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by Ilene Ross 11.05.2015 20 days ago
Posted In: Brunch, local restaurant, News, Openings at 10:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
josh campbell

New Chef to Take Ownership of Django Western Taco

Chef Josh Campbell takes over the popular Northside taqueria at the start of the year

There’s a new chef at Django Western Taco, and as of the beginning of the year, he’ll also own the joint.

After stints in both The British Virgin Islands and New York City, chef Josh Campbell, formerly of Cincinnati restaurant Mayberry, has returned to town and has found a home at the popular Northside “Cowboy Cuisine” restaurant. For now he’s running the kitchen, but he’s also made a deal with long-time restaurateur Jens Rosenkrantz to buy the place. 

“I think it’s a great fit,” Rosenkrantz says. “I’ve been looking to have someone take it over for a while, and having known Josh for years, going to Mayberry all the time, and his style of cuisine, and his style, I cannot think of a better fit for this place.”

With the recent departure of Django executive chef Andrew Mersmann to Oakley’s Red Feather, the timing for the move was perfect for both Campbell and Rosenkrantz. "I came back from NYC and was just figuring out what I wanted to do, I didn’t know if I really wanted to run another restaurant, and I found out that there was gonna be a transition and I got a hold of Jens," Campbell says. "He closed down Mayberry with me, was there on the last day with me, so I did my due diligence to see if this was something I wanted to get into.”

There will be some immediate updates to the décor, including a larger bar area, and Campbell is working on his new, more seasonally driven menu, although he promises that the most popular items like shrimp tacos will stay.

The restaurant will also be bringing back Sunday brunch and will now be open for lunch on Monday and dinner on Sunday.


by Staff 09.08.2015 78 days ago
Posted In: Leftovers, Brunch, Alcohol, Asian, Events, Food news at 09:56 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Leftovers: What We Ate This Weekend

There's a new Toast Bar at Findlay Market; Taste of Belgium's Rookwood location; pumpkin-flavored stuff; Northside Yacht Club brunch and more

Each week CityBeat staffers, dining writers and the occasional intern tell you what they ate this weekend. We're not always proud — or trendy — but we definitely spend at least some money on food. 

Ilene Ross: The BF and I had a super busy weekend in the kitchen putting up tomatoes and okra — he’s a wiz with the canning — but we did manage to get out for a bit. On Saturday morning we hit up Findlay Market for provisions and started with breakfast at the fairly new Toast Bar at the Blue Oven Bakery stand. Hearty slices of brioche or other types of bread are slathered thick with your choice of sweet or savory toppings. I chose peanut butter with honey and honey-roasted peanuts, and the BF went with everyone’s childhood favorite, cinnamon sugar. We paired our toast with lattes from Urbana Cafe. Delightful. Next, we stocked up with at-home eats: chicken thighs from Busch’s, smoked lamb sausage from Kroeger & Sons, Japanese eggplant and corn from Turner Farms, spices from Colonel De and general groceries from Madison’s. While we were selecting our groceries we overheard a Madison grandchild who works in the shop say to Mr. Madison, “’Such & such’ brought down the 50-cents for the eggs.” You don’t hear that sort of neighborly attitude at Kroger, which is exactly why we shop at Findlay.
On Monday afternoon we attended Morsels of MORTAR, an open house featuring tastings from four food entrepreneurs who have graduated from the business incubator program MORTAR Cincinnati. We tasted French fries from Fryed, vegan Jamaican cuisine from JameriSol, desserts from Jazzy-Sweeties, and cobbler from Aunt Flora. After the event we strolled to Brezel OTR, grabbed a couple of pretzels and headed over occupy a couple of Adirondack chairs at the bar in Washington Park. I highly recommend this delightful spot as a place to relax, unwind, and enjoy the sights and sounds of the city. Especially the joyful noise of the kids enjoying the fountain. It was an especially nice way to end our holiday weekend.

Emily Begley: It’s finally September, and that means pumpkin-flavored everything is perfectly acceptable. If you’ve never tried pumpkin pie-flavored vodka, go to the store tonight and pick up a bottle of Pinnacle’s. I mixed in a shot with diet cream soda, basically creating a cup of liquid pumpkin pie. (Ice is a must.) It was a great addition to our Labor Day feast, which included grilled sweet potatoes and portobello mushrooms.

Pama Mitchell: We had a good meal and good time at The Littlefield. They make an excellent, strong Manhattan. At $12 it’ll set you back, but one goes a long way. It’s served in a rocks glass over one large ice ball, which keeps the drink cool without diluting it. The dinner specials were all interesting, too. I chowed down on a lamb/beef burger with feta cheese and pickled onions, accompanied by “crunchy green beans” that thankfully weren’t fried (not with the rich burger) — just cooked very al dente. Companions had a pappardelle special (tomatoes, cheese, vegetarian) and the most virtuous among us opted for another special, an Asian-style entrée-sized shrimp salad. (He supplemented that by eating some of his wife’s pasta.)

Katie Holocher: I had a mad craving for Taste of Belgium's chicken and waffles, so my little family and I checked out the new Rookwood location. The chicken and waffle was of course, just as delicious as I remembered, plus I had a raspberry latte that su-eriously hit the spot. And while the wait was long (50 minutes), the staff was super nice and accommodating and our orders were out lickidy split. The whole treat was pretty sweet!

Anne Mitchell: We had our annual neighborhood picnic Sunday, and my friend and I made 100 hamburgers. It's a potluck, and the food is actually awesome. One of our neighbors is a food stylist, and brought an amazing big chafing dish of shrimp with dill butter. Seriously impressive. Washed it all down with Moerlein's Push Reel. Thanks, unions!

Casey Arnold: Saturday my parents took my boyfriend and me to dinner at Chuy's in Kenwood for our belated birthday dinners. We stumbled across the restaurant not too long ago after a day at the mall and were surprised how great the food was, especially because it's a chain restaurant. It was the perfect place for our varied tastes, from my meat-and-potatoes dad, gluten-free boyfriend, vegetarian self and I'll-try-anything-once-and-never-refuse-a-margarita mom. Sunday morning, after spending an evening dancing to Freddie Mercury tunes at Northside Yacht Club the night before, we returned the next afternoon for brunch. There's a simple buffet setup with the added bonus of running into friends every time we've been there. Our friend and co-owner Stuart mixed us some seriously delicious as well as some seriously ridiculous cocktails. My favorite was the Gatorpagne, just half gatorade and half champagne. 

Tony Johnson: I ate a black bean three-way, a cheese pizza with banana peppers from Dewey's and Reese's Pieces.

Jesse Fox: On Saturday, my band filmed a music video that included consumption of mass Budlight Ritas. I tend to gravitate to the Raz-Ber-Rita, but I had a couple Lemon-Ade-Ritas as well. Sunday and Monday I worked on the World Peace Yoga cookbook I am photographing for chef Mark Stroud. He made two incredible feasts to be photographed with models both days and we were all able to indulge once the photos were done. Sunday was a vegan take on the "all American picnic/barbecue" so lots of beans, potato salad, sloppy joes, etc. Monday was more of a thanksgiving-style cuisine and I think I ate my weight in Shepard's Pie. If I had to guess, I would say a weight gain of at least 10 pounds happened over the course of the past three days. Someone roll me to the gym, please.

by Staff 06.15.2015
elis bbq

Leftovers: What We Ate This Weekend

A surprising amount of different types of cuisine.

Each week CityBeat staffers, dining writers and the occasional intern tell you what they ate this weekend. We're not always proud — or trendy — but we definitely spend at least some money on food. 

Sarah Urmston: I spent my Sunday afternoon under the hot sun with a case of Corona Light and a basket full of Eli's BBQ. My friend and I set up camp on one of their multiple picnic benches and played a round of corn hole with a group of people sitting across from us as we waited for our authentic barbecue sandwiches to come out. Alongside the overflowing pulled pork was mashed potatoes, their famous mac and cheese, and coleslaw, which I piled even higher on the meat stuffed between two buttered, toasted buns. It was the best way to fuel up before heading to see Dawes and Hozier perform live at Horseshoe Casino, closing out an already awesome weekend. 

Ilene Ross: I am a huge fan of leftovers. Thankfully this dovetails nicely with the fact that I can never narrow down my menu choices at restaurants, so I am a compulsive over-orderer. Leftovers are marvelous things. On lazy days I adore having a fridge full of things to either quickly consume in their original state or magically transform into something new, usually with some simple addition like a fried egg. On Thursday night, the BF and I dined al fresco at Dutch’s in Hyde Park. After consuming a gigantic charcuterie and cheese platter and their miraculous truffle popcorn, I knew that most of the short rib grilled cheese and brussels sprouts we had ordered would be coming home. I was right, and it made for the perfect late-night dinner on Friday with the addition of a pint of Graeter’s Black Raspberry Chocolate Chip. No egg necessary.

On Sunday, the BF and I attended one of my very favorite food events in town, Healthy Roots Foundation’s Midsummer Harvest. This year it took place out at Carriage House Farm with 20-plus chefs and vendors preparing and serving delicious food, wine and spirits to raise funds to ensure a healthy start to all babies in the Tristate. We gorged on outstanding “My Grandmother’s Goetta” from chef Michael Shields of BrewRiver GastroPub; Marksbury Buttermilk Fried Chicken with truffle butter, parsley sauce and a spring vegetable salad from chef Todd Kelly of Orchids; cornmeal bellini with Marksbury ham from chef Frances Kroner of Sleepy Bee Café; barbecue pork shoulder tacos with salsa verde, queso fresco, Carriage House radishes and Waterfield’s cilantro from chef Daniel Wright of Pontiac BBQ; and so much more. De rigueur for the sweltering day were Molly Wellmann’s super refreshing cocktails.

Casey Arnold: Friday I went to Kaze for a book event (Many Levy's Calorie Accounting release party). I always love their edamame because it's served chilled with lots of salt. I also ordered the Kaze salad which is unique because of the small spicey peppers mixed in with the greens. A friend of mine ordered the shishotos appetizer, which are those same peppers served hot with bonito flakes. The heat coming from the peppers makes the flakes look like a living organism as they curl and flail around, which was equal parts neat and stinky.

Anne Mitchell: I ate the whole season of Orange is the New Black

Jac Kern: Jeff and I went to Vitor's Bistro on Saturday. They had a five-course dinner-for-two special going on so we made reservations and grabbed a shamefully large bottle of wine to bring (they're BYOB). I've never ordered off the menu at Vitor's; every meal I've had there has been a chef's choice coursed dinner, which can be really fun if you are a person that likes food. This special basically worked the same way: the server asks if you have any allergies, dietary restrictions or strong dislike of anything; this time they also asked if we wanted beef, fish, pork or chicken as an entrée. We let the chef decide. Every plate that came out was a hit for us. We both got a creamy gazpacho (more of a cool tomato basil bisque than a cold salsa-like "soup" I've come to expect), a single deep-fried seafood ravioli in a lobster cream sauce and a light but flavorful salad with peaches, nuts and blue cheese. We received cod and steak as our entrées, which we split and, for dessert, their signature French toast and a crème brûlée torte. I was disappointed we didn't get to try to apple pie egg roll some others had received (I'm a nosey diner), but that feeling lasted for about three seconds once I dug into the crunchy, caramelized cake served in a martini glass. Overall, it was a fun, delicious farm-to-table meal that I'm hoping negates the fact that I ordered LaRosa's twice this weekend.

by Staff 05.18.2015
Posted In: Leftovers, Cocktails, Brunch, Beer, local restaurant at 12:11 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
bistro grace ceviche

Leftovers: What We Ate This Weekend

ReUse-apalooza! Brunch at The Palace. Waffles with gelato. Cheese coneys by a flaming smokestack at GABP.

Each week CityBeat staffers, dining writers and the occasional intern tell you what they ate this weekend. We're not always proud — or trendy — but we definitely spend at least some money on food. 

Ilene Ross: Friday night’s ReUse-apalooza! at Building Value in Northside gave me the opportunity to do one of my favorite things for dinner: graze. Northside’s proliferation of tasty restaurants is the perfect place for progressive noshing, and an event like this is the perfect way to sample most of them in a compact setting. Some of my favorites were the ceviche from Bistro Grace, the chiles rellenos from Django Western Taco, the kale and white bean dip from Park + Vine and pierogies from Babushka Pierogies (neither from Northside, but I’m not that picky), and then dessert goodies from Happy Chicks Bakery and Grateful Grahams.

Colleen McCroskey: You either wholeheartedly agree with me or think I’m insane, but I am 110 percent convinced that cheese coneys from Great American Ball Park taste LIGHT YEARS better than coneys from a regular Skyline, so I treated myself to two of them this past Friday night when we played (read: lost to) the Giants. The cheese is lighter and fluffier and the flavors of the chili seem more complex and nuanced somehow. I washed down all that deliciousness with a vodka-spiked slushie. I also happened to be sitting right next to the smoke stack that caught fire so the black billowing smoke added some nice ambience to my own personal coney-fest.

Jesse Fox: I've been on a mission to eat better and minimize my portion size the past couple weeks, but this weekend I took a break from that. This started on Saturday when I went out with my friend Erica to use up a gift card I had from Moerlein Lager House. Knowing that we had a whopping $50 of free money we decided to go wild (for two broke girls) and order a couple margaritas, an appetizer (calamari) and an entree that was more than $7. Erica went with the herb-crusted salmon and I chose their crispy balsamic tofu. After that we went up to Clifton where my band was having a house-show and finished the night out with some Bud Light Razberitas and a few PBRs.  

Katie Holocher: I, no joke, literally ate Dewey's all weekend. A calzone Friday night, those leftovers on Saturday and then another pie on Sunday. Same order every time — banana peppers and pepperoni (or BPPep as we call it in our house), with extra sides of their ranch. Furthermore, I had a delicious lemon cake, that was as equally adorably decorated, at a baby shower, made by a local gal named Sara Kenny. She calls herself the Baking Actor but I was talking to my friend who knows her and it sounds like she's getting more away from the acting side so that she can get more into the baking side. 

Sarah Urmston: This past Saturday, OTR was buzzing with action — a 5k, the City Flea, store grand openings and more; every restaurant seemed to be flooded to their very brim. I gratefully remembered The Taste of Belgium (one of my favorite breakfast places in Cincinnati) had another location off of Short Vine, not too far from the one in OTR. Our scheduled 2-hour wait turned into no wait at all as my buddies and I gathered around a high-top for some their famous waffles. Switching it up from the usual chicken and waffles I get, I ordered the Waffogato: a Belgian waffle topped with vanilla bean gelato alongside a shot of rich espresso to dip, pour or do with whatever your heart desires. It was the perfect blend of cold and hot together, with a sweet-meets-bitter taste. It was the best way to wake up and begin a Saturday.  

Casey Arnold: My boyfriend Brian and I were traveling around the suburbs checking out yard sales on Saturday when we both were hit with some painful hunger. We remembered that there was a Mexican restaurant pretty close to where we were in Maderia called Chuy's. Neither of us had ever been there or heard of it. It seemed a little gimmicky at first: hubcaps hanging from the ceiling, T-shirts for sale and general flair on the walls. When the fresh salsa came (where was our red slime?) we were pleasantly surprised. I had the bean and cheese burrito with creamy jalapeno sauce. It was delicious, but we both swore that the sauce was just ranch dressing. Brian had the stacked enchiladas which were blue corn tortillas sandwiching shredded chicken. Everything was fresh, different and so much better than an average Mexican restaurant. I posted about it on my Facebook and my Austin, Texas-transplant friends started commenting about how surprised they were that the chain made it all the way up to Cincinnati and raving about their favorite dishes. I realize I've been spending too much time downtown. 

Garin Pirnia: On Sunday, my friend and I brunched at The Palace restaurant inside The Cincinnatian Hotel. In March, they introduced Saturday and Sunday brunch (11 a.m.-2 p.m.). The restaurant wasn’t crowded or loud, so you could actually carry on a conversation. Besides their brunch menu, you can also order off their breakfast and lunch menus, so there were a lot of options such as challah bread pudding, and chicken and cornbread waffles. I had their eggs Benedict (arugula, grilled tomato, poached egg on English muffin, avocado mousse, hollandaise sauce). The eggs were a little overcooked but otherwise were good. My friend ordered the steak and eggs flatbread, which came with coffee-cured bacon. We also indulged in home fries, which were the right amount of crispy and pillow-y. The best part of their brunch menu is the inventive collection of bloody marys: a spicy lobster and shrimp gazpacho bloody that came with fresh-shaved horseradish mixed in, and chunks of lobster and shrimp on a skewer. I mean, lobster in a bloody! They also offer a Southwestern bloody (avocado, cumin, cilantro), and a Korean (kimchee, soy, ginger). You can order the bloodys singularly ($8-$11) or by the pitcher, but we refrained from doing that (maybe next time). They also make blueberry mimosas and housemade strawberry sodas. If you like a fancy (and boozy) brunch with affordable prices and food served atop white table cloths, then you need to go.
by Staff 05.11.2015
goodfellas pizza

Leftovers: What We Ate This Weekend

Goodfellas pizza, Indian (always), Jimmy G's, Bronte Bistro and BrewRiver GastroPub

Each week CityBeat staffers, dining writers and the occasional intern tell you what they ate this weekend. We're not always proud — or trendy — but we definitely spend at least some money on food. 

Ilene Ross: On Friday night I was “ordered” by the boy and his friend to pick up pizza from Goodfellas on my way home. Ham and pineapple for the boy, sausage for his friend, and a Taste of Naples for me — tomatoes, basil and fresh mozzarella. Simple yet satisfying. On Sunday night — Mother’s Day — the boy artfully arranged a giant platter of supermarket sushi and presented me with a hand-decorated box in which to store my treasures. The night was divine.

Jac Kern: I took my fiance to the Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally show at the Taft on Saturday as a late birthday present, and we went out to dinner before at Jimmy G's. We split a crab cake to start. I don't think I've ever had a crab cake I didn't like, but this one was particularly good — full of fresh crab meat without breadcrumb fillers. I stuck with seafood for dinner and ordered a rare yellowfin tuna steak. It was so flavorful, I think it was even better than the steak they're known for (which my date ordered). We shared a couple side dishes — 4 fat fries and mac and cheese — but could barely put a dent in the oversized portions. I also pretended to be fancy by ordering lemon basil martinis, which were insanely good.

On Sunday we took our moms and grandma to Bronte Bistro inside Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Rookwood Pavilion. Half of us ordered quiche (Mother's Day brunch staple!) and the others ordered a big breakfast platter, a ham and brie sandwich and tilapia. I worked at Bronte in college, so you'd think by now I'd be sick of the food I'd relied on for shift meals so many times, but nope! I'm a sucker for good ladies-who-lunch fare and a coffee shop with a full bar. We're now thinking of making it a Mother's Day tradition.

Casey Arnold: At the Aronoff on Saturday I saw the Cincinnati Ballet for the first time ever. It proved to be impressive and something I should have done a long time ago. Before the ballet, my friends Corrie, Julie, Katie and I went to Igby's for cocktails and small plates. We nibbled on seafood guacamole and bread and butter while sampling from the cocktail menu. My favorite was the Tito's Austin Blossom, a vodka and citrus cocktail with rosemary. After the ballet we attempted to go to the 21c rooftop but were thwarted by a private party. We ended up at Taqueria Mercado where we sipped Palomas and talked about our favorite parts of the ballet — all between scoops of queso and guacamole on fresh chips. 

Maija Zummo: Sunday, my husband and I had brunch at the bar at BrewRiver GastroPub for our anniversary (note to self: don't go to brunch on Mother's Day without a reservation and expect a table). We got engaged in New Orleans so a New Orleans-style brunch seemed apt. He loved his shrimp and grits and I enjoyed the texture of my eggs-and-biscuit breakfast. I've been super sick and couldn't taste any of it, but I liked how dense and square the biscuit was. I forgot how fun the atmosphere is at BrewRiver — usually I hate live music, but they had a pretty good singer there doing Tom Waits covers, and then we found out they do Louisiana crawfish boils weekly, where they fly in the little things and cook em up with like mushroom or potatoes or corn or whatever you're supposed to do. And if you get there between 5 and 6 p.m., they have super cheap beers (with like 23ish on draft). I won't eat crustaceans but I'm not opposed to beer.
by Hannah Bussell 04.20.2015
Posted In: Alcohol, Bar, Beer, Brunch, Cincinnati, Cookies at 01:34 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)
skyline coneys

A British Foodie in the Queen City

After 10 months in America as a foreign exchange student, CityBeat intern Hannah Bussell has a few things to say about stateside cuisine

I moved from England last August to spend 10 months in the land of the free — I’m studying at the University of Cincinnati and exploring as much of the country as I can squeeze in. I’d been looking forward to the iconic American foods that the world knows about: deep-dish Chicago pizzas, stacks of fluffy pancakes drowning in syrup, apple pies topped with whipped cream. I chose to come to Cincinnati because I wanted to be in Midwestern America. Before I arrived, when people said Cincinnati to me I thought, “Bengals.” I didn’t once consider the city to be a food town — not everyone knows about Cincinnati’s chili! So I was thrilled to find Cincinnati’s exciting and expanding foodie scene, host to a wide number of delicious and vibrant eats with food so good I warmly welcomed the inevitable weight gain.

From my time here so far, I’ve noticed some differences between my food culture and yours.

Your portions are almost as big as your mountains, your national parks and your prairies. A meal at the Incline Public house in the West Side gave me delicious leftovers for two consecutive nights. The portion sizes at The Cheesecake Factory are immensely appreciated but borderline ridiculous.

The service. I feel like I’m being ushered out the door almost as soon as I arrive. Being a Brit, I am used to a slower-paced meal with a docile waiter reservedly keeping their distance. If there’s something wrong with our food we don’t say anything because, as a nation, we are too awkward to deal with that sort of thing. Over here I am given the bill along with my food and asked how I want to pay. In England this would be seen as rude, but the waiters are always so smiley and chirpy it’s refreshing. English table service really could learn a thing or two here. 

Upon my arrival I was so excited by American culture I consumed so many Pop-Tarts in 48 hours that I haven’t touched one since. I have since learned from my mistake and didn’t want to sabotage my Cincinnati scoffing (British slang for "scarfing") experience. But after coming face to face with Skyline, any attempts to monitor my chili allowance were fruitless. The thin beef chili is smooth and tender, with hints of cinnamon and cloves. Served over a hotdog and for only $2, coneys became the ultimate “drunk food” for me — especially as I lived so close to the Clifton branch. Back home we know this type of food as “chili con carne,” and it’s heavily laden with tomatoes, cumin and garlic, and served over rice. I much prefer Cincinnati’s pairing with hot dogs, a mound of shredded cheddar and a bag of oyster crackers.

Talking of cheddar, I’m sorry to say my entrenched European prejudices meant I was quick to judge the cheese you have to offer. With England so close to the cheesy nation of France, I have developed a taste for oozing Camembert, crumbly yet creamy goat cheeses and blue and salty Saint Agur. America’s painfully mild, processed and bright orange “cheese” that you find melted on burgers or stirred into bowls of mac and cheese should not share the same name. The square singles of “Swiss cheddar” taste more like the convenient plastic they are wrapped in, and are not remotely Swiss. I don’t have the words to describe the monstrosity that is cheese in a can. I was readily accepting of not being able to taste any real cheese for 10 months until I stumbled across the delight that is Findlay Market and its J.E. Gibbs cheese vendor. My predisposed scorn of cheese in America vanished along with my dollars, but the investment in Brie was worth it.

On the subject of delicious dairy, Oprah was absolutely right about Cincinnati’s Graeter’s ice cream. Its black raspberry and chocolate chip flavor is on the same standard as ice cream and gelato I’ve sampled in Florence, Italy. 

The Midwest’s booming corn supply means there are a lot of corn-involved foods to be eaten around here. In the UK you only consume this staple in the form of canned sweet corn, but here it is baked into corn puddings, corn breads or creamed up to make “creamed corn” — none of which I’m convinced by. The freshly grilled ears of corn dripping in butter I bought at the state fair were delicious, but the “corndog,” however, is just obscene.

I am now obsessed with American barbecue. Pulled pork, ribs and beef brisket with heaps of finely shredded, creamy coleslaw has changed my perception of this type of cuisine. You Americans love your contemporary backyard barbecues and you know how to do them well. In England, we associate the British summertime barbecue with a much more high-strung experience, and less delicious food. I’m used to supermarket-bought bangers slid between cheap baps (a sort of soft bread roll, like a bun) and cooked on a tiny disposable charcoal barbecue. There is no sense of patience with a British summertime barbecue — we always want to get it done as quickly as possible as you never know when it might start pouring rain. So we bite into a hastily cooked burger and the blackened, charred outside crumbles away to reveal pinkish, undercooked disappointment. In America, however, you have much more patience and respect for this kind of cooking. You slowly smoke meats at low temperatures to get the perfect tenderness; you incorporate “wet” rubs and “dry” rubs to add even more flavor. A pulled pork sandwich at Eli’s BBQ entailed a toasted bun stuffed with hickory-smoked pork, which had a tender interior, caramelized exterior and was slapped with a vinegar mop. Thank you, America, for showing me a real barbecue; I will think of you during my father’s next annual soggy barbecue disaster. 

I do miss the classic British biscuit tin. Graham crackers and cookies don’t suffice for the Jammie Dodgers, shortbreads and chocolate digestives that we love to dunk in our tea. I miss the chocolate. In a sibling rivalry between American and British chocolate, Cadbury will always win over Hershey's. 

The American obsession with peanut butter is something I’ve learned to love as well. Your peanut butter is arguably much better, smoother and creamier. I understand the appeal of a classic PB&J sandwich. I have still yet to try a Buckeye though.

In my first few weeks in America the only beer I was exposed to was grim Bud Light served in red Solo cups at student parties. Pre-departure to the states I was warned, “American beer sucks!” It took me until Oktoberfest, when I discovered the plethora of craft beer and breweries that Cincinnati has to offer, that I learned this was absolutely not the case. My favorite Cincinnati beer is MadTree’s seasonal Sprye, which manages to be spicy, citrusy, piney and earthy. Cincinnati brewing veteran Christian Moerlein and the Moerlein brewery also makes a great watering hole; with so many beer options to choose from I felt like I was back in my local pub.

The morning after a night of craft beer, my first thought goes to a full English breakfast. A plate of fried eggs, tomatoes, sausages, toast, baked beans and black pudding has been curing British hangovers since the invention of the frying pan. But I’m in America now, where baked beans are for barbecues only and black pudding is unheard of. My next thought is for bagels: the classic beloved breakfast bread that has become iconic to New York and American food culture. An egg and cheese bagel with bacon and sausage from Bruegger’s bagels is everything I want but more. A freshly made bagel topped by most of the commodities of a full English breakfast, but with less calories. If I can, I drag myself to quirky breakfast joint Hangover Easy in Clifton that also does an excellent brunch and breakfast fix.

With only a few more weeks left here, I am sad to leave Cincinnati's eclectic options of places to eat and drink. I'll certainly be returning to the UK a couple pounds heavier but I'll have a coney shaped hole missing from my life. 

by Ilene Ross 04.15.2015
Posted In: Brunch, Chicken, local restaurant at 08:45 AM | Permalink | Comments (0)
the anchor otr patio

Dining En Plein Air

Some favorite restaurants with perfect patios for outdoor eats

The surefire signs of spring seem as if they’re finally here to stay. Annuals are sprouting everywhere, joggers are jogging and that most significant local spring holiday — Opening Day — is in our rear-view mirror. It’s finally time to trade boots for sandals and spend every single one of our sunshiny days eating and drinking outside. Here’s a cultivated list of perfect patios that should keep you busy for at least a week.

The Anchor-OTR 

With Anchor, you get dinner and a show. Where else can you sit next to Washington Park and enjoy any of the programming for free while dining on chef Derek dos Anjos’ super fresh fare from the sea? Our favorite nights are Tuesday, when lobster rolls are only $20, and Thursday, when oysters are a buck. 1401 Race St., Over-the-Rhine, 513-421-8111, theanchor-otr.com.

Avril-Bleh & Sons Marketplace and Deli 

Fast food doesn’t need to be crap food. Head down to Court Street, where every lunch Tuesday-Friday (weather permitting), the good folks at Averil-Bleh will be grilling their tasty, housemade sausages as well as burgers. Wanna be super fancy? Stroll inside, pick up some fresh homemade salads, like German potato and coleslaw, head to a park and have yourself a picnic. 37 E. Court St., Downtown, avril-blehmeats.com.

Bouquet Restaurant and Wine Bar and Otto’s

We’re super stoked when we don’t have to travel too far for a street-side gourmet progressive dining experience. Pick cocktails and apps at MainStrasse’s Bouquet Restaurant and Wine Bar — chef Stephen William’s housemade charcuterie and pickles are to die for — then literally walk a couple feet for your main dish at Otto’s. If you prefer a slightly less pedestrian feel to your meal, take a seat on the back patio of either establishment. Bouquet, 519 Main St., Covington, Ky., 859-491-7777, bouquetrestaurant.com; Otto’s, 521 Main St., Covington, Ky., 859-491-6678, ottosonmain.com.

Django Western Taco

Tasty tacos and other Southwestern favorites, tequila-based drinks, live music on Thursday nights and a secret stash of Nerf guns for the occasional Nerf war are the super-sweet lures chef Andrew Mersmann has tucked away on his back patio in Northside. Kids are welcome, but why would you want them in the way of all of that grown-up fun? 4046 Hamilton Ave., Northside, djangonorthside.com.


The 50-seat patio at Dutch’s makes it the perfect place in East Hyde Park to stop after work. Fire pits keep you warm while bocce ball keeps you entertained as you nibble on everything from the housemade truffle popcorn to a selection of charcuterie plates that go perfectly with Dutch’s outstanding beer and wine selection. Feeling a bit more ravenous? No problem. Try one of Dutch’s mouthwatering sandwiches, including an extremely decadent short rib grilled cheese. 3378 Erie Ave., Hyde Park, 513-871-1446, facebook.com/dutchslarder.

Krueger's Tavern
Photo: Facebook.com

Krueger’s Tavern

Not only has the inside of the former Lavomatic received a complete indoor facelift, but the rooftop deck has received a total overhaul as well and is ready for its debut season as one of the loveliest outdoor dining spots in Over-the-Rhine. The elevated location offers the perfect opportunity to enjoy your meal, removed from the hullabaloo of Vine Street below. 1211 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, 513-834-8670, facebook.com/kruegerstavern.

La Soupe

Whether you choose to hang on the patio in the Madeira location or under the tent at the Newtown restaurant, chef Suzanne DeYoung’s soup serves two purposes: to fill your belly and also the many other hungry bellies in our community. For every quart sold, a bowl is donated from this for-profit soup kitchen with the heart of gold. 7701 Railroad Ave., Madeira; 4150 Round Bottom Road, Newtown, lasoupecincinnati.com.

Mac’s Pizza Pub

Pizza isn’t just something that gets delivered to your door. Venture out for your pie, literally. All three Mac’s locations have something different to offer — the vibe at Clifton is all crazy mural and ferns, Landen has a new volleyball court and a pool table, and Wooster Pike offers a gazebo. But there are plenty of TVs to be had at each, so you can follow your favorite team while you eat and drink. 205 W. McMillan, Clifton Heights; 2920 W. US 22 and 3, Mainville; 6309 Wooster Pike, Mariemont, macspizzapub.com.

MadTree Brewing

Although Catch-a-Fire Pizza is setting up permanent shop at MadTree Brewing, the super popular Hop-Up Dinners at the brewery will continue. Each week a different local chef sets up a pop-up shop for one night only — last week it was The Meatball Kitchen’s chef Jason Louda. There’s a large patio with picnic tables, a fire pit, corn hole and a TV. As for the ambience, Kenny McNutt, MadTree’s self-proclaimed “Beer-ded Baron” says, “The tall fence helps to hide the Motel 6.” 5164 Kennedy Ave., Oakley, 513-836-8733, madtreebrewing.com.


There’s no need for a pricey trip to Italy when the absolutely gorgeous wisteria-covered, fern-laden patio at Nicola’s is waiting for you. Just grab one of the 10 tables out back, order some of chef Joel Molloy’s authentic contemporary Italian cuisine and you’ll be instantly transported. 1420 Sycamore St., Over-the-Rhine, 513-721-6200, nicolasotr.com.

The Rookwood

Chef Jackson Rouse is especially proud of his “pimp of the pimps double deck,” as he calls it, with a fire pit, adult swings, fresh new cedar tables and a full rocking bar. It’s the best place to be on Sunday for a seriously funky brunch hosted by Ria Matlib, aka DJ Mowgli. 1077 Celestial St., Mount Adams, 513-929-0525, therookwood.com.

Photo: Facebook.com

Nectar Restaurant

Post Hyde Park Farmers Market, head to chef Julie Francis’ very secluded, super European-looking back patio for a relaxing Sunday brunch. All of that shopping will have burned so many calories you’ll be ready for her almost immoral Blue Oven French Toast (honey orange mascarpone, candied almonds, champagne and pear compote, and hickory smoked bacon). 1000 Delta Ave., Mount Lookout, dineatnectar.com.

Taste of Belgium 

While Taste of Belgium’s original OTR location has only a few outdoor tables — and honestly they’re often tough to get — the Clifton patio is huge and a spot is often easier to snag. Also, there’s the Findlay Market counter, where you can grab your waffle or crepe and people-watch outside. And at the end of May the new Rookwood location will be open with 50 outdoor seats. authenticwaffle.com.

by Staff 04.13.2015
suzie wongs

Leftovers: What We Ate This Weekend

Jellyfish; chicken and waffles; tiny desserts; a wine dinner at Bistro Grace; and our British intern went to her first baseball game

Each week CityBeat staffers and dining writers (and the occasional intern) tell you what they ate this weekend. We're not always proud — or trendy — but we definitely spend at least some money on food. 

Ilene Ross: After a long, tiring week, all I wanted was someone to bring me food at home. Unfortunately, the delivery options in North Avondale are slim, limited to the usual chain pizza suspects. Luckily, I remembered that someone had told me that Suzie Wong’s in East Walnut Hills might deliver, so I called and confirmed. My son, his friend and I then proceeded to order a ton of food — Thai fish cakes, tofu with vegetables, edamame, crab Rangoon, and two types of chicken for the boys — and in a very quick 20 minutes the food was here. It was all wonderful. They’re totally going on my speed dial.
Nothing beats pie for breakfast especially when you can eat the whole thing, so Saturday morning I had an O Pie O strawberry-rhubarb personal pie with coffee. On Saturday night I went to a birthday party for my friend Rachel. Rachel’s annual “It’s my FREAKING BIRTHDAY” party is a huge, outdoor potluck affair with a band, firepit and a giant cake from Happy Chicks Bakery. Since Rachel owns Grateful Grahams, there are of course s’mores with our friend Stephanie’s homemade vegan marshmallows. Since I didn’t have time to make anything to bring, I stopped at Goodfellas Pizzeria for two giant pies. There were no complaints.
On Sunday night I met some friends at Sichuan Chili in Evendale. I had jellyfish with scallions and cucumber and noodles with pork and greens. The portions at SC are so huge you can share (or take home leftovers as I like to do).

Mike Breen: Saturday afternoon I had a late lunch at the newish branch of Taste of Belgium on Short Vine. We were told we’d just missed the lunch rush (at about 1:30 p.m.), which I was happy about (I hate waiting for a table). 
I’ve been seeing a bunch of commercials on TV for nasty fast food (that El Diablo burger with jalapeño poppers on it? Speedway advertising their many delicious food options?) and they make my stomach hurt every time I see them. The latest has been for White Castle’s chicken and waffle sliders, so I decided to try Taste of Belgium’s chicken and waffle dish to perhaps erase that memory. I loved it. The chicken is covered in hot sauce and the waffles are drenched in syrup. On paper it doesn’t seem like it should work, but it was delicious (even combining the spicy and sweet). The waitress also brought over a bonus waffle with whipped cream and chocolate that was made by mistake and that was also very good (obvs). My daughter got the crepes with chocolate and for some reason said she didn’t care for it (she loves chocolate chip pancakes, so I think she was just being difficult). I had a few bites and thought they were excellent. Now that I have a new appreciation for chicken and waffles (my memory was also tainted by having a taste of Lay’s chicken and waffle flavored chips a while back), I just hope I can avoid those White Castle commercials.

Anne Mitchell: I went to watch Johnny Chu, owner of AmerAsia Kungfood Restaurant, win the Cincinnati Arts Association's Overture Awards "Dancing for the Stars" benefit competition Saturday night at Music Hall. Johnny and his dance partner, Doreen Beatrice from Covington's Step-N-Out Studio, were AMAZING. They blew the crowd and the judges away. The event had dinner by the bite, and I had some delish bites, including an outrageously good beef tenderloin with horseradish cream from Prime 47 (newish on Walnut St.), and tiny little desserts (they're little! no calories!) from Lala's Blissful Bites. Nice folks, fun event! And here's a video of Johnny's smooth moves.

Pama Mitchell: We went to the first-ever wine dinner held at Bistro Grace in Northside. It was a five-course meal with Italian wines — starting with prosecco and ending with vin santo. Along the way were two excellent reds by the Italian winemaker Masi: Campofiorin and an outstanding amarone. Food wise, chef Rachel Roberts outdid herself with everything from a light soup-and-salad starter (wild mushroom soup and a salad of shaved shallots, pecorino and wild mushrooms) to a delicious pasta course (bucatini with house-cured guanciale and toasted bread crumbs) and leg of lamb to go with that amarone. On top of the delights for the palate, I was impressed by the service and the competence of the kitchen, which produced each course for the full house of about 40 diners with no long waits and with everything arriving warm and appealingly plated. And the tab was very reasonable at $55 per person, including everything except tax and tip. Owner Suzanne McGarry is to be commended for this successful launch of what I hope will be numerous wine dinners to come.

Hannah Bussell (editorial intern/foreign exchange student): I knew I was going to drink a lot on Friday night so I needed to line my stomach well. My party of eight chose Keystone Bar & Grill, as it’s just up the road from our house in Clifton Heights, and the Powerhouse mac and cheese off of their signature mac and cheese menu did just the trick — a combination of Buffalo chicken, brisket, jalapenos, blue cheese and a handful of potato chips mixed in a cheesy goo and stirred into a bowl of soft pasta curls. I was very happy to pay the full price for such an excellent meal despite getting the day wrong and thinking it was Friday when they do their special half-price mac and cheese offer (it's actually on Mondays until 11 p.m.). I ended up taking home half of it in a doggy bag as it’s so filling — a notion very new to me as we don’t do that sort of thing over in England.
Saturday after work I met my friends in Bakersfield OTR for a quick late night taco. I had the mole taco, which I always order, as I love the Oaxacan-style braised chicken and the pickled red onions. My friends ordered the pastor tacos, with chili-marinated pork that smelled delicious, but I’m very much an eater who gets stuck in her ways. I never stray from an order that I know won’t disappoint; I’m too loyal to the mole.
Sunday I went to a Reds match, my very first baseball game, which was very exciting. I was so into the game I failed to notice the sunburn spreading over my nose. I had to drown my sorrows over the Reds losing in a pint of Christian Moerlein ale in the Moerlein Lager House just over the road from Great American Ballpark. A cheeky cony from Skyline may have also occurred later on in the evening.

Garin Pirnia: Last month, the Contemporary Arts Center opened their new lobby, which was revamped to contain a cafe called Collective CAC. The lovely folks behind OTR and Northside's Collective Espresso head up the endeavor. Until now, Collective usually closed by 4 p.m. every day, but the cafe stays open until 9 p.m. Wednesday-Friday. Now the Kaplan Lobby has a retooled CAC store, elongated slanted wooden tables with outlets for your electronics and a bar. On any day, it's always free to stop by the lobby and work among the art. The cafe offers Collective's drinks, such as their famous cortado (espresso with milk) made with rotating beans, and the espresso comes out of a cool-looking chrome espresso arm. How arty. Their menu contains all-day breakfast (vegetarian biscuits and gravy!), but they also have sandwiches, including a double grilled cheese. The inside of the sandwich harbors warm goat cheese and thinly-sliced radishes, but the outer later has Tillamook cheddar cheese crispified on the bread — genius. Why has no one else every thought of this? Why haven't I thought of it? After all, my motto is, It could always be crispier." I also tried their caramelized onion tart: a mini tart with onions, Gruyere, microgreens and crunchy sunchoke chips layered on top. Note to self: Make sunchoke chips. Every Wednesday it's free to tour the museum, which is a good time to have a snack at the cafe and look at some world-class art.

by Staff 03.30.2015
dean mediterranean imports

Leftovers: What We Ate This Weekend

Sung Korean Bistro. Salazar. Dean's Mediterranean. Goetta.

Each week CityBeat staffers and dining writers tell you what they ate this weekend. We're not always proud — or trendy — but we definitely spend at least some money on food. Surprisingly, no one ate Indian food. 

Nick Swartsell: Continuing what's become an ongoing addiction, I had a falafel wrap at Dean's Mediterranean in Findlay Market on Sunday. It's easily the best falafel in town — super crisp on the outside and warm and fluffy inside. Plus, the wrap comes packed with all kinds of optional pickled vegetables you don't normally see, hummus and hot sauce. And they give you a side of their curried couscous, which has dried fruit, cilantro and what I think are chickpeas. All that for five bucks. The best part is, it's still pretty under the radar — most people don't know Dean's makes food (they also have pretty killer samosas, FYI). You just walk up to the counter at the front and say the secret code words (which are, conveniently, "I'd like a falafel sandwich, please") and they hook you up.

Rebecca Sylvester: I went to Sung Korean Bistro Saturday night. The food was outstanding. Korean doesn't seem to have an overpowering element like other Asian cuisines (salt in Chinese or sweetness in Thai); the flavor of the ingredients really came through. I ordered the dolsot bibimbap, which is rice, vegetables and a protein served in a 450-degree clay pot. They top it with a sunny-side-up egg and mix it at your table with a chili paste. The pot continues to cook your food the whole time you're eating it, so the rice gets crunchier as you go. So good.

I also appreciate any restaurant that gives me chopsticks first and makes me ask for a fork, not because I am at all good with chopsticks, but because it paces me from eating like Garfield.

Pama Mitchell: I had a super fun time at Salazar on Friday. We sat at the bar, which has a cool design wherein each end has a rounded seating for five — which happened to be our group's number. I was impressed by the craft cocktails, very meticulously made by two bartenders. My "Spy versus Rye" (made with rye whiskey, obviously) was delicious. Also loved the fried Brussels sprouts appetizer (yes!) and an entree of "everything"-crusted salmon. Also notable was the first sign of fiddlehead ferns in the scallops dish. Splendid!

Danny Cross: My girlfriend and I dropped my sister off at Horseshoe Casino Sunday morning — she had made it through Day 1 of a big poker tournament there and was among the final 80 or so players out of 600-something going after a six-figure first place prize. Unfortunately, she was knocked out in 67th place, just five spots away from the lower-level prize monies. She should have just skipped it and went to the Metropole at 21c with us for brunch, because that place is pretty great. I ordered the Breakfast Sandwich (pimento spread, egg, bacon) but without the pimento spread because I'm a child with a terrible palate. This led to a brief discussion about a recent Deadspin article I read detailing tips for eating at a fancy restaurant. Sounds simple, but these are things I sometimes don't know how to do. (I hate tasting wine in front of servers as if I know anything about it or would even consider sending it back.) Katie had the Quinoa Hash (sweet potatoes, avocado, sunny side eggs and cilantro creme fraiche) and thought it was terrific. We split a side of goetta because this is Cincinnati. 

Casey Arnold: My boyfriend's sister* was in town for a poker tournament, so we had a little get together for her, which involved making our own tacos and margaritas. Since she went to the next round, she didn't get to the party until after midnight when all of the taco makings were turned into late night nachos. We stayed up late catching up, which is why we didn't roll out of bed until noon on Saturday. That's when my boyfriend and I crawled our way to Hangover Easy in Clifton. It was packed as usual!

*Editor's note: Casey Arnold is in a relationship with Danny Cross' brother and they are indeed talking about the same sister and the same poker tournament.
by Staff 02.23.2015
o pie o_ilene ross

Leftovers: What We Ate This Weekend

Pie. The Art of Food. Potatoes. Pizza. Secrets.

Each week CityBeat staffers and dining writers tell you what they ate this weekend. We're not always proud — or trendy — but we definitely spend at least some money on food.

Jac Kern: I stocked up on groceries Friday night in preparation for a weekend full of snow, pajamas and movies. Pizza-making is a perfect snow day activity, so that's what I made for dinner on Saturday. My two go-tos are classic pepperoni and a fig and prosciutto inspired by A Tavola. The local eatery's version includes fontina, parmigiano and balsamic arugula; I used the fresh mozzarella and spinach I had on hand, plus fig jam and prosciutto. It's no A Tavola — my oven pales in comparison to their Italian wood-burning beauty — but it was tasty and easily consumed in the aforementioned pajamas. Also: Plenty of popcorn during the Oscars!

Ilene Ross:
I feel as if I did nothing but eat out this weekend, but given what I do for a living, this should come as no surprise. On Friday night I attended the ninth annual Art of Food at The Carnegie in Covington. This event, a combination of art and food, never disappoints; it’s a feast for the eyes as well as the taste buds. Local artist Pam Kravetz put on quite a spectacular show — the theme was Candy Land — with even chef Jean-Robert de Cavel getting into the act with a starring role as Lord Licorice. Some of the more outstanding dishes were The Littlefield’s house-cured and smoked bacon with house pickles; Wunderbar’s bacon, spinach, brie and fig jam finger sandwiches; The Rookwood’s Porchetta, with Marksbury Farm pork belly, Beeler's Farm pork cheek rillettes, rosemary-cured lardo, carrot mostardo, shaved celery and red cress; The Sleepy Bee’s flatbread stalactites with Moroccan chicken and date herb chutney; Bouquet Restaurant and Wine Bar’s whipped goat cheese with popcorn, pickled fennel and pear gastrique; and Django Western Taco’s beer-braised pork belly with corn relish, guacamole and corn chips.   

On Saturday my son and I got to try one of O Pie Os latest creations, a honey vinegar pie. Now, that might sound a tad bit strange, but believe me, it’s not. Picture a rich, slightly tangy, not-too-sweet custard filling in a perfectly flaky crust. A little packet of crisp sea salt comes along with the pie so you can sprinkle a bit on top to taste, therefore achieving a nice salty balance. We also dug into an apple pie with rosemary caramel. I have to say that O Pie O’s apple pie is so good, I didn’t care one bit that I forgot to buy ice cream.   

Saturday night I got to be a guinea pig of sorts during a trial run for the staff at chef Jean-Robert de Cavel’s latest restaurant, the soon-to-be-opened Le Bar a Boeuf in The Edgecliff. The restaurant will be opening quite soon and I was overjoyed to be able to participate. While I can’t divulge too many details, I can say that the space is beautiful, the staff — under the watchful eye of hospitality expert Richard Brown — is charming and diligent, and as far as the food, well, you’re in for a real treat.   

I have a good friend who lives in Indianapolis, and her daughter is a Girl Scout. This year was the second time I’ve bought cookies from her and the two have driven in and delivered them to me on a Sunday. It’s also the second time that we’ve met at Maribelle’s eat + drink for brunch to make the cookie drop off. My son and I took them to Maribelle’s for the first time last year and they loved it so much that they specifically requested it again. I don’t blame them. Brunch at Maribelle’s is a crazy good combination of breakfast and lunch foods everyone loves. The four of us had White Bean and Frog Leg Chili; a Pig Tostado (shredded pork, cumin crème, pickled red onion, queso fresco and cilantro); fried cashew butter, jelly and banana sandwiches; a hamburger; some sort of yummy egg dish that I can’t remember the name of; and, of course, bloody mary’s for the adults. Yes, it was a lot of food, and there were leftovers, but for me the best thing about a busy weekend is a Sunday afternoon nap followed by not having to cook. My Oscar watching dinner consisted of Maribelle’s leftovers, Samoas and bourbon.  

Samantha Gellin: I ate a grilled chicken club at Anderson Pub & Grill on Beechmont Avenue, aka APG. Normally I shy away from chicken sandwiches because they tend to turn out dry and tasteless. But I've never been disappointed with the food at APG so I decided to give it a try. It was worth it. So juicy and full of flavor. It's topped with bacon, lettuce, tomato, American cheese, onion, pickle and chipotle mayo. Probably one of the best grilled chicken sandwiches I've had in a long time. If you're on the East Side and you're looking for simple but really satisfying bar food (at decent prices too) this is the place to go.

Anne Mitchell: I've barely left the house since Snowmaggedon began, but luckily we are within slogging distance of several MainStrasse eateries. So Friday night we slushed up to Dee Felice Cafe for cocktails and appetizers. I had the fried oysters with cream sauce, a cup of gumbo, and a delicious Manhattan made by Ron the Awesome Bartender. I may have even had a second, just because even numbers are luckier. On Saturday, we went to Otto's. Their beef short ribs were cozier than a fleece snowsuit, and twice as sexy. I sipped on the Ginger Punch special. I should have deduced, when they said they were trying it out for the menu at their eagerly-anticipated Frida, that it was tequila based. Ole!

Rebecca Sylvester: To pre-game before The Price is Right Live! my husband and I decided to try one of the restaurants in the Horseshoe Casino (where the show was). We weren't wearing elastic waistbands so that ruled out the buffet and we were (luckily) turned away from Margaritaville, which I guess was every other audience members' plan, so we ended up at the fancy option: Jack Binion's Steakhouse. It was easily the quietest place in the casino, even with a live trio playing lounge versions of Nirvana and top 40 songs. The booths look like nap-worthy couches, but we sat at the bar since we were only ordering drinks and snacks. The super exciting part of the menu (for a vegetarian) was The Potato Bar, which listed a few heavily topped baked potatoes, pub fries and a few other potato-based sides. Also a pleasant surprise was the list of salads, all vegetarian friendly and a little more interesting than the standard steakhouse iceberg wedge. The servers were really nice and the wine selection was good. If I'm ever back there and need a place to rest my slot machine arm that is probably the best spot in the building.

Maija Zummo: I went to an Oscar's potluck on Sunday and I was tasked with bringing dessert. Usually I'll make something fruit based — a pie or a cobbler — but my friends wanted chocolate. I'm not a huge fan of brownies or anything really cakey and chocolately, so I made cute little chocolate pot de cremes in bright teal ramekins. I found a super easy recipe that just calls for pouring your hot custard into a blender and then refrigerating it to set versus making a water bath and baking the little things. They turned out really well — I added some vanilla and coffee to the custard mix because I'm fancy like that —  and were super easy. Top them with some homemade whipped cream and they seem much more impressive and hard to make than they actually are.