Dried lentils at Dean’s Mediterranean Imports

Photograph by Anna Knott and Nathan Kirkman

Dried Legumes: Dean’s
Love your lentils? Look no further than Dean’s Mediterranean Imports, a Findlay Market institution since 1983. Dean Zaidan and daughter Kate stock plenty of Mediterranean staples such as harissa, pita bread, sheep’s milk feta, and stuffed grape leaves. But what’s most impressive is the adventurous mix of grains and legumes on offer in the bulk bins. No less than nine varieties of lentils are available—from French du Puy to Indian dal. Dried fava beans, split peas, Christmas limas, red quinoa, and green bamboo rice are all affordable, not to mention healthy, means of culinary inspiration. 108 W. Elder St., Over-the-Rhine, (513) 241-8222,

Pony Keg: Trotta’s Pizza and Drive-Thru
žWe don’t require a lot from a pony keg: Cold beer, speedy service, snacks—that’s about it. And that’s how Trotta’s goes above and beyond: They add solid by-the-slice pizza to the list of predictable offerings (whole pies also available). If you’re ever adrift on Glenway Avenue around dinnertime, their campy pizza mural will be a beacon in the night. Inside, look for signs advertising other delights like cannoli and corndogs. 3501 Werk Rd., Westwood, (513) 451-5555,

Olive Bar: The Olive Pit at Jungle Jim’s
Deep in the heart of the grocery wilderness that is Jungle Jim’s stands a pit lover’s dream. The Olive Pit has more than 50 different varieties of whole and pitted fruits, and their selection extends beyond the traditional offerings. Brighten up your next antipasto with the Alfonso, a rich Chilean olive soaked in red wine. And don’t worry about which location you visit—olive offerings at both the Fairfield and Eastgate stores are exactly the same.

Non-Sushi Raw Fish Experience: Salazar
Jose Salazar is devoted to hamachi. So much so that the Japanese amberjack (sometimes referred to as yellow tail) frequents his Republic Street restaurant’s menu. Rather than give you a simple slab on rice, Salazar switches up the accompaniments seasonally. Whether he’s pairing the tender slices of the raw fish with summer cherries or autumnal pickled fennel with pear coulis, he always relies on the top quality and superior freshness of the fish to carry the dish. 1401 Republic St., Over-the-Rhine, (513) 621-7000,

Fresh Butter: J.E. Gibbs Cheese
The Gibbs family has been selling fresh butter since the days of their general store in Fairview, Indiana, during the 1800s. Today, it still arrives at their Findlay Market stand every week in a 55-pound block straight from a dairy farm in Wisconsin. They chop it up and offer the all-natural “old fashion tub butter” in both sweet and lightly salted varieties—the former better for baking, and the latter better for the table. Priced at $6.29 a pound, you can either order a specific weight, or simply hold your hands a safe distance apart and politely ask for a chunk about this big. 1801 Elm St., #28, Over-the-Rhine, (513) 421-7459

Sidewalk Grill-Out: Wyoming Meat Market
Our favorite thing about this weekly burgers-and-sausage cookout is the Norman Rockwell vibe—people with dogs sit on benches outside, strangers chat while waiting in line, and entire T-ball teams come, in uniform, straight off the fields; lunch here promises both a full belly and a smile. 513 Wyoming Ave., Wyoming, (513) 821-1304

Beer Collaboration: Madmann Blackberry Gose
Brewed at MadTree in collaboration with Listermann, this beer got its rosy hue from blackberry puree. Another tooth-achingly sweet fruit beer? Wrong. Gose, an ancient German style, is an unfiltered sour wheat beer made with salt. Tart and dry, with a whisper of juicy berry, all 30 barrels of it went so fast last summer they’re collaborating on another this winter. Pucker up! 5164 Kennedy Ave., Columbia Twp., (513) 836-8733,

Deli-Made Dip: Dillonvale IGA’s Salami Dip
There’s no secret to making the Dillonvale IGA’s salami dip—they’ll tell you point blank it’s salami, sour cream, green onions, and a packet of veggie dip mix (we’re thinking Knorr). But the proportions and how they get the salami chopped so fine? Well, that info’s more carefully guarded. All we know is there’s no better pre-football-game snack than this, and it’s especially good with pretzels. We’ve seen two teen boys devour a quarter pound of the stuff in five minutes flat. 3950 E. Galbraith Rd., Dillonvale, (513) 984-5249

Vegetarian Platter: Emanu
Many Americans don’t know it, but Ethiopia is known for its vegan cuisine. Ethiopian Orthodox abstain from meat on Wednesdays and Fridays, as well as during Lent, and an array of rich stews, known as wat, have evolved to make the food on those days sinfully rich and varied in flavor. Here in Cincinnati, patrons of Emanu East African Restaurant share in the tradition, enjoying fare like misir-wat—split lentils stewed in thick, mild red sauce with spices—alongside gomen (spiced cabbage in onions and peppers and collard greens), sopped up by hand with injera, a sourdough pancake like no other. 6063 Montgomery Rd., Pleasant Ridge, (513) 351-7686,

Pierogi: Babushkas
The company is named after the common Eastern European word for grandmother, which is fitting because it was owner Sarah Dworak’s babushka who taught her everything she knows about the delectable dumplings. Her pierogi began at friends’ kitchen tables and are now available at seven different locations in Cincinnati as well as online. It’s no surprise that Babushka’s best seller is the classic potato and cheese. The mild cheddar adds creaminess without drowning those Idaho taters. This holiday season, they will add a 15th flavor—a pierogi filled with lekvar, a sort of plum butter found across Eastern Europe. Babushkas everywhere would approve.

Japanese Tasting Menu: Matsuya
The QC just can’t seem to get enough of the pan-Asian hybrid restaurant and its Americanized sushi experience. But when you’re finally ready to kick it old school (no pink pickled ginger or crunch-and-munch here), it’s time for Matsuya. Experience the best of traditional Japanese cuisine through kaiseki (pictured). The basic tasting menu includes six courses: an assortment of appetizers, chef’s choice sushi or sashimi, pickled seaweed and cucumber, simmered vegetables, grilled fish, and tempura shrimp and vegetables. Feeling adventurous? Add the chawanmushi, a steamed egg custard studded with gingko nuts, shrimp, spinach, and chicken that arrives in an adorable little lidded crock. 7149 Manderlay Dr., Florence, (859) 746-1199

Local Cookbook: Senate: Street & Savory
Dan Wright’s lo-fi foodie empire—he’s up to three restos with the soon-to-open Pontiac BBQ—spilled a secret or two in Senate: Street & Savory. His first cookbook, released this past summer, is a sweet mash-up of intimate family history and personal manifesto punctuated with plenty of signature recipes for specialty hot dogs (regulars will recognize the Jessie Spano and the Nacho Man Randy Savage), crafty condiments, and plenty of boozy beverages. Still need a copy? Stop in to Joseph-Beth Booksellers or any of Wright’s restaurants.

Roasted Corn Tea: Sung Korean Bistro
Starbucks ain’t got nuthin’ on Sung Oh’s roasted corn tea—the ultimate beverage for a blustery winter day, the occasional tummy trouble, or that cold you just can’t kick. Oksusu cha is a traditional Korean tisane (non-tea leaf brew) made from Gang-naeng corn from the Gangwon province of Korea. Dried and roasted corn is added to boiling water and steeped for 30 minutes. The resulting beverage has a subtle, earthy sweetness that in addition to numerous health benefits, complements the bold flavors of Korean cuisine. 700 Elm St., downtown, (513) 721-7864,

Korean BBQ Buffet: Chung Kiwha
Upon entering, newbies peer uncertainly through the haze of steam and grill smoke, while regulars know to waltz right in, catch the eye of the smock-clad, Korean grandma, and grab a grill table. For $35 you’ll get all the meat, seafood, soup, rice, and banchan (Korean pickled veg appetizers) you can put away. Most diners camp out for the evening, leisurely sipping Sapporo or barley tea, as small portions of squid, scallops, bulgogi, and galbi sizzle away on the recessed tabletop grills. 7800 Commerce Dr., Florence, (859) 525-9978

Super-Fresh Poultry: Tewes Poultry Farm
The Tewes family has been raising chicken and turkey since 1955, and while they’re not certified organic, they are hormone-free and free range. Order in advance, especially if you need something special, but as they say on their website, “it’s never too late to order.” We’ve stopped by on Thanksgiving week and been cheerfully accommodated—and we were looking for a 39-pound bird. 2801 Crescent Springs Rd., Erlanger, (859) 341-8844,

Dive Bar Food: Knockback Nats
Wings. Nachos. Burgers. Pulled pork. Burgers with pulled pork piled on top. Something called Hanky Panks that involve sausage, ground beef, and Velveeta. It’s all on the Knockback Nats menu. In a world increasingly full of gastropubs, Nats remains true to the original dive bar edict—cheap beer and deliciously greasy and/or fried foods. We’re not suggesting you should eat like a frat guy every night, but any place that allows you to add a fried egg to any sandwich for $1 is worthy of at least occasional patronage. 10 W. Seventh St., downtown, (513) 621-1000

Doughnut Selection: Holtman’s Donuts
A lot of places make good doughnuts. But what sets Holtman’s apart is that they make so many good doughnuts. On any given day of the week, you could easily walk out with two dozen without a single repeated option. From standards (yeast, cake, filled) to uncommon (maple bacon, red velvet) to seasonal and daily specialties (pumpkin fritter, Persian), each is made from scratch and worthy of a calorie splurge.

Smoked Salmon Bagel: Kosher: Marx/Non-Kosher: Otto’s
Marx Hot Bagels sets the bagel bar for kosher quality, with a schmear of cream cheese, plenty of thinly sliced nova lox, capers, and a slice of tomato or two. Next up: Otto’s brunchtastic bagel, the tastiest non-kosher option, piled high with smoked salmon, cream cheese, capers, cucumber, and hardboiled egg slices, dusted with a confetti of fresh dill. Marx , (513) 891-5542; Otto’s,

Cozy Dining Spots:

Cheapside Teepee
Full disclosure: We hated the teepee until we sat in the teepee. But it feels like a dream catcher—accompanied by the yummiest breakfast sandwich around. 326 E. Eighth St., downtown, (513) 345-6618,

The Rookwood Kilns
The old stone-walled cylindrical pottery ovens now house one table each, perfect for an intimate winter meal. 1077 Celestial St., Mt. Adams, (513) 421-5555,

Boca “Maisonette Booth”
Boca keeps Maisonette’s “Table 75” tradition alive—a back corner booth with a plush banquette, sectioned off by floor-to-ceiling wood paneling and velvet drapes. 114 E. Sixth St., downtown, (513) 542-2022,

Breakfast Worth Waiting For: Annabel’s
You may think 24 seats total is the reason there’s a line—until you take your first bite of Annabel Stolley’s seasonal rotating scramble or tart buttermilk corn cakes or eggs of the house (grilled cheesy grits, black beans, and two eggs topped with salsa and sour cream). She single-handedly runs the kitchen; her daughter, Emily, handles the front of house; and the walls are hung with her father’s travel photos. All the perks of brunch at home, with someone else doing the dishes. 1004 Delta Ave., Mt. Lookout, (513) 417-8669

Vegan Lunch: Kinneret Café
Kinneret doesn’t make a big deal of its veggie-friendliness—Kinneret doesn’t raise a fuss, period. It just is an oasis for vegetarians, a low-key and rewarding magnet for anybody who likes Middle Eastern cuisine. The falafel is light and perfectly fried; the hummus and Israeli salad fresh and hand-made. There’s faux-shawarma, too, and a flotilla of dairy-free smoothies, served in surroundings casual and friendly, for a price that on its own just might convert a few carnivores. 8316 Plainfield Rd., Deer Park, (513) 791-1777,

Coffee Cake: College Hill Coffee
Wonderfully free of crumbly, messy streusel on top, this Bundt style confection is baked on site and is a sturdy companion to even the strongest brew. For $4.50 you get a generous slice of amber cake with a moist crumb and a vein of cinnamon running though the middle. Have it warmed and served with a sprinkle of powdered sugar on top. So good. 6128 Hamilton Ave., College Hill, (513) 542-2739,

Sauerkraut Balls: Mecklenburg Gardens
These tasty bar snacks are the perfect mash-up of our German heritage (tangy, sweet-sour kraut) and our American desire to deep-fry everything. The crisp outer crust—do we detect rye bread crumbs?—conceals an almost creamy center that neatly balances the cabbage and the filler. With a side of Thousand Island, this tiny almost-Reuben goes great with a frosty mug. Prost! 302 E. University Ave., Clifton, (513) 221-5353,

Cream Soda On Tap: Great Crescent Brewery
It’s a wonder more microbreweries don’t branch out into handcrafted sodas. Perhaps it’s because a good one is difficult to pull off. Consider the cream soda: possibly the trickiest pop to get right. Often too syrupy, many times drenched in faux vanilla flavoring, it’s way easy to do wrong. But 38 minutes from downtown, Aurora, Indiana’s Great Crescent Brewery has come up with a light, bubbly drink that sings of vanilla without shouting. And they have a root beer and sparkling lime soda worth the shlep. 315 Importing St., Aurora, Indiana, (812) 655-9079,

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