BEST BAR CHARCUTERIE
Charcuterie: a fun word to say and a fun snack to eat. And many local gastro-bars are expanding their eats options beyond free nuts and popcorn by offering an elevated meat-and-cheese board. This includes Metropole
. Yes, the Metropole is a restaurant inside the 21c Museum Hotel, but it’s also a swanky bar and lounge where you can order a charcuterie board alongside your craft cocktail, picking from a selection of three to five snacks. Mix and match duck breast ham and other smoked meats with artisanal cheese; hot olives, which spend time in the restaurant’s custom wood-burning fireplace; a seven-hour egg, boiled with coffee, tea and onion; or seared radishes with dill. All are served automatically with toast, truffle honey and smoked grapes — which are divine. The grapes are shriveled-ish but still soft, with a hint of hickory. The first one you eat is kind of weird, but then you’ll slap everyone’s hands away so you can finish the rest of the bunch. Metropole, 609 Walnut St., Downtown, 513-578-6660, metropoleonwalnut.com.
BEST BITE-SIZED BAKING CLASS
Taren Kinebrew specializes in tiny treats at her aptly named shop, Sweet Petit Desserts
— macarons, chocolate-covered strawberries, petit fours, even layered cake push-pops. And while the third-generation baker and her team whip up sweets for the shop and special events, they can also teach you how to do it. Call to sign up for the next scheduled class or grab a group and book a private class for up to six people. After learning all her baking secrets, they send you home with a kit so you can recreate the miniature magic. Sweet Petit Desserts, 1426 Race St., Over-the-Rhine, 513-443-5094, sweetpetitdesserts.com.
BEST SOFT SERVE AND COFFEE COMBO
An affogato is an Italian dessert featuring a scoop of ice cream or gelato drowned in espresso. And Old Milford Parlor creamy whip in historic downtown Milford is one of the few places in town where you can get both a cup of good java and the soft-serve-and-coffee combo. Their version of an affogato decadently combines cold-brew coffee, soft serve and chocolate espresso crumbles, and their Java Whip blends cold brew, milk and soft serve into a milkshake. Unlike owner Nick Ganim’s parents’ legendary Mount Washington Creamy Whip, Old Milford is open year-round, and not just in summer. Old Milford Parlor, 119 Main St., Milford, 513-239-5704, cincycreamywhip.com.
BEST SPOT TO FIND THE ELUSIVE PAWPAW FRUIT
, a year-round retail store selling locally grown and made goods, opened last year at Findlay Market. One of the seasonal items they sold was pawpaw, a mango-like fruit ubiquitous to Ohio but difficult to find unless you know which woods to forage though. Luckily, North Bend’s Carriage House Farm has a lot of pawpaw trees and brought the literal fruits of their labor to DIRT during the pawpaw’s peak month of September. Finally, a simple solution to satisfying a craving for pawpaw salsa. DIRT at Findlay Market, 131 W. Elder St., Over-the-Rhine, 513-518-2875, findlaymarket.org.
BEST NEW ITERATION OF FRENCH FRIES
in Covington is a three-fold concept: a gourmet market/deli, a bar and a pizzeria/restaurant, all working in tandem and owned by husband-and-wife duo Kristin and Avram Steuber. The name comes from the Norwegian folk tale, Three Billy Goats Gruff
, and the colorful interior and exterior murals (by local design firm BLDG) reinforce the story — the floor is painted like grass, the exterior brick wall features three yellow goats on a green background and excerpts from the fairytale are written above the bar. In terms of food, find local and artisan deli items, brick-oven pizzas and hot sandwiches. And, for an upcharge, you can turn your sandwich side (usually an in-house deli salad) into fries of the waffle or pickle variety. Yes, pickle fries. The Gruff deep-fries strips of pickles and serves them with garlic dill sauce. They are crispy and tangy with a perfect thick and crunchy coating. The Gruff, 129 E. Second St., Covington, Ky., 859-581-0040, atthegruff.com.
BEST THOUGHTFULLY SOURCED LOCAL MEATS
Cozy and creative farm-to-table Bouquet Restaurant and Wine Bar
puts a twist on classic dishes and offers a constantly rotating menu. Browse an extensive wine list (more than 60 bottle and glass selections) while drooling over the current carnivorous offerings prepared by chef Stephen Williams. His ethically sourced meats are found in both small plates and entrées like local goat, lamb and red wattle pork. Bouquet’s website even features area farms from which its meat is provided, exemplifying the idea stated at the top of the page: “Know your farmer. Know your food.” Local providers include Madison’s Produce, Hood’s Heritage Hogs, Woodland Farm, Butcher Betties and many more. Bouquet Restaurant and Wine Bar, 519 Main St., Covington, Ky., 859-491-7777, bouquetrestaurant.com.
BEST ALTERNATIVE USE OF BRUSSELS SPROUTS
Seems like every year we’re extolling the greatness of this or that restaurant’s preparation of caramelized Brussels sprouts, like the ones at Boca or Maribelle’s eat + drink (topped with a lovely sunny-side-up egg). This year, we’re forging a new route and obsessing over the sprouts at Frida 602
. MainStrasse’s Mexican eatery and mezcal bar features the green veg in their Brussels sprout taco, a vegetarian option with seared sprouts, chick peas and smoked peanut salsa. An incredibly unique take on your standard beans-and-cheese option and incredibly tasty. Also a must: a tequila and mezcal flight served in little clay copitas. Frida 602, 602 Main St., Covington, 859-815-8736, facebook.com/frida602.
Tickle Pickle’s hearty black bean burger and vegan milkshake are dangerously good. - Photo: Jesse Fox
BEST “I’M WITH THE BAND” BURGERS
Burger joint Tickle Pickle
resides in the Rock & Roll neighborhood of Northside. And the restaurant’s succulently spiced bites double-down on that fact with punny music-themed names, like the Grateful Shred pulled pork barbecue burger, the Nom Petty mushroom and Swiss burger and the Bread Zeppelin, with American cheese, lettuce, tomato, mayo and ketchup. Finish your melodious meal with a Flan Halen strawberry shortcake shake, Dark Side of the Moon sundae or James Brownie chocolate brownie shake. It’s all reasonably priced, with additional vegan and vegetarian options, and makes for a cute date night with tables housed outside under a tent decorated with lights. Tickle Pickle, 4176 Hamilton Ave., Northside, 513-954-4003, ticklepicklenorthside.com.
BEST INSTAGRAM FEED FOR EPICUREANS
Please, the culinary brainchild of chef Ryan Santos, has transitioned from an underground dinner party to a sanctioned monthly multi-course meal to a soon-to-be restaurant on 14th and Clay streets, opening this summer. While waiting for Santos to launch his 25-seat eatery, check out his Instagram feed @pleasecinci to get your fix of beautifully plated meals — those he makes for public dinners as well as those he enjoys on his travels, which take him everywhere from new American classics like The Ordinary restaurant in Charleston and Niche in St. Louis to kitchens in Europe and Scandinavia. You also get behind-the-scenes peeks at restaurant progress, process photos for dish ingredients like his homemade barley shio koji and shout-outs to local farmers and food artisans, plus reviews of craft beer and good wine. It’s a nice way to scroll and waste an hour drooling before workday lunch. Please,
BEST (AND BIGGEST) STRIP-MALL MARGARITAS
It can’t always be Rio Grande or Cancun! El Jinete’s
mouthwatering margaritas are served in a glass nearly the size of your head. Pick frozen or on the rocks — both margaritas are perfectly tart and dangerously smooth. A word of advice: a medium glass is the big-as-your-head size previously referred to; large is approaching fish-bowl status. Make sure not to sip too
quickly — you’ll want to be able to properly taste your food when it arrives. The menu is filled with authentic dishes like the filling and cravable Burrito El Barzon, filled with chicken, shrimp, steak, beans and onions and topped with chorizo, pineapple and melted cheese. El Jinete, multiple locations including 10780 Montgomery Road, Montgomery, 513-247-2272, eljineterestaurants.com.
BEST CYCLONES OFF THE ICE
Since 1965, Flub’s
has been serving up Italian ice, sherbets and creamy whips to hungry customers in Butler County. Originally purchased by George and Louise Waggonfield, the couples’ sons worked at the “dari-ette” to pay their way through school; the youngest expanded the business, and today it continues to serve creative and addicting family recipes. The stars of the menu are Cyclones, 35 homemade flavors that mix ice cream or creamy whip with a variety of additions and toppings. Try Olivia’s Blue Moo, which begins with vanilla creamy whip and is mixed with marshmallow topping, cookie dough and blue raspberry syrup, or Danny’s Delight, which has a vanilla ice cream base that is dipped in chocolate, covered with caramel and topped off with homemade whipped topping and waffle cone chunks. Flub’s, 997 Eaton Ave., Hamilton, 513-896-6696; 539 Wessel Drive, Fairfield, 513-939-3582, flubsicecream.com.
Dan Jensen of Fresh Table/Epicurean Mercantile - Photo: Jesse Fox
BEST HEAT IN THE KITCHEN
You know the phrase, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen?” That takes on a slightly different meaning when talking about Dan Jensen, one of the current chefs at Fresh Table in Findlay Market and soon to be at The Counter in the Epicurean Mercantile, Fresh Table’s forthcoming urban grocery store on Race (across from the market house). The market — opening later this year — will offer food, dry goods and hopefully wine and beer to meet all of the OTR community’s price points. They’ll be open until 8 or 9 p.m., extending market hours in the area, and will participate in SNAP and EBT programs. They’ll also be serving small plates and entrées via the in-house The Counter all day. And with Jensen, a former UC baseball pitcher and minor leaguer standing at 6-foot-8 manning the stove, there will be more than one reason to spend some extra time browsing the dairy section (i.e. to cool down because he’s hot). The Epicurean Mercantile, 1818 Race St., Over-the-Rhine, freshtable.biz.
BEST WAY TO REPRESENT CINCY’S CHILI HERITAGE (AND CATS)
If you’re ever imbibing at Blank Slate Pourhouse and decide you need a snack to pair with your Fork in the Road brew, lucky for you, Purrfectly Popped
sells an assortment of popcorns, including a Cincinnati chili and cheese one, made with spices similar to those in Gold Star Chili. It’s addicting, and tastes better than anything you’ll order from the chili establishment itself. Run by cat-loving/popcorn-loving West Chester husband and wife Kara Caudell and Stephen Brown, other unique flavors include bloody mary, garlic cheesy bread and margarita. You can also purchase popcorn online, at farmers markets or various festivals. Purrfectly Popped, purrfectlypopped.com.
BEST PLACE TO EAT A HOT DOG WITH YOUR DOG
Mason’s Lucky Dog Grille
has dog-gone good food for you and your canine companion. Really. The restaurant features a “Lucky Dog Doggie Menu” which includes chopped chicken breast, chopped steak, a quarter-pound burger, hot dogs and — for dessert — doggie yogurt. Pups do have to remain on the patio, however, so plan to visit on a day with warmer weather and a lack of precipitation. Humans can choose from hearty sandwiches, pizzas, wings and specialty sides (including creamy, filling and beyond-satisfying mac and cheese) and imbibe from an extensive rotating beer list. Lucky Dog Grille, 729 Reading Road, Mason, 513-204-5825, search “Lucky Dog Grille” on Facebook.
BEST LOCAL MALT VINEGAR MASTER
Justin Dean has his vinegar-making process down to a sustainable science. He uses the leftover wort (liquid extracted from the beer-brewing process) from MadTree and other local breweries to produce his small-batch artisanal Madhouse
malt vinegar out of North Bend’s Carriage House Farm. And his two-step fermentation method allows Madhouse to infuse these raw vinegars with experimental flavors like chive blossom, Deeper Roots coffee and bourbon barrel-aged varieties. These are some of the best acetic acids on the market — Chocolats Latour uses Dean’s malt vinegar to make chocolates and local chefs are beginning to catch on. Madhouse Vinegar Company, 2872 Lawrenceburg Road, North Bend, madhousevinegar.com.
BEST LOCALS JUMPING ON A COCKTAIL TREND
Everything old is new again. Shrubs, fruity old-fashioned drinking vinegars, are the next big thing in artisanal cocktail making. Plenty of bars — like Metropole, Calle Cantina and any of the Wellmann’s Brands bars — make their own shrubs, but local husband-and-wife duo company Chimera Shrubs
makes it so you can create craft cocktails at home. Their bottled shrubs are made with unfiltered organic apple cider vinegar and come in flavors including Hibiscus Honey, Ginger Lemongrass and Honey Lemon. The minimally processed vinegars are cold-pressed for complexity and flavor, and contain an active mother (a tiny bacteria and cellulose pod) — for those of you who are into fermentation. The suggested ratio for a cocktail is 1 to 2 oz. of shrub to your favorite alcohol. You can also add them to soda water to create homemade soda. Chimera Shrubs, chimerashrubs.com.
Americano Burger Bar: Nothing says America like toothpick flags and giant, juicy burgers. - Photo: Jesse Fox
BEST RESTAURANT TO BE A GROWNUP WHILE FEELING LIKE A KID AGAIN
Unhinge your jaw, undo your belt and throw your Fitbit out the window. Being an adult at Americano Burger Bar is seriously delicious with their giant, flawlessly prepared burgers, astonishing onion rings and adult beverage-spiked milkshakes. The new burger joint from chef Christian Pietso (Via Vite) features an eclectic mix of American classics, tinged with international flavors. Burger toppings range from standard lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle on the Americano to Grippo’s, slaw and pulled pork on the Southern BBQ. There’s an American flag installation on the ceiling made with domestic beer cans, 50-cent wings on Wednesdays and $5 burgers on Tuesdays. And the most American of all is combining vices into boozy milkshakes, with vanilla, chocolate or strawberry frozen custard featuring everything from bourbon cream to amaretto. So good. It’s time to leave the drive-through stuff to the actual kids. Americano Burger Bar, 545 Race St., Downtown, 513-345-6677, americanoburgerbar.com.
BEST USE OF A SLUSH PUPPIE MACHINE
Chef and restaurateur Daniel Wright opened his bourbon-and-barbecue restaurant Pontiac
in OTR last year, a middle-brow take on Southern food. Behind the bar, they have a two-flavor Slush Puppie machine (did you know the Slush Puppie was invented in Cincinnati?), but instead of concocting a kid’s drink, they pour Old Smokey moonshine and lemon juice into a grape Slush Puppie and call it Purple Drink (Purple Drank?). It’ll take you back to grabbing a frozen slushie from 7-Eleven and pouring booze into it yourself, except Pontiac does it fancier. Pontiac, 1403 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, 513-579-8500, pontiacbbq.com.
BEST SURPRISINGLY GOOD CASINO DESSERT
Casinos are sort of synonymous with over-priced buffets of crab legs, prime rib and run-of-the-mill cheesecake. But Belterra Park, located next to Riverbend, has surprisingly good (and affordable) in-house restaurants like Nosh
, which happens to specialize in sweets. Stop in to try their homemade gelato, fresh pastries or chocolate raspberry cake; it’s less than $5 a slice and is made with a crunchy pretzel crust, layered raspberry coulis and chocolate. Besides the cake, Nosh also offers sandwiches and coffee to keep you awake so you can play Gremlins
and bet on horse races. You’re already indulging in gambling, so why not indulge in dessert? Belterra Park, 6301 Kellogg Road, Anderson, 513-232-8000, belterrapark.com/dining/nosh
BEST BUILT-IN BABYSITTER AT A RESTAURANT
Let’s face it: kids aren’t always well-behaved while going out to eat. Restaurants can be loud, cramped and lacking in child-friendly meals. That’s where Dewey’s Pizza
comes in. This chain not only serves up a wide variety of pies like traditional cheese for the tots and gourmet options like Ryan’s Inferno with gorgonzola and chicken for Mom and Dad, they also have large windows to see into the kitchen, allowing guests to watch their pizzas being made. Kids are encouraged to watch as cooks roll and hand-toss dough, add ingredients and put the finished product in the oven; adults are more than welcome, too. It helps make a wait for a Friday-night table at the hip pizzeria more bearable for all parties involved. Dewey’s Pizza, multiple locations including 3014 Madison Road, Oakley, 513-731-7755, deweyspizza.com.
BEST LATE-NIGHT COOKIE MONSTER
Craving a sugar rush at 2 a.m.? Insomnia Cookies
to the rescue. The shop’s heroic employees deliver warm, gooey cookies right to your door, every day of the week until 3 a.m. Mix and match flavors like triple chocolate chunk, s’mores, double chocolate mint, snickerdoodle and white chocolate macadamia nut. If you’re hankering for something more specific, create your own concoction by adding toppings like M&Ms, walnuts and Snickers. You can even order ice cream by the pint or quart. Insomnia Cookies, 216 Calhoun St., Clifton Heights, 877-632-6654, insomniacookies.com.
BEST VEGAN POTLUCKS WHERE YOU’LL LEARN A THING OR TWO
Formerly known as EarthSave Cincinnati, VeganEarth
, an all-volunteer nonprofit, strives to teach healthy, sustainable and compassionate ways of eating and living. Every month, the organization hosts a vegan potluck, inviting foodies to contribute dishes free of all animal products (dairy, eggs, casein and honey). The potlucks frequently host panels, during which guest speakers discuss a variety of Earth-friendly topics like maintaining a raw plant-based diet. You don’t have to be vegan to get involved — these events are all about learning and bringing the community together (and, of course, eating). Frequently held at Clifton United Methodist Church, 3416 Clifton Ave., Clifton, veganearthus.org.
BEST NEW ORLEANS-STYLE CRAWFISH BOIL
Laissez les bons temps rouler! Mardi Gras on Madison puts its customers smack-dab in the middle of New Orleans, offering a variety of traditional dishes like étouffée, shrimp and grits, bloody marys made with king cake vodka and an okra garnish and their drool-worthy, seasonal crawfish boils. Owners Latoya “Toya” Foster and her husband Randy have roots in NOLA and opened Cajun/Creole food truck New Orleans to Go to serve authentic po’boys to family who moved to the city after Hurricane Katrina. The wild success of the food truck led to Mardi Gras on Madison, a 70-seat East Walnut Hills eatery bedecked in fleur-de-lis and Saints football memorabilia. Search “Mardi Gras on Madison” on Facebook for menu updates; this is a “homearaunt,” not a restaurant, meaning that hours and menu selections frequently vary. Crawfish boils sell out fast, so make sure to check or call ahead before driving over. Mardi Gras on Madison, 1524 Madison Road, East Walnut Hills, 513-873-9041, facebook.com/mardigrasmad.
BEST WORKDAY HUNGER HEROES
There’s nothing worse than craving a certain dish in the middle of the workday — and then realizing you’re either too busy or too lazy to walk to get it. That’s where 53T Courier
comes in. This bike courier service specializes in food delivery, making it possible for your favorite eats to be brought right to your office in about 45 minutes or less (depending on how many different places the CityBeat
staff has ordered from that day; sorry). Based in Over-the-Rhine, 53T and their friendly team of couriers serve the entire downtown area. Visit their website to choose from restaurant clients including Happy Belly on Vine, Pho Lang Thang, Cheapside Café, HalfCut, Park + Vine and MOTR Pub; they’ll also deliver up to four unsealed beverages including coffee and tea. 53T Courier, 53tcourier.com.
BEST DIAMOND-IN-THE-ROUGH BIBIMBAP
Sometimes the worst-looking restaurants are often diamonds in the rough. And Stone Bowl’s somewhat slapdash appearance really does belie its tasty food. The mostly Korean menu — sometimes there’s sushi — offers up delicious pancakes, ramen and rice dishes, including a steamy bibimbap, with lettuce, sweet radish, zucchini, spinach, carrot, bean sprouts and a fried egg, served in a sizzling stone bowl with your choice of protein and a side of Korean banchan. It’s the perfect family-friendly fare — if you can keep small fingers off of the piping-hot stone bowls. Stone Bowl, 3355 Madison Road, Oakley, 513-533-9600, stonebowloakley.com.
BEST 85-CENT CUP OF COFFEE
Driving down Blue Rock Street in Northside can feel like a blast from the past — there’s a park and century-old homes on one side, a locksmith and shabby warehouses on the other. If you drive too fast you might miss the glowing neon sign that reads “BONOMINI BAKERY.” (Even if you see it, you might assume it’s closed.) Step through Bonomini’s doors, though, and you’ll be transported back in time a decade or two, either by the prices (85-cent large coffee in a Styrofoam cup), the processes (handwritten to-go orders clipped to metal hooks) or the friendly employees who seem to know every other customer by name. Formerly Blue Rock Bakery, the business has been in the Bonomini family since the 1970s, but it’s been around much longer than that. Join the regulars in the morning for a donut run or stop in for your next holiday treat. Bonomini Bakery, 1677 Blue Rock St., Northside, 513-541-7501.
BEST MIDDLE EASTERN FOOD WORTH THE HIKE
Fabulous Lebanese food in a Mason strip mall? Really? Yes. We were skeptical, too, until we were dragged out to Phoenician Taverna
for a friend’s birthday party, and our eyes were opened wide. Perfectly executed meze (small plates) both hot and cold are the way we like to go for a large group. Order a bunch and pass them around. Try the baba ghanouge, a smoky eggplant dip; the labneh, a yogurt dip; and any of the shawarma, rotisserie meat in your choice of lamb, beef or chicken. If you’re on a carb-free diet, this is your night to cheat — the flat bread here is to die for. Phoenician Taverna, 7944 Mason Montgomery Road, Mason, 513-770-0027, phoeniciantaverna.com.
BEST OTR-STYLE RESTAURANT NOT IN OTR
With its large living plant wall, a Latin-Asian menu and Tyler Shields’ photographs decorating the space, the new E+O Kitchen
off Hyde Park Square is where East Side foodies can feel trendy again in their own part of town. Sorry, Over-the-Rhine. In fact, the kale and Brussels sprout salad is worth a drive from downtown. As is brunch, featuring multiple selections from the dinner menu, plus egg nachos (red eye gravy, scrambled eggs, salsa and steak) and ethnic spins on classic dishes: pancakes with yuzu curd, toast ramen and loco moco with Spam fried rice. They also have a brunch cocktail featuring avocado, in case your love for the little, mushy green superfood extends beyond guacamole. E+O Kitchen, 3520 Edwards Road, Hyde Park, 513-832-1023, eokitchen.com.
BEST CHEAP EATS THAT AREN’T FROM TACO BELL
For those craving a cheap meal but who are tired of Taco Bell (man cannot live on quesalupas alone), Caribe Carryout
in Corryville offers up real-deal spicy empanadas and Caribbean stews for less than $4 a piece. The handmade empanadas come in nine different filling options, with vegetarian and seafood choices, and the stews are bursting with flavor — the coconut-curry chicken stew is as sweet as Caribe owner Basil Balian himself, who bases his recipes off those he learned from a Puerto Rican woman he was married to for 35 years. If you’re indecisive, go with a Super Combo: two flavors of stew and two empanadas for $8.50. Caribe Carryout, 2605 Vine St., Corryville, 513-221-1786, caribeonvine.com.
Grab sweet and savory pies by the slice or whole — and a glass of wine — at O Pie O’s new café. - Photo: Jesse Fox
BEST WAY TO DOSE ON PIE POLYPHENOLS
Findlay Market’s cleverly named O Pie O
finally opened a café in East Walnut Hills last year, offering a full menu of soups, quiche, empanadas and, of course, delectable pies. Occasionally, they’ll bake matcha pie, made from powdered high-in-antioxidants Japanese matcha green tea leaves, which have 137 times the amount of antioxidants than boring ol’ green tea. The fern-colored filling tucked inside a buttery crust is also dusted with turmeric powder, a natural anti-inflammatory. Not only is the pie delicious, but it is also somewhat healthy… right? O Pie O, 1527 Madison Road, East Walnut Hills, 513-274-3238, opieo.com.
BEST VISUAL EDIBLES
Local food and lifestyle photographer Gina Weathersby
is a fixture of the Cincinnati culinary scene. She frequently photographs chefs and their dishes — as well as her own meals, travels and other photo-styling adventures — for calendars, websites and print publications and as fodder for her lust-worthy Instagram feed (@gina_weathersby
). Find highly textural and beautifully raw portraits of local chefs like David Cook, Jose Salazar and Jimmy Gibson; fresh-from-the-garden fruits and veggies; multi-hued desserts and cocktails; thoughtful still lifes; and intricate flooring. She’s also currently photographing the upcoming Contemporary Arts Center coffee-table cookbook project, Cuisine, Art & Cocktails
. Inside, you’ll find cocktails, original recipes, wine pairings and more from Cincinnati chefs and mixologists, inspired by provocative works of contemporary art. Gina Weathersby, @gina_weathersby; ginaweathersby.com
BEST REASON TO CROSS THE RIVER FOR BRUNCH
is one of those places that you wish there were more of: a small neighborhood café where the food is made from scratch, the coffee is worth having three cups and the service is efficient and friendly. The super-cozy eatery specializes in brunch bakes, burritos, sweets, savories and six different types of benedicts — choices like Kentucky Hot Brown, Spicy Mett and Veggie Benny (sweet potatoes, squash, avocado, cheddar jack) served over biscuits, with two fried eggs and homemade sauce. For lunchier choices, there are sandwiches served on pretzel or French bread, salads and soup, plus a devious homemade bacon jam. Bellevue Bistro, 312 Fairfield Ave., Bellevue, Ky., 859-581-5600, bellevuebistro.com.
BEST WAY TO SPICE UP YOUR LIFE
Findlay Market’s Colonel De Gourmet Herbs & Spices
has been tantalizing taste buds for a decade, spicing up the kitchens of local home cooks and restaurant chefs alike with a creative and masterful collection of more than 500 herbs, spices, rubs and blends. Spiceman and owner of Colonel De’s, Colonel De Stewart — “the man, the myth, the mustache” — is celebrating his 10-year milestone by adding a new line of barbecue sauces, marinades and hot sauces to his ever-growing inventory, which will be produced in his new facility in Fort Thomas. The Fort Thomas shop, which will also boast a retail and teaching area, comes in addition to his Findlay Market location and shops in the Friendly Market in Florence, Ky. and Jungle Jim’s in Eastgate. Can’t stop the Colonel. Colonel De’s Gourmet Herbs & Spices, 1801 Race St., Over-the-Rhine, 513-421-4800, colonelde.com.
BEST BACON-AND-EGGS RESURRECTION
In July of last year, the kitchen of OTR’s favorite diner Tucker’s was destroyed in an overnight fire, effectively closing the restaurant. Owners Joe and Carla Tucker (Joe’s parents opened Tucker’s in 1957) and friends have been holding fundraisers all year to help with repairs, hosting dinners in the St. Francis Seraph School featuring home-cooked menu favorites like goetta, BLTs, huevos rancheros, biscuits and gravy, burgers, pancakes and more. And it’s finally paid off: Tucker’s will start serving again on July 25, just in time for the famous Vine Street establishment’s 70th anniversary and nearly to the day of the fateful blaze. Thankfully, regulars and newbies alike can look forward to taking a seat at the bar, watching Joe cook the line, and relish in the resurrection of a piece of Cincinnati history. Tucker’s Restaurant, 1637 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, 513-721-7123, facebook.com/tuckersrestaurantotr.
BEST TASTE OF CINCINNATI OUTSIDE OF the TASTE OF CINCINNATI
The Taste of OTR
summertime festival welcomes food trucks and hip restaurants to Washington Park, proving that you can’t go wrong with live music, local beer and the warmth that comes from being surrounded by local vendors — or the warmth of neighbors helping neighbors. The Taste of OTR benefits Over-the-Rhine nonprofit Tender Mercies, which provides homeless adults living with mental illness a home to build a sense of security, dignity and community. So while you enjoy eats from vendors like Dojo Gelato, Eli’s BBQ, Cincy by the Slice, Le’s Pho & Sandwiches, MOTR Pub, Kaze, Revolution Rotisserie, Taste of Belgium and Washington Platform, you can feel good about pigging out. Tender Mercies, 27 W. 12th St., Over-the-Rhine, 513-721-8666, tendermerciesinc.org.
BEST TREND BRINGING OTR TO THE ’BURBS
Successful Cincinnati restaurants are multiplying like rabbits, turning themselves into small local chains
with second locations, third locations and even fourth locations (if you’re Taste of Belgium or Macaron Bar). Last year, Taste of Belgium added a Rookwood location to its expanding empire, which already boasts eateries in Findlay Market, OTR and Corryville. And Macaron Bar’s reach, which launched out of its cute OTR kitchen, now offers tasty and colorful French cookies in Hyde Park, Loveland and via a kiosk in the Kenwood Towne Centre. Family-friendly and bee-friendly brunch destination Sleepy Bee opened a second café in Blue Ash last year — the same ’burb in which Senate will soon start serving its gourmet street food and hot dogs in addition to its original Gateway Quarter location. And A Tavola also recently brought wood-fired pizza to Madeira, turning an old sushi joint into a piece of Tuscany. Great news for those who live outside the city center and want to ditch the big-chain restaurants — and for those who want to try
avoiding the wait at the originals.
BEST PLACE TO SAY “GUTEN MORGEN”
Newport’s authentic German kaffee haus Katharina’s Café-Konditorei
serves delicious cheese, bread, salad, meat and authentic cakes and pastries. Owned and operated by Elena Williams, Katharina’s takes its name from the German word for pâtisserie. The café offers a relaxed atmosphere in which you can properly start your day with a two-person-sized European-style breakfast of orange juice, ham, cheese, smoked salmon, scrambled eggs, fruit and a basket of brotchen (German hard rolls) with honey, marmalade and butter. Hours are listed in Euro time (aka military time), which not only adds to the feel of an authentic German coffeehouse, but is also a fun continental exercise in adding and subtracting. Katharina’s Café-Konditorei, 529 Overton St., Newport, Ky., 859-291-CAFE, katharinascafe.com.
BEST CURE FOR IRON DEFICIENCY
Beef tartar is one of the great, quintessential French dishes, and it’s really difficult to prepare correctly — unless, of course, you are Jean-Robert de Cavel. The beef tartar at Jean-Robert’s Table
is literally some of the best you’ll ever eat. The quality of the beef itself is of utmost importance since the dish is served raw, and it must be chopped and seasoned perfectly or else the taste and mouthfeel are a complete disaster. Wherever you are in the world, order it and it will never compare to chef de Cavel’s impeccably prepared dish. There’s no place like home. Jean-Robert’s Table, 713 Vine St., Downtown, 513-621-4777, jrcincy.com.
BEST MEAT POCKET
Located just a hair off the beaten path in Over-the-Rhine, Ché
is snuggly nestled on Walnut Street and helmed by Alfio Gulisano, of Italian-Argentinian eatery Alfio’s Buon Cibo. While the menu features salads, pizzas, soups, stews and charcuterie, the empanadas are the star. The pastry crust on these little bite-sized snacks is flaky and crisp and filled with cheeses, meats, veggies and seafood. Unique flavor combos include buffalo chicken (spicy chicken, mozzarella, provolone and gorgonzola dipping sauce), breakfast (sausage, scrambled eggs and cheddar cheese) and shrimp scampi (sautéed shrimp with garlic, herbs, mozzarella and provolone), along with classics like the de carne, with cumin- and paprika-spiced beef. Perfect date food that you can nibble on nicely, with a selection of Argentinian wine decanted into an authentic penguin pitcher aka a Patagonian pingüino. Ché, 1342 Walnut St., Over-the-Rhine, 513-978-1706, checincinnati.com.
BEST NEW MICROBAKERY
Cincinnati is known for its microbrewing scene, but with the advent of Crackling Crust
, we may get a reputation for our microbaking as well. This little one-woman bakery begins the bread-making process with a self-made, wildly harvested yeast sourdough starter, then works in whole-grain flours, with the owner/baker hand-folding the dough throughout the fermentation cycle. Breads, in flavors as varied as natural country, raisin walnut, seeds n’ sprouts and sunny whole wheat, are baked at a very high temperature to create the namesake crackled crust. The loaves are then packaged in adorable draw-string bags with the Crackling Crust wheat-trio logo and dropped at Park + Vine, Local Yokel Market in Glendale, the Deerfield and Wyoming farmers markets and O.F.F. Market. In a city where we pledge allegiance to Sixteen Bricks, Blue Oven and Shadeau breads, Crackling Crust is making waves one loaf at a time. Crackling Crust, cracklingcrust.wordpress.com; facebook.com/cracklingcrust.
Chef Jose Salazar's oyster slider is topped with Waterfields' micro daikon radish. - Photo: Provided
BEST REASON TO EAT YOUR GREENS
Based out of a warehouse in Lower Price Hill, Waterfields LLC
urban farms grows a slew of hydroponic microgreens and edible flowers, everything from peppery micro arugula to spicy micro daikon radish, with a footprint far smaller than that of a traditional farm. Microgreens are reputed to be more nutritious than regular plants, containing five times more vitamins than, say, a mature cilantro plant. But they’re also tasty and pretty. The fresh greens are sold to local chefs (like five-diamond chef Todd Kelly at Orchids at Palm Court), but Waterfields also has a second focus: community. The company fosters the growth of lower-income neighborhoods by employing local residents and giving them livable wages to work in the warehouse. Good for you and the city? Eat up. Waterfields LLC, waterfieldsllc.com.
BEST COFFEE SHOP WITH A MISSION
in Covington is a coffee shop located directly across from The Point, a local advocacy organization formed to assist those with intellectual/developmental disabilities. Over the past four decades, The Point has established community homes, created social enterprises for employment training and offered activities, support and more. And Point Perk piggybacks on this mission by offering paid jobs for The Point’s members, boosting self-esteem and visibility in the process. So when you buy a coffee, you not only support The Point, but you also get a darn good cup of joe — macchiatos, cappuccinos, lattes and more made with local Carabello Coffee beans (another philanthropic coffee organization), plus locally sourced baked goods, including Lil’s Bagels. The bagels — made with “100 percent chutzpah” — are an obsession in their own right, and are readily available at the shop, hand-rolled and made with Midway, Ky.’s Weisenberger Mills flour. Point Perk, 43 W. Pike St., Covington, Ky., 859-292-7375.
BEST PLACE FOR DINNER AND A SHOW WITHOUT LITTLE KIDS KICKING THE BACK OF YOUR SEAT
If your budget won’t stretch far enough for an exotic spring break vacation, no worries — just plan a staycation including an evening at Liberty Township’s CinéBistro
, a 21-and-up luxury dinner-and-a-movie theater with reserved seating, chef-prepared cuisine, fine wines, cocktails and full in-theater service. What does this mean? Well, it’s as if you’re sitting in a first-class airplane leather recliner dining on Moroccan lamb chops, wagyu beef sliders or buttermilk fried chicken while enjoying a first-run film. Oh, and if you absolutely have to have popcorn as well, it will arrive in a china bowl on top of a silver stand. Super classy. CinéBistro Liberty Center, 7514 Bales St., Liberty Township, 513-463-0470, cinebistro.com.
BEST-NAMED EARL GREY TEA OFFERING
Wendigo Tea Co., founded by Cincinnati-based Rocker Sky White, keyboardist for the now-defunct Foxy Shazam, offers a line of extremely high-quality loose-leaf teas, sourced from around the world. And each tea from his intentionally limited line is named after a mythological beast to not only make the brews more approachable and fun for everyday tea consumers, but also to give drinkers an idea of each tea’s characteristics. The Bigfoot black tea is strong, dark and woodsy. The artwork for Nessie, a hand-rolled jasmine pearl that unfurls as it brews, depicts a green sea monster bathing in a teacup like it’s a hot spring. And his latest additions, FireBird chai and Black Shuck Earl Grey, are part and parcel for his brand. FireBird is a spicy Indian masala chai, whose flavors can stand alone without the need for milk or sweeteners, just like it’s flaming Phoenix icon. And the Black Shuck, with its ghostly red-eyed hell-hound mascot, is a true treat for earl grey conneioussuers. As you drink, you’ll taste warm notes of bergamot, orange zest and spice in a black tea base, not a slew of cheap chemicals and overpowering perfumes. One of the best teas you’ll ever drink in one of the more fun packages you’ll ever see. Wendigo Tea, wendigotea.com.
BEST SAMOSA STUFFING
If you walk by the newish Findlay Market food stand Bridges
a bit too quickly, relying only on your eyes to be your guide, it’s easy to confuse the fare — including golden-brown samosas — as being from India. But owner/operator Ashak Chipalu and his mother Rose Chipalu, who does all of the cooking, invite you to take a closer look and taste the food of their native country, Nepal. Fans of Indian cuisine will notice similarities with Bridges’ offerings, but take note of the subtle spice differences in this South Asian neighbor. Also take note of the creative samosa stuffing options: potato and cheese; potato, cheese and bacon(!); and chicken tikka masala with rice. A brick-and-mortar is coming soon. Findlay Market, 1801 Race St., Over-the-Rhine, 513-374-9354, findlaymarket.org/merchants/bridges.
BEST BUBBLY ALTERNATIVE TO COLD-BREW COFFEE
Located next door to The Nation in Pendleton, Urbana Café
’s first storefront coffee shop has a longer menu than they do at their adorable baby-blue vintage Vespa cart location at Findlay Market, expanding their coffee choices as well as featuring light bites from an in-house pastry chef. Taking inspiration from Italy — owner Daniel Noguera is of Italian descent, but grew up in the coffee-rich city of Caracas, Venezuela — Urbana crafts a drink called Caffe Frizzante: espresso poured into a highball glass and doused with fizzy San Pellegrino. The combo of the water and the coffee generates a refreshing soda — a nice alternative to your standard summertime iced coffee. Urbana Café, 1206 Broadway, Pendleton, 513-813-3133, urbana-cafe.com.
BEST DAIRY FARM TURNED CHEESEMONGER
Years ago, Kenny Senior started Kenny’s as a dairy farm, creating a new standard in farming, with comfortable cows, better nutrition and better-tasting milk. Today that dairy farm has transformed into a creamery and cheese cave as Kenny’s Farmhouse Cheese
. Happy cows make happy cheese, and Kenny’s creates everything from their original classic cheddar and Kentucky bleu to unique signatures and European styles. Their mild Gouda is made with a recipe Kenny brought back from Europe in 1998. It’s melty, buttery and dense. Then there’s the Nena, named after a family grandmother and based on a French farm cheese. Firm, tangy and cave-aged, it’s perfect if you just feel like eating a half-pound block with a glass (or two) of oaked chardonnay. And then there is brie. Brie! Authentic-tasting old-world Awe-Brie, made in America — a lofty accomplishment. And there are many, many more excellent flavors where those came from, available online or at the farmhouse cheese shop. Kenny’s Farmhouse Cheese, 2033 Thomerson Park Road, Austin, Ky., 888-571-4029, kennyscheese.com.
Chef Stephen Williams and family at Son & Soil - Photo: Hailey Bollinger
BEST GRAB-AND-GO SANDWICH SHOP
After a night of piggish debauchery leaves you feeling sluggish, recharge at Covington’s Son & Soil
with a lunch that’s fresh, tasty and guaranteed to put the pep back in your step. Chef Stephen Williams’ menu of healthy sandwiches, smoothies, soups and juices is filled with locally sourced, organic ingredients that offer something for everyone, both omnivore and vegetarian/vegan. Favorites include the Veggie Wrap, filled with mushrooms, avocado mousse, bulgur wheat, pickled red onion, arugula and hummus, and anything that comes with one of the housemade pickles or is topped with the whole grain house mustard. Son & Soil, 627 Main St., Covington, 859-360-6268, sonandsoil.com.
BEST VEGGIE BURGER NOT MADE OUT OF BLACK BEANS
Hallelujah. Someone finally realized that not all vegetarians thrill at the thought of black bean burgers — they’re generally mushy, rarely taste very good and they crumble into little bean balls when you bite into them. But Krueger’s Tavern
has discovered a way to make an indulgent and awesome veggie patty, like a real burger-style experience. Hearty and filling, their housemade patty is salty and savory and crispy — it’s full beets and quinoa (we’re guessing; we don’t actually want to know the secret, but the inside is pinkish) — and served on a challah bun with provolone cheese, pesto mayo, mixed greens and housemade pickles. Add a side of fries with malt vinegar aioli, and you’ll never accept a soggy burger substitute again. Krueger’s Tavern, 1211 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, 513-834-8670, kruegerstavern.com.
BEST PLACE FOR LATE-NIGHT GOETTA WITH FRIENDS
Grab a slab of goetta 24/7 at Pepper Pod, Newport’s third-generation family-run restaurant, which recently celebrated 45 years of serving up breakfast all day, every day to all sorts of people from Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky and beyond. Entering the diner is like stepping back in time — jukeboxes hang on the wall beside booths, and the Pepper Pod is one of the few restaurants in which you can still light up (or opt for the non-smoking section). Three different soups are concocted every day, along with old-fashioned breakfast items like hash browns, sliced ham and over-easy eggs. Pepper Pod, 703 Monmouth St., Newport, Ky., 859-431-7455.
BEST REASON TO WAKE UP ON THE WEEKENDS
Artisanal toast is popping up on food blogs and feeds everywhere. You’ll see toast smeared with avocado and gently dusted with red pepper flakes, toast topped with ricotta and zested lemon, toast spread with hand-churned peanut butter and chia seeds. And if you’re someone who loves toast, Blue Oven Bakery Toast Bar
at Findlay Market is a must-stop before any Saturday-morning marketing (or just for a good 10 a.m. gluten binge). The bar serves up thick slices of fresh Blue Oven bread, toasted and slathered with yummy things, like sweet cream and homemade strawberry jam or homemade peanut butter and honey-roasted peanuts. Findlay Market, 1801 Race St., Over-the-Rhine, blueovenbakery.com.
BEST BACKGROUND TV
There are mixed opinions on whether restaurants should make televisions a part of the dining experience, but Quan Hapa
’s mix of classic anime, Korean soap operas and old-school Godzilla movies completes the holy trinity of drinks, food and entertainment in its Asian-garage atmosphere. Get some street-style snacks — crispy cauliflower okonomiyaki, hapa wings and chicharon pork rinds — and some milky nigori sake and space out. Sometimes you don’t want to look your date in the face, and sometimes you just want to enjoy your balut (half-hatched duck egg) alone at the bar while watching Mothra shoot poisonous powder at things. Quan Hapa, 1331 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, 513-421-7826, quanhapa.com.
BEST COFFEE SHOP TO HAVE ONE-ON-ONE TIME WITH THE BARISTA WHILE CHOWING DOWN ON BROWN BEAR BAKERY TREATS
Joe Humpert manages Trailhead Coffee, the small coffee shop located inside Newport’s Reser Bicycle Outfitters — it even has a bike-up window. Because of the intimacy of the establishment, and because Joe knows so much about coffee, he really takes the time to explain coffee methods and also wax philosophical on life with customers. He brews Wood Burl Coffee and offers rotating pour-over selections, single-origin espresso, ceremonial-grade matcha and beautiful latte art. Along with the coffee, it’s also one of the few places in town where you can regularly indulge in Brown Bear Bakery baked goods. The rustic but refined small-batch bakery makes the best bites in town, and always sells out at various local markets. Head baker Blair Fornshell recently expanded the creative Brown Bear portfolio to include some savories, like olive oil, pesto and parmesan “snails” (little herby cinnamon rolls). They were available exclusively at Trailhead, along with selections like salted caramel beareos (like Oreos) and earl grey-orange zest poundcake. So good. Reser Bicycle Outfitters, 1048 Monmouth St., Newport, Ky., 859-491-9999, facebook.com/trailheadcoffeenewport.
BEST SECRET BREWERY
Last year, inside Northern Kentucky’s Party Town mega liquor store, two guys/employees started experimenting with “weird” beers under the moniker Mash Cult
. The owner of Party Town sampled their brews and loved them. Now, every week, they tap a different beer just for the store. They name them funny things, like White Girl, a pumpkin-spiced beer, and My Milk Stout Brings All the Boys to the Bar, obviously a milk stout. They’re one of the best brewers in town — with one of the best logos: an illuminati pyramid cartoon with a forked tongue hanging out. Party Town, 6823 Burlington Pike, Florence, Ky., 859-371-4466, mashcult.com.
BEST VEGGIE MEATBALLS
Open Meatball Kitchen
’s website and you’ll read that vegetarians are “welcome and loved,” and the restaurant delivers on that promise with some of the best vegetarian meatballs in the city. Chef Jason Louda — a perennial favorite in Park + Vine’s chili cookoff — crafts the balls with black beans, brown rice and spinach; plop them in a sub or on top of salty housemade foccacia. Meat-lovers can opt for beef, spicy pork or turkey meatballs with meat sourced from Findlay Market. Accompany your order with housemade pickles, Sriracha sweet potato mash and a carafe of wine for only $20. Meatball Kitchen, 2912 Vine St., Corryville, 513-407-7405, meatballkitchenusa.com.
BEST BLUE JUICE
Cold-pressed juiceries are popping up like Starbucks, and we aren’t complaining. Juicing has become super popular as a way to either avoid eating for whatever reason (a cleanse, digestive problems or Hollywood-style pre-awards fast) or get a bunch of fiber, vitamins and natural sugar in one sitting. And local Rooted Juicery + Kitchen has one of the broadest selections of juice and nut milks in the area. The café’s mission is to provide health-packed, plant-based real foods, and they do that through the aforementioned juices, but also via homemade raw and gluten-free salads, wraps and desserts. Their cold-pressed juices have names associated with their purported benefits, like “Awake,” with beet, grapefruit, pineapple, ginger, orange and apple, or “Clean,” with kale, spinach, cucumber, celery and lemon. But their best juice is Majikal, a little 8-ounce wonder packed with almonds, dates, vanilla, sea salt, cinnamon and blue majik powder — a nutrient-dense spirulina, full of anti-inflammatories. Rooted Juicery + Kitchen, 3010 Madison Road, Oakley, 513-351-2900, rootedjuicery.com.
BEST LEGIT TURKEY TIPS
In 2008, Bellamy, Ala. native Dwan Ward founded barbecue joint Alabama Que, otherwise known as the “home of turkey tips,” in the West Side before bringing the restaurant to Corryville in 2012. After the move, Dwan, a former firefighter and football player, began catering through word of mouth; today, it’s a popular haunt for professional athletes and celebrities like A.J. Green, Snoop Dogg and Wale. All items are non-pork based, making Ward’s grub available to a wide variety of eaters; greens and green beans are made with smoked turkey, baked beans are entirely vegetarian and meat is cooked on separate grills and cut with different knives. Alabama Que, 2733 Vine St., Corryville, 513-376-8781, alabama-q.com.
BEST USE OF SQUASH
People put a lot of things on grilled cheese: tomatoes, bacon, pickles, more cheese. But Cheapside Café
tops theirs with spaghetti squash. In our modern anti-gluten, primal-diet world, spaghetti squash is typically used to recreate spaghetti dishes sans carbs. It’s not really anyone’s first choice of squashes — pumpkin and zucchini are infinitely more popular — or first choice of anything really (to be sure, it must have die-hard fans somewhere), and seeing it on a menu on top of a grilled cheese may give people pause. Don’t let any of those common associations fool you because this is a great grilled cheese. Warm, comforting and substantial because of the stringy gourd, this sandwich comes on wonderful multigrain with slow-roasted tomato, green chile and cheddar cheese. Get a side of tomato soup and you’re in business. Cheapside Café, 326 E. Eighth St., Downtown, 513-345-6618, cheapsidecafe.com.