchell’s without a doubt. Don’t let that it’s a (small) chain turn you off…this is a quality place and I’d highly recommend it.
I mean, do I really even need to review this? Who hasn’t been to Terry’s Turf Club by now? Who hasn’t enjoyed what was named the best burger in Ohio by Food Network? Who hasn’t taken their “standard” burger, which is amazing with just lettuce, tomato, ketchup and mustard, and decided to go nuts and put a lump crab cake on? Maybe some avocado? Or some Gouda cheese? Why not go with some Italian Proulone cheese with truffle oil? That’s the beauty of this place. You can get as simple or as complex a burger as you so choose.
But before you even get to that part, you can’t help but be a bit blown away by the atmosphere. As you arrive at Terry’s, located on Eastern Avenue not far down from Bella Luna, the décor certainly jumps out at you. Huge neon signs greet you on your way in, and the kitschy style continues inside with all kinds of beer and other fairly random signs. The wait staff is typically very friendly, especially at the bar. You even get peanuts to munch on while you wait. And yes, the wait can be a bit on the weekends, but it’s always worth it.
So, the question is, are we looking at a restaurant that is just weird for show and is riding on its episode of “Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives?” Absolutely not! I love hamburgers. There are some other really good burgers in Cincinnati (The Rookwood (http://wp.me/p3jVIR-2F) immediately comes to mind), but this is the absolute king. The meat is thick, juicy, and almost always perfectly cooked. The bun tastes great and the toppings are second to none. And they even have a great beer selection so you can enjoy a beer (or three) with your date/friends/family and a phenomenal burger.
The visit that I’m basing this review on was with an out of town friend and my wife. We started with the mozzarella roll (with homemade pesto and sundried tomato puree), and then each ordered a burger. My wife ordered a classic burger with just cheese, lettuce, tomato, and onions. My friend ordered a crazy amount of toppings…a lump crab cake, mushrooms, bacon, and several other things I can’t even remember at this point. I ordered one with avocado and a Portobello mushroom. All three were amazing, and I’m still not sure how my friend managed to get all of that burger in his mouth. The thing must have been half a foot tall. The three of us also ordered fries, which are pretty good but not at the same level as the burger and its toppings. That said, still worth the order and better than most places.
I’ll keep it simple…this is the best burger I’ve ever had. This place actually out-performs the hype. In addition to having the best burger I’ve experienced, the atmosphere is fun, the toppings are great, and the drinks flow smoothly. Go eat there as soon as you can…you’ll want to go back daily.
One of the first restaurants in The Gateway Quarter, Over the Rhine’s development on Vine Street, was Senate (http://www.senatepub.com). It seems like it opened forever ago, but it was in 2010 when this upscale street food eatery was established. I’ve personally never been a hot dog lover. I mean, they’re ok, but given the choice I’ll choose a burger every time. And then I ate at Senate.
First, a little background: Chef and owner Daniel Wright (of 2012 James Beard Award winning fame) owns both Senate and Abigail Street, which is next door to Senate and offers higher-end modern Middle Eastern (which is amazing, but that is for another review). Although many new restaurants in OTR have opened up since Senate has, it’s still almost always crowded. Be it on a snowy Wednesday night in the January, or an August Saturday at lunch, there is almost always a crowd.
The main draw to Senate are his hot dogs, but they also server hamburgers, mussels, poutine, roasted marrow bones, sandwiches, steak, scallops, and duck fat or truffle (amazing!) fries. So, there is plenty to eat if you don’t want a hot dog. However, these aren’t just any hot dogs. These are serious…from the “Korean” (homemade kimchi, braised short rib, pickled cucumber, brioche bun) to the “Lindsey Lohan” (goat cheese, caramelized onions, bacon, arugula, and balsamic) to the classic “Chicago” (tomatoes, mustard, onion, neon relish, sport peppers, pickle, and celery salt), all of them are awesome. They also have a “Dog of the Day,” which obviously varies. My wife and I both had the “Dog of the Day” on this particular Saturday, which was the “Thomas Gibson” (chipotle crème fresh, house made guacamole, braised short rib, cilantro, and queso fresco on a brioche bun). It was awesome. And while my carb-fearing wife got it without a bun, it was awesome both with and without the bun. Funny enough, a guy sitting next to us at the bar also ordered one without the bun after seeing how good my wife’s order looked.
As mentioned, we sat at the bar as all of the tables were full on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. While they don’t have a huge selection of beer, it’s good enough and features choices that range from local to world-wide. There’s also a pretty nice cocktail list. My wife went with a glass of limoncello while I ordered a Rhinegeist “Truth IPA,” which is brewed in OTR. The limoncello was fantastic, some of the best we’ve tasted (including Italy, from where it originates). Our bartender was great, too…pretty attentive even though it was quickly getting busy, yet made just enough conversation to make us feel welcome while not distracting us from our food or each other. Plus, he gave us a small glass of a “Fidel Castro” (bourbon barrel aged spiced rum, maple syrup, angostura and orange bitters, burnt orange) to try. Not only was it a very well made drink he gave it to us without us even asking.
Overall, I love eating at Senate. Plus, it’s not too expensive. While $9-$10 seems like a lot for a hot dog, it’s more of a very high quality beef sausage. Plus, the toppings like the short rib and guacamole are both high quality and plentiful…you won’t be eating the hot dog with your hands. It’s a knife and fork style meal, and is large enough to be a full entrée. Ten bucks for an entrée in the city is hard to find. A negative, if you want to be picky, is that Senate gets very crowded very quickly…and really this both works for and against it. Being always full, it obviously creates demand. You want to be a part of this energetic crowd. However, it’s a small place and gets very tight. You will feel a bit crowded sitting at the bar or on the walkway side of the tables. But honestly, it’s never bugged me. Most of the Vine Street restaurants are very narrow and go pretty deep back. It’s just the style of buildings that they have to deal with. I’ve pretty much always enjoyed my time at Senate. And while there is almost always a wait, I’ll give you some advice: check in and then go across the street to wait at the 1215 Wine Bar and Coffee Lab, where Senate (or any of the other restaurants) will call you when your table is ready. It’s another awesome place in OTR and a great place to hang out and have a drink while waiting for your dinner.
Some restaurants are simply more than the sum of its parts. Pirates Cove (http://piratescovecincy.com/) is one of those. Most every “part” of Pirates Cove is either average or below average. Maybe even bad. But somehow, I always enjoy this place.
First, the good. Located at the Four Seasons Marina on the East Side of Cincinnati (not far from Riverbend), if you were dropped off blind-folded, you may think you were transported to Florida. The restaurant/bar is literally located on the marina, between a ton of mostly large and expensive boats. There’s a bar along with a stage for live music (which is almost always taking place). All around the two main attractions, tons of seats and tables allow you to both watch the music and take in a view of the inlet from the Ohio River and watch the boats come in and out. There’s even a sandy area in between the stage and the bar, helping it even more to have a very laid back feel. As a matter of fact, it’s just down the ramp from the Sandbar and 7 sand volleyball courts (which, by the way, is where I met my wife). There’s always a good mix of the boat owners and after-work “athletes” drinking, eating, and having a good time.
Now, the bad. The food is just not great. Mostly bar food like shrimp, burgers, and wraps, the selections are fairly normal. They’ve even recently added flatbreads. However, none of it is as good as you can get at other bars. Although we’ve eaten a few different entrées, on this visit my wife had the Sautéed Grouper Tacos (soft tacos with seasoned grouper, fresh avocados, lettuce, tomato, cheddar jack cheese, and Island Mango sauce) and I ordered the Cove Big Dog (quarter pound grilled Nathan’s all beef hot dog on a pretzel bun with onion, tomatoes, and banana peppers). The tacos were decent…a little too fishy and more cheese than anything else. For $13.50, you are MUCH better off eating the tacos at Nada or Bakersfield, which are both 100 times better. My hot dog was actually pretty good. The pretzel bun was nice, and the hot dog itself was quality for a hot dog. No, it wasn’t Senate, but it was good. My side of black beans and rice that came with the hot dog was decent as well. There are a few beers on draft, but nothing crazy. Sam Adams and the generic domestics made up most of the selections.
Obviously, whatever, you order here will take you far away from a healthy diet. But hey, it literally feels like you are miles away from real life and work at this place so why not eat like you’re on vacation? And really, that’s why I said it was greater than the sum of its. Like I said, the food is overpriced and not great and the beer selection is limited, but it’s just…fun. Live music, great atmosphere, and fantastic memories of playing volleyball followed by walking down the ramp to Pirates Cove for beers make it worth hitting up when you want to get away for a couple of hours. Plus, it’s a great place to have a pre-concert drink before heading to Riverbend.
Nada (http://www.eatdrinknada.com/) is one of my favorite restaurants I’ve ever been to. Great location (across from the Aronoff Center for the Arts), great atmosphere, great food. Inspired by Rick Bayless’ Frontera Grill (http://wp.me/s3jVIR-235), Nada brings modern Mexican cuisine to Cincinnati.
Run by the Boca Group (founded by David Falk) that also runs Boca (duh) and Sotto, Nada is one of the best dining experiences you’ll find for the money. While this particular review is for the brunch portion, I’ll have another review up for the dinner menu later. Obviously, brunch is not quite the atmosphere that you’ll find in the evenings, but it’s still pretty chic. I arrived a few minutes before my wife and was seated fairly quickly. The front of the restaurant has a very nice outdoor dining area, filled with well-dressed people of all ages, some with friends having Bloody Marias, some with their family and small children. Once you enter, you are greeted by a hostess (or 3) at the hostess station. To the hostess station’s left is a bar that had a few people enjoying an early Sunday cocktail. The crowd is not as large as a typical dinner crowd, but it was a respectable size. I didn’t have to wait too long before I was seated on the second floor. The second floor also has a large bar, along with a good-sized party room (which had a very large family with kids in it today) and a beautiful view of the center of Downtown Cincinnati. While I waited for my wife I sipped on the water left by the waiter and enjoyed checking out the Contemporary Arts Center, 21C, and lots of people walking around on a nice summer morning.
My wife soon arrived and we put our food orders in with the waiter. The brunch menu is pretty large, actually. There are appetizers (guacamole, Mexican mac ‘n cheese, among other items), lunch (sliders and several other tacos), and brunch. We ordered the guacamole, which is simply excellent. If it’s not the best guac I’ve ever had, it’s certainly darn close. Served with some amazing double-fried tortilla chips and jicama (the waiter even brought extra for my wife so she could eat that instead of the chips), it tastes so fresh you’d think you were on the beach with Rick Bayless making it for you there. Actually, it’s the cumin that puts it over the top in my opinion. And yes, it’s even better than Rick’s recipe at Frontera.
So, what’s the actual brunch part like at a Mexican restaurant? In a word? Awesome. My wife went with something more suited to the theme of the restaurant and ordered the Tinga and Eggs Cazuela (braised chicken, spicy tomato, chorizo, fried egg, and poblano rice). It came in an iron pot, and tasted like it had all cooked together for a while. The spices were strong without being too hot, and the mix of the chicken, chorizo, and the spices just really gave it a well-balanced flavor. It tasted very “homey,” I think if my mom (a wonderful cook!) made Mexican food, it would resemble this. I was really happy when my wife asked me to help her eat a bit of it. For my dish, I chose the French Toast. Before I describe it, I’ll say I was recently sad to find that Honey (http://wp.me/p3jVIR-42) had closed. Honestly, I was really annoyed to see that the people of Northside and the rest of Cincinnati couldn’t support the restaurant with the best French Toast I’ve ever had, but that’s not the point here. What I now feel I need to do is to find my new favorite French Toast. While Nada’s isn’t quite Honey’s, it’s pretty strong. With bananas in caramel, Canadian maple syrup, whipped cream, and candied almonds, this is some serious brunch. The bread that they used gets a little softer than I prefer from the syrup, but the taste is so good I didn’t care. I enjoyed every part of this dish…the bananas in caramel went amazingly with the syrup, and the candied almonds finished it off and were a treat. It’s 10:30 at night right now and I’m wishing I was eating brunch right now.
Overall, Nada is a must-experience. All of their food is great, and now that they have brunch, you can enjoy it Sunday mornings as well. Nada’s brunch is a wonderful addition to the restaurant and I’d highly recommend it.
Price Hill. Not exactly the pinnacle of neighborhoods in Cincinnati. Crime has been rising, and there’s not a lot of reason to visit, other than some amazing views of the city and the very good Prima Vista. Enter the Incline Public House (http://www.inclinepublichouse.com/). Named after the Cincinnati incline that traveled to Price Hill long ago, the Incline Public House sits in the same spot as the Price Hill House that opened in the late 1800’s and closed in the 1930’s. Boasting a view that is arguably better than even Mt. Adams provides, an expansive deck, several taps of local and national craft beers, and a kitchen that has both a smoker and a brick oven, I had to check this place out.
Being one of the hot spots in the Cincinnati lately, I’d been waiting for a weeknight where both myself and my wife were able to get home at a reasonable time (which means we’ve been trying for two months, basically, to line up our schedules) to miss the large weekend crowds. Thinking we had outsmarted the masses, we headed to Price Hill on a Thursday evening. It was definitely hard to find parking, as the Public House is next door to Prima Vista, and shares a parking lot with a set of condos that share the same view. Once parked, you can’t help but be amazed at the view while walking to the entrance. Once our eyes diverted from the expansive view of Cincinnati’s amazing skyline, we were a bit discouraged to see that the place was PACKED. So much for outsmarting the masses. We went to the hostess stand, and a friendly hostess took our names and pictures (to easily find us…good idea) and put us on the list. An hour and 20 minute wait was a little crazy, so we hovered near the bar and made “friends” with a couple of people getting ready to leave so we were able to hang out at the bar for a beer. I went with a Stone 10, which is their tenth anniversary release of an IPA. My wife went with the local Mad Tree Gnarly Brown.
The bartender was friendly, as were the other people at the bar, and before we knew it we were seated out on the patio. It’s a HUGE “wow factor”…a million dollar view. I can’t say I even really cared what the food tasted like at that point, to be honest. It was a very relaxing atmosphere, even with a pretty big crowd. The large windows and expansive deck made the Public House seem big and open. Looking over the menu, we ordered a couple of appetizers to start. I chose the Lamb Burger Sliders (with arugula, goat cheese, and cherry bourbon chutney) and my wife selected the Spicy Pickle Fries (small fry-like cuts of pickles, fried…and yes, that is weird for either of us. Must have been the beer ordering that one). The sliders were really good…the lamb went so well with the goat cheese and chutney. I’d highly recommend. The pickles were good, but definitely a bit much. As someone that doesn’t eat much fried food, I found them a bit heavy.
For dinner, we ordered the Margherita Pizza (roasted garlic olive oil, tomato, mozzarella, basil, and added prosciutto) and the Black and Blue Salad (blackened strip steak, mixed greens, bleu cheese, crispy onion, and horseradish vinaigrette). Both were very good. The pizza crust was very tasty, and highly benefitted from being cooked in a brick oven. The salad was also good, and the vinaigrette was unique and went very well with the steak and bleu cheese.
Overall, I’d highly recommend The Incline Public House. Nice bar, good food, great atmosphere, and an amazing view make for a very enjoyable evening. Don’t let the neighborhood scare you, its area is clean, safe, and full of energy with a friendly crowd of young, old, singles, and families.
There are many different views around of what heaven is or if it even exists. I would contend that one version of heaven, or at least one version of heaven on earth, could just be Boi Na Braza (http://boinabraza.com/). A Brazilian Steakhouse, Boi Na Braza sits across the street from Fountain Square on the first floor of the building that also contains Morton’s Steakhouse on the second floor (talk about a VERY tasty structure!). In the mid 90’s, the Brazilian Steakhouse concept was launched where various types of meat are skewered and slowly roasted over fire pits. Gauchos, a name for Brazilian immigrants, are also your bringers of amazing meat in this restaurant model. It’s basically a very fancy buffet, where you get all the salad from a very nice salad bar that you can eat as well as all the meat you can possibly handle.
Boi Na Braza has a very good salad bar. It has such items as shitake mushrooms, mashed potatoes, Brazilian rice and beans, several cheeses and meats, and of course all of the standard vegetables. They also bring appetizers that include fried plantains and some delicious cheese-filled biscuits. Of course, you don’t want to fill up too much…the reason for eating at this restaurant still awaits you.
The concept of a high-end meat buffet is at first a bit unbelievable. Fifty bucks, all I can eat meat? Some might think you are going to get O’Charley’s-quality steaks brought to you. Those people would be absolutely wrong. Not only is the meat very good, it’s also extremely varied. Check out this mouth-watering list: Picanha (a special cut of rump roast that is the house specialty), rump roast with garlic, lamb chops, leg of lamb, pork ribs, top sirloin, pork loin, sausage, bottom sirloin, beef tenderloin (filet!), chicken legs, chicken breasts, beef ribs, and rib eye…it’s enough to make any meat-lover shed a tear in delight. And no, the cuts aren’t what you can get at a Jeff Ruby’s or a Morton’s, but the meat is still of good quality, and is extremely plentiful and varied. The Gauchos actually bring these meats to you on a skewer, and then cut off pieces right onto your plate. I didn’t really keep count, but I had to have had at least 8 to 10 slices of the picanha and maybe 4 nice cuts of filet mignon. Add in some lamb, rib eye, and a few other selections and I was in heaven on earth.
So how good is the meat? Again, it’s pretty darn good. The picanha is very well seasoned, and other than some fat on the outside of it, very lean. I love it. The filet mignon is nice and juicy. Like I stated earlier, you won’t feel like you are having a $250 dinner at Morton’s, but it’s a fraction of the cost and you get as much as you want. It’s better than say, Texas Roadhouse, and you get to combine it with other meats and really enjoy it. Boi Na Braza’s lamb is something that should never be overlooked. Cooked rare to medium, it is tender and has a minty flavor cooked into it that is just fantastic. We could have probably eaten 72 lamb chops if it were possible. Trust me; you have to try it, even if you aren’t big into lamb. The sausage is also good…nicely spiced and cooked to perfection. Additionally, if you or one of the people in your party doesn’t eat meat you can order the salad bar only. There’s a ton of choices on it that should satisfy most vegetarians.
I’ve seen some complaints that it’s hard to get the better meats and they tend to walk around more with the less desirable chicken skewers and less expensive cuts of steak. While that is true, you can request whatever you want. Feel like eating 4 filet mignons? Ask your server or Gaucho. They’ll bring it, and usually fairly quickly. The only hiccup on this part of the service was when we had some lamb chops coming and another diner intercepted (hijacked?) the approaching Gaucho and took 8 freaking chops. Wow. Only I should be able to do that! But, we did eventually get our lamb chops and they were worth it. Our main Gaucho, who happens to be in the below picture, was great. He brought me so much picanha he may have taken a year off my life. He also made sure we had lamb there at the end, too. My only other complaint is that they probably should change out your plates more often. I like to trim the fat off my meat, and while the cuts are usually pretty lean, by the time you’ve had 10 cuts of red meat there’s going to be a pile on your plate that reminds you of how much you’ve just pigged out. However, as long as you don’t eat too many biscuits and other carbs, you’d be surprised how not uncomfortable you are after eating all the meat. You do feel thirsty (lots of salts and other seasoning on the meats), but I didn’t feel bad, nor have I ever after enjoying an evening at Boi Na Braza.
The ambiance and location are also great. The dining area has a lot of rich, dark wood in it and plenty of windows to see the action and energy out on Fountain Square. Because of the nice location, it’s easy to get a pre-dinner drink at one of many other places (we chose Via Vite on this occasion) and take a walk Downtown after the dining is over.
Overall, I’d highly recommend you experience Boi Na Braza. It’s unique, has a great location, allows for plenty of variety in meats, and is an amazing experience. Heaven on earth, right?