Best Of 2018

Best Sweet Potato Beignets
Hailey Bollinger
click to enlarge Best Sweet Potato Beignets
Hailey Bollinger

The Cincinnati foodie world buzzed this past summer in anticipation of the opening of what promised to be an exceptional new venture in OTR. Word first came in August in the form of a cryptic, free-verse poem delivered by managing partner Jim Cornwell to a handful of media types. Headlined by a chef most recently at a Michelin-starred San Francisco restaurant and top staff from our city’s best dining spots, Cornwell soon provided a few more details. The new place would be a brasserie style, French-accented eatery at street level in the Rhinegeist building on Elm Street. At the end of September, Sartre OTR made its debut. The French-ish restaurant may be named for the gloomy French philosopher, but there’s nothing gloomy about its interiors. Warmly lit and cozy, with a beyond-gorgeous bar, the well-designed space is plenty inviting, creating an ambiance that is at once majestic and intimate. While people have been raving about the décor itself, the food ain’t too shabby either. Entrées range from buckwheat crepes with raclette to steak frites and seared sea scallops, but a big hit under the shareable à partager section are the sweet potato beignets. Now, the word “beignet” conjures up images of deep-fried delicate pastry covered in a sprinkling of powdered sugar, but these potato balls aren’t sweet: they’re puffy, yet filling and served in a bowl with a swipe of delicious harissa sauce that honestly looks a little bit like it belongs on a Big Mac. Even though they’re listed as shareable, you’ll want to keep them all to yourself. Sartre, 1910 Elm St., Over-the-Rhine, sartreotr.com.

Eats
Illustration: David Wilson


2. A Tavola

3. Sotto

2. Marx Hot Bagels

3. Panera Bread

2. City Barbeque

3. Montgomery Inn

4. Pontiac

5. Pickles and Bones

6. Just Q’in

7. Sweets & Meats BBQ

8. Big Art’s BBQ Grill

9. Alabama Que/SmoQ (TIE)

10. Bee’s Barbecue

2. Moerlein Lager House

3. Flipdaddy’s Burgers & Beers

A mouthful to say on top of being a mouthful to taste, Quan Hapa's okonomiyaki are far and away worth the added labor behind the tongue twister. Dubbed an “oki” for the faint of heart, the Japanese-style pancake comes three ways: pork lovers can stick to the house oki, featuring tonkatsu (breaded pork cutlets), bacon and a fried egg; the ahi tuna oki suits seafood savants with its seared ahi tuna, pickled red onions and bonito flakes; and for veg fans, the cauliflower oki features fried cauliflower tossed in a housemade honey-Sriracha sauce. Keeping things fresh, chef Mapi De Veyra tests his talents on new oki recipes every Monday after 5 p.m. and serves them at the discounted price of $8. Quan Hapa, 1331 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, quanhapa.com.

Best (Mostly) Guilt-Free Pizza
Brittany Thornton
click to enlarge Best (Mostly) Guilt-Free Pizza
Brittany Thornton

Pizza, in all its cheesy, carby goodness, is pretty much always a guilty pleasure. And the pies at Harvest Pizzeria are super binge-worthy. Their pizzas have a magically crunchy-yet-chewy and light-but-substantial crust with gourmet toppings like fennel sausage, almond pesto and vegan chorizo; the menu is rounded out by yummy small plates, salads and burgers — the whipped cheese, cherry tomato and candied prosciutto bruschetta is almost good enough to fight over. Unlike your average delivery hut, you can actually feel good about eating this pizza: Ingredients are sourced from Ohio bakeries, producers and dairy farms, like Mushroom Harvest in Athens and Bluescreek Farm in Columbus. And, if you do want to feel a little bad, splurge on the buttermilk-fried pickles with zesty remoulade. They’re addictive. Harvest Pizzeria, 1739 Elm St., Over-the-Rhine, harvestpizzeria.com.   

The animatronic band is certainly rad, but there’s something about Chuck E. Cheese’s appeal that fails to hold up once you’ve made it to adulthood. While the trip may keep your kids occupied, it’s not as fun for adults to sit surrounded by the wafting smell of sub-standard pizza, screeching toddlers and loud arcade games with buttons that stick. Rivertown Brewery and Barrel House has the solution to this generational gap, hosting weekly Family Fundays. Monday evenings, keep the kids occupied with old-school arcade games and free food (with the purchase of an adult dinner) while you work your way through Rivertown’s beer and barbecue menus. Say sayonara to Skee-Ball and germy tokens: this fun night covers everyone’s bases. Rivertown Brewery and Barrel House, 6550 Hamilton Lebanon Road, Middletown, rivertownbrewery.com.

Our historic city market is becoming a dining destination. Starting when Jean-Robert de Cavel opened his tres chic bistro French Crust in 2016, a few other restaurants also have made it possible to enjoy meals even when the market is not open. French Crust serves breakfast, lunch and very popular weekend brunches along with Parisian-style dinners Thursday through Saturday and rings all the bells for Francophiles. The corner location at Elm and Elder streets faces Findlay Market’s beer garden and main entrance, sits right on the streetcar line and will brighten anyone’s day thanks to expansive windows and Provence-yellow walls festooned with colorful posters and ceramics from de Cavel’s vast personal collection of French memorabilia. The effect is as jaunty and friendly as its owner. Patrons sit at booths, tables or at a 20-seat bar and soak up the bonhomie of a lively bistro ambiance. The food matches the surroundings and delivers note-perfect versions of dishes you’d expect for breakfast, brunch or lunch — a variety of quiches, sandwiches on croissant or baguette, omelets and, of course, a croque monsieur. At dinner, more bistro classics tempt diners, from appetizers of snails and beef tartare to mains ranging from duck leg confit to steak frites. French Crust, 1801 Elm St., Over-the-Rhine, frenchcrust.com.

Best Alternative to Fries
Hailey Bollinger
click to enlarge Best Alternative to Fries
Hailey Bollinger

A burger joint without fries may sound like sacrilege to fast-food fry-hards: the holy union between crispy potatoes and grilled beef is as solidly devised as the balance of nature itself. Where the earth meets the water, so too do sesame seed buns meet cheese. Where the wind stokes the fires, salt tinges the fry’s oily jacket. It’s a classic American tradition, but one that Tickle Pickle is here to disrupt. Eschewing fast food’s favorite side from their menu, the Northside stop dishes out mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, mac and cheese, Grippo’s and potato salad; each adding its own textural contrast to sandwiches crafted from locally grown ingredients. It’s enough to make you fall in love with the potato all over again. Classic Rock-inspired burger creations crafted with locally sourced ingredients keep things fresh, yet still familiar: the pepper-laden Rob Zomwich and the sauerkraut-topped Hammstein are worth dropping the needle on. Tickle Pickle, 4176 Hamilton Ave., Northside, ticklepicklenorthside.com.