Ever heard the saying, "Never trust a skinny chef?" I'm not so sure anymore. Patrick McCafferty is as skinny as a beanstalk. He might be spotted wearing a ball cap and jeans, quietly cooking in the kitchen of Slims, the Northside restaurant he opened in May.
But McCafferty says he considers himself a farmer more than a chef. Before moving to Cincinnati, he had a farm in east-central Ohio with two restaurants nearby. He's also lived in Spain, and he put in a stint at a culinary school in Ireland. When I asked McCafferty, who co-owns the new establishment with partner Bob Sala, if he is the eponymous Slim, he laughed, pointing out that it's plural — not possessive — and named after Jazz legend Slim Gaillard.
It doesn't feel like there's a clear-cut philosophy behind Slims. Just a general mindset. Things seem to run communally rather than bureaucratically.
There are no servers, just three people (including McCafferty) who each contribute in cooking, serving and dishwashing. They rotate in creating the menu, which changes weekly on Tuesdays and is largely based on what's available from local farmers and McCaffery's own nearby greenhouse.
Slims offers a semi-service, casual lunch from 11 a.m.-5:30 p.m., with a nice selection of soups and panini sandwiches. At 5:30 dinner begins, and lasts "til the food runs out." Dinner consists of three courses and is prix-fixe ($20 Monday-Thursday, $22.50 Friday-Saturday).
Inside, Slims feels like a mix of city and country. The walls are painted a pale, almost iridescent lemon hue, and the brand-new, modern kitchen looks almost as inviting as the dining area. Massive windows that face diagonally across a busy Northside intersection maintain a connection with the neighborhood, and the spacious interior is punctuated with wood and metal sculptures by a local artist. Cozying things up a bit are windowsills lined with cookbooks, and the kitchen counter lined with squash, tomatoes and peppers.
But the true focal points are the restaurant's three tables: long, sturdy, wooden tables that gave my friend an Amish vibe. The tables seat 10-12, and each place is set simply with a soft, folded napkin. It looks like the whole family's coming to dinner, but at Slims the "family" consists of whoever walks through the door that night.
Before reviewing the evening's menu, you'll receive a tiny edible welcome — a roasted shallot, red pepper, kalamata olive and mini gherkin. Shortly after, the bread — all house-baked — will arrive: Irish soda bread sweetened with brown sugar, salty focaccia with a crispy top, moist cornbread and good butter.
Be sure to save some bread for the bottom of your bowl, if you start with a soup. Evenly textured and served at a very peaceful room temperature, the best appetizer I've tried was a Peamint Bisque that asserted the true flavor of the vastly underrated pea, forcing me to reevaluate a longstanding perception of peas as insipid and dull. A dollop of mint in the center of the bowl elevated the creamy green soup from simple to sublime.
The second course is a salad of field greens that taste like you're pulling them from the lettuce bed with each bite. No need for fancy accessories beyond vinaigrette; the natural flavors of the lettuce are complex enough.
I've visited Slims twice. On both visits, I tried the Braised Lamb, purchased from Findlay Market's Kroeger Bros. A shank was flavorful but still a little tough; I preferred my friend's center cut on the following visit, medium-rare and bursting with juice, accompanied by a subtle red curry with roasted tomatoes, apples, onions and potatoes. I also enjoyed a Queen City Black Pepper Linguini with potatoes and ham — one of those dishes designed for instant recognition. Total comfort food: plenty of salt and pepper and starch. Just another reason I'll never join the Dr. Atkins cult.
My friend tried Stuffed Trout one night, filled with couscous, almonds and herbs intermingled with natural oils. She wasn't sure how to remove the bones, but fortune had Chef Jean-Robert de Cavel (of Pigall's) seated at our table. He happily assisted her.
Desserts are a few dollars extra. I enjoyed a Gateau Noir ($3), a dense layering of chocolate, walnuts, caramel and phylo pastry that struck me as a chocolatified baklava. A miniature, two-bite crème brulée ($1), topped with a single raspberry, was adorable and cleverly noncommittal. Coffee is individually brewed to order, good and strong.
And they serve real cream, none of that half-and-half nonsense. "Real cream, Emily!" my friend proclaimed, making me promise to include that in my review. ©
Go: 4046 Hamilton Ave., Northside
Call: Really loud (Slims has no phone) E-mail: [email protected]
Hours: Lunch: 11 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday; Dinner: 5:30 'til the food's gone on Monday-Saturday
Payment: Cash or checks — no credit cards
Red Meat Alternatives: Trout, chicken, pasta and always a vegetarian entree and at least one appetizer