Hidden Gems

Uncle Mo’s is one of my new favorite downtown lunch spots. I have to walk about eight blocks to get there, but even in the cold, it’s been worth it. Now, with the nice weather — go!

Uncle Mo’s (203 E. Seventh St., Downtown, 513- 721-8111) is one of my new favorite downtown lunch spots. I have to walk about eight blocks to get there, but even in the cold, it’s been worth it. Now, with the nice weather — go! 

Uncle Mo and his wife (we’ll call her Aunt Mo, yes?) run this little two-person operation on Seventh Street, east of Main Street. This is the Edge of Beyond for central business district locations, which is the only reason I’m revealing this little-known secret spot. I’d rather share it than lose it.

Yes, Uncle Mo’s is a gyros place, ostensibly, and there are other gyros places downtown — at least one that I bypass on my way to Mo’s. But Mo’s tzatziki sauce? Thick Greek-style yogurt. Mo’s hummus? I tasted it side-by-side with Sabra samples that were being passed out on Fountain Square. No comparison! Mo’s was as smooth as butter and as luxurious as velvet. He even drizzles olive oil on top.

Mo’s chicken shawarma is as tender as a pita full of babies’ kisses. I always ask for light on the onions, in order to spare my afternoon cohorts, and Mo knows light. Just a few delicate slices, widely spaced. Mo also makes chicken salad — dense, somewhat monotextural, but a good non-messy choice for those dry-clean-only days. And the baklava? Nutty goodness. A great big piece for just $2.50. 

Mo and Mrs. Mo chide each other affectionately in French as Mo dishes up the chow and the Mrs. takes orders and rings up sales. I recognize the dynamic — he’s the talker and the dreamer, she’s the steady soul. Go visit for yourself and tell me if you agree. 

And somewhere I’d go more often if I were in Clifton: Aquarius Star Om Café (329 Ludlow Ave., Clifton, 513-381-3436). This hidden gem has a new chef, Gary Garitson, who moved to Cincinnati from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. After a stint working for Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse, he’s gone in a different direction — to say the least. His new menu at Om is sustainable, locally sourced and is earning some positive attention, including a demo on Local 12 news during Lent on vegetarian cooking. 

You see the NOLA influence in Garitson’s menu in items like a savory bread pudding filled with local bacon, mushrooms, peppers, cheese and herbs; and in gumbo made with organic okra, crab meat, free range local chicken and local smoked sausage. Hearty fare that’s not all meatless, although vegetarians and vegans have plenty of options at Om. The new menu was launched on March 1. The café is open seven days a week and is planning events to foster community, such as a game night on Sundays. Check Facebook to see how their plans progress, and to catch their daily soups and menu specials. 

Planning ahead: Gorman Heritage Farm (10052 Reading Road, Evendale, 513-563-6663) is hosting Savor the Season: Farm to Fork on May 4. There will be cooking demonstrations from some great local chefs:

Steven Geddes of Local 127
Jimmy Hanser of Whole Foods Market Mason
Jose Salazar of Abigail Street
Justin Dean of Relish Restaurant Group
Meredith Trombly of Fresh Table
Michael Paley of Metropole
Mike Florea of Maribelle’s eat + drink
Kristen St. Clair of Gabriel’s Place

And I’ll be there to judge a mystery basket challenge featuring produce and proteins from Gorman Farm — think the Food Network show Chopped. There will be farm tours, vendors, food trucks and a raffle. See more info at gormanfarm.org.

Last year, I went to Gorman for an event and while I was there a hen laid an egg, and the chicken wrangler let me hold it while it was still warm. Even a die-hard city girl like me can be awed by the beauty of that moment. If you haven’t been to Gorman, the May event is a good reason to visit.

CONTACT ANNE MITCHELL: [email protected]

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