ike many Cincinnatians, there is a decent amount of German in my blood. Growing up, my dad liked to highlight it by cooking various tube meats in sauerkraut and serving them over mashed potatoes. The dish was never my favorite, and I still struggle to feign excitement over it. So when I heard that the Thunderdome boys, known for their success at The Eagle and Bakersfield in Over-the-Rhine, were bringing a German tavern to the neighborhood, I was relatively ambivalent. I’ll take my tube meats on brioche with a bunch of Senate-approved toppings, thanks.
Here’s the thing: Krueger’s Tavern serves some German food, but I would not call it a German restaurant. In fact, the men behind the concept describe it as “New American.” While flavorful housemade sausages are on the menu, they are not necessarily the star. And while they do serve beer — and lots of it — they also go a step beyond. They offer buckets of assorted (mostly local) craft brews, make their own bathtub gin and have cornered the market of indecisive drinkers with the beer cocktail.
Located in the old Lavomatic space on Vine Street, Krueger’s is doing what Lavomatic did not: serving good, unpretentious food at a price point similar to that of The Eagle or Bakersfield. When the temperature rises and patrons head outside to dine, Krueger’s will also be the only OTR restaurant with a rooftop deck and bar.
Our particularly chilly evening inside the small, simply decorated bar began with beer cocktails. For $12 a piece, we ordered the Old St. Mary’s, a mixture of Bottoms Up Wit beer from Chicago’s Revolution Brewing, gin, Campari and peach bitters; and the Western Row, made of MadTree Happy Amber, Four Roses bourbon, bitters, lemon and cucumber. The drinks are served on ice in tall beer glasses — whatever beer they didn’t use in the cocktail is given to you in a can on the side. The Old St. Mary’s was refreshing and delicious; the gin and peach paired well with the fruity wit beer. Hoppiness overpowered the Western Row, but the hint of cucumber and the kick from the bourbon made it taste like nothing else we’d ever tried.
Though the “snacks” section of the menu is small and our very helpful server highly recommended the Gruyere Dip (bacon, scallions, caramelized onion, oh my), we opted for the Tomato Pesto Jar ($5) when told that the tomato jam inside was made in house. In barely an instant, it was on our table: the cutest little glass pot of goodness. Bright red tomato jam is layered atop chunky pesto and whipped ricotta. Served alongside toasted slices of baguette, the mixture is salty and delicious with flavors reminiscent of the best bruschetta you’ve ever had. It was hardly German food, and we hardly cared.
The rest of the menu is broken up into sandwiches, sausages, “greens” and sides. We sampled from each. From the housemade sausage side we chose the Lincolnshire ($8), an herbed British banger served over colcannon, a yummy play on mashed potatoes with wilted kale and Guinness-braised onions. The Lincolnshire was bursting with herby flavor and the kitchen took care not to overcook it. It was the colcannon, however, that made this dish. This tart, creamy take on the mashed potatoes of my childhood was seasoned perfectly and served as an ideal backdrop to the sausage.
Their sandwich section is equally appealing. It features a Cuban, Krueger’s take on the sloppy Joe, a roasted chicken club, a burger, and our choice of the evening, the Eggplant Parm sandwich ($8). The housemade San Marzano tomato sauce caught my eye — that and the fact that “eggplant” was modified by “crispy.” The sandwich is ginormous, yet somehow manageable. Everything is carefully layered together to give every bite a taste of each element: cheese, peperonata, pesto, and then the slight crunch of the eggplant. As a big fan of the traditional Italian dish, I was extremely pleased (and extremely full) after finishing it.
While Krueger’s certainly features more healthy vegetarian options than their sister establishment The Eagle, their “greens” section proved the weakest of the menu. We ordered the chicken schnitzel salad ($9), and while the crispy cutlet of chicken on the bottom paired well with the tart arugula and frisee, there was simply nothing that made me want to take another bite. The salad as a whole was huge and kind of a mess, the cherry tomatoes were lost in the mix and the chicken, while cooked well, was overwhelming in portion size and underwhelming in flavor. Perhaps the Tuscan kale salad, another Italian-inspired dish, or the chopped salad, featuring roasted beets, would prove more satisfying.
In spite of what the rumors say, Krueger’s can only be considered a German restaurant in the most marginal sense, and that is perfectly OK with me. The restaurateurs behind it have proven they understand atmosphere and crowd-pleasing dishes with their other ventures, and their newest addition to Vine Street is no exception.
Hours: 4 p.m.-midnight Monday-Thursday; 4 p.m.-2 a.m. Friday-Saturday.