"After a couple months, I started to realize that I liked being in the restaurant more than reading and writing scientific articles," Pesola says. "It was fast-paced, challenging and gave me an avenue to interact with people dynamically. In addition, I really enjoy how tangible the hospitality industry is."
This past summer, Pesola branched out and started selling rotisserie chicken on pita bread at Findlay Market. The resulting Revolution Rotisserie was so popular, he's opening a brick-and-mortar location on Race Street in Over-the-Rhine in early 2015. The rotisserie and bar will do dine-in, carry-out and catering, plus vegetarian options and specialty cocktails.
We caught up with Pesola to learn more about the restaurant and his chicken technique.
CityBeat: Why chicken and how did that relationship come to pass?
Nicholas Pesola: The concept originally had nothing to do with chicken. I wanted to introduce something unique to Cincinnati and I thought that it would be cool to reinvent gyros, one of my favorite foods from my youth. I wanted to stack marinated beef/lamb and do it like they do in Europe/Middle Eastern countries. I knew that I would have to offer other meats so I chose to stick with the rotisserie meat theme. When I put on tastings, everybody liked the rotisserie chicken sandwiches with my gourmet toppings and sauces the most. When no one offered to fund my unproven restaurant concept, I decided to start small at Findlay Market and pilot the idea. I knew I had to simplify my concept in order to be successful so I gave the people what they wanted: rotisserie chicken. I wanted to become known for rotisserie chicken sandwiches on pita bread because I thought that was the most unique. I also thought I would sell more sandwiches versus whole chickens to the Findlay Market crowd.
CB: What's been the best response you've seen from a customer?
NP: We have had many great responses. I love when people walk by my stand, stop abruptly after seeing the sample, and say, "That looks good. But what is it?" When they find out there is rotisserie chicken under the toppings and sauce, it is usually game over. I also enjoy the skeptical customer who reluctantly orders our food and then comes back with friends 10 minutes later because they really liked it.
CB: Can you tell me more about your chicken? Where do you source it? What separates it from other rotisserie? Is there a special technique, seasoning, butcher? A family recipe?
NP: We use Amish chicken from Miller Farms and will be switching to FreeBird chicken which has even more strict standards when it comes to how the chickens have been raised: no hormones, no preservatives, all vegetable diet, more room to roam, etc. Our chickens are never frozen, always fresh. We brine our birds, season them with a custom blend of the best spices, cook them on a gas-fired 40-bird rotisserie to perfection. And I assure you our whole chickens will not sit around for hours and dry out like they do at the grocery store. For our sandwiches, we hand-pull the meat, white and dark, and make sure it maintains its juiciness before serving. We have arrived at our current technique after talking with chefs and experimenting with other methods, but the reality is I'm always looking for ways to make the product even better.
CB: So you're opening a brick-and-mortar spot in OTR? What inspired you to take the jump?
NP: Even before I started at Findlay Market, I wanted to open up a brick-and-mortar shop. I just didn't have enough money and that was a blessing in disguise because it forced me to start small. I knew the time was right to circle back with potential investors when my customers kept asking where Revolution Rotisserie was located after eating our food.
CB: Why OTR? And why Race versus Main or Vine?
NP: I live in OTR and it's a very exciting place to hang out and start a business. The real question should be why not OTR? I believe my concept contributes something very unique to the scene. I chose the spot at 1106 Race Street because it was the size I wanted, featured an open kitchen, and fit my budget. In my opinion, Race Street is the next logical restaurant street in OTR because of Washington Park, Zula, Anchor, and Taft Ale House all down the street. Plus I live on Race Street, you can't beat that commute.
CB: What will be on the menu at Revolution?
NP: Chicken! We will showcase the versatility of chicken with eight rotisserie chicken sandwiches served on grilled pita bread — all of which can be made vegetarian by substituting hummus, black beans or extra veggies. This is a bold statement, considering we are primarily a chicken restaurant, but I think our pita sandwiches and salads set us up to offer one of the best vegetarian menus in the city. Of course, we will do whole/half chickens, side salads, mashed potatoes, cinnamon applesauce and a few other sides. At the bar, we will specialize in specialty cocktail infusions and of course, craft beer.
CB: People love chicken during the holidays. With restaurant prep ahead of you, will you still be at Findlay Market or taking any orders for whole or half chickens?
NP: Unfortunately, the cold weather prevents us from operating at Findlay Market under the tent. However, if people would like to place catering or large carryout orders, they can email email@example.com. The best way to do this is to visit our website revolutionrotisserie.com.
Follow along with Revolution's progress on Facebook and Twitter @RevolutionOTR.
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.