Cincinnati’s newest seafood restaurant is also its best. Welcome to Porkopolis, Anchor OTR.
I love the scale of this restaurant. No, not the fish scales! The size and scope. It’s just right. It fits perfectly into the historic building at the northeast corner of Washington Park, and the signage is modest and unobtrusive. I don’t think that’ll play a factor in the crowds they attract, once the word gets out about this little gem.
The space is very well designed, making great use of a long porch on the park side, big windows in the bar area and cozy booths along one wall. We were lucky to get the niche right between the bar and the room that opens to the porch, a comfortable spot and great perspective, as we arrived late-ish on a weeknight.
We started with wine, although my beer aficionado friend who’d visited earlier had given the beer selection a hearty two thumbs up for taps that include Green Flash IPA, Sapporo, Founders Porter, Sixpoint Sweet Action, Paulaner Hefeweizen and Brooklyn Pennant Ale. The specialty cocktails looked like they’ll be worth exploring, including the Sailor’s Ale, with Sailor Jerry spiced rum, ginger syrup and porter. I was very happy with my glass of unoaked chardonnay, the Petit Chablis from Domaine Gautheron ($14) — very light and a little citrusy; my friend enjoyed a white Bordeaux ($9).
Although the raw bar selections were tempting, we went with two really interesting starters. I tried the Salt Shrimp ($10), three extra-large shrimp with their shells on, fried and dusted with crunchy salt.
I gobbled them down, shells and all, dunked in glorious garlic aioli. The shrimp were bedded on a little bit of the Celery Root Salad that Anchor also features as a side dish, crispy and not overdressed.
We both loved the cockles with white beans and garlic sauce ($10), a generous ceramic bowl of tiny bivalves; just adorable. If you like mussels, these are even better — mildly sweet and salty like the sea. Everything was so fresh that we almost forgot we were in the Midwest.
Even though we had our hearts set on two entrees, I had to add an order of soft-shelled crabs ($23). They were incredibly plump and juicy, perched on a warm arugula salad and accompanied by more of that delicious aioli. Such a treat, and I had to fight myself not to indulge in fried oysters ($9), too. Next time, I’m going with a bigger group.
The menu salads were changing with the seasons: caprese out, kale in. We didn’t have room to try them, or to order any side dishes. Elote — Mexican corn on the cob — sounded intriguing, but it was rolling off the summer menu and will reappear next year.
My guest ordered branzino, the featured “whole fish of the day” ($24), grilled and served with Thai vegetable salad that was spicy with jalapenos and crunchy with cashews. The fish is served with head and tail intact, and the server who offered to debone it was very self-deprecating, predicting that it would be a “miracle” if everything came out in one piece. It did.
I wanted to try the fillet of the day, ($23) Tripletail from the Gulf of Mexico, which I’d never had before. The fish was meaty and moist, reminiscent of halibut. It was topped with thin slices of crispy fried lemon and served over arugula salad.
Dining at Anchor is really low carb — other than the packet of oyster crackers on the table when you arrive, you have to order side dishes or dessert to get grains. So just for a bite of something sweet, we shared the blueberry crisp ($8) with a scoop of Madisono’s vanilla ice cream ($3). They also offer hot fudge sundaes with homemade hot fudge sauce.
I was really impressed with the quality of Anchor’s seafood, but I noted that there was a steak special in case you decide to go with a carnivore. I’m sure this place will be a destination. They plan to maintain their “no reservations” policy, and I hope that’s not a misguided decision when the crowds arrive — which they will. Also noted: Lunch is being served Tuesday-Saturday with fish tacos, a trout BLT and more.
The Anchor OTR
Go: 1401 Race St., Over the Rhine
Hours: Lunch: 11:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; Dinner: 5-10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 5-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday
Accessibility: Step at main entrance and bathrooms bathrooms (which are handicapped accessible); ramp at back door.