21c Museum Hotel's flagship hotel was founded in 2006 in Louisville, Ky. by Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson, contemporary art collectors who had a vision for bringing art into people's lives and supporting the revitalization of American cities.
In keeping with the founders' mission, Cincinnati's urban developers 3CDC and 21c Museum Hotel are partnering to revitalize the historical 1912, 10-story Metropole hotel into a unique place to view cutting edge contemporary art.
Along with preserving the city's historic building, the restaurant will emphasize the city's old world roots in its menu. Under Chef Michael Paley's direction, Metropole will focus on dishes with local ingredients cooked in a custom-built hearth. Chef Paley has been the executive chef at Louisville's award-winning Proof on Main since it opened.
“After opening Garage Bar, our wood-fired pizzeria in Louisville last year, I was inspired to create a menu that is cooked almost entirely by wood-fired heat,” Chef Paley says. “Our menu at Metropole will reflect Cincinnati’s rich, European-based culinary heritage, and I am thrilled to introduce our custom-built hearth as the focal point of the restaurant and the menu.”
Working closely with local farmers and artisanal producers, Chef Paley is developing a menu focusing on string roasted meats, ash-cooked vegetables, house-made charcuterie and more. The beverage menu which can be enjoyed in the restaurant or while overlooking the city on the rooftop bar, which will favor craft beers and bourbon.
The Banks district is finally starting to take shape with the Grand Opening Wednesday of Johnny Rockets. Franchise owner Rick Thompson has brought a unique version of Johnny Rockets to his new location across from Great American Ball Park, as the restaurant is decked out in baseball memorabilia and offers new menu items keeping with the theme.
But luckily for us, our snow day was going to get a little brighter: I had booked reservations at Hen of the Woods Underground.
Hen of the Woods (it’s a type of mushroom) is the brainchild of Nick and Kim Marckwald. The duo (Nick is the chef and Kim manages services) recently purchased the old J.B. Schmidt contractor space at 1432 and 1434 Main Street in Over-the-Rhine. They have ambitious plans for a restaurant and urban market there. As a run-up, they have been holding “pop-up” brunches since January in Main Street’s Street Pops space (closed for the winter months). And the very last one was scheduled for Sunday.
Now, this is just a hop, skip and jump from us, so the weather was not a concern — or was it?
Just to be sure it was all going to happen given the poor road conditions, I sneakily walked our puppy by the space, which was holding the first of two seatings that day. The windows were properly steamed up, I could glimpse small tables of people inside and the most wonderful smells wafted from the slightly propped open door.
When we arrived an hour later, our table was waiting. We were among about 10 guests. Our first course was a refreshing juice du jour — Meyer lemonade with ginger and cilantro flavors, and a jalapeno ice cube floating in the jelly jar glass.
Next, we were offered coffee. Deeper Roots Coffee’s Ryan Doan stood at the counter carefully pouring from what looked like a tiny watering can into a Chemex coffee maker. The brew was deep and rich without being acidic.
During the next hour or so, we were offered three courses and a dessert prepared by the clearly visible staff. Each was meticulously described by our server— most times it was Nick or Kim.
First came a beautiful refreshing plate made from lemongrass, tapioca, mango, fingerlime, almond, ginger and pea shoots.
Next up, another precisely plated combo — lovely pink-edged beet cured salmon was draped over a crispy seared rice cake on a bed of leeks and shiitakes with a horseradish and basil sauce.
Next, the brunch got down to business because, what’s brunch without bacon and eggs? Hen’s take on eggs Benedict was a fat, wobbly egg sitting on top of a concoction with Woodlands “back bacon” lardo, English muffin, frisee and Hollandaise, served on a wooden slab made of black walnut. One poke with my fork sent yellow yolk running hither and yon amidst the gathering of elements.
Finally, a rich bread pudding, with banana, sesame, chocolate, dulche de leche and pine. In the only misstep of the entire production, the crisp decorative chip had a distinct lack of flavor.
I’m not usually a fan of little-plate meals and such as a fill-in for a meal. They often just tease, sending you out the door looking for something else to eat. This time? Not the case. We walked home in the ice and cold, happy and full, ready to hunker down and slog through the last of winter.
I am so waiting for spring, and also for Hen of the Woods to begin doing impromptu servings in their new space while it is under construction. Nick and Kim assure me they’ll be doing it as soon as the permits are in order. The sooner the better for me!
Follow Hen of the Woods news on their Facebook page.
"What's going to make us different is our culinary staff," Stephens writes. "Constant ideas of recipes, ice creams and cookies are going to make some waves for sure in the area. We will also be listening to the public, so if you have a great meatball recipe, bring it down and we can give it a try."
Packhouse will be located on Monmouth Street in Newport. Their current projected open date is Jan. 28, so keep an eye on the restaurant and get more details here.
4 p.m.-2 a.m. Monday-Friday; noon-2 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. Sundry and Vice, 18 W. 13th St., Over-the-Rhine, facebook.com/sundryandvice.
All photos by Aaron Conway