There are two spots you’ve got to try downtown, especially if you’re a macaroni and cheese person. Don’t laugh! There are people who count macaroni and cheese as one of the holy sacraments, because when it’s done right, it’s heaven.
The first stop is a little place you might never have noticed — Lunch on Main (633 Main St., Downtown, 513-381-2907). It’s close to my favorite retro Main Street sign, the site of the late, great Bay Horse Café, where third shifters and other denizens of the night used to wash their troubles away with a little Rock ’n Rye. But enough nostalgia! On to nice, pleasant and tasty Lunch on Main. This diner has been open for just over a year and self-taught chef/owner Adam Easterling says they’re doing fine.
His best-selling sandwich is The Main ($6.50), with pastrami, imported Swiss, homemade red onion marmalade, roasted fennel and pepper gourmaise sauce served on multigrain bread. He also features quarter-pound, all-beef gourmet hot dogs, custom made just a few blocks away at Avril Bleh. Plans are in the works to have some hot dog specials this spring to kick off the Reds’ season. My favorite dish at Lunch on Main, though, has to be the Buffalo chicken mac and cheese, which is so good it’s worth risking an afternoon office food coma of epic proportions.
Adam even bakes his own desserts. Try the buckeye brownie with whipped peanut butter cream or the oatmeal cookie sandwich with apple butter and cinnamon ganache.
On the subject of mac and cheese, I started off Chinese New Year’s “Year of the Rabbit” rather outrageously with a bowl of garlicky, creamy Rabbit Mac and Cheese at Tom Chee’s colorful luncheonette (133 Court St., Downtown, 513-721-2433). I know, it seemed a little cruel to eat the honored guest, but what kind of dining writer wouldn’t give it a try? It’s for you, the readers, that we make these sacrifices!
Anyway, it was darn tasty. Chef/owner Trew Quackenbush assures me that the rabbits were locally sourced and I believe him.
“Controversy is OK as long as you do it right,” he philosophizes.
Trew is doing a lot of things right, including a controversial (to nutritionists, at least) Grilled Cheese Donut ($3), with grilled cheddar on a glazed hole-in-one. Wash that down with a bowl of Tom Chee’s homemade pepperoni pizza soup and you’ll feel like Homer Simpson in food utopia. Trew tells me that they sell a lot of these at festivals rather than to the lunchtime office crowd and I understand that. Every time you eat a grilled cheese donut and go back to sit at a desk for four hours, another cardiologist plans a cruise to the Bahamas. Just kidding!
Best sellers at Tom Chee include the Pesto Turkey grilled cheese on sourdough and the BBQ Bacon, flavored with cult favorite Grippo’s barbecue chips. They’ve also got a hit on their hands with their beer cheese soup, which consistently leaves lunchers begging for more.
Trew is another self-taught chef/entrepreneur who has been cooking since age 15. He and his partners are building their brand through social media.
“Facebook drives what we’re doing,” he says.
Trew and his staff share a passion for really fresh, really fun food. For their most recent round of interviewing new hires, each applicant had to write an essay on why they love cheese and tomato soup. Trew was happy with the results.
“They were really creative,” he says. “We even had some poems!”
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