Goose & Elder is the third restaurant from Chef Jose Salazar, whose first two are among the city’s best. Compared to the playful fare at the eponymous Salazar, his first restaurant, or the deep dive into Spanish and Latin American tapas at Mita’s, Goose & Elder (named after nearby Goose Alley and Elder Street) is a more everyday kind of joint.
The prices are much lower, and most of the dishes, from burgers to grits, are familiar. If you want the same level of achievement and inventiveness as Chef Salazar’s other restaurants, you might be disappointed, but a quick look at the atmosphere and even the hours (it’s basically always open) at Goose & Elder makes it clear that this is a different sort of joint.
This is more like a neighborhood diner—a place to stop by after a visit to Findlay Market—than a destination. But it is the kind of spot all of us would be thrilled to have close by, with solid service and solid food. You don’t expect a James Beard–nominated chef to feature a fried bologna sandwich and “disco fries” on his menu, but Goose & Elder is a good reminder that there are times when those kinds of things can really hit the spot.
The menu at Salazar has always hinted that the chef had a fondness for, well, junk food—fried salty bits of this and that. But junk food is only junk if it is made thoughtlessly. While these street-corner dishes are often totally transformed at Salazar, they are served unapologetically at Goose & Elder, but with enough attention to detail to keep them interesting.
Let’s talk about that bologna sandwich, for example. It’s very close to being too much, with egg yolk running down the sides and potato chips spilling out. But the whole enterprise is saved by little twists, like those cumin-spiced potato chips and delicate ribbons of housemade cucumber pickles with a sweet rice wine vinegar flavor that reminded me of what makes Vietnamese sandwiches so delicious. Even the fries, crinkle cut and served with “goose sauce,” a mildly spiced mayonnaise, are wonderfully addictive. They demonstrate that what we now consider “fast food” can be awfully good if someone makes it the old-fashioned, slow way.
Brunch is my favorite menu at Goose & Elder—exactly the place for familiar food with creative tweaks. You can still get your usual stack of pancakes (they come covered with chocolate and peanut buttercream) or your goetta hash with gravy. But there are also wonderful surprises, like the citrusy zing of jalapeño jam on the avocado toast, or the beautifully delicate fig omelette, which has a wonderful sweet-and-savory filling I’ve never encountered in an omelette before.
There are signs of thoughtfulness everywhere, like the thick white mugs that keep the Deeper Roots coffee hot, and respect for the quality of ingredients. The whole place seems to recall an era before national chains took over, when there were lots of neighborhood diners, each serving familiar food but with their own particular specialties and unique character.
Goose & Elder only goes a little astray when it leaves its comfort-food comfort zone. Salazar and Mita’s both have some of the best cocktails in the city, but a cocktail we tried here, the famous Corpse Reviver, was sour to the exclusion of every other flavor. The bone marrow dish also felt out of place (who orders bone marrow with their burger?). After we struggled to remove the marrow with the little spoon and added the pickled onions and parsley to the bread, it still mainly felt greasy. The duck leg confit, served over grits, was much better, but cried out for some spice and intensity to cut through the general fattiness. And I longed for some good sauerkraut to replace about half of the egg noodles on the chicken schnitzel, which felt monotonously starchy.
These are exceptions, though, and the stuff that most people will order is uniformly good, and occasionally great. Goose & Elder knows how to keep things light and balanced, with an excellent seasonal salad, full of delicious cooked beets and halved Brussels sprouts, and a wealth of vegetarian options. My favorite dish—and the one I think Salazar could serve proudly at either of his other restaurants—was the pumpkin hummus with za’atar toast: a little spicy, a little sweet, with a nice thyme-scented complexity from the toast, eagerly gobbled up by both adults and a hungry 2-year-old, who was also quite excited by the lovely custard in the crème brûlée.
Sometimes chefs expand their empires beyond what they can be personally invested in, so I should note that Goose & Elder shows no signs of being an afterthought. Salazar was there at the finishing station at every meal, morning or evening, and he clearly cares about this place and the quality of what it’s putting out. His other restaurants are serving more exciting food, but Goose & Elder has its own necessary niche. The next time we dine with a bunch of friends with very different tastes and want a place that won’t need a reservation and will satisfy the whole crowd for a moderate price, we’ll think of Goose & Elder. Long may it be just around the corner.
Goose & Elder, 1800 Race St., Over-the-Rhine, (513) 579-8400