Home Authors Posts by Donna Covrett
Mo Egger is sitting amid the sophisticated comfort of Boca’s dining room at a table draped in starched white linen and laid with gleaming silver. Diners dressed in dressy casual swirl and sniff an old world sangiovese nearby. Mo raises his glass of Bud Light. “My wife made me wear a sweater,” he says, referring to his departure from a uniform of T-shirt, jeans, and baseball cap.
It’s the sixth inning and outfielder Jay Bruce has smacked his second two-run homer, driving in four runs in the final game of an early season series against the Atlanta Braves. The crowd is on their feet chanting “Bruuuuuce.” Normally, I would be too, but a Big Red Smokey is occupying my lap.
It’s impossible to talk about restaurants on Cincinnati’s west side without noting how inadequately fine dining is represented. That doesn’t mean there’s no good food or good restaurants there. Simply, west side neighborhoods have, for the most part, lacked the sort of establishments that bring together the elements of menu style, preparation, service, and atmosphere in a way that feels greater than the sum of its parts.
Growing up amid the 1960s convenience-food revolution, I was enamored with the familial ambience of Italian restaurants. I begged my father to take me to Caproni’s (near his office at Sixth and Main) as much for the way the owner greeted every customer like family as for the steaming bowls of minestrone, heaping plates of spaghetti, and footed dishes of spumoni ice cream.
Dining out is an activity most of us take for granted. Nada’s outdoor patio for tacos and margaritas? Meet you there in 30 minutes. Dinner at Via Vite before a show at the Aronoff? Love to. But for the 20 percent of Americans with disabilities (which includes temporary disabilities) a simple meet-up raises considerable inquiry regarding accessibility.
First there was The Caspian, a full-service Middle Eastern restaurant in the tangle of strip malls north of Fields Ertel Road. Then came this streamlined lunch-only downtown version, which features inexpensive Persian style wraps, soups, and sides in a small shotgun café tucked along Court Street.
Chef Jared Whalen does not like to be held hostage by an ingredient. I heard him say as much during Pho Paris’s final feast on New Year’s Eve 2007. He and manager/sommelier Bryant Phillips were working the restaurant’s back room, answering questions about the dissolution of the three-year-old French-Vietnamese restaurant, and the genesis of Chalk Food + Wine.
I’m drawn to the culture of bars for much the same reason I’m attracted to restaurants: to collect the stories of why and how we gather. Perhaps it’s because misery has an audience, but bar stories do seem to be more interesting. Or if Homer Simpson is to be believed, alcohol is both the cause of and solution to most of life’s problems.