Chef Josh Campbell knows something about spinning plates. Over a three-year span, he manned the World Food Bar at Findlay Market, opened Mayberry’s original location on Vine Street, tried his hand at a small grocery on Seventh Street and experimented with a flatbread concept in The Skinny Pig. All but Mayberry are now footnotes in Cincinnati’s culinary past.
Mayberry’s first incarnation was a cozy nook of a place, its menu a “who’s who” of comfort food classics, punctuated by Campbell’s signature twists. Who among his regulars could forget the Sloppy Josh, a delightfully messy, gargantuan sandwich piled high with rosemary-infused pulled beef and topped with a creamy cole slaw? Or how about the cheesy, carbtastic Tater Tot Casserole, which grabbed hold of the diner’s childhood and yanked it by the ear?
Now meet Mayberry, The Second Coming. In February, Campbell packed his knives and moved his “grassroots eatery” from Vine to Main Street, the former home of Courtyard Cafe in Over-The-Rhine. The new location is comparatively cavernous, with a full bar, an ample dining room and a shaded, two-level courtyard for outdoor feasting.
Even with the size upgrade, Mayberry hasn’t lost all its original intimacy. The dining room exudes a more upscale vibe than its predecessor, with black tablecloths, white linen napkins and an air of refinement that likely would have been lost on characters found in The Andy Griffith Show universe, to which the name “Mayberry” alludes. The name also compels diners to enjoy tasty American food carefully prepared from many locally sourced ingredients, something Mayberry has in spades.
Walk-ins for lunch and Sunday brunch are welcome, but dinner reservations are highly recommended via Mayberry’s website. The last time we’d showed up without one, we only managed seats at the bar.
Small plates comprise Mayberry’s current theme; our waitress recommended ordering two “snacks” to share between the two of us, in addition to a couple entrees. To start, we chose two Pepper Bacon Wrapped Figs with Red Wine Summer Berry Compote ($3 each) and Warm Bread with Manchego, Apple Jam, Lemon Herb Butter and Country Ham ($12).
The two figs each arrived securely anchored to a bed of compote and topped with fresh greens. The plump, mild figs complimented the smoky saltiness of the bacon, with a pleasing textural dance of soft fig fruit and berry seeds.
We enjoyed the assembly-line interactivity required in the bread appetizer, experimenting with various combinations of its five components. I’d slather a wedge of pita bread with a smear of the subtle Lemon Herb Butter while my girlfriend indulged in light rye wedges topped with Manchego cheese, thin cured ham and cinnamon-spiked apple jam.
Next came our entrees. The House Flat Bread with Smoked Salmon, Herbed Ricotta, Radish and Watercress ($14) could easily have lived on Chef Campbell’s Skinny Pig menu. Cut into four-inch strips, the surprisingly muted flavor of the smoked salmon was overshadowed by the pleasingly peppery watercress and ricotta. For a finger food, the flatbread was awkward to handle, with bread made moist by the cheese and watercress stems toppling off the top.
The Crispy Duck Breast with Red Quinoa, Broccoli and Medjool Date ($17) successfully blended the sweetness of the mashed dates and the mildly gamey, perfectly cooked duck. The red quinoa added a striking visual and an essential textural contrast to the dish, redeeming the slightly overcooked, soft broccoli.
Our side of Broccoli with Sweet Chili Garlic sauce and Fried Onions ($5) ended up being one of our menu favorites. The broccoli this time was crisp, and the sweet-and-spicy interplay of the sauce deliciously paired with crispy fried onion topping, whose aroma evoked memories of Mom’s green bean casserole.
For dessert, we opted for the Warm Bourbon Pecan Chocolate Chip Cookies ($6), four saucer-sized discs that were dry like shortbread, riddled with gooey melted chocolate and reminiscent of Pecan Sandies.
Chef Campbell’s talent and passion are clearly evident. His presentations are beautiful; his flavors are largely engaging and delicious. Only time will tell if he can keep all those small plates spinning.
GO: 1211 Main St., Over-The-Rhine