I can’t wait for the day I’ll get to eat inside Ivory House, a new upscale-yet-approachable restaurant in Westwood.
When it comes to dining inside establishments during the apocalypse that is 2020, to each their own (please wear a mask according to health guidelines and tip at least 20%). But I’ve laid out clear rules for myself: If I eat at a restaurant, it must be outside, and honestly, I’d rather not. In the meantime, though, carry-out is fair game.
Named in honor of James N. Gamble, the last mayor of Westwood before the West Side was annexed to the City of Cincinnati (and the inventor of Ivory Soap), Ivory House is nestled on Harrison Avenue, close to several other main street businesses that have cropped up recently.
Ivory House proprietors Frank Eversole and Rick Pouliot have been involved in the growth of the neighborhood through their property group, EP Investments, since 2009, redeveloping several homes, focusing the bulk of their energy on the Town Hall District and stabilizing that area with increased economic inflow.
“We just felt we needed something a little more upscale,” says Eversole. “(Ivory House is) still kind of casual. At the end of the day, it’s just a beautiful environment with very approachable dishes that people can come and enjoy in the neighborhood.”
Opening a restaurant during a global pandemic might seem daunting, but if anything, the ability to adapt the dining room to social distancing regulations before it opened proved a blessing. Capacity was reduced inside, and an outdoor patio is in the works.
Self-described as “familiar food, elevated,” the menu features a fresh take on nostalgic-feeling dishes. Executive chef Dana Adkins, formerly of the Thunderdome Restaurant Group, came on board earlier this year, bringing with him an invigorating vision that reimagines well-known dishes and familiarizes unconventional and surprising ingredients.
“Rick and Frank wanted to allow myself and our team to bring our vision to life. That’s what’s beautiful about this relationship,” Adkins says. “We approached them about how we wanted to be mindfully sourcing and supporting partners. There was one vision Frank did express that I really wanted to see — that was to really embrace the grill. And that’s why we’ve found fun ways (to incorporate) smoke and grill.”
The massive tote bag I picked up for carry-out was still warm, with more than a hint of that smoke and grill wafting through the neat plastic containers. I ordered the greatest hits from the menu for a nice Saturday night with a good friend, socially distanced on her spacious — and outdoor — porch.
We started our al fresco dinner with the grilled peaches and tomatoes ($8). Accompanied by housemade cottage cheese, sturdy sprigs of local greens and a paw paw dressing, it was perfect for a summer night. The grilled peaches were my favorite; the tomatoes were slightly more squishy than charred, but they were juicy and sweet.
“Our housemade cheese is that balance of smoke, fresh and really awesome cheese,” Adkins says. It’s made in a three-day process that includes housemade rennet, vinegar, buttermilk, local heavy cream and salt.
The Appalachian shrimp and grits ($15), listed under the “Small Plates and Soups” portion of the dinner menu, features a massive 5-ounce Australian coldwater prawn. The cornbread gremolata and country ham gravy it came bathed in was rich and filling, with a smattering of smoked pork belly bits.
“(Our seafood is) Marine Stewardship Council certified. We care about sustainability with our produce; we want to care about that on the seafood end as well,” says Adkins, who also previously worked at Carriage House Farm, one of Ivory House’s many local partners. Others include Sixteen Bricks Artisan Bakehouse, Waterfields, Urban Stead Cheese, MadHouse Vinegar Co., Lamp Post Cheese, Origin Milk Company, O2 Urban Farms, Madisono’s Gelato and Anson Mills.
“There’s not a single thing we do not pickle and process and ferment in house currently,” Adkins says. “What we want to do, if you are working with something that’s rich, like pork, or anything that has a lot of fat or flavor, balancing that back out with acidic flavors.”
With that in mind, the ham and bean agnolotti ($16) hearkens back to Adkins’ Sunday family dinners. Featuring thick agnolotti (aka filled pasta squares), peas and country ham, I was fondly reminded of my own family meals; namely my mother’s classic split-pea soup.
My friend ordered the BBQ Louie’d Quail ($21) as her entrée. It featured a beautifully dressed quail and a tiny fried quail egg. I devoured the Beeler Belly and Tenderloin ($25) — the absolute last, satisfying word in melty porky belly. There’s a $99, 34-ounce Tomahawk steak on the menu, too, among other entrees and small plates.
Custom gelatos created for Ivory House by Madisono’s rounded out our meal. The buttermilk and the goat cheese and smoked honey were both great, but the buttermilk was my favorite.
Brunch service began the first weekend of August, and Ivory House just started a wine locker program, a fun way to further customize meals. There’s also a thoughtful list of specialty cocktails, a robust lunch menu and catering options.
Ivory House is located at 2998 Harrison Ave., Westwood. More info, online ordering and dine-in reservations at ivoryhousecincy.com.