Best of the City 2007

Illustration by Sasha Barr

Cake Donut: Ridge Donut Shop

The clientele at Ridge Donut Shop, a cramped little spot near the corner of Woodford and Ridge, reflects its neighborhood. Acerbic old men shoot the breeze and read the day’s paper along side young couples with their 2.5 children who stop in before school or after church. They’re here for one reason: the assortment of donuts. Made fresh every day, the shelves are lined with donuts for dunking, with (and without) sprinkles, slathered in chocolate…we could go on. Our favorite: the basic cake donut. At 75 cents a pop, it’s a great way to start the day. 3186 Woodford Rd., Pleasant Ridge, (513) 631-4334

Milkshake: United Dairy Farmers

Try sucking down one of UDF’s peanut butter milkshakes without letting it melt a little first. You’ll pull a muscle in your neck. But we’re not complaining. This shake isn’t juiced up with peanut “flavoring” or some unpronounceable extract. That’s real peanut butter in there, a special blend made just for UDF. Who came up with this wacky concept? Frank Cogliano, the company’s senior vice president for retail store operations, says you, er, us, the customers, did. “Back in the ’70s, we would make it by request,” he says. Word spread about its peanuty goodness and it became a regular menu item in the early ’80s; now you can get it with white or chocolate milk. Lots of things have changed in those 20-plus years, but don’t count on the shake going anywhere. “As long as people want it, we’re going to provide it,” Cogliano says. Good. We’re willing to risk sprained necks for our fix.

French Fries: Honey

The chef at Honey has unlocked—with French fries!—the secret confounding foodies for ages: How to best satisfy the palate’s screaming desire for a simultaneous taste sensation of sweet and salty. The Honey Fries are a flawless answer. Dive finger first into a bucket of your own private Idaho (and Yukon and sweet) shoestring potatoes fried and tossed in a medley of herbs. For optimum flavor, drizzle with chili/lime/honey sauce and ask for an extra cup as you hoover your way to the bottom. The appetizer order is plenteous enough to share with the table, but stinginess and napkins are highly recommended. 4034 Hamilton Ave., Northside, (513) 541-4300

Pizza Sauce: Ramundo’s Pizza

Big flavor comes out of Tony Ramundo’s tiny pizza cave on Mt. Lookout Square. Ramundo’s ragu is spicy and bold, and perfectly balances the mellow mozzarella and crisp crust. “Most Cincinnatians prefer a sweeter sauce,” says Ramundo. “We go for more of a New York style sauce.” Ramundo starts with a base sauce and takes it to 11 with his own secret blend of herbs and spices, though he does confess to letting it marinate for 24 hours before use. You don’t even have to commit to a whole pie (although you’ll want to when you’re hit with all that peppery, tomato-packed goodness) because, blessedly, Ramundo’s sells by the slice. Here’s another blessing: They stay open until 4 a.m. Friday and Saturday. 3166 Linwood Ave., Mt. Lookout, (513)321-0978

Tacos: Taqueria Mercado

Put down that brittle pre-formed taco shell! You have not experienced taco love until you’ve had an authentic carnitas taco from Taqueria Mercado. Made from braised pork that’s shredded and served in a warm corn tortilla with onions and cilantro, it is deeply flavorful, lard-salty but not overly so, with bits of char on the raggedy edges. Verdict: a perfect four-bite package that deserves being splashed with one of the Mercado’s combustible house-made salsas. Anything less is taco hell. 6507 Dixie Hwy., Fairfield, (513) 942-4943

Hot Chicken Dish: House Of Sun

House of Sun’s version of Three Cup Chicken, the crown jewel of Taiwanese cuisine, gets its name from three ingredients: soy sauce, rice wine, and sesame oil. It arrives crackling and sizzling in a metal casserole, dark mahogany in hue and balmy with garlic. You will gnaw every last leg to the bone. Bones? Yes. As Jin, our server, said, “No skin, no bones, no flavor.” 11959 Lebanon Rd., Sharonville, (513) 769-0888

Baba Ghanoush: Floyd’s

Reine Salti’s itty-bitty Clifton boite probably packs more flavor per square foot than any other joint in town. We’ve been bowing down to her roast chicken for years, so it should come as no surprise that her baba ghanoush is the best thing to happen to eggplant since parmigiana. Salti starts by oven-roasting her eggplant (it takes six eggplants to make a half-pound of dip), then adds tahini, lemon, and olive oil and blends it all to smoky, silky perfection. Despite what the menu declares, Salti insists she doesn’t use any garlic. As she puts it, “This is the Lebanese way.” 127 Calhoun St., Clifton, (513) 221-2434

Bar Menu: The Mad Hatter

Our hat is off to The Mad Hatter, a bar and music club, for its unusual food offerings—all of which are less than $5. Where else can you get cookie dough bites, Glier’s goetta patties, and (drum roll, please) a funnel cake to go with your PBR? Yes, they offer more typical bar fare, like chicken tenders and curly fries, but they had us at funnel cake. 620 Scott St., Covington, (859) 291-2233

Veggie Sandwich: What’s For Dinner?

Inventors of vegetarian fare either try too hard to dazzle or slap something on the menu as a “vegetarian” afterthought. The result either overpowers what’s supposed to be naturally succulent or the unseasoned/unloved ingredients limp along, left to their own bland devices. However, the roasted eggplant sandwich at What’s For Dinner? strikes a perfect balance between delicate and spicy, soft and crunchy, creamy and crisp. So successfully, in fact, that it will leave other area cooks wondering why they didn’t think of this first: sautéed peppers and onions in perfect ratio, eggplant coins showered in Parmesan cheese then grilled until encrusted and piled on a bed of fresh baby spinach. Place all of the above on a grilled bun that’s slathered with creamy goat cheese on one half and spicy mayo on the other. No need for a side—this here’s your meal. Now eat your vegetables. 3009 O’Bryon St., O’Bryonville, (513) 321-4404

Farmers’ Market: Hyde Park Farmers’ Market

Before you can even roll out of bed on Sunday morning, local farmers are harvesting their produce so they can bring you the freshest of fresh veggies when you finally do wake up and saunter down to Hyde Park Farmers’ Market. The more than 20 local organic farmers and conventional vendors who assemble from June through October in the U.S Bank parking lot, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. each Sunday, are on-hand to meet you and answer any questions you might have about their goods. This lively neighborhood market is busiest (and best) during its first hour, when you’ll have your pick of fresh eggs, honey, meat, okra, pumpkins, goat’s milk soap, apple thyme sausage, focaccia, peppers, tomatoes, organic beef, fresh cut flowers, herbs and spices, ornamental pepper plants, and all kinds of greens. Bring a tote bag; you’re going to need it. 3424 Edwards Rd., Hyde Park,

Scone: Embrace Sweets

Two years ago, when a customer asked Sandra and Brandi Daniels of Embrace Sweets to add a whole-wheat scone to their menu, they happily obliged, and even made it with organic ingredients. Currently Coffee Emporium, Sunshine Market, and Pike Street Press in Covington carry the scones. These dense little treats come filled with a variety of flavored preserves—apricot, strawberry, blackberry, raspberry, and orange marmalade—or you can buy them plain and spread them with your own jam. “We use butter in the recipe, so they are not low fat, but it’s not a white product—we do not use white flour or white sugar,” says Sandra. That’s healthy enough for us.

Meatballs: Hyde Park Meats

Everybody knows meatballs are a labor of love. Lucky for us Hyde Park Meats owner Joe Panzeca shoulders the labor and shows us the love. His all-beef meatballs have all the good stuff your nonna would approve of—romano cheese, basil, oregano, garlic, and parsley—and a twist she may not have thought of. “Fennel gives them the flavor of Italian sausage without the pork,” says Panzeca, who makes meatballs in big batches every three weeks and freezes them in convenient six-ball containers. All you have to do is heat and eat. 3645 Paxton Ave., Hyde Park (513) 321-4328

Side of Beef: Greenacres Farm

With the number of farm markets in this area, it’s easy to “eat local” with vegetables. But where do you get your protein? Greenacres Farm has the answer: a side (or quarter) of beef. The farm’s herd is 100 percent Black Angus, grass-fed (no sprays or chemicals are used in the pasture), and hormone- and antibiotic-free. You’ll pay $3.99 a pound—sides can range from 300 to 400 or more pounds hanging weight; quarters are half that—for a freezer-stocking stash that includes everything from brisket and short ribs to stew beef and tenderloin. How’s that for green living? 8255 Spooky Hollow, Indian Hill, (513) 891-4227

Cheap Wine: Liquor Direct

No, not Boone’s Farm. When you explore the $2.98, $3.99, $5.99, and closeout racks at Liquor Direct, expect to find Georges Duboeuf merlot, Crane Lake chardonnay, and more far-flung deals. Even the regular prices here are reasonable—our favorite Chilean cabernet, Root:1, goes for $9.99 a bottle. If you’re not sure what you like, stop by for the tastings every Friday and Saturday. 90 Alexandria Pike, 1C, Ft. Thomas, (859) 781-8105

Savory Sandwich: Le’s Café

The pièce de résistance at tiny Le’s Café, sequestered in the Main Library downtown and run by Le Ha and her husband Hai Bui, is the crunchy, chewy, spicy Vietnamese pork sandwich. Served on a baguette with two kinds of pork (barbecue and cold cut), cucumbers, shredded carrots, cilantro, Thai chili peppers, and topped with mayonnaise and a succulent pâté, the sandwich perfectly melds French and Asian flavors. Grab a book, tuck in, and enjoy. 800 Vine St., downtown, (513) 665-3339

Waffle Slinger: Jean-Francois Flechet

This is a waffle? Oh. My. God. Last summer Jean-Francois Fle-chet caused a feeding frenzy at Hyde Park Farmers’ Market (Sundays) and Findlay Market (Saturdays) with his waffles. This sublime treat, made from rich, brioche-like dough and crusty with caramelized sugar, is street food in Flechet’s hometown: Liege, Belgium. “I always thought it would work in the U.S.,” he says. And it does. Currently Flechet is wholesaling his wares (check the menu at Daveed’s, Honey, Otto’s, and Lookout Joe), but he’d like to have a retail shop. There are other Euro-treats he wants to make for us. “Belgian food,” he says, “is pretty good.” (859) 380-6226,

Gelato: Madisono’s Gelato and Sorbet

If you’ve toured the narrow streets of Florence, Italy, you know the irresistible draw of gelato. Rich and intensely flavorful, the colors are deep, the texture is silky smooth, and the consistency is dense. But did you know it’s lower in butterfat? “Compared to ice cream’s 10 to 18 percent butterfat, gelato contains only six to seven percent,” says Matt Madison, the mad scientist behind Madisono’s gelato, the best thing to hit Cincinnati since la dolce vita. We’re partial to Madagascar vanilla, but the dark chocolate, mango, and hazelnut flavors all tie for a close second. Oh heck, we’ll come clean: There are so many fabulous flavors, even the ice cube trays have become an endangered species in our freezer. Madison’s Findlay Market, Over-the-Rhine, (513) 723-0590; Madison’s Northside, 4172 Hamilton Ave., Northside, (513) 772-3920

Best Burgers

Pick just one? Impossible. Carnivores, dig in.

Kobe Beef: Allure

If it’s got to be gourmet, it’s got to be Kobe-style beef, which comes from the Japanese Wagyu cow. Allure serves this $13 luxury burger between a multigrain Kaiser roll topped with your choice of imported Gruyere, smoked mozzarella, aged cheddar, Manchego, or dry aged Provolone—giving your taste buds (and the beef) the royal treatment. 8300 Market Place Ln., Montgomery, (513) 891-0120

Bacon Cheeseburger: Zola

At this wonderful MainStrasse Village tavern, the Memphis Burger comes topped with chewy center cut bacon, smoky cheddar cheese, BBQ sauce, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, and mayo with either fries or Zola’s Asian coleslaw. The half-pound Angus patty arrives open faced so you can see its toppings in all their glory. 626 Main St., Covington, (859) 261-7510

All-around: Arthur’s

Locals have saddled up to the bar at this hallowed dining destination for years, especially during the time known as Burger Madness (Sunday through Tuesday). That’s when the original Arthur’s Burger—a hearty half pound of 90 percent lean ground beef—is offered with a variety of more than 10 toppings for $6. Madness indeed. 3516 Edwards Rd., Hyde Park, (513) 871-5543

Bargain: McCormick & Schmick’s

Sorry, Mickey D. McCormick & Schmick’s bar menu makes us an offer we can’t refuse: a half-pound cheeseburger or Cajun burger (our fave) for $1.95. The catch? The deal is served Mon–Fri 4–6:30 p.m. (and again between 10 and 11 p.m. Mon–Thurs), and there’s a two-drink minimum. That’s not so bad, is it. 21 E. Fifth St, downtown, (513) 721-9339

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