This seafood-centric, Italian-flavored eatery — which goes by the nickname 8 & E — is a godsend for those looking for innovative, thoughtfully crafted fare somewhere in the city outside of Over-the-Rhine, downtown or parts of Covington.
Similar to its predecessor, the food at 8 & E skews Italian, a more or less universally beloved cuisine. But there’s more variety to the menu, and this isn’t exactly an Italian restaurant. In fact, chef/owner Chase Blowers says one reason he decided on the name Eighth & English was to preserve his freedom to cook from a broader array of culinary influences. “I didn’t want the name to define the concept,” he says.
For Blowers, after more than a decade leading kitchens in the region, this is his first stab at owning a restaurant. He assembled a management team largely consisting of former colleagues from his past experience at Boca and has sunk tens of thousands of dollars into renovations — mostly in the kitchen. Since opening in late March, he said they’ve had sellout weekends and good crowds on weeknights, too.
The restaurant’s layout includes a main floor dining room, a bar with high-top tables and more seating up a flight of stairs. The high ceiling gives downstairs diners a good view of the loft-like upstairs and makes the room feel bigger than it is. Lots of windows add extra light and enhance the expansive atmosphere. We’ve dined in each of these areas under the previous ownership and my favorite remains the first-floor dining room.
Our first visit to 8 & E came two weeks after it opened, on a Friday night, and they seated our foursome at a big table near the bar. Service was attentive and informative throughout the evening as the service staff and manager Randy Diedling were eager to answer our questions about the menu, artworks, other decor and beverages.
The latter includes a half-dozen house cocktails ($11 each), 15 beers in bottles or cans and an approximately 50-bottle wine list. A smaller list of glass pours had one rosé ($8), five whites ($8-$12) and five reds ($8-$14), dominated by choices from France and Italy. Our discovery of the night, drinks-wise, was a line of Italian wines by Fuoristrada, packaged in boxes and offered by the glass. Among the four of us we tried the rosé, white and red, a Sangiovese ($8 each), and liked every one. I’ll admit to an ingrained snobbery against boxed wines, but these went a long way toward altering my attitude.
The menu looks Italian, with sections such as Primi (first course, usually pasta) and Contorni (vegetables and sides). But if you read ingredients and style of prep, clearly there’s a range of influences, such as Middle Eastern (little lamb sandwiches with tzatziki and harissa) and solidly American (grilled hanger steak with hash, egg and arugula). As suggested by the sea-themed art on the walls, there are a lot of seafood offerings in just about every menu category, and yet plenty for landlubbers, too.
We each began with something from the dozen “Start” choices. I’m a fan of octopus and went with the Sardinian baby octopus stew with white wine, chili and tomato ($14). The broth was thin and flavorful — it seemed more like a soup — and the octopi were tiny, whole creatures, tentacles and all. They were tender and quite delicious, as was the tomato-based, slightly spicy base.
My husband, George — who never met a sea creature he didn’t like — scarfed up his large portion of Laughing Bird Shrimp ($14) in Romesco sauce, while our friend Larry enjoyed farro and arugula salad ($8) dotted with chickpeas, olives, roasted peppers and creamy goat cheese. Amy couldn’t finish her bowl of roasted beets with almonds and tarragon vinaigrette ($8), a very filling starter.
For some now unfathomable reason, we all skipped the pasta (Primi) section and picked either an entrée or, in my case, another starter and a side. (Blowers says that the most popular menu item has been spaghetti with poached lobster and pistachio pesto, which I will try on my next visit.)
Larry ordered smoked rainbow trout ($21), Amy had duck ($22) and George continued an all-seafood meal with baked halibut ($26). We all agreed that the halibut was best, served with sticky rice, coconut curry and an array of mildly spiced seasonings.
My main course consisted of swordfish meatballs in tasty gravy atop creamy polenta ($14) and a side of charred broccolini with anchovies, capers and golden raisins ($8). Blowers says “anything with broccolini” has been a hit with customers, and I loved this version with its salty and sweet components.
We tried all four desserts: Two were pudding-like and the others kind of cakey ($10 each). The cakes won out, especially angel food cut into cubes and served with almond crumble, huckleberry jam and vanilla gelato. The contrast in textures with the crunchy almond and slightly toasted cake cubes, creamy gelato and unctuous jam hit all the right notes. Not far behind in our estimation was the chocolate fudge brownie with bourbon caramel and torched marshmallow.
Blowers, 34, says opening this restaurant “was the next logical step in my career path” after a three-year stint as executive chef, general manager and operating partner at National Exemplar in Mariemont. “It’s a cutthroat business, and good restaurants close all the time,” he says.
He invested time and money before opening here, not just in renovations but also by hiring a branding company, which included focus-grouping a name from among dozens of suggestions. Eighth & English, which actually derives from an influential person in his life — his eighth-grade English teacher — emerged as the top choice. Now it’s up to Blowers and his staff to make a go of it.
For sure, we’ll be back — and probably often.
Eighth & English
GO: 2038 Madison Road, O’Bryonville; CALL: 513-386-7383; INTERNET: 8thandenglish.com; HOURS: 5-9:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 5-10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.