For a very brief moment — sometime between frost, torrential downpours and oppressive humidity — Cincinnati has a very comfortable climate for outdoor dining. From a long list, here are some of our favorites.
Claddaugh Irish Pub
Although the sight of sports stadiums and office buildings hardly brings to mind the feeling of a quaint Irish pub, the outside patio surrounding the bustling Claddaugh Irish Pub (Newport on the Levee, Riverwalk Level, 859-581-8888) provides a perfect seat for sipping a pint, with a million-dollar view of the Cincinnati skyline. The multi-room Claddaugh pub opened earlier this year, but the patio area with umbrella tables is a recent addition and well worth the investment.
Diners receive full menu and bar service on the L-shaped patio, while taking in the sight of boaters on the Ohio, draped in the city's skyline. This is the same wonderful setting that kept Barleycorn's on the River hopping — except this patio is far enough off the river that you avoid the mucky smell.
Claddaugh's menu provides plenty of Irish and Americanized pub fare, plus a substantial selection of draught and bottled beers. I've enjoyed the Fish and Chips ($15.95/$8.95), a more traditional, ale-battered hunk of cod than at other Irish-themed places, with a plate of fat, seasoned "chips" and creamy coleslaw. If you think Guinness is too heavy for a summer beer, try the draught Belgian wheat, Blue Moon, served with an orange wedge. — AM
Teak Thai Cuisine
There was a rumor floating around the local restaurant industry many years ago that the structure housing Teak Thai (1049 St. Gregory, Mount Adams, 513-665-9800) was haunted. Cooks and late-night staff of restaurants before Teak reportedly saw a woman in the kitchen preparing herself a meal and dining at an indoor table during inclement weather or outdoors during the summer (moaning and wailing came after dinner). A ghost with aesthetics and a discriminating palate? Too bad she hasn't been hanging around since Teak Thai has inhabited the building — maybe she can't get a table.
Teak's multi-leveled patio with umbrella-topped tables is one of the busiest outdoor dining spots in town. On a weekend night expect at least a 30-minute wait for patio seating, but a cold beer or glass of Gerwurtztraminer at the downstairs bar is a good preparation for the spicy Thai food. The menu is large, easy-to-read (with photos of many dishes) and very vegetarian-friendly with tofu a ready substitute for most of the meat dishes.
I dine here regularly, and it's at the top of my list for treating out-of-town guests to interesting, flavorful dishes such as Spicy Fried Noodles, Seafood Choochee, Paneng Curry, Spicy Mung Bean Noodle Salad and Volcano Shrimp in an outdoor setting. The 50-seat patio is open, weather permitting, for lunch and dinner. — DC
York Street International Café
Sinful desserts, erratic but charming service and delicious meals are only half of the equation that makes York Street Café (738 York St., Newport, 859-261-9675) a favorite dining spot. Atmosphere is the other half. Sure, the inside of the renovated historic building is full of eclectic finds — from lovely vintage table cloths to an extensive Pez collection and, of course, the bridal moose — all of which make up unique, comfy and inviting dining areas.
But in bearable weather, I prefer the garden patio. The secluded patio feels like an isolated garden, but the sounds from the street remind you that you're in the middle of a city block, making you appreciate the setting even more.
My most recent York Street patio experience was with a large group for a business meeting, and everything — from the grilled dinner (chicken or ribs), the decadent desserts and the perfect May weather — was more than memorable. York Street has unique "conversation platters" — the Mediterranean platter features hummus, baba ghannouj and pita chips; the Swiss fondue platter makes a nice light meal for two. And save room for dessert. — AM
Sitting under the vine covered biergarten of Mecklenburg Gardens (302 E. University Ave., Corryville, 513-221-5353), I close my eyes and try to imagine what it must have been like in its heyday as a gathering place for German immigrants and headquarters for German singing societies: famous sopranos and baritones under the shaded grape arbor, raising voice and stein together in a musical socio-political manifesto. But my idyllic picture quickly degenerates into several stocky men wearing lederhosen and, à la The Man Show, chugging back a full stein after a boisterous round of "ziggy zaggy, ziggy, zaggy, hoy, hoy, hoy" as comely women with braids serve platters heaped with sauerbraten.
Tonight's entertainment in the 85-100 seat garden is more subdued: a solo Billy Larkin, wearing a very hip pair of ice-blue shades and playing Jazz on electronic keyboards. The menu is more Euro-Bistro than strictly German: quesadillas, shrimp cocktail, Caesar salad, pan-seared salmon, prime rib, chicken schnitzel, veal parmigiana plus sandwiches and pizzas. Not a Bavarian dress in sight.
Nevertheless, Mecklenburg's outdoor garden, open April-October, still retains much of its Old World charm. A great place, whether you prefer a cozy dinner by candlelight or a rousing celebration, to raise a mug of one of the finest beer selections in the city. — DC
The Cabana on the River
Believe it or not, not many places in this town serve cold Hudy Delight on tap anymore. Huh. Maybe that's why Westsiders keep the Cabana bar (7445 Forbes Road, Sayler Park, 513-941-7442) a secret all to themselves. The place serves up not only cheap bar food but also the coldest, cheapest Hudy on tap in town.
The restaurant is open only from late spring to early fall, and its annual debut is like a Westside almanac to mark the official beginning of summer; its closing is a sure sign of autumn's chill. Weekend evenings, the place is packed with families, softball teams and large and small groups, from the tables under the large awning (think: picnic lodge setting) to the plastic deck tables scattered along the edge of the patio hugging the Ohio River. Servers hustle sticky-sweet margaritas in plastic cups or canned beer while balancing burgers, sandwiches and fried appetizers from table to table.
The West side setting means the view across the river is a serene picture of calm waters and Kentucky hills. To get there, take U.S. 50 West ... hmmm ... come to think of it, if you don't know where it is, then that's one less table for me to fight over. — AM
Daveed's at 934
Daveed's (934 Hatch St., Mount Adams, 513-721-2665), the much acclaimed dinner-only restaurant of "eclectic, contemporary cuisine," calls their outdoor dining area "The Wine Garden" perhaps to discourage us rubes from ordering Beam and Coke with the Grilled Vegetable Goat Cheese Panini w/ Olivada paste. Lovely and intimate, the Wine Garden is an enclosed garden of brick walls, trees strung with tiny lights, bubbling fountain, wrought-iron furniture and potted flowers. While the entire garden seats approximately 80, it's divided into two sections: a waiting area for dinner with bar service and a small appetizer menu, and a dining area of 40 with a full service dinner menu.
Although reservations are accepted for indoor dining, outdoor dining is strictly first-come, first-serve. Expect a wait on a Friday or Saturday of up to an hour. This is food worth waiting for, made even better by graceful, attentive service.
On a recent Saturday night, we stopped in for desserts and coffee, asked to be seated in the garden which was empty of diners at this late hour and were treated by our server as if we were Very Important People. A bonus if you like Q102's play list or watch the WB: The Wine Garden is next door to The Blind Lemon, which usually has a Young White Male with Guitar Feigning Attitude performing on weekend nights. The garden is open, weather permitting, Tuesday-Sunday. — DC