CRITIC'S PICKI often wonder what makes a restaurant successful. I have been to “hot” places with a line out the door that serve mediocre food, and I have been to spots with excellent food and an empty dining room. An advertising blitz can create a waiting list, but there had better be something more than shtick to keep customers once the glitter fades.
FB’s in downtown Cincinnati has what it takes to keep people coming back: a menu full of innovative, homemade dishes that they call QBG (Quality Bar Grub), a friendly staff and a unique atmosphere. Be prepared to leave your ideas of bar food at the door; this, my friends, is quality bar grub that will exceed expectation.
The mission of FB's is to create unique, elevated dining and nightlife that meshes modern, vintage and traditional décor, an upscale menu at bar food prices, craft beers and cocktails. The proprietors have created a world where the fictional character Frank Barron is the blogger who alerts guests of the happenings at FB’s, and the letters FB play a prominent role in the menu and events.
For our early Sunday meal, we had the place to ourselves, which afforded us undivided attention, and an after-dinner tour of the basement bar that is much more low-key than upstairs. The upstairs room is bold, and you have to have a moment to take in: vintage black-and-white wallpaper makes the large, high-backed yellow couch a focal point, and the juxtaposition of the antique lamps and white leather sofa forces the eye to focus on one piece at a time.
The menu doesn’t adequately convey the care taken with all dishes. You might think you are just getting Fashionably Blazing Chicken Wings ($10), but then tender, house-smoked chicken goodness is presented to you with delicious sauces (not that wings needed anything, btw).
The ghost chile, as chile lovers know, is the hottest around, and FB used it in two ways: straight and in a Pomegranate-Ghost Chile Glaze. A homemade blue cheese sauce also goes well with the sweet apple coolant. These sauces could stand alone with a simple piece of bread and would have made a great starter.
The Farmer’s “Cheese and Crackers” ($10) is one of the best cheese appetizers I have ever had. A cheese terrine made of Maytag bleu, white cheddar, goat cheese and a touch of cream cheese is served with smoked grapes, frozen grapes, House Mostarda (a sweet, candied fruit and mustard jam) and Lavosh (aka an American cracker). It was creamy, crunchy and smoky. We also had the Avocado Goat Cheese Mousse ($8). It was light and creamy, and it was fine, but it also had the misfortune to be sitting beside the other two appetizers, which out-shined it.
Knowing what Chef Jimmy Gibson is capable of, choosing an entrée was nearly impossible. The many exceptional choices reflect the diverse crowd FB draws: Moroccan Bus Stop Chicken and Waffles ($12), Hot and Gooey Grille ($10) composed of four cheeses and Cheetos grilled on ciabatta bread, and the Two Bird Cuban Press ($12) with house-smoked chicken and turkey, just to name a few.
There are magical times when your food is delivered and you cannot take your eyes off the plate. You follow it as the server brings it to the table and do not risk making eye contact to say thank you, for fear your meal will disappear. The Whole Hog Waffles ($12) and House Cured Tuna Tacos ($14) had the same effect as the appetizers: they exceeded expectation. Perfectly rare tuna was cradled between fresh corn tortillas and topped with sweet and tangy grapefruit, avocado and spicy Serrano-lime mayo. The Whole Hog Waffles could serve as breakfast, lunch or dinner. Thick, homemade waffles stood up well to the pulled-pork sausage gravy and pork rinds. Gravy and waffles is pretty delicious, but dip a forkful into homemade smoked bacon syrup and you have yourself something sweet, salty and pretty spectacular.
We had to have dessert, just to see what the chef had in store for us. We chose the special — the Fig Newton Plate ($8). A thick slice of chocolate studded with fig and lady fingers dipped in a raspberry sauce was what I said I would have “just a bite of,” but it was gone within minutes.
Whether you call it QBG, Funky Bastard’s or FB’s, I know it’s freaking brilliant. This menu is not average bar food designed to sop up the alcohol; this menu makes FB’s a true dining destination. Bars and nightclubs can get away with serving average food, and it's refreshing to see that FB’s does not take a captive audience for granted. They take pride in the food they serve and care about the reputation of their menu, and they go the extra mile to prove it.
Go: 126 W. Sixth St., Downtown Cincinnati
Hours: Dinner: 5-11 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday; drinks: 4 p.m.-2 a.m. Tuesday-Sunday. Basement bar open 10 p.m.-2 a.m. Friday and Saturday
Entrée Prices: $10-$15
Red Meat Alternatives: Various
Accessibility: Fully accessible