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Yard House (Review)

Gargantuan beer list, sweeping river views and a thick, familiar menu

By Michael Taylor · May 15th, 2013 · Diner
eats_yardhouse_gardeinavocadosandwichYard House's vegetarian Gardein avacado sandwich - Provided

Yard House is a restaurant chain purchased last year by Darden Restaurants, the publicly traded corporation that brought us Olive Garden, Red Lobster and Seasons 52. The chain’s 44th location overlooks the Roebling Bridge, a baseball toss from the homegrown and similarly themed Moerlein Lager House. It enjoys a vast beer selection, sweeping river views, a thick bible of a menu and an expensive sound system piping out mostly Classic Rock.

Selecting Yard House for the long-awaited Banks Project is a real estate developer’s no-brainer. With more than 40 locations, the chain’s built-in customer base virtually guarantees its success. Its “all things to all people” approach to American fusion cuisine is designed to be bulletproof.  If you like The Cheesecake Factory, you’ll dig this place. If you love beer, you’ll swoon in a pool of sudsy froth.

Inside Yard House it is both sleek and cavernous, with exposed steel pipes, glossy aluminum and an abundance of large LCDs around a bar brandishing a jaw-dropping 160 beer taps at its central core. The place feels like it belongs in a J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek film; it’s expansive, shiny and black, lacking only the film’s signature lens flares.

Yard House’s dizzying menu is arranged such that every popular genre or ethnicity is represented. The truffle fries are here. The street tacos are here. Want a couple sliders? They’ve got six different versions. How about nachos? You bet. Burgers? Check. Lettuce wraps? Of course. They’ve also thrown in chicken wings, flatbreads, crab cakes and their own trademarked, vegetarian-friendly meat substitute. And we haven’t even gotten to the entrees yet.

Nearly every conceivable variation on a hamburger is represented — there are more than a dozen.

There are pizzas. There are pasta dishes. There are steaks and there are ribs. There are soups, salads and myriad desserts.

Struggling with heavy, unwieldy menu albums, our waitress answered a popular question: Does Yard House still serve beer in the thin-necked, 3-foot-tall glasses that are its namesake? No, but they do sell 32-ounce “half-yards,” which are still as impressive as they are absurd. Cincinnati reportedly smashed Yard House’s single-day national sales record on Reds’ Opening Day, which is hard to believe. On that same day, they also broke the record for most half-yard glasses destroyed, which is very easy to believe.

Yard House offers four beer sizes: the 5-ounce “Shorty,” 12-ounce “Goblet,” 16-ounce Pint, and the Half-Yard. Local breweries like Rivertown, Christian Moerlein and Mt. Carmel make the long list. Beer flights are available in “Six Pack” variations.

Scanning the exhaustive menu, we chose what would become the highlight of our meal, the pear and gorgonzola flatbread appetizer ($6.65). Unlike most doughy flatbreads we’ve endured, this one was pleasingly thin and crispy, almost cracker-like, topped with just the right ratio of gorgonzola sauce, thinly-shaved pear, drizzles of balsamic syrup, caramelized onions and wispy leeks.  

Our Chicken Enchilada Stack ($16.35) and Hongos Y Rajas Street Taco Plate ($11.35) arrived soon after. The Stack was a lukewarm, four-inch-high layered tier of small corn tortillas, chicken, pinto beans, smoky pasilla peppers, garlic and sour cream topped in a colorful yin-yang presentation of green tomatillo and red chili sauces. The chicken, tortilla and tomatillo flavors shone through, while other flavors remained stubbornly muted. 

The Hongos Y Rajas were two tiny “street tacos” of shiitake mushrooms, grilled peppers and onions, feta and avocado slices, served with a small ramekin of pinto beans and a large mound of Asian-style, soy sauce-heavy rice. Larger tacos at authentic taquerias around town, served by people whose culture sings through in their food, offer the fruit of their labor for less than $3 apiece. Yard House filters all the chunky culture from their version, leaving a smooth, highly refined product costing up to $2 more. Their tacos lacked mushroom flavor, overwhelmed by peppers and onions. The rice was both salty and cloyingly sweet.

Our desserts, the salted caramel butterscotch pudding ($5.45) and the mini lemon soufflé cake ($3.95), were appropriately diminutive. I enjoyed the warm, subtle lemon cake coupled with the remaining swigs of my fruity beer, and the salted caramel pudding made good textural use of its cookie crumble topping.

But overall, something was missing from our dining experience. The food, while overpriced, wasn’t terrible, the views are stellar, the service competent.

Like many homogenized restaurant chains, Yard House lacks just a bit of soul.

Yard House
Go: 95 E. Freedom Way, Downtown
Call: 513-381-4071
Internet: yardhouse.com
Hours: 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-1:20 a.m. Friday-Saturday



05.15.2013 at 01:06 Reply

Dear Mr. Taylor,

We had the pleasure of reading your article in the CityBeat publication and would like to extend our apologies for the disappointment with your overall experience.  Rest assured, we welcome any and all feedback from our guests and are grateful for your open and honest review.  If we are unaware of our opportunities, we are helpless in addressing them.  Your valuable insight has been shared with our Executive Team as well as our Cincinnati Team.  

Of course, we personally feel that the experience you have described is not indicative of a typical visit with us and it is our hopes that you will return at a later date so that we may have the opportunity to turn the current perception around.  We are capable of providing an “intimate and personable experience” for our guests and apologize that we fell short in doing that with you.  Nothing would please us more than to have the opportunity to invite you back and have your next meal be on us in hopes of restoring your faith.  If you would accept our invitation, please contact me directly at 800.336.5336 x1137 or ccastruita@yardhouse.com.

Again, we truly value your time and feedback. I hope to hear back from you.

Kindest Regards,

Carrie Castruita