Yard House Review
The Banks, the entertainment district between the Reds’ Great American Ballpark and the Bengals’ Paul Brown Stadium had been years in the making. Delays, in-fighting between the city and the county, and disagreements on what to have as part of the development all combined to cause the area to be a waste of space; it was basically a pile of dirt for close to a decade. It took Reds owner Bob Castellini to push the project a couple of years ago, and once it got going it has proven to be worth the wait. While there are at least two more phases of parks and condos/shops to go, the first and main phase has included apartments and several bars and restaurants. It’s been a huge boon for the Reds, as thousands of fans have a place right outside the entry to the ballpark to enjoy themselves before and after the games.
The latest entry into The Banks district is Yard House (http://www.yardhouse.com/). Yard House was started in Long Beach, CA in December of 1996. The concept was and still is to offer a large selection of draft beers, American fare food, and classic rock music. They’ve since opened many locations, mostly out West and in California in particular. I can say I’m glad they decided open shop here in Cincinnati. While I’m not a big fan of chains in general, the selection of craft beer, many local to Ohio, is a fantastic addition to the entertainment options at The Banks.
Yard House stands detached from any other buildings, and overlooks the Ohio River and Paul Brown Stadium. Once in the door, the entry is pretty cool. Some cool paintings adorn the wall, my favorite being a big one of a monkey…you don’t see that much! There’s a fan in a cool-blue recess in the ceiling that catches your eye as well. When you step through the entry, you can’t help but notice the amazing bar setup. It’s a huge oval-shaped stainless steel bar with 160 taps. Several large TVs surround the bar, and there are also large LED screens with limited and rotating craft beer specials on display. The ceilings are very high with an industrial look and there is a large area that is inside/outside seating. The windows are huge, and show off the fantastic views of the Roebling Suspension Bridge as well as Paul Brown Stadium. Classic rock blares on the speakers, but never seems too loud. Once we checked in, we went to the bar to wait to be seated. As luck would have it, as we walked up, two men were getting ready to leave so we were able to sit and order pretty quickly. The selection of beers is simply amazing. It’s basically heaven for a craft beer lover. While looking at the craft beer list, I felt like I was a kid looking at a list of Transformers or GI Joes. In other words, pure happiness. With a menu that categorizes by type (Wheat, Honey, Bitter, Strong, etc), you can easily go to the type you enjoy and make a choice. I started with a pint (you can also get a half yard for many beers, a 3 foot tall glass container from which the bar gets its name) of Ballast Point Sculpin, which was a fantastic choice for an IPA lover with subtle fruity undertones. My wife had a Thirsty Dog Siberian Night Russian Imperial Stout and was equally as pleased as I was. While we enjoyed our beers, we looked through the menu at the food choices. There are plenty of choices. They have apps, salads, sandwiches, burgers, pizza, tacos, steaks, and even gluten-free and meat substitute choices. They also have a late night menu. Halfway through our beers, our buzzer went off and we went to the hostess station to be seated.
Our table was a large booth that was against one of the huge windows that overlooked the fountain, with a very nice view of the Roebling Bridge and the Current Apartments. It was impressive to say the least. Our server came pretty quickly, so we ordered another Siberian Night for my wife and a beer mix called the “The Sour Monk,” which was a combination of Stone IPA and Ommegang Hennepin for me. The mix was good, but it almost took too much of the bitterness away from the IPA. We asked for more time to look at the menu. Food-wise, I always feel like the larger the menu, the less quality the food. Nobody can try to please everybody and expect to be excellent at what they do. While it isn’t quite as large as the Cheesecake Factory’s, it was still pretty big. However, they had some good choices, and ended up selecting the Korean short rib tacos (spicy green papaya salad, lemon sriracha aioli, and red chili threads) and (Mac+Cheese)2 (chicken breast, applewood bacon, wild mushrooms, cheddar, parmesan, campanelle pasta, and truffle oil), while my wife ordered the surf and turf burger with no bun (Maine lobster sautéed in garlic butter, grilled asparagus, Swiss, and tomato béarnaise with truffle fries) along with a side salad.
The food was pretty good. The tacos were solid, but don’t expect the bold taste or quality of Nada or Bakersfield. The short rib was pretty good, but didn’t really get your taste buds excited. The Mac and Cheese was good as well, but again, don’t expect the Mac and Cheese at a Ruby’s or Senate. Still, it was good and the truffle oil flavor came through. The burger was good, the lobster was good, but it wasn’t as good as a burger at Terry’s or The Rookwood (http://wp.me/p3jVIR-2F/). The truffle fries were great, however. Thin and full of flavor, you get a big hit of truffle flavor and they made the rest of the food better. All that said, this is a craft beer bar…the food, to me, is a bonus. I was so happy and in beer heaven that the food was suddenly an afterthought (which is almost never the case for me). The food overall was way better than many bars have, and definitely above average.
The final piece of dinner was a really good dessert. The salted caramel butterscotch pudding has chocolate cookie crumble and maldon sea salt, and is topped with house made whipped cream. Both of us really enjoyed this, and the sweet and salty flavors combine to really give a great flavor to the dish…highly recommended.
I think the biggest question most reading this will have is how it compares with its neighbor, the Moerlein Lager House (http://wp.me/p3jVIR-39). Well, that’s tougher to compare than you’d think. Both carry craft beer, serve food, and have huge windows that overlook the scenery that the riverfront offers. However, Moerlein is a brewpub…they brew their own beer and feature that beer. The guest taps are secondary, for better or for worse, than their own brews. Yard House does not brew their own beer (although they do have a house made non-alcoholic ginger beer), and concentrates on beers from all over the country and even the world. The food is also far better at Moerlein…a smaller, more specialized menu. As a huge fan of food (and the writer of a food blog), I have to go with Moerlein if you are eating dinner. Plus, Moerlein is a cooler place for Cincinnati beer and sports history (they have a plaque on the floor where Pete Rose’s record breaking 4,192’nd hit landed). If you want to concentrate more on drinking with food being secondary, Yard House is your better option. There is just such a huge selection of beer…unlike a huge food menu, a huge beer menu is a great thing, and these guys have it.
Overall, Yard House is a fantastic place to enjoy beer. A very cool ambiance, an amazing selection of craft beer…it’s a great time. As long as you don’t expect the food to be as good as Moerlein’s you will have a great time.