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.