New Sensory Lures of Downtown Lunching

I was walking up Vine Street downtown on a beautiful spring day when I was grabbed and dragged onto Garfield Place. In broad daylight! By barbecue smoke! Oh readers, I'll tell you, it wasn't pretty — but the ribs cooking at Fins and Feathers on Garfield

I was walking up Vine Street downtown on a beautiful spring day, when I was grabbed and dragged onto Garfield Place. In broad daylight! By barbecue smoke! Oh readers, I’ll tell you, it wasn’t pretty — but it was completely irresistible.

Seriously, I was headed north on Vine, almost to the library, when the smell of spareribs smoking on a grill got me and made me turn the corner where I saw two men turning and basting big slabs of meat. There were a couple chicken breasts on the top rack, but I couldn’t take my eyes off the ribs.

“Are those done? Are they ready?” I beseeched. “Yeah. Go inside and we’ll get you some.” Inside is Fins and Feathers (3 Garfield Place, Downtown, 513-621-3467), which sounds like a pet shop but is a tiny lunch counter next to the barber shop. How the barber doesn’t drool over his customer’s poor balding head from the aroma of that grill is incredible. I started negotiating with the man behind the counter, who told me that a half slab of ribs would be $12.50.

“I never spend that much money for lunch,” I pleaded.

“Well, you won’t have to eat any supper,” he said.

At least I got him to agree to cut the ribs apart so I could try to retain a shred of dignity while I gnawed sticky bones, sitting on the wall at Garfield Park surrounded by carnivorous pigeons waiting to attack. Wearing my pearls and my cardigan.

OK, the shred of dignity was long gone. But the ribs? Oh, they were good. Meaty, pretty tender, just a little crisp char on the underside. I had barbecue sauce on my right cheek and a little on my nose. Only one spot on the cardigan. And I thought about how I don’t ever want to be the kind of person who can smell that amazing aroma, see those gorgeous sizzling ribs for sale and resist. Nah. Life’s short.

And lunchtime is even shorter, so that’s why I suggest you use it wisely.

Second recommendation for the week? The brand new sandwich shop on Sycamore, Wicked-wich (425 Sycamore St., Downtown, 513-421-WICH) is a wise use of your precious cubicle respite. It’s one of those walk-up-to-the-counter-and-order places that I usually hate, since if it’s worth eating anything in a place it’s usually worth eating several things, and I'm never hasty when I have to choose between them.

When you walk up to the counter at Wicked-wich, you see food! Actual, recognizable top-round roasts of beef, beautiful pink hams, bronzed chicken breasts, a proud roast turkey breast flecked with rosemary and trays of baked portabella mushrooms sprinkled with chopped garlic. Not a tube of processed, pressed, plastic-wrapped product in sight. It’s inspirational.

A sympathetic order taker spotted my paralysis and offered a suggestion: “If it’s your first time here, try the roast beef. I like it with muenster. And the curried egg salad makes a great side with that.”

Oh, boy, was he right. I haven’t had roast beef this moist and flavorful in ages — and as tender as filet mignon. The classic white bread was thick and sturdy and the homemade pesto mayonnaise was just right. The egg salad was as rich as ice cream.

My companion chose the Southwestern chicken sandwich with chipotle mayo and roasted peppers and onions on sourdough. The chicken was just as well prepared as the beef, and the sourdough held its own without being too assertive.

I love the philosophy at Wicked-wich: “Choose good over evil — or a little of both.” Words to live by and definitely to dine by.

CONTACT ANNE MITCHELL: [email protected]