Critic's PickIf you’ve recently driven past Slims restaurant in Northside, you might have noticed a sign near the door at the corner of Hamilton and Blue Rock that reads “VOUT.” Vout is the a la carte, more laid-back version of Slims open for dinner Tuesday through Thursday. As with Slims, the hours are “5:30 'til the food's gone.”
What’s with the name? Vout is the made-up jive language of Jazz musician Slim Gaillard, after which Slims is named. Slims' Web site defines vout as “age, cure, patina, season, marinate, stew, pickle, ferment …,” etc., etc. In the tradition of Gaillard, “vout” can be used to mean any number of things. What it means to me though, is that I can essentially have a meal at Slims for around $15. And that, as Gaillard himself might say, is mell-o-reenie (a little vout for ya).
I've found Slims to be one of the coolest and best restaurants in town. It has something more than character. It speaks its own language.
Much of the produce used is grown blocks away from the restaurant at owner Patrick McCafferty's urban farm, Ohio Maiden, the success of which has allowed Vout to come about. The space is clean and comfortable, colored with the very fruits and vegetables your meal is comprised of and featuring a verdant herb garden in the window. The wall of windows and the communal seating acquaint you with your neighbors and the buzzing urban atmosphere. You can feel the life in the air.
It's relaxing and fun, and you can bring your own beer or wine. They supply glasses.
Entering Vout on a recent day that happened to fall between Tuesday and Thursday, my girlfriend and I were greeted by the friendly staff and an "order at the counter" scenario.
We grabbed menus and sat at one of the several four-top tables adjacent from the communal tables in the main space. We cracked open cans of Strongbow and perused the menu. It’s hand-written and comprised of Cuban and Puerto Rican dishes broken down into Starters, Salads, Mains, Sides and Sauce.
We started with the Smoked Salmon appetizer ($6), three pieces of tender, lightly smoky salmon served with a few slivers of mango and a chunky avocado-tomato relish. The girlfriend doesn't do raw fish, so I had this one all to myself. All of it was very good, down to the sprig of red watercress that looked and tasted like it was just snipped off the plant minutes ago — and it probably was. Other appetizers include Watercress Soup, a Charcuterie Board and Asopao, a soupy Puerto Rican paella of sorts.
We decided to forgo the salad portion of the menu, but there are four tasty-sounding options ($5-$5.50) including one with Ohio Maiden watercress, figs, pomegranate and Billy Blue Cheese.
On to Mains and Sides. I chose the Pernil Asado ($7), a sizable but not huge portion of slow-braised pork seasoned with oregano and adobo rub. It was tender and delicious, without a prominent flavor other than the pork itself. The dish came with a plantain crisp, which was nice, but it was a little odd that there was no vegetable included. Then again, with all sides priced at $2, the vegetable option is left up to you. I ordered the Corn Pudding ($2), which was sweet and full of corn that stuck to my teeth. It was good, but a little annoying.
The lady ordered the Vegetarian Enchiladas Mole with butternut squash, mushroom, cavallo nero and black bean fruit salsa ($7). I liked them pretty well, but she got bored with them half way through, especially after trying my food. We both liked the black bean fruit salsa, which is also available under the “Sauce” category. She ordered the Smoky Mash ($2) as a side, which is smoky mashed Yukon Gold potatoes with paprika that lends an orange-y hue. Their interesting flavor and color was a hit with both of us.
I'm still not sure I fully understand the “Sauce” category of the menu. I guess I could have put Romesco or something on that pork, but what would I ever need Chinese mustard for?
The only downside to the experience was that the desserts are not listed on the menu and were not offered to us. Which mostly just means they don't get reviewed. The upside to this is that no one orders dessert at restaurants anyway (right?).
As a side note, when I was paying, an employee named Ben said I looked familiar to him. I didn't recognize him, and the name didn't ring a bell until I was back in the car leaving.
Ben, if you're reading this, we were in the same Spanish class in college. You used to eat parsley in class. Que es eso, amigo?
Go: 4046 Hamilton Ave., Northside
Hours: 5:30 p.m. 'til the food's gone Tuesday-Thursday
Entree Prices: $7-$7.50
Red Meat Alternatives: One vegetarian entree, many salads and sides
Accessibility: Fully accessible