As the night sky blankets Cincinnati at 3 a.m., a faint glow emanates from the kitchen window of a small apartment. While most University of Cincinnati students who are awake at this hour are up to their eyeballs in tedious lab reports and last-minute reading, James Avant is caught in a frenzy of mixing bowls, whisks and measuring cups. The apartment fills with succulent scents as he blends together lemon zest and raspberry puree. His everyday stress and anxiety pours into the batter, fills the cupcake tin and rises into lemon raspberry cupcakes.
Avant’s cupcakes are more than delicious — they’re the edible gratification of mental health. The 22-year-old began baking to relieve stress after he was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) about four years ago. “I spent a lot of my days just kind of cleaning and counting and repeating, and my mind was kind of clouded with worry all the time, and so one of the ways I was able to overcome that in addition to therapy was through baking,” he says.
After one year of baking to relieve stress, watching YouTube tutorials and a getting little inspiration from an episode of Two Broke Girls, Avant decided that if we going to bake so often, he might as well profit from it, too. So he started a business, OCD Cakes, out of his home.
Obsessive Cake Disorder (OCD) Cakes helps raise mental health awareness through tasty baked goods. “OCD Cakes exists to take a bite out of the stigma surrounding mental health,” Avant says. “Cake is something that is commonplace in our culture and linked with so many different emotions, so why not take something you already use and consume and change the way you look at it in order to start positive conversations about mental health?” he explains. Five percent of the profits are donated to mental health agencies.
Going through high school and college, Avant personally experienced some of the negative stigma surrounding mental health. He recalls feeling the eyes of everyone in his classrooms burning into the back of his neck as he scrubbed desk with Lysol wipes before sitting down or got up out of his seat to clean up stray marks left by the teacher when erasing the board.
“You can’t make people understand what goes on in your head,” Avant says. “You have to do the best you can to find things they can easily identify with to make that conversation more comfortable. That’s why I use cake, because everybody likes cake!”
Avant says he also volunteers for local organizations, such as Su Casa and the psychiatry department of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. “I really want people to see that I’m more than just giving away my product,” he says. “I really want people to see that I’m engaged in the wellness of others as well.”
One of the goals of OCD Cakes is to change the way people think about mental health. Avant says one of the reasons for this is that mental illnesses are more common than people think; it is important not to push mental health issues under the table or discourage people from getting help, because our minds should receive the same attention as our bodies. Like he bakes to de-stress, everyone needs to find constructive ways to get their feelings out. That’s why Avant says he wants to be as loud and proactive as possible about mental health issues. “We’re only going to make progress is everyone’s involved,” he says.
Located in the heart of St. Bernard, My Dad’s Place has everything customers expect from a small town diner — crinkle cut fries, thick and juicy burgers, double decker sandwiches, homemade soups, fluffy pancakes and breakfast all day — on the cheap.
My Dad’s Place started because, well, owner Dave Roll’s father owns the building the restaurant is housed in. The space originally housed Dave’s Pub, but the business was sold after Roll’s son Tyler Rapien was born. After the space fell into disrepair as Boomerang’s Bar and Grill, Roll decided to buy it back and start a family-run restaurant.
“St. Bernard has been needing this for so many years,” Rapien says.
Roll and his son stepped up to fill the void of local restaurants, despite the fact that neither of them have prior restaurant experience. The menu was brought to life by Pam Bishop, the former owner of Pam’s Diner in Colerain (now Frank’s Diner).
Rapien, a senior at Roger Bacon High School, says managing the restaurant comes easy to him because he is a people person. Next year he will continue to manage the restaurant while he attends Northern Kentucky University to study marketing.
If you grew up in St. Bernard like me, or a small neighborhood just like it, you probably have a thing for small diners. While many people from around the neighborhood absolutely love Chili Time (including my grandfather, who ate there almost every day), I am one of the Naridans who is willing to face the look of shock on others’ faces when I say I am not a big fan of that spot.
Thankfully, My Dad’s Place offers traditional comfort food with the same low prices. For only $4.75 you can get a cheeseburger with slices of thick, premium bacon. The burgers are surprisingly thick and filling for how inexpensive they are, and very tasty.
For those who like breakfast, the pancakes are as big as your face, sweet and fluffy. A stack of three with your choice of breakfast meat is $6. My Dad’s Place’s most popular dish is the goetta, egg and cheese hoagy for $4.25. Glier’s goetta, a fried egg and American cheese pack the hoagy bun for a treat that’s appropriate any time of the day. It’s no wonder the sandwich is even popular during dinner hours.
My Dad’s Place also serves Philly cheese steak sandwiches, chicken Phillys and reubens, as well as a variety of salads. In short, there’s something for everyone.
What makes the restaurant unique is the friendly feel customers are greeted with immediately after walking inside. All staff are pleasant and helpful — this is thanks to the fact that the restaurant is family-owned and operated.
“When you walk in here it doesn’t feel like a restaurant to be honest,” Rapien says. “It doesn’t matter where you are from; you are family to us.”
You do not have to be from St. Bernard or missing Pam’s Diner in order to enjoy My Dad’s Place. It is a nice stop for anyone craving comfort food at a great price in a friendly atmosphere.
While My Dad’s Place has only been open for a little more than a month, it has already enticed a string of regulars and a packed house on its first day. This was largely thanks to Rapien’s marketing on Facebook.
“The whole friggin’ town was here,” Roll says. “We had people still waiting for food at 10 even though we closed at 9.”
No worries — I waited less than 20 minutes for the food I ordered. This is quite impressive considering the grill is quite small. Rapien says there are plans to expand the building to make the small kitchen larger in the future.
sour beers and live music with state-of-the-art audio quality, Urban Artifact
brings people together for “wild culture” — its tagline — all housed within a
historic Northside church.
“We like to combine the activity of getting together with great beer,” Hand says.
Urban Artifact beer is complemented with live music nearly every night of the
week. With a different band playing each night, Urban Artifact’s crowd also changes
nightly. The venue invites all different types of artists to play there, but
the strongest emphasis is on local and regional acts.
The brewery’s taproom and listening lounge are located in the old church basement,
unique for its high quality acoustics. Artists who play there are left
remarking on how great the sound is. This excellent sound comes thanks to Hand,
who used his expertise in designing theater spaces to craft the music venue.
Urban Artifact plans to move into the sanctuary part of the church after
renovations are complete. Converting this space into the ideal music venue will
be the most difficult part of the process, but Hand says he is ready and
excited for the challenge. He is currently in the planning phase for this project.
The idea for Urban Artifact sprung from Hand’s interest in music. In fact, he
started an independent music label while in college at the University of
Cincinnati’s College of Design, Art, Architecture and Planning. His label,
Grayscale Records, was meant to represent all music in the indie spectrum.
After writing a plan about the future of the music business, Hand decided to
focus on connecting an audience directly to musicians instead. Beer was added
to the mix in order to create the Urban Artifact brand.
While Hand moved to Chicago after graduating from UC, he returned to Cincinnati
almost five years ago for his family. Here, he met the right business partners
to bring his vision to life. He remarks on how Cincinnati is the ideal city for
a project to sprout.
“You can do everything here,” he says. “You can come here with a dream and good
business plan and make it happen.”
Urban Artifact’s location within the city is also ideal. The old church was
chosen because it was in the middle of a neighborhood, which Hand says has been
fantastically receptive to the new venue.
“While I would love to be a tourist attraction, it’s great to be appreciated by
the locals,” he says.
At first, Hand was apprehensive about housing Urban Artifact in an old church.
“I thought the church thing was going to be a deal breaker, but almost everyone
who comes here thinks it’s hilarious,” he says. This includes a group of 18
priests who came into Urban Artifact dressed in their full traditional garbs to
drink one day.
Some bars just know how to bring a little intellectual fun to a night out. From classic trivia nights to unique arcade games, these places have it all. So pull up a chair, order a drink and get geeky.
The Famous Neons Unplugged – For trivia nerds
eclectic place has one of the best trivia nights in town, along with one of the
best drink selections as well! They offer 10 rotating drafts, 135 craft bottled
beer and in-house vintage beers in addition to domestic favorites. For those
who like to mix it up a little, Neons creates specialty cocktails every day. For now, their cozy and homey
interior will keep you warm through the winter, but be sure to check out their
string-light-lit back patio in the warmer months — you can even bring your pets
along for the ride! Monday nights are trivia nights at Neons and if that’s not
enough excitement for you, they even have giant Jenga to play.
208 E. 12th St., Over-the-Rhine, 513-827-9361, wellmannsbrands.com/neons. $.
Over-the-Rhine Brewery District Tours – For history nerds
anything of a history buff, you’re going to love these tours through the pre-Prohibition-era
breweries of Cincinnati. Not only will you get to explore the historic
buildings, you’ll also get tours of the cellars and underground tunnels that
were at the heart of the Cincinnati brewing scene decades ago. Some of the
places featured on this tour include the Sohn/Cliffyside Brewery (opened in
1846), the Hudepohl Brewery (founded in 1850) and the Christian Moerlein
Brewery, which is among the top 5 largest pre-Prohibition breweries in the
country. Explore the beer-stained history of the Queen city with these
16-Bit Bar+Arcade – For video game nerds
than 50 classic arcade games from Donkey Kong to Pac Man, this throwback bar is
one of the geekiest places in the city. The best part? If you drink, you play
for free! The bar even continues its ’80s and ’90s theme into their “old
school” and “new wave” cocktails. Drinks like the Hulk Hogan (vodka + lemonade
+ original bomb pop popsicle), the Cheech Marin (Espolon Reposado tequila +
lime + agave nectar + orange zest + salt) and the Pam Anderson (Malibu rum +
peach vodka + cranberry juice + pineapple juice + lime juice + grenadine) will
keep you juiced up and ready to beat high scores all night. And if you haven’t
had enough by the time you leave, they even sell nerdy apparel to suit your
1331 Walnut St., Over-the-Rhine, 513-381-1616, 16-bitbar.com/cincy. $$.
It’s a Wednesday, and the line at Cuban Pete Sandwiches on Court Street downtown
stretches out the door during lunchtime. Hungry customers don’t mind waiting in
line for the only authentic Cuban cuisine in Cincinnati. The staff is prepared,
having pre-made 50 traditional Cuban sandwiches at the start of their shift.
The restaurant catches the attention of a Cuban man, who cuts all the way to
the front of the line and approaches Nelson Fonticiella.
“This isn’t real Cuban food!” the man tells Fonticiella.
Fonticiella, the restaurant’s owner and general manager, simply tells the surly
customer he has no idea. The man admits he has been looking for authentic Cuban
food in Cincinnati for years. He hasn’t even been able to find a restaurant
that uses Cuban bread for sandwiches.
Of course, he doesn’t believe that the man before him with green eyes, red hair
and freckles is Cuban —not until he samples the piece of bread Fonticiella
gives him. It’s so good that he orders a Cuban sandwich and eats the entire
thing while having a conversation with Fonticiella’s father. Just one sandwich
isn’t enough for him, so he orders a steak sandwich and scarfs it down in the
store before ordering a chicken sandwich to go.
“A real Cuban guy sat there and couldn’t resist eating two of our sandwiches,”
Fonticiella says later. “That’s about as complimentary as it gets.”
He knows for a fact Cuban Pete is the only restaurant in Cincinnati that
serves authentic Cuban bread, which he imports from Miami.
The bread cooks up nice and crisp when sandwiches are pressed, giving them the
perfect filling-to-bread ratio (as opposed to other styles of bread that can
make sandwiches too … bready).
Each week Fonticiella roasts 100 pounds of pork for his sandwiches and tacos. It’s
juicy, tender and flavorful.
“This is authentic as it gets. Besides, I’m cooking in an oven instead of
burying a pig in the ground,” he says with a laugh. “Eventually I’m going to
have to teach someone else how to do it, but I’m having trouble giving up my
secret pork recipe.”
The recipe comes from a leather-bound book he found in his grandmother’s attic
containing all of his great-grandfather’s recipes. Pedro — or Pete, as he was
nicknamed — cooked for his hungry baseball teammates in Cuba. Although he did
not make it to the U.S. when the family immigrated to Florida, his recipes did.
Fonticiella’s grandmother began to teach him how to cook when he was seven
years old. Now, his great-grandfather Pete’s recipes account for half of what
is served at Cuban Pete, including the chicken and steak. The other half are
The idea for Cuban Pete began eight years ago when Fonticiella opened a food
truck in Lexington, Ky. The business moved to Cincinnati three years ago after
Fonticiella frequented the city for concerts and saw the restaurant and music
scenes expanding. So far, he has not regretted his decision to move up north.
“The thing I love about Cincinnati is that everyone who is from here or lives
here is proud as hell to be from Cincinnati,” he says. “Everyone knows the ins
and outs and the history of their city.”
Although he originally intended to open up more Cuban Pete in other cities
such as Indianapolis, Fonticiella has decided to stay put in the Queen City. In
fact, he loves it so much that a second location will open by the end of the
summer. The new store will be located somewhere in northern Cincinnati, he
“I want to take the food and culture that has influenced me my entire life and
share it with places that don’t really have it,” he says. “Cincinnati is the
perfect place to start. Every day, I have people coming up to me telling me
it’s the best sandwich they’ve ever had in their life.”
“Ninety percent of the time when it’s not busy, you are going to see me sitting
and talking with the customers,” he says as a couple of regulars step into the
restaurant. He greets them by name.
While Fonticiella’s father lives in Lexington, he regularly commutes to
Cincinnati and hang around Cuban Pete. Fonticiella describes his father as
the quintessential loud Cuban; he is always out on the floor talking to
Understandably, customers’ favorite part of Cuban Pete is the food. I enjoyed
the authentic Cuban sandwich as well as the Chicky Boom-Boom sandwich. Seasoned,
marinated chicken is complemented by the perfect combination of sweet jerk
sauce and spicy Sriracha, paired with red onions and tomatoes.
Enjoy hand-cut fries as a side or fried plantains for a sweeter alternative. They’re sweet and enjoyable enough for dessert. You can also get some of Pete’s
amazing pork or chicken on a taco, which comes with pineapple cilantro salsa.
There are also breakfast options and different variations of the Cuban to try,
such as the creative Cincy Cuban with goetta.
The menu will be expanding with healthier options and desserts Feb. 1, with
house-made black bean burgers, salads with homemade dressing, and Tres Leches Cake.
All menu items are reasonably priced, especially considering the quality of the food. Cuban Pete serves the only authentic Cuban food in Cincinnati, and Fonticiella goes the extra mile when sourcing his ingredients. He can find his pork, drinks and ingredients for marinades locally from Jungle Jim’s, Findlay Market and Restaurant Depot, but the bread and bolo ham come from Florida.
Do prefer to fill your stomach before a night out? Love loading up on artisanal appetizers, fancy finger foods and awesome hors d’oeuvres? Calling all foodies: these bars are for you.
Hofbrauhaus – Newport
food is your cup of tea, the Hofbrauhaus in Newport is the place to be. It’s
hard to go wrong with their bier cheese fries or any of the indulgent schnitzel
options — and don’t forget about their legendary beer selection! This local
favorite was the first Hofbrauhaus in America, modeled after the 400+-year-old
original in Germany. So loosen your belt and join in the tradition.
200 E. Third St. Newport, Ky. 859-491-7200.
$$. Lots of space.
Latitudes – Anderson
we head to this eclectic Mediterranean bar and grill. Sit down for some tapas
while you experience one of their famous karaoke or trivia
nights, and make sure to check out the calendar for their next live music act.
This place is perfect for a low-stress, high-caliber night out with close
friends, acquaintances you occasionally grab dinner with or a hot date.
7454 Beechmont Ave., Anderson, 513-827-9146.
$$. Theme nights.
BrewRiver GastroPub – East End
GastroPub has some of the best “bar food” (if you can even call it that) in the
area — they call chicken liver pate a light snack. The head chef, Michael
Shields, spent six years working under Emeril Lagasse: chef extraordinaire and
the star of 12 different cooking shows. If you love New Orleans delicacies and
an incredible beer and wine suggestion for every
meal, then this
authentic establishment is right up your alley.
2062 Riverside Dr., East End, 513-861-2484.
$$. Live music.
Pull on your high-heeled boots, grab some of your best friends and head out on the town for your best-ever girls' night! These bars have everything from spacious dance floors to crazy cocktails that’ll definitely spice up your weekend plans.
Bar Louie – Newport
early, closes late” is the credo of this café/lounge based out of Chicago. Bar
Louie’s vibe is eclectic and welcoming and features a wide range of handcrafted
signature martinis like the new Star Wars-themed cocktails — these definitely are the drinks you’re looking for. And
if you want something to soak up all those whimsically themed martinis, the Verde
Chicken Flatbread is to die for.
1 Levee Way #3118, Newport, Ky., newportonthelevee.com/bar-louie.
Open late. $$. Specialty drinks.
Longworth’s – Mount Adams
huge dance floor, live DJ and unique feel should make it one of the first stops
on your agenda — and with happy hour every day from 4-8 p.m., it’s
easy to get a good start for a great price, meaning your night can last even
longer. Then if you feel like continuing the party into Sunday Funday, you’ll
be welcomed with $3 Mimosas and Bloody Marys all day long.
1109 St. Gregory St., Mount Adams, mtadamslongworths.com.
$$. Outdoor patio.
Mynt Martini – Downtown
Want to add
a touch of class to your big night out? Check out the super sleek Mynt Martini
lounge for their live music, tasty hors d’oeuvres and fancy cocktails. The
first thing you’ll notice when you walk in is the neon-lit bar and tables,
which clearly sets the scene for how awesome the rest of your night will be.
28 Fountain Square Plaza, Downtown, myntcincinnati.com.
$$$. Live music.
which game you’re watching or which colors you don (better be orange and black), the Cincinnati bar scene has a
little something for every kind of fan. From packed sports bars to quiet
neighborhood grills, there’s always a place to enjoy a couple of the things the
Queen City is known for — good teams and great beer. This Saturday will be no exception when the stupid Pittsburgh Steelers come to town for an AFC first-round playoff game.
The Brass Tap in Clifton has 20 HDTVs, which play any and all Bengals games — with the sound on! The bar also serves up more than 300 beers — 80 on draft and 250 in bottles with 30-plus locals. Saturdays and Sundays, any pizza (served on pretzel dough crust) and pint combo is $10, and on game days, enjoy $3 off any large format beer selections. You can check out the expansive wine, food and both draft and bottle beer menus online. Fun place to get loud and shout at the TV with college kids. 251 Calhoun St., Clifton Heights, 513-242-2337, brasstapbeer.com.
Brothers Bar & Grille
For those looking to find a unique and eclectic sports bar on a budget, Brothers Bar & Grill is right up your alley. The bar itself is located right on Newport on the Levee's square, meaning a stunning view of the river is just outside on their back patio. The menu features made-from-scratch appetizers like Wisconsin World Famous Cheese Curds, bleu cheese and bacon tavern chips, and jumbo pretzel sticks, and also has plenty of full sized meals. Their daily drink specials ($2 double wells, anyone?) will keep your pockets lined and your belly warm while you cheer on your favorite team. 1 Levee Way #2126, Newport, Ky., 859-291-2767, brothersbar.com.
Gas Light Café
Pleasant Ridge’s friendly neighborhood tavern expects a big crowd for the playoff game. Its legit bar-food menu includes one of the best burgers in town, plus other creative sandwiches and sides. 6104 Montgomery Road, Pleasant Ridge, 513-631-6977.
Holy Grail Tavern & Grill
One of the city’s biggest and most authentic sports bars, the Holy Grail at The Banks hosts weekly Bengals radio shows and will undoubtedly be packed for the big game against the Steelers. Huge menu, tons of draft beers and enough TVs to see exactly which player tries to poke another in the eyes. Holy Grail West offers more of the same in Delhi. The Banks, 161 Joe Nuxhall Way, Downtown, 513-621-2222; Holy Grail West, 1278 Ebenezer Road, Delhi, 513-941-5555. holygrailcincy.com.
Kitty’s Sports Grill
Positioned directly across the street from Paul Brown Stadium and buzzing with a big bar-vibe, Kitty’s is the place to be for Bengals fans. This gem is relatively new to the Cincinnati scene, but it’s already making waves with super friendly staff members, fantastic drink specials like $12 bottomless bloody marys and mimosas on the weekends, and so many TVs you won’t even know where to look. There’s even a 120-inch projection screen above the bar — talk about a front row seat. 218 W. Third St., Downtown, 513-421-8900, kittyssportsgrill.net.
This all-American, nationally recognized (check out their Travel Channel shout-out), locally beloved dive bar mixes together all the necessary ingredients for the perfect game day. Their dartboard-and-jukebox vibe pairs wonderfully with the inexpensive and delicious array of grub — from their famous smoked wings (just 75 cents when you buy a beer!), to loaded vegetarian nachos. You’ll feel like a regular on your first visit, so it’s easy to get comfy and enjoy the game, no matter the score. They also have free popcorn. 10 W. Seventh St., Downtown, 513-621-1000.
O’Malley’s in the Alley
The quintessential Cincinnati sports bar, O’Malley’s offers weekly lunch specials, happy hour deals and other specials for Reds and Bengals games. The Irish pub is one of the city’s oldest bars, O’Malley’s is a crucial stop to and from riverfront sports contests and should be poppin’ on playoff night. 25 Ogden Place (off Vine Street), Downtown, 513-381-3114. omalleysinthealley.com.