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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Over-the-Rhine's new three-level bar and restaurant, Taft’s Ale House — named for William Howard Taft, the 27th president of the United States, former Supreme Court Justice and native Cincinnatian — opens on Monday, Red’s Opening Day, and will feature a variety of specialty beers, as well as an emphasis on tri-tip beef (cut from the bottom sirloin). Helmed by Cincinnati local Kevin Moreland, former brewer at Listermann/Triple Digit, and partners Dave Kassling, a New York restauranteur, and Dave Williams, a UC grad, the bar, which is located at 1429 Race St., inhabits a building that formerly housed the 19th-century St. Paul’s German Evangelical Protestant Church.
Moreland describes his first experience in the building as walking into complete disarray. He had to use the side doors on Fifth Street to get in and, after entering, he walked into “straight dirt” and looked up to see holes the size of office spaces in the ceiling. To save the church, which was on the verge of destruction, he contacted 3CDC. Through their partnership — 3CDC helped stabilize the building, which had been abandoned for almost 50 years — they were able to restore the building, emphasizing it's historical appeal and architecture. The structure still retains it's dramatically high 40-plus-foot ceilings, large, Gothic-style arch windows and former bell tower. But now, instead of parishioners, it can hold more than 200 patrons.
“Part of what’s going on in OTR is saving something that used to be there,” says Taft’s Ale House General Manager Keith Maloy. “It would have been easier for us to start from scratch and build a new place. It would have been easier to construct and less expensive, but we would have lost a lot of the charm that’s in this building.”
The building’s three levels essentially create three different environments depending on an individual’s mood. There is the main beer hall level, with picnic tables, bar games and TVs; a mezzanine level for casual dining; and then Nellie’s Tap Room on the lower level. Nellie's, named after William Howard Taft's wife, is more of a cocktail bar than a beer hall, though the drink menu is still beer-centric; Nellie's serves Taft brews with eight guest taps from local and regional brewers, plus wine and cocktails.
The entirety of the building's décor, with Rookwood tiles and assorted antique ephemera, is inspired by the William Howard Taft National Historic Site in Mount Auburn, Taft's boyhood home.
“As soon as you walk in Taft’s home, you see this kind of laid-out pattern of multiple colors," Moreland says. "I wanted that to be something as a key feature in our place, so we did it. We had some hand-cut tile made to match that pattern. … A lot of the furniture matches and the color of the wood as well.”
Moreland considers Taft’s Ale House to be a gift to the city, specifically to OTR. “I wanted to keep things here in the heart of OTR and try to work with our neighbors because they’re going to be our patrons as much as we’re going to be their patrons,” he says. And in terms of patronage, Moreland started by working with other local vendors, linking local products and businesses to his passion for creating unique and innovative craft beers.
Taft’s partnered with Maverick Chocolate in Findlay Market to create their Maverick Chocolate Porter, featuring Maverick's cacao nibs and roasted cacao husks. Moreland also incorporated Findlay vendor Dean’s Mediterranean's products into the Culebra Cut Coconut Brown, an American brown ale infused with toasted coconuts. And Taft’s Mooly Wooly Coffee Milk Stout is made with oatmeal, lactose and coffee that comes straight from Coffee Emporium.
“You can classify it however you want, but I classify beer by what it is," Moreland says. "There are these style guidelines that people like to follow, but I’m not that person. You can only brew so much IPA that tastes like everyone else’s IPA, so we have that but we wanted to spin it around.”
Other favorite brews include a Caribbean style ale — Nellie's Keylime Caribbean Ale —that focuses on key lime and coriander, and an IPA called Rookwood Mosaic, with mosaic hops.
With creative beer, comes a creative menu, so don't expect pizza or burgers at Taft’s Ale House. During his time studying breweries and pubs around the country, Moreland saw different variations of the same menu time and time again, but his discovery of tri-tip beef changed the game. And General Manager Maloy could not agree more. The restaurant trims and ages the steak for 21 days, massages it with a dry rub, chars it, smokes it over hickory chips and then bakes it.
“The tri-tip beef is great," Maloy says. "It’s a great cut of beef — we char it, smoke it. You can slice it thin and make a sandwich or cut it bigger like a traditional steak. We have interesting sides too: roasted vegetables, tater tots instead of french fries and sweet potato fries.”
Moreland and Maloy’s main focus is “marrying the [tri-tip] beef with the beer” while still making it affordable. They understand the importance of serving customers at a rate where it's cost-effective to come back. Sandwiches, like the Alehouse (tri-tip steak, onions, blue cheese and red ranch sauce) run between $7.50 and $10, while platters, which are served with mashed potatoes, gravy, roasted veggies and cornbread, are $17 (for grilled chicken breast) to $20 (for 12-ounces of tri-tip steak). A small kids menu features little steak and chicken sandwiches and chicken wings, served with tots. For vegetarians, there's a large selection of salads with housemade dressing.
The experience of the customer is an ongoing theme in the vision of Taft’s Ale House. Many restaurants could say the same, but Taft’s physical setup lends itself to attaining customer satisfaction. Quality, an experience, and being passionate about what you do is how Moreland describes their mentality.
“Sometimes I have to pinch myself," he says. "I don’t feel like it’s real yet. I’ve learned a lot. I can tell you it’s been an awesome experience. Passion breeds success. The passion we’re putting into crafting great beers is incredible.”
Taft’s Ale House opens Monday, on Moreland’s birthday. The first 100 people to arrive receive a free Red’s-Cincy-W.H.Taft-inspired T-shirt along with a glass of First Pitch Pale Ale. As for the future, Moreland is already thinking about taking the brand national, hoping to bring “big dollars” back to the city’s hotels, bars, eateries and more. “That is my focus: putting Cincinnati on the map for great craft beers,” he says.
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