Cincinnati-specific foods are often the butt of jokes when non-Midwesterners try them for the first time. I mean, who could forget Deadspin's assault on Cincinnati chili or West Coasters' reactions to goetta? But when celebrity chef Alton Brown came to Cincinnati for his live show Saturday, he arrived with an open mind and empty belly. Brown sampled some of the area's best coffee shops, restaurants and treats — and he had a lot of good things to say.
The Good Eats star got caffeinated at Over-the-Rhine's Coffee Emporium and Collective Espresso, both of which he gave rave reviews, and breakfast from Oakley's Sleepy Bee Cafe, where he tried goetta for the first time. For lunch, he chowed down on comfort food from The Eagle OTR (he enjoyed their quarter dark-meat chicken) and Eli's Barbeque, where he finally got his hot dog fix.
“I’ve mentioned previously that I’m a hot dog fan and while I’ve been to many places on this leg of the tour, I haven’t really satisfied my hot dog craving,” Brown says in his blog. “Well, consider that done now.”
Brown indulged his sweet tooth at Holtman’s Donuts (calling them “the best doughnuts the country has to offer”), Graeter’s, Aglamesis Bros. and Patty’s Old Fashioned Popcorn in Hyde Park.
Finally came the crown jewel of Queen City grub: Skyline Chili. Brown tried a coney and a three-way and totally didn’t freak out about it.
“I get the cult following,” he says.
all of Brown’s local culinary adventures — and see his photos — here.
LS: We are one of a kind in Cincinnati, pretty much, so it’s nice being the place that does the cocktails. Not just a bar that happens to have good cocktails.
BG: We are on the precipice of something that is new and different to a conservative market. Where craft cocktails have been present in New York, Chicago, L.A. for the last 15 years, Cincinnati is really starting to come into its own in that category.
CB: What is your most popular drink at the moment?
LS: The Old Fashioned or the Mule, usually.
BG: We have the best Old Fashioned in the city.
CB: Really? I’ve heard that A Tavola has the best.
BG: That’s funny. Hey, listen, we could put this up to test. I have no problem getting the opinion of the rest of Cincinnati.
CB: What do you guys drink on your night off?
LS: The Old Fashioned, or one of our sparklings.
BG: Nothing soothes the soul like bourbon.
CB: What’s the most important skill a bartender should have?
BG: Presentation. Having excellent mechanics, all the knowledge in the world and the ability to present a cocktail that leaves the costumer satisfied with the amount they just paid for.
LS: Also being personable.
CB: Wha’ts your favorite bar in OTR?
LS: I would have to say the new place on Main, Liberty’s Bar and Bottle. I would say Neons, too. But Liberty’s did a lot of great things. I really love the internal space. They don’t really have cocktails — it’s pretty much like the furthest from what we do here. They have an excellent wine selection and I love everything they have on tap.
CB: Can you give us a recipe of one of your especially unique craft cocktails?
BG: For sure, we’re going to show you how a Mood Swing is made.
Mood Swing1 oz. rosemary-infused Aperol
Combine all the ingredients over ice (except for Prosecco) in a cocktail shaker. Strain into glass. Add the Prosecco. Heat up lemon peel with a lighter and squeeze peel over glass. Garnish the glass with lemon peel.
A Tavola has made its mark on Over-The-Rhine with its rustic wood fired pizzas and superb flavor combinations. What you might not know about the high-end pizza joint is that its craft cocktails are one-of-a-kind. CityBeat sat down with A Tavola’s head bartender Aaron Strasser to pick his brain, and it turns out he is as personable as he is creative and stirs up one hell of a cocktail.
CityBeat: How did your career in bartending start?
Aaron Strasser: I was a history major at UC, and my favorite period of time was Prohibition. I found it very interesting that you could ban one of the greatest things in the world — the cocktail. I really got into studying that when I was in college. I also started flavor profiles. I grew up in the kitchen with my mom and she always baking stuff and I loved tasting all the flavors and figuring out, ‘Oh, you can pair this with this.’ I got my start here at A Tavola almost four years ago. I didn't know much, but what I did know is flavor profiles and combinations. So the owners gave me a chance and allowed me to make the bar what it is now.
CB: What’s your favorite spirit?
AS: I usually go with my whiskeys and bourbon. Rye whiskey for sure.
CB: What’s the strangest ingredient you’ve used in a cocktail?
AS: I have a couple. I always saw that simple syrups were being made with fruits and some herbs and spices, but I wanted to make a simple syrup out of a vegetable, so I made a red beet and ginger simple syrup, which goes great with gin. It’s very unique, it’s a beautiful color and the taste was very interesting. I didn't want to just use fruit. Another strange ingredient in our new cocktail menu is the jalapeño jam instead of a simple syrup. It’s a recipe that one of my kitchen people and I have worked on. I wanted to have something that was sweet and savory. We do a lot of that as far as combinations go — even in our food — lots of sweet and savory.
CB: Do you see a change in cocktail culture around OTR?
AS: Oh, yeah, its definitely growing. There is a lot more appreciation as far as drinks go. A lot of people are not just ordering cocktails that they know, instead they are actually looking at the cocktails and asking, ‘What does this place have to offer that I haven’t tried before?'
CB: If you had to pick one cocktail to drink for the rest of your life what would it be?
AS: An Old Fashioned.
1 slice of orange
1 sugar cube
1 or 2 dashes of Angostura bitters
2 oz. rye or bourbon whiskey
Place the sugar cube in a glass and add one or two dashes of Angostura bitters and a splash of club soda. Muddle the the sugar cube. Add whiskey and ice. Stir until sugar is dissolved. With a lighter, singe a strip of orange peel and pinch the peel to release oils. Add the orange peel and the Amarena cherries to top it all off.
Restaurateur Jon Zippersteain — the man behind Japanese gastropub Kaze in OTR and sushi/steakhouse Embers in Kenwood — is slated to open the new Mercer OTR on Nov. 4.
The Mercer, at corner of Vine and Mercer streets (on the ground floor of the Mercer Commons apartment complex), will be a casual, European-influenced bistro with seating for up to 60.
"This restaurant was inspired by the sophistication and Mod sensibilities of '60s cinema, which idealized and often parodied 'The Sweet Life' a la 'La Dolce Vita'," says Zipperstein in a recent press release. "There is a vibrant lifestyle here in OTR that we want to echo. I want people to think of The Mercer as a living room for the neighborhood."
Chef Dan Stoltz will interpret rustic Italian-European dishes — like duck-leg cassoulet, porterhouse for two, short ribs, risotto and chicken saltimbocca — in a modern, contemporary way. All pasta, including garganelli, will be made in-house.
On the bar end, the full-service bar — overseen by head mixologist Greg Wefer — will seat 40 and include Prohibition-era favorites like the Americano (Campari, Aperol, sweet vermouth and lime) and a Blood Orange Sazerac (rye, Solerno and blood orange bitters), plus a diverse wine list and local and craft beers.
The restaurant is slated to open on Nov. 4 and will be — get this! — accepting reservations. Make them at opentable.com or call 513-381-0791.
The Mercer OTR, 1324 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, 513-381-0791, facebook.com/TheMercerOTR.
Movoto Real Estate made a video introducing 12 West Coasters to five of Ohio’s favorite dishes. Predictably, the Cincinnati-centric grub gets mass hate by people with extremely sensitive gag reflexes. Here are the best reactions.
Glier’s Goetta: On its appearance: “Quinoa sausage?” On its taste: “[I want] an Egg McMuffin with that.” On its mouth feel: “You can’t choke on it, it just slides right down.”
Grippo’s Bar-B-Q chips: “It almost looks like human skin.” “They probably serve this at, like, games and shit. Like, ‘I’m at the Reds game in Cincinnati. Cincy!” “Have you ever walked into an old warehouse and it has, like, that musty smell? That’s what it tastes like.”
Skyline three-way: “Looks like some jail spaghetti.” “I can see this being like comfort food, but for some reason it’s not comforting me.”
Sauerkraut Balls: “It legitimately looks like a poop.” “Like a white person pot sticker”
Buckeyes: Everyone enjoy
this with little verbal reactions except for a couple assholes that collectively hate chocolate and peanut
butter (as well as puppies and sunshine, I’m guessing). A buckeye made them gag.
In the end, how did our high-brow neighbors to the west feel about Ohioans?
“Turns out they’re just
regular humans like you and me.” There you have it, folks!
It’s unclear whether this video was created to spark interest in Ohio real estate or remind Midwesterners that they’ll die fat and unsophisticated if they don’t move to California. Decide for yourself:
Ohio: Home of regular humans since 1803.
The event, which raised money for local nonprofit Gabriel’s Place and its Junior Culinary Institute, took place at the Christian Moerlein brewery in Over-the-Rhine. The restaurants represented (Jimmy G's, Django Western Taco, LaLa's Blissful Bites, Invito Chef, El Rancho Grande, Huit BBQ, Redondo Taqueria, Axis Alley on the Levee, Seasons 52, Silver Ladle, Elephant Walk Injera & Curry House, Washington Platform, Swad, O'Malley's in the Alley, Mazzaro's Place, The Pub, Boswell Alley and Moerlein Lager House) each provided a small sample of their favorite items for attendees to nibble on, from mini-steak sandwiches to shot glass-sized pecan pie. Some of the vendors were parked in the more polished taproom, while the majority of the booths and the competition itself appeared in the “basement chic” room next door. Attendees wandered from booth to booth, balancing small plates and frothy cups of Moerlein beer as they waited for the main event to begin. Everyone looked slightly confused at first, but it didn’t take long for everyone to catch on and figure out where to go — the Four Roses bourbon cider probably helped.
Iron Fork’s version of Kitchen Stadium was a small-ish cooking space set up at one end of the very large room. It was fully stocked with brightly colored produce from SYSCO, plenty of spices, gas burners and shiny stainless steel cookware from Cooks'Wares. Scattered across the room were large TVs (not in HD, our spoiled selves lamented) for those who may not be able to find a spot in the small area in front of the kitchen to watch the action. The three judges were perched to the left of the kitchen, presumably starving.
Frances Kroner of Sleepy Bee, Jose Salazar of Salazar and Joe West of The Palace at The Cincinnatian were the three chefs chosen to appear for the event. Each of them had one hour to create a dish using the elusive secret ingredient: figs. (Most of the crowd had left before the secret was revealed; it had to remain a secret to make the competition fair for everyone.) Each chef also had a Junior Culinary Institute student from Gabriel’s Place on their team; all three of the students, it must be said, were incredibly impressive in their professionalism and skill.
The hour-long cooking time per chef allowed attendees to continue to wander and stuff their faces with local treats. The amount of sweet options seemed high (possibly because it was hard to locate the free water to cleanse your palate). The beer line never seemed to shorten, which was fine. If anything, it allowed for more socializing with the other food enthusiasts. Watching the cooking itself was only really entertaining near the end of the hour-long time limit — Jose Salazar straight up ran to the judges’ table with his dishes at the end, and that’s just good TV.
Once each chef’s segment was complete and the three judges were served, a fourth dish was auctioned off to a lucky audience member. (Frances Kroner’s dish went for a whopping $150.)
"All the chefs did a great job and we had a lot of fun sharing our thoughts and our food with the crowd," says judge and CityBeat food writer Anne Mitchell. "Frannie Kroner's lamb chop entree was wonderful, and (Ilene Ross, CityBeat food writer and judge) had a great idea — she added one of her lamb chops to the auction for Gabriel's Place."
"I ate all three of mine and gnawed the bones clean, so that shows you where my heart resides," she continues, laughing. "Jose's appetizer, lamb tartare, was amazing. Ilene licked her plate. It was the kind of dish that separates ordinary food from art."
The audience did not hear from the judges until the end, when they named The Palace’s Joe West as the winner for his appetizer and entree dishes.
"Joe West's appetizer and entree blew us away," says Mitchell. "The scallop crudo was another work of art, and it was the perfect starter for Joe's main dish. I wish I could be 100 percent sure of the description but things got a little crazy at the end and we really didn't hear what Joe said, but I think it was halibut in veloute sauce with bacon crumbles for a garnish, flash-fried potato 'chips' from tiny fingerling potatoes and the figs."
"Figs were the 'secret ingredient' that all the chefs had to incorporate into their dishes," she continues. "It would have been fun to see them utilized a little more essentially in the dishes instead of used as a (yummy) garnish, but that seems a little like splitting hairs."
Overall, the event’s first run was a success. Did I want to snag one of Kroner’s scallops or a bite of Salazar's lamb tartare right off the judges’ table? Sure. But I didn’t, and it still turned out to be a nice little Wednesday night.