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Food

Best of the City 2013

PREGAME BAR: THE HOLY GRAIL
Pregaming—much like real estate and two-strike fastballs—is all about location. You want that trip from the bar to the game to be as short as possible, making the Holy Grail Tavern and Grille at The Banks an ideal spot to throw back a few preparatory cold ones. holygrailcincy.com

MARSHMALLOW: LOVE & FLUFF MARSHMALLOWS
Marshmallows are the ultimate role player, the glue that holds together s’mores and Rice Krispies Treats, the melty kicker that transforms hot cocoa into a winter indulgence. Stephanie Beck Borden started making her own fluffy confections this past June with Love & Fluff Marshmallows, concocting everything from vanilla-flavored versions to lemon thyme and bourbon. Eat them plain or create a new recipe, but just be sure to keep the wet naps nearby. facebook.com/loveandfluffmarshmallows

GELATO FLAVOR: CHEESECAKE, BUONA TERRA
You don’t have to be in Rome to live like a Roman. In fact, you don’t even have to leave Mt. Lookout. Buona Terra’s gelato flavors appeal to a broad range of palates, but our pick is Cheesecake. Sweet and creamy, with a touch of tartness, this flavor has the impact of the whole cake crammed into one scoop. Eat it plain or try it with a side of raspberry (or pistachio)—either way, it’ll make you wish those tiny spoons were a bit bigger. facebook.com/BuonaTerraGelato

BRUSSELS SPROUTS: BOCA
Brussels sprouts are no longer the redheaded stepchild of vegetables. Local fine-dining establishments steam, pan-sear, and sauté them to deliciousness, and none better than Boca. Caramelized to a tender, almost melt-in-your-mouth fare thee well, the sprouts are complimented perfectly by the earthy acidity of brown butter truffle vinaigrette. You’ll be asking for seconds. bocacincinnati.com

FRIED DOUGH: SOTTO’S RICOTTA DOUGHNUTS
So many treats that fall into this category are just wrong: too heavy, too sweet, too little, too much. But ricotta doughnuts, from Sotto’s dessert menu, are just right. Seven piping hot golf-ball-sized globes dusted in confectioner’s sugar arrive with three dipping sauces: chocolate, pistachio, and salted caramel. They’re lovely, but you don’t need them. The doughnuts themselves are impossibly moist, unexpectedly airy, and surprisingly satisfying. sottocincinnati.com

BURGER FOR GRILLING: BLACK AND BLUE BURGERS, BRIDGETOWN FINER MEATS
These things are mammoth—almost 10 ounces apiece—and they’re studded with chunks of blue cheese and bacon. Bridgetown starts with ground steak trimmings instead of the standard beef chuck; at about $4.40 each ($6.99 a pound), they ain’t cheap, but they will cement your reputation as a grillmaster. bridgetownfinermeats.com

LOCAL BACON: MORNING SUN FARM
Shop practically any farmers’ market in town, and you’ll find locally raised and processed bacon that’s way more flavorful and healthful than the agri-industrial megabrands. By a snout, we especially admired the goods from Morning Sun Farm: Heritage-bred hogs graze on this Preble County family farm before their jowls and bellies get maple sugar-cured, hickory-smoked, and transformed into the most delicious bacon, with luscious marbling and well-balanced flavor. (937) 787-4885

RESTAURANT MAKEOVER: BOCA
David Falk describes the overall design of this third incarnation of his flagship restaurant as “part La Bohème, part Beauty and the Beast.” Though its soaring operatic splendor is in sharp contrast to Maisonette’s coziness, it still channels some Parisian glamour: The dramatic French chandelier that serves as a focal point. bocacincinnati.com

ICE CREAM SODA: LIME SODA WITH LEMON SORBET, GRAETER’S
Having sought high and low for an upstart alternative, we know when the best really is the best. Consider the lime soda made with lemon sorbet, a favorite of the jerks at the Clifton Avenue shop: it’s a collision of lemon and lime, not as heavy as these confections can be. Just when you think you have it figured, the ratio of fizz to frost changes, and you have a different delight on your hands. graeters.com

BEER SHOP: DUTCH’S
The beer dock at Dutch’s opens to the sidewalk, a fermented newsstand for the brew-crew and hop-heads. Shelves upon shelves of local and craft cans and bottles (about 700 total) are on display for ogling and purchasing—try one or two of a few new selections, or pick up a six pack of your favorite go-to ale. You can also head inside to the bar for a similar artisan variety on tap, or fill a growler to take with you. dutchs.squarespace.com

OLD CONFECTION MADE NEW: SUNSHINE CARAMELS
Michele Wolf’s meltingly smooth, pillowy caramels, sold under the Sunshine Caramel Company banner, bear little resemblance to grocery store tooth breakers. Wolf creates her delectable candy using all-natural ingredients, makes them fresh daily, individually wraps each piece in waxed paper and packages them in cheerful boxes. facebook.com/sunshinecaramelcompany

HOUSEMADE NOODLES: SOTTO
Wander through the dark intimacy of Sotto’s dining room with its brick walls, luxurious textiles, and pewter candelabras and you’ll happen upon a brightly lit pasta laboratory where aproned cooks turn out delicate cappellacci “hats” stuffed with short rib, plump cavatelli that will eventually meet with sausage and sautéed rapini, and the glorious tonnarelli, a thin square-ish spaghetti that is the perfect delivery system for a luxurious sauce of aged pecorino and black pepper. sottocincinnati.com

ALL-DAY BREAKFAST: PRICE HILL CHILI
You feel like you are walking into some retro cop show when you enter Price Hill Chili: joint is convivial, very city, no frills, and resplendent in 1970s rec room decor. Most of all, there is the sizzle. Lots of sizzle. Price Hill Chili serves breakfast all day long, on a griddle that never sleeps, and you can get your Greek omelette any time you want, your hash browns, goetta, mailman special. Not brunch: breakfast. pricehillchili.com

CORN DOG: INCLINE PUBLIC HOUSE
These dogs come battered, deep-fried, and on a stick. But the similarities to festival food end there. This gourmet, sit-down version swaps in small bites of spicy Andouille for the hot dog, and housemade habañero ketchup and honey mustard replace squeezy-bottle condiments. inclinepublichouse.com

METRIC MEAT: WURSTPFANNE, STEINHAUS
It’s worth ordering this dish for the presentation alone. Detlef and Karen Koeppe’s Florence restaurant pulls out all the stops, serving sausage coiled up by the meter or half-meter, wheeled out piping hot on a cart, and doused with black beer until the entire length of homemade grilled goodness steams and sizzles as nature intended. It’s perfect paired with Brussels sprouts and home fries. Prosit. steinhausrestaurant.com

MUSEUM CAFÉ: TAFT MUSEUM OF ART
Taft Museum’s Executive Chef Luke Radkey lets current exhibitions guide his special menu. Through January 14, Telling Tales: Stories and Legends in 19th-Century American Art inspires a selection including roast chicken with smoked chile polenta (to complement Cortés’s First View of the City of Mexico); grilled sourdough with brie and cherry compote (a cheeky nod to Rembrandt Peale’s iconic George Washington portrait); and lamb kibbeh (to accompany) Ariadne Asleep on the Island of Naxos). taftmuseum.org

TRAVELING BAKER: BROWN BEAR BAKERY
If you’ve attended a community event in Cincinnati (City Flea, OTR Final Friday, Hyde Park Farmers’ Market), then you’ve likely ogled Brown Bear Bakery’s display of gorgeous seasonal tarts, meringues, macarons, doughnuts, brownies, and cakes. Owner Blair Fornshell’s branding is adorable and her Instagram profile (brownbearbakes) is a sight to behold. Look for her at the next festival—just try to find her before she sells out. brownbearbakes.com

HOUSE SALAD: THE ROOKWOOD
At a lot of restaurants, the house salad is little more than a conveyance for Roquefort dressing and croutons. Not so the “simple salad” at The Rookwood Bar & Restaurant. With fresh greens, figs, smoked blue cheese, and a sprinkling of hazelnuts, it’s hardly plain.  But it won’t spoil your supper, either. therookwood.com

SEASONAL LOCAL BREW: BLANK SLATE RYESING UP
On tap July–December at a handful of local pubs, Scott LaFollette’s small-batch Blank Slate RyeSing Up, a rye Saison, hits the lips bubbly and crisp, and ends with a spicy punch from rye malt and black and white peppercorns. All rise and toast the new brew master in town. blankslatebeer.com

HOTEL BREAKFAST: 21C HOTEL
Hotel breakfast menus are so homogenous: Close your eyes, and you could be ordering those eggs in pretty much any dining room in any city at any time. Breakfast at Metropole in the 21c Hotel is of a time and place: produce sourced from area farms, in-season fruits, Blue Oven English muffins, goetta. Chef Michael Paley and his Metropole team apply the local, seasonal approach that guides their dinner menu to the most important meal of the day. metropoleonwalnut.com

CRAFT SODA: VIRGILS
We are downright smitten with Bellevue’s Virgils Café, which seems positively proud of the mom-and-pop pop it offers. “We don’t sell Coke products,” the waitress makes clear; “we have our own.” The cola they offer from an unnamed source is lighter, maybe a little spicier, than the samo-samo. It’s clear and snappy and isn’t so thoroughly saturated with corn-based sugar that you can’t taste the flavor. Virgils bring the fizz. virgilscafe.com


CHARCUTERIE
We mined charcuterie boards all over town to create our dream lineup of cured meats

HOMEMADE ITALIAN SAUSAGE
While not exactly a cured meat, the Mariemont Strand bistro deserves mention for making their own—and doing it well. House-ground and stuffed, it has just the right fat content to smooth out the bold Italian flavors. Save room for beer cheese.Dilly Bistro, Bar, and Bottle Shop, 6818 Wooster Pike, Mariemont, (513) 561-5233

CALABRESE
The chili-spiked salame is a clear standout among an impressive selection. Chef Adam Cobb sources this from Creminelli Fine Meats, the Salt Lake City outpost of a family who’s been curing meats since the 1600s. Its peppery flavor is bright, sexy, and loud—like watching someone dance a tarantella across a hardwood floor. Enoteca Emilia, 2038 Madison Rd., O’Bryonville, (513) 834-5773

LA TUR
Enjoy that Calabrese with a wedge of La Tur, a luscious Piedmontese cheese blended from cow, sheep, and goat milk. Enoteca Emilia 2038 Madison Rd., O’Bryonville, (513) 834-5773

SMOKED TROUT
Supple and perfectly executed, this signature appetizer remains a constant on an otherwise fast-changing menu. Each taste is a daring triumvirate of salt, smoke, and brine. Local 127, 413 Vine St., downtown, (513) 721-1345

PICKLED SIX
The list of vegetables included in this must-have accompaniment changes, and each one is pickled slightly differently for maximum crunch. Sample the different textures while nursing a jalapeño margarita. Or two. Django Western Taco, 4046 Hamilton Ave., Northside, (513) 542-3664

PORK BELLY PASTRAMI
Is there another wine shop that will salt, cure, and smoke their own pork belly? It almost seems unfair to mention that you can order this on a sandwich and then play bocce ball out back. Dutch’s, 3378 Erie Ave., East Hyde Park, (513) 871-1446