Walk around a big food-obsessed city, and if you’re lucky, you’ll stumble upon a neighborhood spot that only the locals know, with just a few seats and a chef cooking up flavorful, unfussy food. In Cincinnati, Burnell’s is that place. Chef Nathan Jolley opened in the shoebox of a space (named after his grandfather) after Mayberry decamped for Over-the-Rhine in March 2012, and he crafts seasonally inspired small plates for dinner Thursday through Saturday nights.
The Vine Street space has the feel of a starter restaurant, with about 20 seats and casual decor. But Burnell’s is hardly an amateur operation. Jolley’s weekly menu reflects his sure hand with simple ingredients: fat triangles of buttery toasted challah alongside a ramekin of oven-roasted wild mushrooms; matchsticks of fork-tender winter squash in a salad dressed with a bright vinaigrette accompanying the pork special. This is the kind of food you’d make at home—if you were a talented chef with passion and experience. (Jolley’s résumé includes Teller’s, The Precinct, Murphin Ridge Inn, and Iron Horse.)
Our server described the menu as “a bit confusing” before she clarified that the list of shared plates ($12) and small plates ($16) runs from lighter and more shareable to heavier and more entrée-ish. Choose three shared plates for $33, and then sample a small plate and a side of the chef’s creamy grits. (Don’t skip the hot-from-the-oven cookies du jour, Burnell’s only dessert.) Bring your own beer or wine, and two can share a five-course weeknight dinner for under 60 bucks. Let the out-of-towners know about downtown’s white-tablecloth restaurants. We’ll keep Burnell’s our little secret.
Burnell’s, 915 Vine St., (513) 345-7163. Prices: $12–$16. Lunch Mon–Fri, dinner Thurs–Sat.
Originally published in the January 2013 issue.Ed. Note: Burnell's is now closed
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