There have been several reincarnations of the Rookwood restaurant, but this time they might have gotten the karma right. It’s a solid serendipity of setting, menu and price point, a welcome addition to the heart of Cincinnati.
Anybody who has read more than one of my dining articles knows that I’m a center-city gal, but I think that a lot of readers write that perspective off because they’ve got kids and an SUV with a gas tank to fill. Driving into Cincinnati and paying to park is daunting. But Rookwood Bar & Restaurant has the answer — a nice, citydining experience that works for the whole family, a good value and parking.
We visited right before opening night, something I hate to do because I think it’s unfair in the sense that it doesn’t give a new venue time to get their feet wet and iron out the rough spots. But circumstances dictated our arrival on Rookwood’s doorstep the night before their official grand opening. But did it matter? No way. They were polished and ready.
The space is wonderful. Of course, there’s history here: These were the kilns for the famous Rookwood pottery — a Cincinnati treasure that decorates the Carew Tower arcade and Union Terminal here, as well as Grand Central Station in New York. A case displays a limited number of samples — any more than that and they’d be too valuable to show off. There’s even a vase with its original mold, and there are photos on several of the walls showing the genteel artisans at work — ladies with Gibson girl hairstyles and long skirts, gents in their collars and ties.
There are several levels, and we were led all the way around and to the far end overlooking the bar. There’s an even higher perch above both lower levels that’s fitted out with a pool table and leather couches. We could have chosen a seat within one of the kilns — there are two that are set up for dining and one that’s lined with benches surrounding a low cocktail table — but we went for a seat with a view.
Our server, Sarah, was delightfully enthusiastic — maybe just excited by the newness, but I sensed a genuine warmth in the way she told us that every dish was made in house and that the chefs had come from as far as California to bring this great food here. Every beer had been selected with care, every dish had a special touch and they were glad we were here — a nice feeling!
Let’s celebrate, then! I opted for a Bloody Maria ($8) from the special cocktail menu — a tequila-based Bloody Mary. Could I taste the difference? I definitely could. The tequila was warm and smoky where vodka is icy smooth. Nice. My guests tried the Mimosa ($8) and an Avery IPA draft ($8).
The menu offers lots of options, from entrée salads and sandwiches through full meals. We had some of each, starting with White Bean and Vegetable Soup ($5), topped with crisp bread crumbs like a Tuscan ribollita, and the Apple and Brie sandwich ($7.50) made our vegetarian guest very happy. The sandwich was gooey without being greasy. It must have been a grilled cheese kind of night, since we next opted for the Grilled Caprese ($11.50 with the addition of chicken) — a tomato and mozzarella panini with grilled onion marmalade.
Not to neglect the carnivores, the Steak Frites ($16) was a generous portion of marinated skirt steak, sliced on the bias — chewy but flavorful. On our server’s suggestion, I opted for a burger — the El Camino with avocado and bacon, cooked to medium rare perfection and so juicy.
Side dishes were all winners. The heap of fries with the steak was shoestring thin, and the “smashed” potatoes ($3) were creamy and purposefully lumpy. Creole slaw ($3) had a zesty dressing but was a little awkward to eat neatly. My favorite was the broccolini ($3), gorgeously deep green and sautéed with plenty of garlic.
The coffee was fresh and hot, so of course we had to squeeze in a few bites of dessert, and luckily Rookwood’s desserts are reasonably sized. The Key Lime Pie ($6) was the best I’ve had in town. I could have sworn there were macadamia nuts in the crust, but our server insisted it was just graham crackers. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the chocolate tort ($6) — usually, a molten center cake leaves me cold, but this was warm and yummy. And the apple crumble ($6) was Granny Smith all the way — tart and tangy, contrasted with buttery pastry and topped with vanilla ice cream.
What a nice, low-key meal! Nothing fancy, but honest fresh food, a little Motown on the stereo and a great setting. And a check that totaled just over $100 for four of us, drinks included.
Welcome back, Rookwood. Hope you stay around!
ROOKWOOD BAR & RESTAURANT
Go: 1077 Celestial St., Mount Adams
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday- Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday (bar open until 2 a.m.) and 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday
Entree Prices: $14-$17
Payment: All major credit cards
Red Meat Alternatives: Plenty
Accessibility: This historic building isn’t fully accessible; call ahead to reserve a dining table on the first level.