incinnati is comprised of many neighborhoods with their own flavor and flair, and the pulse of each can be felt most strongly in their eateries. Many great restaurants call North College Hill home, and for the past couple years Van Zandt Restaurant and Tavern on Galbraith Road has, too. There is so much going for it — homemade breads, locally delivered meats and seafood and trivia on Wednesdays — but there is something missing that would make Van Zandt’s the king of the Hill.
Recently, I have fallen in love with trivia. Every Tuesday you can find my trivia partner and me at our favorite Northern Kentucky bar for music trivia. We happened upon Van Zandt on their trivia night, but as we had two children accompanying us, we could not dedicate ourselves to the game.
The bar was full of locals settling on their team names, and the dining room had couples and families settling in for dinner. The dining room is spacious, with tables at a good distance from each other to allow guests a bit of privacy usually reserved for booths.
The menu has all that a neighborhood spot should: appetizers, soups, salads, burgers and sandwiches, pizza and a few entrées at pretty decent prices. All bread and the pizza dough is made in-house daily, and the meat and seafood is delivered fresh from right down the road.
We scored points for the first trivia question (“Who is known as the Bard?” We really should have gotten in the game). The burgers are much touted and have been as the best in town by another local publication, so that was a definite. The starters are pretty typical with VZ Chicken Wings ($5-$10), Crabcake ($6) and Potato Skins ($8). Something that is not typical is the daily, house-made Soft Pretzel ($3), and while Spinach & Artichoke Dip ($8) can be nothing special, we added that to our Soft Pretzel order.
The Soft Pretzel was quite large and was plenty for four people. It was warm, soft and not all doughy as some can be. The Dijon dip was spicy and the cheese dip was taken off the plate and quickly owned by one of the kids. The Spinach & Artichoke was creamy, cheesy and had chunks of artichoke but was a bit bland. Salt and maybe a bit of spice would have been nice.
When kids are having difficulty choosing what to order, you know the kids’ menu is a good one. Cheese pizza, chicken tenders, grilled cheese and corn dog bites (all $4) are all winners, but the cheese pizza and grilled cheese came out on top. As the VZ Classic Burger ($10.25 with three toppings) was a done deal, we had only to choose a few toppings from the expansive list (50 cents-$2): cheeses, apple-smoked bacon, artichokes, onion straws, mushrooms and about 10 other toppings. We decided on gouda, mushrooms and bacon, and ordered the panko-breaded Cod sandwich with house-made tartar sauce ($9).
As we were brain-storming the original Jelly Belly flavors, our meals were delivered. I think there was a screech of delight when the grilled cheese already had the crust cut off and the cheese pizza was said to be better than LaRosa’s.
My friend, a car guy, compared the burger to a Toyota Camry. There wasn’t anything wrong with it, but it lacked a little something that would have taken it to the next level. I would have thought that the bun might have done it, but we found the bun on both the burger and the cod to be too much bread. The Camry is also award winning, but neither the car nor the burger would get our vote.
My cod sandwich had to be sent back, as the panko was a bit too dark for my liking. The new sandwich tasted fresh and was flaky, and the tartar sauce was creamy with a little pickle, just how I like it. I was able to snag a bite of the cheese pizza, and the crust was chewy and delicious. The 9-year-old at my table clearly knew what she was talking about.
For dessert, we had the Brownie Sundae ($6), Chocolate Gelato and a Bourbon Gelato for the adults ($2.50). The brownie was good, but the sundae, like much of the meal, was unremarkable — neither good nor bad. The gelato is from Madisono’s, so we already expected perfection. While the kids did not care for the chocolate gelato, I loved it. It was very chocolaty with more of a mocha taste, and the bourbon gelato tasted like bourbon. It was a bit unsettling that the kids preferred the bourbon to the chocolate.
I often lament that restaurants don’t do the simple things that make a big difference. Van Zandt’s does go the extra mile, but there’s still something missing. They are releasing a new menu in November, and I will certainly go back to see what whether they have worked out the kinks. ©
Go: 1810 W. Galbraith Road, North College Hill
Dinner Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday.
Entrée Prices: $9-$22
Red Meat Alternatives: Several
Accessibility: Fully accessible