Diner: Family Secrets

The Melvins create fascinating combinations at The Heritage

Oct 25, 2001 at 2:06 pm

The white exterior with dark shutters hearkens to another time: innocent, hard-working, a slower, refined pace on the outskirts of Cincinnati. The Heritage Restaurant looks like a country lodge from an earlier century. And some of those appearances are accurate. Built in 1827, the home became Cincinnati's first roadhouse.

It was a noted restaurant when the 19th century turned to the 20th. Soon, the fashionable and the famous became regular patrons, along with carneys and pickpockets from the local winter circus grounds. Pilfered jewelry was swaped for drinks and, during Prohibition, whiskey was secreted in the steps and under the barn floor.

In 1959, Howard and Jan Melvin purchased the land and buildings and began a family dynasty that has pleased palates for decades. Jan has become famous for her herb gardens, classes and crafts available at the Herb Cottage. And you're likely to be seated by one of the Melvin children: Nicki, the general manager, or David, while Scott, the executive chef, is in the kitchen pairing fresh ingredients in new ways.

The menu varies seasonally with specials offered nightly. Of note was the cheese course ($8.25) that featured aged Manchego, Stilton and Pecorino Toscano. A rare offering in America, this is a great way for neophytes to learn to enjoy cheese as a unique food group.

The Tomato Basil Soup ($3.25 cup/$4.25 bowl) was thick and smooth with a rich, full flavor punctuated with crisp vegetables and savory fresh herbs. I enjoyed seeing the famous Indiana cheese on the menu in the Baked Capriole Goat Cheese with Roasted Tomato/Poblano Salsa ($7.95). This pleasant appetizer featured a thick slice of milky white cheese, warm on the outside, cool on the inside and surrounded by the kicky and crunchy warm salsa. Three baguette slices aren't enough for this delight, but we managed to clean the plate.

A house salad of spring greens spiked with grated carrots and tumbled with a great peppercorn dressing provided a better than average experience. We also sampled the Spinach Salad ($2.25) for another green variation. Fresh baby spinach was layered with crisp bacon, chopped eggs, red onion slivers and topped with a warm, sweet-and-sour vinaigrette.

The menu is a pleasure to read, blending international zest with classic American flavors. For example: the Maple Leaf Farms Duck Breast ($18.95) was served wrapped with apple-smoked bacon and served with a Szechuan peppercorn and honey sauce while the Proscuitto-Wrapped Scallops ($20.95) came with black linguini and were coated with a roasted garlic Capriole sauce. It reads well, sounds enticing and activates the salivary glands.

We chose the Horseradish-Crusted Salmon Filet ($18.50), a hearty piece of succulent fish, pale and crunchy on the outside, fork tender and coral on the inside and served steaming hot. As the fork reached my mouth, a whiff of fresh horseradish teased my nostrils. The crust included herbs and lemon zest and was surprisingly resilient, clinging to the fish with every bite. Although interesting, the horseradish mutes the natural sweetness of the salmon. The accompanying twice-baked potato and broth-steamed spinach with a hint of citrus were great companions and highlights by themselves. My partner chose the Chicken Breast Crusted with Pecans ($17.50) and particularly liked the Dijon mustard and sour cream sauce over the moist chicken. Served with saffron rice mixed with carrots and a side of sautéed slivered leeks and mushrooms. This was a pretty plate with appealing flavor contrasts.

After enjoying the use of fresh herbs, meats, cheeses and vegetables, we would have been foolish to pass up dessert. We pondered chocolate cheesecake, warm cherry cobbler, Crème Brulee, pecan pie and white chocolate mousse cake.

Layers of rich chocolate cake were sandwiched around a dense white mousse atop a dark chocolate base in the Mousse Cake ($5.50). Lightly drizzled with a dark cherry sauce, this sugar jolt would satisfy virtually all chocoholics, but could cause difficulty if one chose to share it with another. The Cobbler ($5.95) was fragrant with cinnamon and fruit and adding ice cream was undoubtedly the right choice. The texture was a bit closer to bread pudding, and I found it to be even more enticing than the Mousse cake.

The Heritage succeeds with the full range of their offerings, not just focusing on entrées and/or appetizers and leaving desserts to local bakeries. I appreciated their creative use of herbs and sauces and that they feature local products. It seems apparent that the Melvins have quietly created a heritage of cooking up meals that bring a continental flair to regional favorites. A Tuscan or Provençal visitor should immediately be taken to the Heritage to let them experience the high points of fine American cooking in a charming setting. ©

Go: 7664 Wooster Pike, Mariemont

Call: 513-561-9300

Hours: Monday-Thursday 5-9:30 p.m.; Friday-Saturday 5-10:30 p.m.; Sunday 5-9 p.m. Sunday Brunch: 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m.

Prices: Moderate to expensive

Payment: Major credit cards

Red Meat Alternatives: Vegetable and seafood choices throughout the menu; no vegetarian choices as entrées

Other: Wild game features in November and February