If you never lived in Dayton you may not know that Milano’s Atlantic City Subs is a small chain of 3 stores in that area. Recently they have opened their newest location closer to us in West Chester.
I had heard about the chain from some folks I know in Dayton who mentioned the good beer and tasty pizza. Milano’s grew to more notable fame in my mind for landing the first tap handles in the area of Fat Head’s new Hop JuJu. Hop JuJu is FatHead’s impressive Imperial IPA that won gold at last year’s GABF.
I never got up to the restaurants to try Hop JuJu but did finally get their last night and strongly regret not doing so sooner!
Over the Rhine’s dining and bar scene continued its quest to take over the rest of the city, with two great new restaurants, Salazar and The Eagle, opening within two blocks and two days of each other this past December. I’m here today to give you a quick run down on their food and a deeper discussion of their bars.
All of my foodie friends in Cincinnati have been eagerly awaiting Jose Salazar opening his own restaurant and a few weeks ago it finally happened. Salazar is located on the corner of Republic and 14th Street in Over the Rhine and serves food that can perhaps best be described as gourmet french comfort food. The menu is rustic and farm inspired but with a degree of class that belies its comfortable bistro style seating. The food I’ve had is incredible but the bar menu is what we are here to talk about.
In the interest of full disclosure the bar manager, Jacob Trevino, has become a good friend since he first waited on Charlie and me at Japp’s. Not only have we interviewed him on our podcast, he came to our Boxing Day party so he’s basically family now. That being said, I have been genuinely impressed by the bar menu he came up with for Salazar. Cincinnati has a wealth of great places doing retro/classic style cocktails and I love them all. But Jacob is making drinks that are more forward thinking and original than a lot of other places in Cincinnati. Several of his drinks are less sweet than you might expect for a restaurant cocktail and none of them taste like anything that other people are serving. Perhaps because he came to Cincinnati via Texas and New Orleans, the spirits, combinations, and even some of the garnishes are just not what you would expect and I think that is a great thing.
Just to give you an example, his Creole Gimlet has gin and lime but it also uses a house-made falernum and creole bitters. I’ve had just about everything on the menu at this point. They are all amazing but the 71 South, Pinky Swear, and the Coco Del Cielo were three of my favorites. The beer selection was smaller but focused, with a few quality examples of several types of beer from both local and national microbreweries. Do yourself a favor and get in there to check out the restaurant and bar soon.
While Salazar had the breathless anticipation of the foodie crowd in Cincinnati, The Eagle seemed to have just about everyone waiting to get a seat once they opened. Owned and operated by the same people who have Bakersfield, The Eagle also opened in late December and is located on Vine Street, just a few blocks away from Salazar. The Eagle is located in an old post office and continues the trend of doing high-class cheap food, this time with fried chicken. For a more detailed review of the food check The Eagle Has Landed, but I thought it was very good. The price was right and I liked all of the sides a lot. The fried chicken was actually kind of too spicy for me. I am pretty sure they use tabasco in the batter so be warned.
Rather than focusing on craft cocktails that pack a punch, all of the house cocktails at The Eagle are classic drinks served in large glass mugs that really make you feel like you are getting your money’s worth. The Moscow was my favorite but the OTR Lemonade and the Bloody Mary were also enjoyed by my group. The beer selection was very good, much bigger than similar sized restaurants in the neighborhood. The downside of The Eagle is the wait. Be prepared to wait 1-2 hours for a table on the weekends. If you go I recommend putting your name in and then heading to Salazar for a cocktail and some warm olives while you wait.
I originally set out to make a list of some of the best bars in the city for this article. Nothing too fancy, just a list of places I would recommend to people from out-of-town if they wanted a great cocktail. Once I sat down to think about it I realized I had a problem. Not only do we have too many great bars and restaurants who are putting skill, art, and love into their cocktail menu to list in one article, but I was missing out on a great excuse to try a whole bunch of new places in the name of research. So for now I decided to limit myself to the one area of the city I am already way too familiar with and will be adding the top five cocktail bars of other neighborhoods in future weeks.
Five Places to Get a Great Cocktail in Over the Rhine
The rapid change of Over the Rhine from an economically depressed historical neighborhood to the city’s newest hot spot for trend setters and foodies has been a boon for cocktail aficionados. Craft cocktails are a must for every new bar and restaurant in the area, leaving us with dozens of places within a three block radius to get a $10 cocktail. Luckily we are talking about really good cocktails here and they are pretty darn strong to boot so that makes them easier to swallow (har.) But with limited time on your hands you may wonder which spots to hit on a night out. Here is my list of five places in Over the Rhine where you are guaranteed to get a great cocktail.
5. The Lackman: This bar is probably my least favorite on the list when it comes to atmosphere and price but since this is a list is about the quality of cocktails it made the cut. The drinks I’ve had there are always wonderfully executed and served with a consistent quality. They have some barrel-aged drinks on a rotating basis, including a barrel-aged negroni last time I was there. The bottle selection is not very deep, but it is high quality. Service is usually very good even when crowded. The beer choice is great and rotates regularly. In short they are doing everything right, they are just missing some of the heart of other places and they charge you a bit more for the pleasure.
4. Bakersfield: I’ve written before about my admiration of Bakersfield’s cocktails. They were the first place in the area where I ordered a barrel aged Manhattan and I love their Red Headed Stranger Cocktail. I also am a big fan of their $3 shot specials which always include a solid bourbon or tequila selection. I recommend stopping by on Fridays for a $3 shot of Four Roses. The cocktail list shows a great deal of thought and compliments their food and the vibe of the place. Just don’t go there if you are looking for a gin martini. Bakersfield loses points for being a tequila and whiskey only kind of place, but you can’t expect urban cowboys to drink fruit flavored vodka now can you?
3. Neon’s: When Charlie and I did our run around OTR for Yelp Drinks Neon’s ended up with the winning cocktail with a smoked elderflower that was out of this world. They make their own bitters and syrups for their cocktails as well as a huge number of infusions so the variety of drinks you can get there is almost endless. They have a beautiful patio and a really excellent beer selection that is always good for trying something new. The drawbacks seem to have a lot to do with how popular it has become, with crowding and slow service being the most common complaint. Also, although I enjoy the creativity that can come from making your own infusions, they can be hit or miss. I’ve tried several bourbon infusions at Neon’s and, unfortunately, many of them seemed to be a waste of good bourbon.
2. The Senate: The Senate Restaurant is one few places in OTR that manages to be a triple-threat. Great food, extensive beer list, and amazing cocktails that rotate out on a regular basis. The senate hits all the flavor profiles in their house cocktail list, from bitter to sweet, from fruity to fatty, from classic to cutting edge. I had a drink there once with duck fat, it looked like sludge but tasted divine and was served with a fig newton garnish. Recently I took my friend there for her bachelorette party and this was her reaction to the Fidel Castro she was drinking.
I think that says it all.
1. Japp’s: I realize that a lot of people probably think I am on the payroll for Japp’s considering how often I rave about it. But seriously, this place has everything a cocktail nerd could ask for. First of all, the atmosphere is great. Beautiful historic building with no TVs and frequent live bands that compliment the style. But this is an article about cocktails and here is where Japp’s really shines. They train staff the amazingly well with a really high degree of professionalism and consistency for all of their drinks and I am willing to bet that this is one of the few places you can go in the whole city where you can order a Blood and Sand or a Martinez and not have the bartender ask you what’s in it. On top of the classic cocktails, the rotating weekly list of house specials is always great and the bottle choice is amazing. And let’s not forget that fresh juices and house-made syrups and bitters that are standard at this location. Nothing but the quality and the price is actually pretty reasonable if you look at what the other places are charging for similarly crafted cocktails. Not to mention that the bar’s owner and still regular bartender Molly Wellmann literally wrote the book on craft cocktails.
So now is the part where you go ahead and tell me how wrong I am. What places did I leave off? What places are overrated? I want to know. And before anyone says anything I do want to give honorable mention to Arnold’s, where I would actually rather drink most nights than a lot of the other places on this list. Arnold’s has a personality that can’t be beaten in this city and they have upped their cocktail game considerably in the past few years, but the mixed drinks are still inconsistent and rely on pre-made mixes. And let’s face it; wouldn’t we all rather keep Arnold’s feeling a little more down to earth and little less trendy?
A few weeks ago while I was leading a microbrewery tour with Tonic Tours, I started talking with a guy named Dave Reed who was enjoying a pint at Rivertown’s taproom. Turns out he is the beer manager at BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse and he invited Charlie and I down to enjoy some beer, check out their food, and see what we thought of the place.
Because I live near Tri-County Mall I have driven by BJ’s a number of times since they opened but something about the name and the location in the mall had caused me to write them off as a cheesy sports bar with too much testosterone and too many chicken wings so I’d never actually been inside. In the end, I may not have taken Dave up on his offer except that my cousin who usually has pretty good taste in beer recently told me that BJ’s has one of the best pumpkin ale’s he’d ever had. I was intrigued to see if I had judged BJ’s too harshly.
BJ’s started as a deep-dish pizza restaurant in 1978 in Southern California. The chain took off in California and in 1996 they added a brewery to their line up and began brewing their own beer to serve in their restaurants. All of the beer served at the Cincinnati location is brewed in the Reno brewery. In addition to the Tri-County location they have recently opened a location in Florence, KY and a BJ’s will be opening in Dayton later this month.
BJ’s has 12 of their own beers on tap, with selections ranging from their standard American-style light beer to a stout and a double IPA coming out later this month. When we sat down with Dave at BJ’s he brought us a flight of their four most popular beers: the LightSwitch Lager, BrewHouse Blonde, Piranha Pale Ale, and Jeremiah Red. All of the beers were solid, approachable, and fairly safe which makes sense given that these are the best selling beers in a fairly mainstream restaurant. There was actually a barely detectable hint of hops in their light beer and I particularly enjoyed the Jeremiah Red. It has a fairly complex malt profile although it may be a bit sweet for most people’s taste in an Irish Red Ale. I wish that we had gotten a chance to try some of the darker varieties of beer as well to see how they compared, but overall I would rate the beer good but not great. In addition to their own beer’s BJ’s also has 12 more beers on tap with everything from Blue Moon to Rivertown’s Hopbomber.
I have to say that the food impressed me a little more than the beer. The deep dish pizza was delicious, a nice amount of toppings that didn’t get overwhelmed by the crust. The seared ahi tuna salad I ordered was amazing, with the tuna cooked to perfection and nicely balanced by the rice-wine vinaigrette and generous portion of avocado. I was actually most impressed by the wide selection items on their menu that fit different diets. They had a surprisingly large number of gluten-free dishes that they apparently even use separate utensils and trays for to avoid cross-contamination. Their low calorie dishes, including the salad I got, were great even if they insist on calling them “Enlightened Entrees.”
Over all the biggest disappointment was that this pumpkin ale I’d heard about from my cousin was not available yet. I guess I will just have to head back in October when the finally tap it and try a few more of their beers before I make a final decision. Over all I would to head to BJ’s for the food first and enjoy the beer as an accompaniment to the meal rather than the main attraction. With easy parking, little to no wait, and plenty of big screen TV’s there are worse choices for a night out with solid food and beer you can’t try anywhere else. If you want to check out BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse a good opportunity is coming up at the end of the month. They are doing a beer and cider dinner September 30th; for $30 per person you get five courses of food with a beer or cider paired with each one. Call the restaurant to reserve a seat at (513) 671-1805. And be sure to check out Episode 30 of Bottoms Up to hear Charlie and I try the beer and get a rundown of each one.
I just received information on a beer dinner featuring Listermann beers at Parkers Blue Ash. I really hope to make this one, as Listermann/Triple Digit have been cranking out some solid beers and the food pairings sound fantastic.
[Note: I just got an email stating that this dinner will take place at 7:00PM.]
Parkers Blue Ash Tavern Executive Chef Josh House is hosting a Craft Beer Dinner in partnership with Listermann and Triple Digit Breweries on May 15, 2013. The dinner will take place during National Craft Beer Week, which runs May 13-19, 2013. This celebration, coordinated by the Craft Beer Program, is an opportunity for craft brewers to commemorate their art and tradition with enthusiasts across the country.
Courses will include First Course: Tuna Tacos (Cucumber Salsa, Jalapeno Crema, Cilantro) with Serpentine Wheat; Second Course: Fish and Chips (Battered Pacific Cod, Crispy Plantain, Napa Cabbage) with Leopold; Third Course: Beer Belly and Pork Rinds (Smoked Pork Belly, Spicy Pork Rinds, Avocado) with Jungle Honey; Entrée Course: Ohio Steak and Potatoes (Ribeye Two Ways, Asparagus, Roasted Beef Jus) with Aftermath; Dessert Course: “Nutty Bars” (Fresh Peanut Butter, Wafers, Chocolate) with Nutcase.
Reservations can be secured by calling Parkers at (513) 891-8300; limited space with capacity at 40. Tickets are $40 apiece. Additionally, Parkers is currently featuring one newly offered craft beer per week as the “Brew of the Week,” intended to encourage new and returning guests to broaden their horizons and try something different. Parkers Head Chef Josh House plans to keep each “Brew of the Week” in mind as he crafts specials each week to be paired with the wide range in craft beers available. The first “Brew of the Week” was the Triple Digit Chickow Hazelnut Double Brown Ale, only available locally by the Triple Digit Brewing Company on Dana Avenue.
About Parkers Blue Ash Tavern’s Chef Josh House: Chef House hails from Miamisburg, Ohio where he began his culinary journey making pizza and washing dishes. He brings with him an extensive background of fine dining, banquet, and hotel experience from Louisville, Phoenix, and Cincinnati. Prior to joining the Parkers team, House was the Executive Chef at the Cincinnati Marriott Northeast where he helped design and implement new menus for the hotels’ restaurant and banquet departments. Before leading the culinary department at the Marriott, House worked at The Oakroom at The Seelbach Hilton Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky’s only AAA 5 Diamond Award winning restaurant, helping design a seasonal menu reflecting the desire of the team to push the boundaries of the local dining scene. While at Kai Restaurant at The Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort and Spa in Phoenix, AAA 5 Diamond and Forbes 5 Star Award winning restaurant, House began his education in southwestern cuisine with a focus on Native American ingredients indigenous to the area. House also spent time during culinary school working at The Seelbach Hilton Hotel as a banquet cook learning how to execute high volume banquets and writing the weekly brunch menu for The Oakroom before heading off to Arizona to help broaden his culinary knowledge. House looks to seasonal and locally sourced products when creating menu items or specials for Parkers and its award winning brunch, wine and beer dinners, and holiday menu offerings.
About Parkers Blue Ash Tavern: Parkers Blue Ash Tavern is located at 4200 Cooper Road in Blue Ash. They specialize in All-American Fare with a wide selection of beef and seafood dishes, as well as a critically-acclaimed Best of Cincinnati Sunday brunch. Additionally, they recently remodeled their Tap Room and patio and also offer a main dining room or private dining. The restaurant is known for its wood-burning fireplaces and charming equestrian theme.
While lining up for lunch at your local Chipotle you may have noticed that they offer margaritas as one of your beverage choices but if you are like me, you’ve probably never really thought much about them or even considered ordering them. Chipotle is looking to change that. The fast casual mexican restaurant has established its brand as the fresh, caring, Michael Pollan-approved fast food restaurant and they are trying to bring some of that mystique to their margaritas. I was invited to head to the Chipotle on Fountain Square to try one with their marketing director and see what I thought.
So the first thing I have to admit right away is that I am a huge fan girl of Chipotle. If I have one of those too-busy-to-cook-no-food-in-the-fridge kind of nights and I just need something fast kind of nights it is my number one choice. There is really no other restaurants offering food that tastes that good, at that price point and convenience level. Plus I don’t feel guilty for eating their carnitas because it comes from happy little piggies who were probably so grateful for their loving farmer that they were only too glad to lay down their life to support him financially. So yeah, this is probably not going to be an unbiased review
So what is different about these margaritas? First of all they are ditching the pre-made sour mix and are using fresh squeezed lemon and lime juice instead. This is really what makes a big difference. Just using fresh juice takes the taste out of the bar standard hum ho cocktail and creates something that catches your attention. The next thing they have changed is allowing guests to choose to have their drink made with Patron for a few dollars extra. Patron may not be the absolute best tequila out there but it is probably the most well known brand and it is incredibly smooth. They use an ounce and half in their margaritas and the one I tried had minimal alcohol flavor. It was nice, heavy on the citrus, and very tasty. I would very much enjoy sipping on one of those while eating chips and guacamole after work.
Which gets to the problem that I think Chipotle will continue to have with their margaritas. Nobody I know goes to Chipotle for happy hour. We go there for a quick, delicious, and reasonably priced lunch or dinner. On the piece I recorded for Bottoms Up, Laura from Cincinnati Nomerati and I both agreed that $7 for a Patron margarita made with fresh squeezed juice was a good deal. But it is also the same price as a burrito and ordering one with my dinner will mean doubling my bill. When I head out for a nice dinner or to have drinks with friends I am prepared for that but on my Chipotle nights not so much. So as much as I love Chipotle, (I will be eating there tomorrow night for their Teacher Appreciation, buy one get one free special) I don’t think I will be ordering their Patron margaritas nearly as often as I might like.
I’m not going to do a full-scale review of the Yard House just yet because 1) I largely agree with what Tom said in his review and 2) I don’t want to judge a business on a soft opening (especially when I’m eating and drinking for free). I’ll just include a few of my thoughts short format belong, along with a few pictures.
– The space itself is just a tad above average. Very minimalist, with a one story, spread out floor plan. I think keeping it open looks neat, but will lead to crowd volume issues during busy hours, which was not helped at the preview by the music blasting. I like the Lager House’s materials and construction considerably more.
– The view is beautiful of the Ohio River and Roebling Bridge (see below). This is going to be a fantastic place to sit for happy hour once the weather warms up.
– While there are a ton of tap handles, I wasn’t super impressed by the selection. There aren’t enough locals and too many handles are used for macro. I understand that this is at The Banks and caters to a wide subset of the population (AKA: not just beer geeks), but I think there’s considerable room to improve. I think this will happen as the folks responsible for beer buying there get a better understanding of the lay of the land in terms of local beers in Cincinnati.
– The small bites of food I had were fantastic in every case. I’m looking forward to coming back during happy hour sometime when they have half off appetizers and I believe pizzas.
– People talk a lot about what this means for the Lager House. I think the effect with be at worst minimal and at best a benefit to both places. With the Red’s season starting back up, there will clearly be enough demand for both places. Also, I’m a believer that a rising ride lifts all boats. I think the Lager House’s superior beer selection will make the Yard House up their game and I believe the Yard Houses’s eclectic and high-quality food selection will make the Lager House up theirs. Overall, having both is great for consumers. I’m not going to say that the two are equivalent, but if the Lager House was full, I’d be more than happy to walk over to the Yard House for a beer and snack (or vice-versa).
– Overall, I was impressed with not just the Yard House and its food/beer, but with the service, as well. Obviously things were slow because of the crowd size and learning the systems, but it’s nice to see servers new at a place, still chipper and pleasant to interact with.
With a couple weeks left until the Yard House chain’s location here in Cincinnati opens, we got ahold of what will be available to drink on once they open. I’ll leave the commentary to you folks and add the disclaimer that I’m sure some of this will change by the time they open the doors.
When I read about Yelp Drinks 2013 I have to admit I got excited. I am something of a craft cocktail obsessive and the chance to check out a few places I’d been hearing about for half price was too tempting to miss. The deal is simple, 20 local bars and restaurants agree to feature three of their drinks at half price anytime before nine during the featured week, which just so happens to be this week. The timing was great for me because I’ve just started doing a second, all alcohol, podcast called Bottoms Up and I thought that featuring some exciting local bars would make for a good show. So last night Charlie, my partner-in-crime and co-host, picked me up and we hit 5 of the bars in 90 minutes. You can listen as we talk to the bartenders and try the drinks starting Friday over on the Charlie Tonic site but here is my rapid fire review of the five locations we hit.
Mayberry:I’ve been wanting to try the gastro pub for awhile now so we started here with the plan to get some food while we had a drink. Oddly enough the menu really didn’t appeal to me. Everything seemed to have pork belly and I know that doesn’t sound like a problem but it just wasn’t what we were in the mood for so we settled on ordering two Blood Orange Martini’s and some Bacon Garlic Popcorn to snack on. The Blood Orange Martini was made with vodka, freshly squeeze blood orange juice, and triple sec. It was an uncomplicated and refreshing drink and the driest of all the cocktails we sampled. Not too sweet at all and if you don’t like the taste of vodka you probably won’t like it. The burnt orange peel was a nice touch.
Japp’s Since 1879: Of course I am no stranger to Japp’s but with it right across the street from Mayberry I couldn’t walk past without trying a drink. Since we were in Over the Rhine I decided to order the OTR Cocktail and it was an interesting experience in having the same cocktail made by a different person. The OTR has vodka, vanilla, fresh squeezed lime, cranberry and rose water. The first time I had it the vanilla and rose water came through and it was a much softer and sweeter take on the old stand by combo of vodka, cranberry, and citrus. This time the lime was much stronger and I didn’t taste any vanilla at all. Sadly, this was the first time Japp’s has let me down.
Taste of Belgium:I’ve been a fan of these addictive little waffles since I first picked them up at a farmer’s market but I haven’t been to their new restaurant yet, in part because I thought that as much as I love the waffles, eating them for dinner seemed a bit much. But it turns out that Taste of Belgium was my favorite food stop of the night. To make up for the disappointing and over-priced popcorn, Charlie and I decided to split a burger. It was delicious and the toppings of bacon, goat cheese and caramelized apples complimented each other beautifully. Not only was the food great but the cocktail here tied for first place of the night. The Rosemary Bistro was made with Watershed Bourbon Barrel Gin, house-made rosemary leek syrup, and topped off with tonic water and a sprig of rosemary. The result is a crisp and slightly savory take on a traditional gin and tonic. Two thumbs up for this one.
Below Zero Lounge:The drink here was the most disappointing but the atmosphere was the most fun so I guess it’s a draw. I ordered the Yelptini which has vodka, triple sec, and cranberry juice. Now you may be saying to yourself, as I was, wait a minute isn’t that basically a Cosmopolitan minus the lime? Yes indeed it is and it tasted basically like a Cosmopolitan as well. Nevertheless, a cosmo is a nice cocktail and I managed to forget to take a picture until the glass was nearly empty so it’s not like I didn’t enjoy it. The crowd at Below Zero were unpretentious, talkative, and just plain fun to be around. I admit I was disappointed when it was time to move on to our final stop.
Neon’s Unplugged:I never though I would enjoy a bar called Neon’s but this is where we got the second winning drink of the night. With its long narrow interior, dark wood beams, patrons wearing knit hats, and a dog laying by the entrance Neon’s felt like a pub in a European fishing village but the variety of craft beer and house-made bitters was decidedly modern. We decided on the Smoked Elderflower cocktail and this one was a winner. Something like a smoked gimlet, this drink was made with vodka, smoked fig bitters, St Germain, a splash of lemon juice, Sprite and then garnished with fresh lavender and a lemon wheel. The result was a smokey-citrus taste that was really unique and enjoyable. This is a bar I will definitely be trying again.
If you want to try these or any of the other 55 drinks that are on special during Yelp Drinks you have until Sunday to make it out. If I get the chance I will be stopping by Arnold’s for their Maple and Bacon infused Wild Turkey Old Fashioned.
Also in the interest of full disclosure and because I don’t want everyone thinking that I regularly slam back five cocktails on a work night, except for the first stop Charlie and I shared one of each of these drinks so it’s not as bad as it looks. Drink happy and drink safe!
You can hear Charlie and I try all of these drinks on Episode 2 of Bottoms Up.
Yelp has been doing Yelp Drinks over the past couple years and it’s been a great event. The short of it: three select drinks at certain bars/restaurants are 50% off. This is a great way to visit some new places and an even better way to try some new drinks. The full details are below.
Cincinnatians know how to get down. As it happens, so does Yelp! For seven straight days, we’ll be getting down with 50% drink specials from bars and restaurants all around Cincy. These participating businesses have each chosen three of their best bevvies to show off—so start coming up with your sorry-I’m-late-to-work excuses now!
Who: You and your thirsty friends!
When: February 18th – February 24th, 2013
Where: Various locations around Cincy!
How: Just click I’M IN on the right side of the event page.
A few quick notes:
1) Yelp Drinks prices are 50% off of the regular listed price until *9:00 PM during regular business hours from February 18th-24.
2) No coupons. Just let them know you’re there for “Yelp Drinks!”
3) Please tip on regular price.
4) Please consume responsibly and designate a driver.
5) You must be 21+ to participate, clearly.
6) Follow @YelpCincy #yelpdrinks if you wanna share with your Twitter friends