For most of us who dine out regularly, a small, casual restaurant with simple yet interesting, well-prepared food at reasonable prices is at the top of our list for spur-of-the-moment decisions. Simone's fits on this list nicely.
A banner at the corner of Woodburn and Madison pointing the way is helpful in finding Simone's, which is nearly hidden in a corner of a building that faces away from the street. Inside is bigger than we expected, with a booth-lined smoking section and a larger, elevated second dining room for non-smokers. A jolt of color from canary-yellow chairs is given some warmth from forest-green table linens and deep brick-red walls that showcase contemporary art works by students from the Art Academy of Cincinnati.
We have our pick of tables as we are the only customers on this weeknight. Our server sighs with mild disappointment when we ask how has business been, but quickly resumes a hopeful and enthusiastic demeanor, providing us with a basic overview while plugging live Jazz on Thursdays and Sunday brunch. He leaves to turn up the music — a great mix of Jazz vocals and World Beat — as we peruse the menu.
The menu is very simple with two soups and appetizers, three salads, four sandwiches and four entrées. Bottles of Perrier sit suggestively center table, but we opt for ice tea and sodas instead; Simone's does not have a liquor license. When our server returns with drinks — which are continuously refilled throughout the entire meal without us ever having to ask — he informs us that two of the four entrées (vegetarian lasagna and the strip steak) are unavailable this evening due to delivery problems. He must have intuited our order, because he disappears for few minutes, allowing us to make other choices.
We decide on a combination of soup, salad, sandwiches and one entrée between the three of us. Unfortunately, he returns to inform us that one of our choices, the Blackened Salmon Sandwich ($7.95), is not available either as the chef thinks the salmon is on the verge of spoiling. Good choice, but we're starting to wonder if this is just coincidence or are they really struggling to stay afloat? After all, they don't have product for three of the eight main courses.
As soon as the food starts arriving — Black Bean Soup ($2.00), a small House Salad ( $2.65), Simone's Meatball Sandwich ($6.95), Blackened Tilapia Sandwich ($7.95), and Three Beans with Rice ($7.50) — we're cheering for them to make it. While no culinary opus is delivered, and a few dishes could have benefited from more seasoning, the food is nicely presented, in generous portions (we could barely finish it all) and satisfying. Accompaniments, such as the house salad's lemon-orange vinaigrette and the spicy mayo served with the fish sandwich, were really delicious and made their respective dishes. The only detraction — and it was slight — was the awkwardness of the meatball sandwich. Too messy and too large to eat with hands, it had to be approached with fork and knife. The crunchy baguette became incidental as the large portion of meatball, sauce, mushrooms, onions and cheese were plenty. Cincinnatians generally don't see getting too much food as a bad thing though.
Desserts, too, are made in house, tasty and plentiful. We had a bowl of hot (and I mean hot, as in nearly burned my mouth) Apple Pie and a Strawberry Peach Shortcake that were both yummy and gooey. All we needed after that was a mud puddle to roll in.
It usually takes two years for a restaurant to begin to see a return on investment. Simone's has been open 11 months, and I hope it connects with a supportive customer base to take them into the next year and beyond. Location is tricky but not impossible; food is good, plentiful and inexpensive. ©
Go: 2907 Woodburn Ave., Walnut Hills
Hours: TuesdaySaturday 11 a.m.8 p.m.; Sunday brunch 11 a.m.3 p.m.; Monday 11 a.m.3 p.m.
Prices: Inexpensive to moderate
Payment: Visa & Mastercard
Red Meat Alternatives: Blackened Chicken Sandwich, Fish Sandwich, Vegetarian Lasagna, Three Beans & Rice
Other: Live Jazz (no cover), Thursday 8:3010:30 p.m.