From 8 a.m.-2:30 p.m. daily, B&A operates as a counter-order daytime diner, and after hours Thursday through Sunday it opens its walk-up window until 8 p.m. so passersby can order a more limited menu of their Southwestern fare.
Gomez Salsa (and before that Lucy Blue pizza in the same location) popularized the walk-up food window in Over-the-Rhine, and the concept proved to be so successful that other restaurants in the city, like Hotel Covington, have been installing them. But it remains to be seen if B&A’s window can draw crowds.
Since opening, the owners — first-time restaurateurs Jim and Norma Kerns — have been tinkering with the menu and business hours. On a recent visit, my lunch companion and I were the only two patrons dining in. We arrived near the end of the lunch rush and it was rainy, but I’m guessing a lot of locals still don’t know about this place.
The design of the dining area is minimal — gray-painted walls, gray booths, filament lights in sconces, no artwork. A communal table comprises their outdoor patio seating and big windows in the front dining room open up to Race Street.
They don’t have a liquor license but they do serve an array of vegan and gluten-free sodas ($2.50-$3), Smooth Nitro Coffee products and Carabello coffee. For now, the sodas are not housemade, but they’re working with mixologists at Taft’s to come up with their own creations, which they did for Derby weekend. All of the sodas are “natural,” which means they’re made with organic ingredients and cane sugar, and are sourced from Colorado brand Rocky Mountain Soda Company and New York’s Boylan. I sampled a few sodas and thought the strawberry-rhubarb and blackberry were too sweet, so I settled on horchata, made with agave nectar.
We also ordered something from their “caff on draft” section: a nitro unsweetened iced tea from Smooth Nitro. I enjoyed watching the nitro cascade down the inside of the tall glass. Both drinks cleansed the palate before we annihilated a plate of nachos.
The menu is long — almost overwhelming with options. Did we want hot dogs? Tacos? Tortas? They also serve breakfast until 11 a.m., with options including a gravy flight (one biscuit, three types of gravies), chilaquiles and pancakes.
The best part about B&A is their focus on vegan and vegetarian items. We started off with the vegetarian Dia de Los Nachos ($10): tortilla chips smothered with black bean purée, refried beans, tomatoes, a scoop of dark green guacamole, pickled jalapeño and queso drizzle. Our server referred to them as a “boatload of nachos” but these were actually pretty manageable; we hoovered them up and were still hungry for our entrées.
I tried the open-faced Viva Vegetales ($7), a vegetarian dish, but I added seared tuna for an extra dollar. You can also add housemade salsas and cheese, such as cotija and queso fresco. My veggies — roasted poblano, corn, black beans — thatched a hibiscus-corn tortilla, which I had not seen anywhere before. The pale violet-hued tortilla tasted slightly sweet, and I liked the idea of different flavors of corn tortillas. My one issue was with the tuna: it could have been fresher.
Another innovation B&A offers is the Have 2 Half ($11), a choice of two half-sized menu items: a sandwich/torta, soup or salad. My guest chose half of the Inside Out Pimento Cheese sandwich and half of the Chi-Pollito sandwich. For the former, cheese was melted on the outside of Texas Toast, giving the sandwich a crunch. For the latter, the chicken was spicy but not too spicy, and came topped with Swiss cheese, chipotle aioli and smoked bacon on a bolillo bun. We also tried the housemade potato chips: mandoline-sliced potatoes lightly fried and puffed.
For dessert, I sussed out their counter pastry case filled with glazed donuts, sticky buns, Derby bars and scones. The Derby bar was leftover from Derby weekend and was similar to Derby pie (pecans, chocolate chips) in bar form. It tasted like a satisfying cookie.
When we finished eating, owner Jim Kerns stopped by our table to pick our brain. He wanted an honest opinion of the food so he could improve customers’ experiences. He asked if the pricing of the dishes corresponded to the amount of food received. (Yes, it did.) I told him the tuna could have been better and he took the comment to heart. Employees here take customer service so seriously that they respond to every Yelp review, whether it’s positive or not.
Since I’ve eaten there, B&A has introduced weekly specials: Meatloaf Mondays and Taco Tuesdays, and BOGO craft soda happy hour 3-6 p.m. Monday through Friday.
The walk-up window could benefit from staying open past midnight to satisfy the bar crowd. But until then, I would recommend grabbing a snack at B&A and then heading over to Pleasantry for a glass of natural wine. The restaurant is a welcome arrival to the blossoming neighborhood — even if it’s still figuring out some of the details.
B&A Street Kitchen
GO: 1500 Race St., Over-the-Rhine; CALL: 513-345-6670; INTERNET: bastreetkitchen.com; HOURS: Restaurant: 8 a.m.-2:30 p.m. daily. Walk-up window: 2:30-8 p.m. Thursday-Sunday.