Whether you’re searching for a subscription box, craft chocolate, cheese curds, or fantastic to-go options, this list breaks down Cincinnati’s best food and drink items of 2020.
Food Challenge: Yacht Ones, Northside Yacht Club
Northside Yacht Club has never been an establishment to shy away from the silly, crude, or ridiculous in the name of entertainment—and of course, really great bar food. This May they continued this fine tradition with Yacht Ones, a hot wing–eating challenge in the spirit of a similarly titled, enormously popular YouTube series. It went something like this: $40 for two sets of eight progressively spicy wings doused in hot sauces, created by them and their buds at Ché, Longfellow, The Pony, Mazunte, Soeul Hot Chicken, Django Western Taco, and Moerlein Lager House. Mimicking the original, carryout diners were encouraged to split the wings with a “quarantine”-mate and answer a list of accompanying irreverent existential questions written by local trivia aficionado Justin Schafer. • 4231 Spring Grove Ave., Northside, (513) 541-0528, northsideyachtclub.com
Cheddar Curds: Urban Stead
In 2018, Scott and Andrea Robbins left the corporate world to make “cheddar for the better”—that is, the farmstead way, in small batches, supporting local farmers and sharing their leftover whey to feed their suppliers’ livestock. It’s a long process making their truckles (wheels) of cheddar, which are aged 12–18 months before fully mature. But the fresh stuff? Separated from the whey, those teeth-squeaking curds are good enough to eat right away, straight out of the bag or on top of poutine. Find them in Urban Stead’s Evanston cheese shop, on restaurant menus, and at more than a dozen local specialty food retailers. • 3036 Woodburn Ave., Evanston, (513) 828-0830, urbansteadcheese.com
Craft Chocolate: Maverick Chocolate Co.
Engineer Paul Picton was inspired by his globetrotting work trips, where along the way he’d pick up chocolate for his wife, Marlene. When his job ended in 2013, so did the couple’s supply of international fine chocolate. They began experimenting, making their own bars, and Maverick was born at Findlay Market the next year. Six years into the business, Cincinnati’s only bean-to-bar chocolate producer—which ethically sources its cocoa from co-ops all over the world—has two brick-and-mortar factory stores (Findlay Market and Rookwood Commons) and sells its bars in more than 40 stores nationwide. We’re particularly fond of the 70 percent Belize dark chocolate, with its smooth texture, bright acidity, and notes of cherry and roasted nuts. • maverickchocolate.com
Team Effort: Restaurant Relief
The onset of the coronavirus pandemic in mid-March left restaurants grappling with how to continue serving their customers as the governors of Ohio and Kentucky ordered dining rooms closed. One thing was universal, however: Fewer customers meant fewer staff members would be necessary, and restaurants that would come out on the other side would need to downsize in order to remain solvent. Roughly 8 million restaurant workers were furloughed nationwide by mid-April, according to the National Restaurant Association, including many in our own backyard. When Louisville-based restaurant nonprofit The LEE Initiative, cofounded by chef-restaurateur Edward Lee and managing director Lindsay Ofcacek, approached their friend Jose Salazar, chef-owner of Mita’s, Salazar, and Goose & Elder, to be a Cincinnati partner in their Restaurant Workers Relief Program (in partnership with Maker’s Mark), he was all in. Between March 19 and the end of May, Salazar’s team at Mita’s served about 14,000 meals (200 per night, seven days a week) and distributed toiletries and nonperishables to furloughed restaurant workers in need. Their efforts supporting those who have made their industry possible when they needed it most reminded us that, yes, we really are all in this together.
Food Subscription Box: Findlay Kitchen Curated
If there is a positive to come out of a global pandemic, perhaps it’s that we can get a taste of our favorite Findlay Market Kitchen entrepreneurs’ eats from the comfort of our own homes. In October the incubator kitchen debuted a curated subscription box filled with sweet and savory handcrafted goodies, including bagels from 513 Bagel Company, meat seasonings from Afromeals, hand pies from City Belle Fried Pies, chocolate chip cookies from Like Mom’s Only Vegan, botanical infusions from Nectar Springs, and sea salt caramels from Sunshine Caramels. We honestly can’t think of a better form of self-care in these weird times. • findlaykitchen.org/curated
To Go, Please: Five clever takes on carryout that are getting us through the pandemic.
Japanese Market: Kiki’s
Over the summer this ramen spot scaled back its dine-in capacity and hours for customers’ safety. In an unused section of the dining room, a Japanese market was added, selling sake, Japanese beers, Calpis sodas, regional sweet and savory snacks, and grab-and-go deli items like the eggy tamago sando. • kikicincinnati.com
Delivery: Boca Restaurant Group
While the dining room at Boca is closed and seating at Sotto is limited, foodies can get the restaurant experience in The Chef’s Table, part of its Domo (Italian for “at home”) delivery program, with five seasonally rotating, chef-driven meals brought straight to your front door. • domoathome.com
Carryout Picnics: Goose & Elder
These family-style meals come in three varieties to suit your mood and hunger level: The Flock, with fried chicken and mac and cheese; The Bodega, with ham and Swiss croissants with chips; and The Vegi-Curious, with hummus, veggies, and avocado toast. BYOB—basket, that is. • gooseandelder.com
Adult Happy Meals: Dunlap Café
This OTR bar and restaurant serves up a nostalgic spin on fast food. Packed in a familiar folding kiddie box, a burger and fries are paired with beer, hard seltzer, or a cocktail, to lift your spirits. • dunlapcafe.com
Booze Box: Lost & Found OTR
Don’t feel comfortable going to bars just yet? To enjoy the experience at home, the craft cocktail maestros at Lost & Found have created the Booze Box, a package of house cocktails and bougie snacks of your choice, plus a zine with a curated playlist so you can vibe while you imbibe. • lostandfoundotr.com