Molly Wellmann is arguably one of Cincinnati’s most well-known mixologists, business owners and overall pillars of the community. You have probably seen her sweet, winning smile on signage for the forthcoming expanded Northside location of eatery Melt — which her parent company Wellmann’s Brands recently acquired — or maybe in person at one of her many public appearances.
As proprietor of the Main Street fine cocktail staple Japp’s (she also has a hand in Neons, Myrtle’s Punch House and the Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar), Wellmann recently elevated the local cocktail game once again by offering small bites alongside her menu of well-established spirits. The elevated light fare is a perfect match for the former wig shop turned regal bar.
The snacks come from another one of Wellmann’s Brands’ establishments, a more recent venture on Republic Street called Bottle & Basket — formerly Picnic & Pantry and an extension of Melt, which offers freshly prepared grab-and-go food and essential groceries.
On a recent Tuesday afternoon, my boyfriend Brian and I stopped into Japp’s for a couple cocktails and snacks. The setting sun cast long shadows on the floor; the doors were open, letting in a light fall breeze; and the faint ringing of the streetcar bell filled our hearts with pride for our growing city every time it rolled past — Japp’s is the kind of place that does that to a local.
The first order of business was drinks. I ordered from the chalkboard menu of featured cocktails. The Pirouette ($7), with gin, suze, génépy, egg white, lime and simple syrup, was sweet and a bit sour but balanced by the egg white froth floating on top — I love a good egg white cocktail. Brian ordered a classic Manhattan ($7), which didn’t disappoint.
The food offerings, as described by the menu, are comprised of small “contemporary bites.” Perhaps this isn’t a phrase often used for what one might call “bar food,” but referring to the tasty offerings just as pub grub doesn’t do them justice.
Most selections are dips served with herbed wafer crackers. We ordered the deviled egg yolk mousse with fennel pimento relish ($5), bay blue cheese and pear jam ($6), citrus-Serrano pickled shrimp ($7) and dark chocolate truffles ($6).
The crackers served on the side were made with wheat flour, and Brian has a gluten allergy. But, conveniently, Park and Vine is just down the street and sold gluten-free crackers to save the day.
First up was the pickled shrimp. They came in a small, lidded mason jar. We dug into the cloudy liquid, peppered with bright flecks of green and red, to pull out rather sizable whole shrimp. They were a bit chewy but quite flavorful. They tasted more or less like a pickle with a zesty kick from the Serrano peppers.
The blue cheese came in a massive wedge with a dollop of what we concluded to be applesauce and fig jam. The blue cheese was not for the faint of heart or nose — it had a strong flavor and a creamy, crumbly texture.
My favorite of the selections was the deviled egg yolk mousse. It also came in a small mason jar but was a rather large portion, even for two people. The whipped egg yolk was light and fluffy with a strong mustard flavor and topped with a pimento relish, tasting subtly of fennel. It was akin to eating the insides of a deviled egg on its own but with a lighter texture. While the dip was great on a cracker, my mind started wandering to the sandwich potential it held.
The last food we tried was the dark chocolate truffles. Slightly lopsided spheres that looked to be made with love, they featured a dusting of cocoa on the outside, a soft chocolate layer and an even softer, creamier and richer center. The perfect way to cap off the night.
There were some other items on the food menu that intrigued us that we vowed to try on our next visit: the corn nuts and roasted kale dust ($4) for one. There were also a couple of other cheese options plus a jar of Avril’s andouille, bean and smoked tomato ($7).
JAPP’S is open Tuesday through Saturday, with food available every day. More info: wellmannsbrands.com/japps1879.