Like Sinatra during JFK's 1960 presidential campaign, I had high hopes when I visited Porkopolis Tavern and Grill in Mount Adams. The Grill -- the site of the original Rookwood Pottery building and The Rookwood Pottery Restaurant -- was purchased by Nick Longo of Nick's Chops and Chasers last fall. I've always felt that this space deserved food as noteworthy as its history, so I was anxious to see what the new menu would look like.
Longo, like his predecessor, didn't make any changes to the historic character of the building. The Tudor-style exterior still beckons you into a piece of Cincinnati's heritage, and the interior remains rustic with exposed ductwork, black leather booths and photos of men with thick Germanic arms shaping clay vessels. Even though a woman, Maria Longworth, founded Rookwood Pottery, nothing in the dining room feels remotely feminine.
I admit the name of the restaurant made me a little apprehensive. I don't have a problem with eating pork (in Mexico, I once befriended the pig before I indulged), but anything that evokes the image of herds of pigs running free in the streets makes me squirm.
When we checked out the menu, however, the image faded as I saw that it offered more than just pork products. These dishes, many of which can be found at Longo's Oakley restaurant, include Chicken Normandy ($13.95), Lamb Chops ($29.95) and a bevy of sandwiches. His signature dishes remain true to his theme and include boneless pork chops served nine different ways (a full order is $17.95, just one chop is $12.95) and BBQ ribs.
When we arrived, the host whisked us to our table just outside the kiln and the server was taking our drink orders before our coats were off.
Given that it was a slow weeknight and we weren't in any hurry, I initially felt a little rushed, but the server's honesty soon took the edge off.
Most waitstaffs are trained to effusively gush over any dish on which the guest asks for an opinion, so when you come across one of these rarities it is a beautiful thing. It can literally save a meal from total disaster.
On our server's recommendation we had the Riblets ($8.95) for an appetizer, and on our own we also ordered the Crab Cakes ($9.50). Our server obviously had the inside scoop. Whereas the crab cakes were served with a disappointing Thousand Island dressing and tasted like they came fresh from a freezer bag, the riblet meat was falling from the bone and covered in a sweet, smoky barbeque sauce. (The restaurant also sells Mason jars of this sauce for $5.)
The special that night was a trio of chops ($18.95) with your choice of the nine preparation methods on the regular menu. I went with the Ranch (one of the most popular according to our server), Kraut and Bacon (when in Rome) and Blackened. After the server gently steered me away from a side of Mac and Cheese with a tight little smile and quick shake of the head, I settled on the baked sweet potato and tossed salad. The house balsamic vinaigrette with blue cheese crumbles reminded me of that 1960s concoction of French dressing with blue cheese crumbles.
My husband ordered the smallest of the three Filet Mignon choices, 6 ounces ($24.50), a filet he described as pedestrian. My "sampler platter" of pork didn't do much better: The blackened chop was served with a side of jalapeño sour cream and the ranch came topped with a creamy horseradish sauce and bacon. And while it sounds like a flavor explosion, I found that all the trouble the chef went to was for naught --the blackened chop had no heat and the ranch sauce just tasted salty.
The sauerkraut and bacon chop was the best of the three. Maybe it was just my German genes kicking in, but the subtle tang of slow-cooked kraut is just a natural for pork dishes.
The best part of both meals turned out to be the plain baked sweet potato. This simple little item stands well on its own and should never be adorned with such things as butter, sugar or, God forbid, marshmallows; Porkopolis handled it just right.
Porkopolis is likely to do well with out-of-town guests as a sort of "Cincinnati theme" restaurant, and there are several good items on the menu. But if you don't get a server willing to steer you through the dangerous waters of ordering, you might miss them.
If you find yourself on your own, my suggestion is keep it simple, as these dishes seem to be the restaurant's strong point. ©
Porkopolis Tavern and Grill
Go: 1077 Celestial St., Mount Adams
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 pm. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday
Prices: Moderate to expensive
Payment: Major credit cards accepted
Red Meat Alternatives: Not many, but there are a few chicken and fish alternatives