Best of the City 2012

Daily Special

Burnell’s Grits of the Day [Editorial note: This restaurant is closed.]
Burnell’s, a young diner in the 900 block of Vine Street, features Grits of the Day, a concept that is at once hilarious and genius. Chef Nathan Jolley’s take on the iconic Southern delicacy ranges from sriracha to mushroom, and usually incorporates cheese. (Our favorite combo is tomato and cheddar.) No matter the ingredients, Jolley’s grits are always creamy yet textured, and hefty enough to stand up with a salad for lunch.
915 Vine St., downtown, (513) 345-7163,

Hot Chocolate

Mexicoco, Sitwell’s
Sitwell’s, that Clifton Gaslight District institution, has a perfectly lovely hot chocolate, but it’s the mysteriously named Mexicoco that keeps us coming back for more. The cozy concoction is Droste Dark Dutch Cocoa in steamed milk trimmed with vanilla, a bit of honey, and whipped cream. We’re not totally sure what makes this drink _Mexican, per se, but we’re still pretty into it.
324 Ludlow Ave., Clifton, (513) 281-7487,


Mortadella, Dutch’s Larder
Think of it as baloney with a pedigree. Mortadella is cooked sausage from Bologna, or, at Dutch’s Larder, from Indiana’s Smoking Goose Meatery, which handcrafts silky smooth mortadella from heritage meats in the Italian tradition. Pock-marked with rich fat, black peppercorns, and pistachios, Larder chefs Chase Blowers and Jim Cornwell (both formerly of Boca) layer it with pickled shallots, pistachio pesto, and whole basil leaves between thinly sliced brioche-style bread, and crisp it up on the panini grill. Don’t be fooled by its lean demeanor: This sandwich is packed with flavor.
3366 Erie Ave., Hyde Park, (513) 871-1446,


Bacon Jam, The Rookwood
Bacon cupcakes. Bacon gumballs. Bacon infused bourbon—we’ve been wallowing in a big bacon cuddle ever since it came out of the breakfast closet. We’ve tried to buck the trend, but then comes along a dollop of the house-made bacon jam on the cheese board or the Monte Cristo sandwich at Rookwood Bar and Restaurant, and we understand why bacon mania endures. If loving it is wrong, we don’t wanna be right.
1077 Celestial St., Mt. Adams, (513) 421-5555,

Pie Maker

Jill Reschulte, Virgil’s Café
No disrespect, cake lovers, but in the quest for dessert that satisfies the soul, pie always wins. Dessert chef Jill Reschulte, who bakes for Virgil’s Café, understands. Her coconut cream pie is rich and dreamy with toasted coconut cradled in a perfectly browned, flake-tastic crust.
710 Fairfield Ave., Bellevue, (859) 491-3287,

Gluten-Free Baked Goods

The thing most often missing from gluten-free baked goods is the “good.” Dry, heavy, gummy, or overly sweet is what you often have to tolerate when you’re sensitive or intolerant to gluten. At Bonbonerie, the likes of chewy almond macaroons, cheesecake cups, chocolate peanut butter oatmeal bars, French macarons, and bittersweet chocolate flourless cakes rival their more traditional sweet consorts, without a trace of the unpleasant aftertaste of deprivation.
2030 Madison Rd., O’Bryonville, (513) 321-3399,

Fermented Food

Beet Kvass, Fab Ferments
The slightly effervescent, sweet and salty, completely addictive beet kvass has been a popular beverage in the Ukraine for centuries. Its natural fermentation process provides the body with all sorts of nutrients and probiotic benefits. We love the ginger beet kvass from Fab Ferments, where Jen and Jordan enhance each handmade, deep purple batch with “healing vibrations from crystals, music, art, and love.”
(513) 236-9779,


Total Juice Plus
Smoothies are often not nearly as nutritious as you would have hoped. But downtown’s Total Juice Plus has been whipping up _proper smoothies—like with fruit and stuff—for going on 13 years. They’ll put everything from cranberries to carrots into a blender, but our favorite is the super refreshing Orange Cooler, with orange, strawberry, blueberry, and pineapple. We throw in a shot of vitamin C for good measure.
631 Vine St., downtown, (513) 784-1666,


Thai Express
Fast and cheap are the hallmarks of a good carryout restaurant; tasty food and solid service gild the lily. Thai Express delivers the goods. The pad Thai glistens with oil, the pad si-iew noodles are dark with soy sauce, the tom kha gai soup is rich with galangal and coconut. Small and no-frills, the food is piled into Styrofoam containers, the exchange is cash-only, and the parking sucks—but you’ll be back anyway.
213 W. McMillan St., Clifton Heights, (513) 651-9000


Frisch’s Big Boy
If you want an oversized hunk of ice specially made to chill your bourbon, Senate has you covered. But if you want the kind of ice that chills your bubbly fountain soda while providing an oh-so-satisfying crunchy treat at the end, Frisch’s Big Boy has what you need. The tiny pebbles of ice keep your drink frosty without watering it down (how do they do that?) and many a Cincinnatian has been known to crave it.


Queen City Cookies
Queen City Cookies somehow found a way to improve upon that gooey, buttery, swirly, cinnamon-laced loaf of breakfast wonder known as schnecken: add bacon. The result is a caramelly morning delight that’s the perfect balance of salty and sweet, chewy and flaky, decadent and…well, decadent. At $14 a loaf it’s no cheap treat, but just one bite tells you it’s worth every penny.
124 W. Elder St., Findlay Market, Over-the-Rhine, (513) 591-0022

Frozen Yogurt Toppings

A Cherry on Top
In any froyo joint you’ll see the same cast of characters in the topping bins. A Cherry on Top stands apart by offering a dizzying array of homemade desserts to accompany your yogurt: chunks of cherry pie, fudgy brownie, chewy praline bars, cookies, cheesecake, and hummingbird cake. Want a real treat? Top that birthday cake yogurt with actual birthday cake.
9328 Union Centre Blvd., West Chester, (513) 874-2663,

Rye Manhattan

Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar
What is it about a rye Manhattan at the Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar that makes fans of this classic cocktail swoon? We can think of several things: the bourbon-infused sour cherry sitting like a prize at the bottom of the glass; the top-of-the-line ingredients beginning with Bulleit rye whiskey; and the collective expertise of the bar crew. Shaken or stirred, you’ll want to hold on to your spot at the copper-topped bar for a second round.
629A Main St., Covington, (859) 581-1777, Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar on Facebook

Lunch Special

$14 lunch tray, Jean-Robert’s Table
The cafeteria trays of our youth were mint green, featured little compartments for the elements of our lunch, and bore zero resemblance to the lunch trays at Jean-Robert’s Table. Each week, a new menu in four courses—entrée, soup, salad, dessert—lands before you at the bar. It’s hard to decide which is better, the rich, inventive cuisine (i.e., rabbit pasta with leeks, mushrooms, kale, and sage cream sauce) or the deal (the whole shebang is just $14!). We’ll try it again and let you know.
713 Vine St., downtown, (513) 621-4777,


Bakersfield OTR
Perhaps this Mexican-restaurant staple isn’t your cup of tea. But the Bakersfield OTR version—a textural blend of garlicky, slightly citrus mash enrobing bite-size chunks of fresh avocado—has the power to convert the pickiest of eaters. Don’t believe it? We asked our friend Bridget, who has taste and texture issues with nearly every food out there. Guac? Forget it. Until she tried this version. Now she can’t get enough of the stuff. We concur. Pass those chips, would you?
1213 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, (513) 579-0446,


Jeff Ruby’s
Every chef looks to reimagine the iconic childhood dish. Some add chicken. Some add salsa. But only Jeff Ruby’s version (available at all Ruby restaurants) includes six different cheeses. Cavatappi noodles are mixed with a blend of Parmigiano-Reggiano, Danish fontina, Italian provolone, Italian Asiago, and Swiss Gruyére, topped with Wisconsin cheddar, and baked to perfection. It’s listed as a “side,” but believe us—it’s enough to fill you up. Unless you’re sharing. Then you better order two.


Taqueria Mercado
At Taqueria Mercado, you don’t even need salsa. The meats (steak, pork, beef, chicken, tripe, tongue, etc.) are so tender and juicy, you can dig in as soon as you pull off the aluminum foil—which you can’t do fast enough.
6507 Dixie Hwy, Fairfield, (513) 942-4943; 100 E. Eighth St., downtown, (513) 381-0678,

Alternative Chili Meat

Vista Grand Ranch bison
Cindy Cassell and David Uible converted a New Richmond dairy farm into the Vista Grand Ranch to raise American Buffalo (bison) in 1994 and have produced the leaner alternative to beef ever since. It’s packed with nutrition, and you don’t have to skim an inch of fat off your pot of Cincinnati-style chili. Sold at a few select supermarkets (Remke and Jungle Jim’s among them) or delivered to your doorstep.
New Richmond, (513) 553-6942,


Schneider’s Sweet Shop
Locals throng to Schneider’s Sweet Shop in Bellevue for their homemade candies and ice balls. But true aficionados dig a little deeper and try a milkshake. Pick your favorite of the two-dozen-plus homemade flavors—from butter pecan or peanut butter to the traditional vanilla, chocolate or strawberry—and they’ll add whole milk, swizzle it using their malt maker, and hand you a cup full of heaven. There’s no better place to shake it up.
420 Fairfield Ave., Bellevue, (859) 431-3545,

Beer Event

Teller’s Beer Symposia
The Beer Symposia at Teller’s—held each July the past two years—is the best beer gathering in town. Fifty bucks gets you in the door (the restaurant is closed that night) and 30 pours of two beers from 15 different brewers (like Left Hand, Dogfish Head, and Jolly Pumpkin). No crowds. No lines. Just friends talking about craft beer and throwing back a few cold ones.
2710 Erie Ave., Hyde Park, (513) 321-4721,

High/Low: Snack

High: Layered Flavors
The house-made terrine from Dutch’s Larder is made with pork shoulder and belly, chicken liver, and black truffle—then wrapped in house-brined smoked bacon for double the fun. It’s an elegant snack to impress gastro-nerds.
3378 Erie Ave., Hyde Park, (513) 871-1446,

Low: Basic Bean
Our go-to edamame is from Fusian, downtown, where it’s tossed in a spicy concoction that includes sriracha, soy and eel sauces, sesame oil, rice vinegar, and sesame seeds. These will leave your mouth with a buzz, and they go great with beer.
600 Vine St., downtown, (513) 421-7646,

Best Cookies

Mountain Cookie: Busken
You almost feel healthy eating this one, since it’s basically trail mix in cookie form, packed with oatmeal, nuts, dried fruit, and chocolate chips.

Mandelbrodt: Mamma’s Mandel
Mandel bread—otherwise known as Jewish biscotti—is just like the Italian cookie, except for one difference: You won’t chip a tooth trying to eat it. Mamma’s Mandel bakes theirs up in flavors like cranberry almond and double chocolate chip. Pick them up in coffee shops all over town.

Sprinkle Cookie: Taste of Belgium
At Taste of Belgium, they don’t sprinkle sprinkles. They cram them onto every available surface of their soft iced sugar cookies.

Decorated sugar cookie: The Sweeterie
Susan Woodard Knabb started up her Mariemont shop with a collection of tricked-out cupcakes, and focuses the same attention to detail on her light and creamy decorated sugar cookies.

Iced Molasses: Bonbonerie
This treat is heaven on earth. A chewy, spicy molasses cookie meets creamy white icing that also happens to be laced with molasses.
2030 Madison Rd., O’Bryonville, (513) 321-3399,

Chocolate Hazelnut Tart: Queen City Cookies
They call this a tart, but it’s basically a chocolate cookie within a regular cookie that happens to resemble a Pop Tart.
4354 Hamilton Ave., Northside, (513) 591-0022,

Please note that the information listed in this section was accurate at the time the issue went to print in 2012 and that addresses, menu items, company status, etc., may have changed. Please contact the companies to confirm details.

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