Although the restaurant has been open only a few months, Ivory House feels like it pays homage to an earlier time. The name refers to James N. Gamble, son of the founder of Procter & Gamble, inventor of Ivory Soap, and the last mayor of the Village of Westwood before it was absorbed into the city. Befitting the name, the restaurant has a classic atmosphere—from the white baby grand piano near the gleaming bar to the framed black-and-white photographs that date back to the late 19th century.
There is a polish and formality at Ivory House that’s uncommon in new restaurants. Frank Eversole, one of the owners, freely admits that he didn’t want things like exposed ceilings and reclaimed wood. “I wanted more finish,” he tells me. It’s the right approach for a neighborhood that prides itself on tradition and continuity, and a similar ethos is on display in the food. In a telling detail, Eversole mentions that one of the more unusual dishes I tasted—a scallop crudo placed on a pungent kim chee made of collard greens and carrots—would be left off the fall menu, while more steak options were being added after diners asked for them.
This sense of connection is apparent in everything Ivory House does. Eversole and his partner, Rick Pouliot, are residential home developers on the west side, and they decided to create the restaurant because they felt that area residents were missing a place like this. When I spoke with a server about how hard it must be to run a new restaurant during the pandemic, she said they were lucky because the neighborhood has been so supportive.
Ivory House’s motto is “Familiar Food, Elevated,” and to demonstrate what they mean and the extent to which they succeed, I can sing the praises of one of the humblest of dishes: the potato salad. It isn’t even on the menu on its own, but comes on the side of the Wagyu Frisco melt and other sandwiches. Instead of being boiled to softness, the potatoes have retained a roasted, smoky quality and keep a nice firm bite even when partially mashed; they haven’t been creamed or mayonnaised to death and are lively with pops of whole mustard seeds and crunchy little bits of raw celery. You might say, Come on, it’s pretty easy to make potato salad, but many things have to go right before a potato salad becomes as good as this one is.
Ivory House’s menu generally doesn’t reinvent dishes or introduce outlandish flavors, but simply pays attention to enough little things to make the results unusually good. The Wagyu Frisco, after all, is basically a cheeseburger, but the exceptional tomme from Urban Stead gives it that extra something. The cocktails are things you’ve probably seen before, but everything we had—from the bourbon rhubarb sour to the Queen City’s Bees Knees—had an extra dash of liveliness from a house-made element, like a rhubarb honey syrup or the raspberry shrub.
Even when an ingredient seems out of left field, like the burnt rosemary and pine nut puree on the carpaccio or the burnt grapefruit hot sauce on the pork belly and tenderloin, it never tastes as unusual as it sounds. The carpaccio has a perfect nutty vinaigrette, and the hot sauce is just a hint of sweet citrusy spice that melts into the grits—a softly intriguing element rather than a slap in the face. Throughout the menu, the flavors are subtle and lower register without ever being bland.
This aesthetic of carefully made classics is the perfect mindset for brunch, and Ivory House has one of the city’s best. From the pickle-y green hollandaise in the Green Benedictine to the delicious French toast (it’s actually a sliced and griddled bread pudding), everything we had was exceptional. The Cincinnati hash created a kind of regional super-dish by combining goetta, Cincinnati chili, potatoes, and an egg. Executive Chef Rob Scannell, who developed the menu with the former Executive Chef Dana Adkins, uses his own recipe for the chili, which is the dominant flavor in the hash, and it has wonderful zip and balance.
Ivory House also has a tier of more expensive dishes, like the bouillabaisse and house filet. As good as some of these are, the restaurant’s wheelhouse at the moment is the mid-price items: the brunch offerings, sandwiches like the Wagyu and salmon BLT, and smaller plates like the smoked carpaccio and collard green Caesar with its nice cornbread croutons.
We ate our meals out on the small enclosed porch. With cold weather arriving and the pandemic stretching on, Ivory House plans to heat the space through the winter, and has since added dividers to the dining room inside, so that people can safely enjoy the space.
Even during these difficult pandemic months, Eversole says he’s noticed that diners have been staying for a while at the restaurant, often for three hours. With so much else being cut out of our lives—concerts, movies, sporting events—people seem to be cherishing the things that remain, the things that provide a respite from life under lockdown, whether a walk in the woods or an evening by the firepit. One escape that remains is a good meal at a truly nice neighborhood restaurant.
Ivory House, 2998 Harrison Ave., Westwood, (513) 389-0175