Meat. Sports. Patriotism. Ball caps. If you like these -- that is, if you're American -- you'll love BlackFinn. If you don't, well, if you at least like people then you'll love the staff.
Formerly Nick & Tony's and McFadden's, BlackFinn Restaurant & Saloon, one of a chain of Irish-inspired American saloons, follows a lineage of bars that closed without warning, abruptly shutting their doors and moving out almost overnight. On the Monday night we stepped into the saloon, it was half full of folks quietly sipping beer and watching the Reds game.
While BlackFinn is not the place to go if you're looking for a romantic night out, it is the place to go to if you accidentally made that hot date on the night the Reds happen to be playing the Cubbies. But your hot date better really love the Reds (or Cubbies); if not, you might never see her or him again.
At BlackFinn, you have to be OK with sliding into a booth next to a close-up of Reds' pitcher Edinson Volquez and kicking back, because every table has its own mini-screen -- and no one's watching Desperate Housewives.
On the night I stopped by with my roommate, I asked our super-friendly server, Maria, to turn off our TV. Eating while watching the Reds doesn't feel right unless it's in my father's living room, and my roommate is a New Age healer who barely knows it's baseball season.
While our server was happy to oblige, once she shut off the TV we could barely see her. It seems Finn is so dark that the flicker from the many televisions is the only light to eat by.
Encouraged by our server, we began our meal with Finn's ever-popular Sliders ($8.99). There are four versions: Classic Beef, BBQ Bacon, Pulled Pork and Chicken Parmesan. While the term "slider" conjures White Castles or food so greasy you don't have to chew to get it down, our server assured us that Finn's sliders are high-end. Topped with white American cheese and grilled onions, their beef sliders are made from Black Angus and served on potato rolls with au jus on the side.
To appease my once-vegetarian soul, we also went for the Spinach and Artichoke Dip, a creamy blend of three cheeses, spinach, garlic and artichokes "broiled until browned and bubbling" ($8.99).
More fun than ordering our appetizers was getting carded while ordering from Finn's creative martini list. (Any girl who loves her martinis needs to get to Finn fast; they have some clever concoctions.) The martinis were phenomenal. I ordered the Sex and the City ($8.50), with vodka, peach schnapps and cranberry and pineapple juice. It was like a cosmo on vacation.
Because I was in a sports bar surrounded by TVs and Techno music, I had a second one. This time, I ordered the Watermelon Martini ($8.50) with Smirnoff Watermelon Vodka, cranberry juice and sour mix. Highly recommended, although the first sip tasted a bit like cough syrup.
Our appetizers arrived just 10 minutes after ordering. The Spinach and Artichoke Dip was hot and creamy, more interesting than the standard bar fare, but we could have done without the heavy bacon flavor. The Sliders were everything the server promised, with deeply satisfying au jus, although the potato rolls were a bit doughy for our tastes.
We could have left the meal at that, but we self-destructively went on to order entrées instead. With a menu offering BlackFinn Ribeye, Angus Filet Mignon and Grilled Steak Tips, there are also plenty of seafood options. We opted for Finn's famed Beer Battered Fish and Chips ($11.99) and a vegetarian entrée, Garden Style Pasta Primavera ($10.99).
I was so impressed by the freshness of the Fish and Chips' hand-battered Haddock that, for a moment, I imagined I wasn't in Cincinnati. Add to that a perfectly light and crispy batter and tantalizing beer-soaked fries.
Unfortunately, the Primavera wasn't as promising. With scant vegetables (yellow squash, zucchini, and red onion) and a bland Alfredo sauce, I could have done without it.
For a sweet ending, we chose another Finn favorite -- homemade ice cream sandwiches with chocolate chip cookies, cool vanilla ice cream and chocolate dipping sauce. What is there not to love? One thing: The serving was for four and not two, like most of Finn's dishes.
If you stop by BlackFinn, be sure to bring a big appetite. It also helps to have a love of sports and a hankering for martinis.
BlackFinn Restaurant & Saloon
Go: 19 E. Seventh St., Downtown
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday; bar: 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Sunday-Saturday
Payment: Major credit cards
Red Meat Alternatives: Seafood and pasta options