The parking lot is always packed, and the bar always seems to be hopping. On a Sunday evening, as Phil Mickelson cruises to his third green Master’s jacket, we find just a handful of available parking spaces. We expect a long wait but are ushered immediately into a cool, comfortable room and given a spacious table, and the waitress even changes one of the room’s many flat-screens to America’s Funniest Home Videos (a favorite of my 9-year-old's).
We’re a little surprised that some of the “appetizers” — Saratoga chips, fries, onion rings — seem more like side dishes. But we get a dozen Buffalo Wings ($10.25), which are offered either medium or hot. If you like any heat whatsoever, though, make sure you go with the hot. While the mediums are packed with chicken-y goodness and served with a creamy dressing spiked with big chunks of blue cheese, they’re absolutely devoid of heat. This is fine with my red-hot, smoking wife (who, ironically, abhors spice), but a little disappointing for me and my son. Luckily, each table sports a bottle of hot barbecue sauce along with a bottle of ketchup, so we can wake up our wings while still splitting an order.
Few of the other appetizers — cheese sticks ($7.25), tortilla chips ($5.95), potato skins ($8.25) — show much inventiveness, though I’m sure they competently accompany a beer (or two) if you’re settled in at the bar to watch a three-hour Reds game.
More interesting to our kids (and a whole lot cheaper) is the availability of free serve-yourself popcorn and roasted peanuts in the shell. The kids are drawn back several times for refills before our main courses arrive.
We’re perplexed and disappointed by a starter cup of chicken noodle soup ($3.55; $5.25 for a bowl). Thick and salty, studded with celery and carrots and filled with egg noodles and white meat chicken, it’s good but reminds us of something we’d pour out of a can labeled “Chunky Classic.” We ask a server if it’s actually house-made, and she reluctantly shakes her head no. Now, not for nothing, but if this is really “The Chicken Joint,” they should at least make all the chicken dishes in-house, including the soup.
The “Spring House” Chicken ($14.95 for half a chicken) arrives. According to the menu, this signature dish is made with “Amish-raised chicken,” which sounds really healthy and old-fashioned, though some cursory Internet research indicates that Amish chickens aren’t organic or free-range or necessarily even hormone-free. Still, the kitchen marinates them in citrus and herbs and serves them crispy on the outside and moist and tender inside. It’s delicious. The sweet potato fries are on the right side of soggy, though the black bean salad is a little bland and needs a bigger kick of vinegar to bring it to life.
Next, from a long list of appealing options, my wife chooses the Black Bean and Chicken Salad ($10.95). It turns out to be enormous, with green peppers, onion and tomatoes but a little soggy with its “special” cilantro dressing that’s too light on cilantro flavor. A heavy-handed topping of bland shredded Monterey Jack further muddles the other flavors (and overwhelms any conceivable health benefits to choosing salad). Still, it’s layered with plenty of meaty strips of grilled chicken that prove moist and flavorful once we dig them out.
Finally, a combo plate of BBQ ribs and chicken ($17.55) redeems the kitchen’s reputation somewhat. The barbecue sauce itself is good and deep and provides a little kick of heat to balance the tomato sweetness. It might not be the best BBQ in Cincinnati, but the portion is ample (a big meaty breast and wing come with a slab of baby backs) and suitably messy, while onion rings and broccoli are satisfying side dishes.
I pry my son off a stool where he’s glued to a TV watching with the waitresses as a contestant tries to keep a feather aloft on “Minute to Win It.” We pass hundreds of customer photos hanging on the walls as we make our way out, and I realize nobody’s coming here for the soup or because the chicken is Amish.
They keep on coming because it’s relaxed, comfortable and fairly priced. And you can see a half dozen TVs from just about any seat in the place. And clearly, after 22 years, for many people that’s enough.
SILVER SPRING HOUSE
Go: 8322 E. Kemper Road, Symmes Twp.
Hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 12-9 p.m. Sunday
Entrée Prices: $10.99-$23.99
Red Meat Alternatives: It’s all about the chicken.
Accessibility: Fully accessible