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Good Eatin'

CityBeat dining writers reveal their favorite experiences of 2008

By Heather Smith · December 30th, 2008 · Diner

Bear Market Food

Bailouts, cash infusions and unemployment lines. These are scary words for scary times, and scary times call for … comfort food. We’ve just been through a season of belt-tightening and the new year looks like we might need to take it in another notch, but I had an epiphany over a plate of potato gnocchi and veal and ricotta meatballs from the Forkable Feast in Oakley: We’ve been going about this whole thing the wrong way.

Consider the bear. Rather than toughing it out when food is scarce, she eats her fill then simply sleeps through the sparse season of winter, surviving on her body’s stored fat.

We’ve got a good start on this hibernation thing with the holidays; our tummies have a nice thick lining of jam-filled thumbprints, beef tenderloin, and eggnog. But we have to keep the momentum going if we hope to gain the 40 pounds bears do and really get to R.E.M. state for an entire season.

So I’ve done some reconnaissance this year to help us all get a better night’s sleep, and I’ve found that locally owned restaurants are offering some serious comfort food that’s designed for hibernation feasting.

The possibilities are endless, but some of my favorites from this past year will do nicely. First, Melt’s Vegan Penne and Cheeze topped with a scoop of vegan chili. Don’t be scared carnivores — it’s gooey and just as satisfying as a long-simmered b uf bourguignon. But if you aren’t convinced, you can run down the street to Honey for the Creole meatloaf instead, which you can get as a sandwich during their new happy hour. This slab of tender loaf comes with a tasso ham gravy and side of their famous honey fries.

Once you’ve tucked those away, head over to Mac’s Pizza Pub in Clifton for a spicy meatball sub or Clifton Natural Vegan Pizza with fresh mushrooms, tomatoes, onions, green peppers, and black and green olives. Go on, splurge on the 18inch pie — remember, you won’t be eating again until spring.

Then, fill those last empty pockets with the Beef Stroganoff and spatzle from Oleg’s Tavern in Mason. And don’t forget a side (oh, just make it two) of his sauerkraut. With its deep, rich flavor you’ll be surprised to call it cabbage and happy to mix into the mashed potatoes you order for extra insurance. Remember, the goal is 40 pounds.

And don’t go to bed without dessert — a pint of cinnamon ice cream from Aglamesis should do nicely, then you’ll be ready to make like a bear and sleep through the economic shit-storm ahead. (Lora Arduser)

I Will Not Name Terry’s Turf Club the Best Restaurant of 2008

Here is what I am not going to do.

I am not going to write an end-of-the-year wrap-up saying that Terry’s Turf Club is 2008’s best restaurant in Cincinnati. I refuse. It is hard enough to get a table at Terry’s, so there is just no freaking way that I am going to let more people in on the secret. They can just drive on past. Drive on Columbia Parkway! Don’t even get on Eastern Avenue! Hey, it’s a scary looking neighborhood — fair warning! Go on! Drive to the ’burbs and go to a nice chain.

Leave Terry’s to me. I have so much fun there. The people are so friendly and the food is so damn good. I love the burger, the filet and the lobster. I love the French fries, and I don’t even like French fries. I love the gelato. And I really love the sauces — the amazing, four-star sauces. The red wine and truffle sauce! The goat cheese and red pepper sauce!

But, most of all, I love that this is exactly the right restaurant for now — affordable quality with no pretense. It’s what I want a restaurant to be. I hate places with 100 mediocre items on the menu. Terry’s has maybe 10 things on the menu, but each one is terrific. This is a place that knows what it wants to be, and is that, perfectly.

I’ve read some gripes about Terry’s, primarily when people go at a really busy time and then expect fast-food service. That’s not Terry’s problem, it’s a problem of incorrect expectations. I’ve had wonderful food, even when Terry’s is packed to the walls, but there’s a wait — and it’s worth it. Have a martini or two and the wait seems quite agreeable.

People ask me what my favorite restaurant is almost daily, and Terry’s isn’t the only one I recommend. For a delicious, quiet dinner, go to Otto’s or York Street Cafe. For a fantastic, creative gourmet meal in an elegant setting, go to Daveed’s or Mesh. Seafood? Oceanaire. Chinese? Shanghai Mama’s or Oriental Wok. Japanese? Aoi or Miyoshi. But if you want a burger that will knock your socks off and an evening that’s a whole lot of fun, go to Terry’s Turf Club. Just not when I want to go, dammit. (Anne Mitchell)

Bridging the Gap

I spent 2008 reviewing some great restaurants as dining editor for CityBeat, but if you asked me my favorite I’d have to say Gordo’s Pub & Grill, the only restaurant where I wasn’t able to finish my meal.

Now, any analyst worth his/her salt could chock this choice up to all kinds of disorders listed in the DSM. I mean, what gives? Girl walks into a restaurant; girl almost goes into anaphylactic shock after eating allergen (here’s where I exaggerate); girl can’t finish meal; girl names restaurant favorite of 2008.

I could say it’s because Chef Raymond Gordo was so fabulous through the whole thing, making chitchat at our table, offering free dessert and apologizing umpteen times. But that’s not it. Why I love Gordos runs much deeper than that. In fact, why I love Gordos goes all the way back to elementary school.

Don’t roll your eyes; it’s a funny story, really. I grew up in a rural town (2,000 people) where 80-90 percent of the kids’ mothers made them fried bologna for lunch, and they loved it. I actually loved it, too, but I wasn’t allowed to say that in my house. My mother was a foodie and a gourmet cook. Words that were not allowed were “fried bologna,” “pop tarts” and “ain’t.” Seriously.

So as my friends devoured their fried bologna at lunch, I pulled from my bag embarrassing quiches, cold tamales and leftover filet mignon sandwiches. I remember sitting there, farmers’ kids watching what I was eating with curious disgust and a multitude of questions. I would offer them bites, but they would never take them. It was too risky. I remember sitting there wishing we could come up with some compromise between us all — say, the filet mignon cheeseburger or the fried bologna tamale? But the gap was just too wide to bridge.

Until I saw Gordo’s menu for the first time. Now, I would never accuse Chef Gordo of serving fried bologna, but I could have done a Marxist reading of his menu. Yes, it has your average burgers, but one, The Jean-Robert, is topped with goat cheese and grape compote. Yes, it has its cheese fries, but Gordo sneaks in touches some diners might find exotic (but they’ll never know).

Yes, it has Coors beer signs on the wall, but it also has Chimay, my favorite imported Belgian beer, brewed by Trappist monks, and hundreds of other imports. In other words, it is like a brilliant foodie walked into a bar wearing a John Deere cap.

The deal is that I can sit at Gordo’s right next to someone I could have gone to school with, someone who is drinking a Bud Light and happily eating a plain cheeseburger and fries, and I can drink my Chimay and eat my Jean-Robert burger, too, and we can smile at each other between bites. And I can breathe a sigh of relief. Finally, that culinary gap that has haunted me since elementary school has been bridged. (Heather Smith)



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