Best of the City 2011

Photograph by Ryan Kurtz

Deviled Egg: Enoteca Emilia

This humble church-picnic munchable is having a serious Moment. It’s easy to go wrong—chill the whites too long and they become rubbery; mix in too much relish, or not enough mayo, and the filling crumbles or tastes too salty—so the gem-like versions placed before us at Enoteca Emilia made us clap with glee. Three small egg halves, each with a dollop of creamy, yolky goodness, sporting individual toppings: flaky trout, so-fresh-it-sings pesto, and savory, buttery mortadella bread crumbs. Rejoice. O’Bryonville, (513) 834-5773

Limeade: Cumin Eclectic Cuisine

According to Chef Owen Maass, who has created a pine mint limeade at Cumin Eclectic Cuisine, he’s “trying to bring pine back to the American palate.” After requisitioning a branch from a neighboring tree (with permission, naturally), he uses the needles to infuse pine essence into simple syrup, adds it to fresh squeezed lime juice, tucks in sprigs of mint, and tops it off with a splash of sparkling water. The small note of exotic makes it a beverage that eclipses the sum of its parts: breezily pretty, absurdly snappy, and mad cool. East Hyde Park, (513) 871-8714

Drunk Brunch: Poco a Poco

Anybody can party like a rock star on Friday and Saturday nights, but it requires debauched dedication to keep the booze flowing the morning after. Shake your hangover with some of Poco a Poco’s extra cheesy Latin Benedict, then kick start your day with a bottomless mimosa. We recommend refilling often from the brimming carafe they’ll set up in an ice bucket at your table. That way, you won’t be tempted to count. Hyde Park,

Popsicles: Streetpops

In her first summer making gourmet popsicles, Sara Bornick has created an impressive repertoire of imaginative flavors, with a new one (or three) popping up most weekends at Findlay Market. Think chocolate chili pepper, blackberry cheesecake, or raspberry lemonade. Streetpops even makes custom flavors for special events (like honey-bourbon vanilla for a wedding in September). To keep the fun going year-round, Bornick is opening a brick-and-mortar location on Main. Trust us, bananas Foster popsicles are always in season.

Banh Mi: Cilantro Vietnamese Bistro

We don’t normally endorse hostile takeovers, but the 19th century French occupation of Vietnam turned out a few savory results, none more so than the sandwich known as banh mi. At Cilantro Vietnamese Bistro, Darren Phan’s banh mi thit heo pairs fork-tender slices of braised pork shoulder (a cut that provides a little fatty flavor) with a schmear of house made chicken liver pâté, batons of cucumber, shredded carrots and daikon dressed in vinegar, stems of fresh cilantro, and slices of jalapeno. Our only complaint? They are only available on weekends. Clifton Heights, (513) 281-1372

Growler Station: Party Town

If the Gods were to make a beer heaven, it might look something like the growler station at Party Town. The 18 handles are home to a rotating cast of beers, with everything from New Holland’s Dragon’s Milk stout to Avery’s hard-to-find Samael barleywine ale to 3 Floyd’s Robert the Bruce Scottish ale (prices range from $5.99 to $32.99). Party Town calls it a “no excuses” station, and that’s dead on—you’re bound to find something you like. Florence,

House-Made Ginger Beer: A Tavola

There’s a reason why gingersnaps are called gingersnaps. And ginger in liquid form is more like a gingerslap. A Tavola’s version is cool and fresh, with a sharp tang that makes you wince with glee. They use plenty of organic ginger and serve it straight up as a soda or in cocktails like the Ginger Beer Me, mixed with fresh lime juice and your libation of choice (though we insist that you try it with bourbon). Over-the-Rhine,

Po’ Boy: New Orleans To Go

Given the Ohio River Valley’s distance from New Orleans, one would not expect to find such fine po’ boys in Cincinnati. And yet, there they are, delivered truck-to-hand from the New Orleans To Go food truck. Shrimp, tilapia, catfish, and chicken served on French bread with lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise, and pickles. It can be tough to find them (usually on Fifth and Race) and hard to get a sandwich before they sell out, but so worth it.

Cornbread: Anna Ree’s Andouille

Our discovery of the cornbread at Anna Ree’s Andouille was complete accident. We stopped in after a chilly hike. We needed to warm up, so we ordered a plate of the jambalaya. And there on the plate were two triangle-shaped wedges of mouthwatering homemade cornbread. (It’s served with all Cajun dishes.) Sweet as sugar yet spongy enough to wipe the plate clean, by the end of the meal we wanted only one thing more: Larger pieces. New Richmond,

Local Beer: Rivertown Lambic

It is not the beer for your average weekend cookout—for that, Rivertown brews the crisp, slightly hoppy Helles Lager. But when it comes to Holy crap, this is being brewed in Cincinnati?, nothing compares to the Rivertown Lambic. Lambic (pronounced lambeek) beers are fermented through exposure to natural bacteria, rather than cultured yeasts. The result is a fruity but tart, funky yet dry, wildly flavorful beer that can stand up to most of the Belgian beers it emulates and pushes the boundaries for every other local brewer.

Chicken Salad: Silverglades

Sweet or savory? This is a central question where chicken salad is concerned. Silverglades gets it right twice. Their chicken salad isn’t afraid of texture, and they stock multiple varieties, from standard grape-and-walnut (with creamy mayonnaise and a little sugar) to their “signature” smoked chicken version flavored with purple onions, peapods, and a dash of liquid smoke. A scoop comes any way you want, but a croissant sandwich is always the right decision. Downtown,

Margarita: Nada

The pinkish, slushy cocktail set before us is what sent us over the edge. We had clearly ordered a margarita. Instead of getting mad (but really, what the hell?) we vowed to find the best margarita in town. Several nights and liters later, it appeared—at Nada. But here’s the thing: instead of the house Nadarita (with fresh lime juice, it’s still a better margarita than most), ask for an upgrade with Cazadores tequila (rich, smooth, and oaky) or Herradura (with lush pineapple and caramel notes). It’s twice the price, but worth it. Downtown,

Paczki: Bonomini Bakery

Just when you’re vowing to start your diet tomorrow, they arrive: Bonomini Bakery’s decadent calorie bombs known as paczki. The egg-rich Polish doughnuts stuffed with custard cream and fruit help to fill the pastry void between the end of Christmas cookies and the beginning of Lent. You can only get them from late January to mid-February, when Ash Wednesday puts an end to such indulgences. That makes paczki all the sweeter. Northside, (513) 541-7501

Cake Downsizing: Annabel’s  Strawberry Buttermilk Cupcake

Dessert-lovers wept a collective tear when Annabel Stolley morphed her sumptuous strawberry buttermilk layer cake into cupcake form. Still, the magic remains: moist, tender-crumbed cake topped with bliss-making white chocolate buttercream icing and garnished with fresh berries. Be advised: the cupcakes appear only intermittently on the menu at Annabel’s, the baker’s compact Mt. Lookout café. If they’re not on offer when you visit, console yourself with a slice of Stolley’s outstanding French lemon meringue tart. Or her flourless chocolate torte. Or the blueberry coffeecake. Or…well, you get the idea. Mt. Lookout, (513) 417-8669

Bacon Dish: Chicken Fried Bacon at The Rookwood

The recent use of bacon in everything from cookies to bourbon has frankly worn us out. Then we nibbled on chicken fried bacon at The Rookwood. Long strips are battered and deep-fried, then drizzled with a jalapeño honey that adds a sweet-hot kick to the meaty-crisp crunch. Our cardiologist would surely be horrified, but we licked the plate clean.
Mt. Adams, (513) 421-5555

New Salad: Goi Bap Cai Ga at Pho Lang Thang

Sweet. Sour. Salty. Spicy. Crisp. Goi bap cai ga—the chicken salad at Pho Lang Thang—plays all the colorful notes of Vietnamese cuisine. Cabbage, carrots, and pickled onions are tumbled with bright green shreds of cilantro, basil, and mint. Topped with thin-sliced chicken (you’re vegan? Ask for the tofu’d version), a scattering of peanuts, and a splash of dressing, the taste is as fresh as April, even on a gray winter day. Plus it’s served in a banh trang me bowl—a giant flower-shaped black sesame rice paper cracker-ish thing. Eat it all; you need the crunch. Over-the-Rhine, (513) 376-9177  

Smoked Meat: Krause’s at Findlay Market

Imagine the foodtopian marriage of salmon and swine, officiated by Krause’s at Findlay Market. The lovechild of that union would be Lachsschinken: a center cut of boneless pork loin wrapped in a thin layer of love-me-tender pork fat, dry cured and cold smoked, then portioned into diaphanous slices to be served with chopped onion and fried capers (that is, if it makes it all the way to a serving plate). Similar to Iberico ham in the way it melts on the tongue, but with the distinct flavor of smoked salmon (the literal translation from German means “salmon ham”), it’s so luscious it feels like cheating on bacon. Over-the-Rhine, (513) 421-0024

Coffee Tasting: Coffee Emporium

The morning “brew table” at Coffee Emporium’s flagship Over-the-Rhine location is your best local shot at tasting the newest coffees on the market. Try free samples of the coffee-of-the-month, and then marvel at the techy Chemex and French press preparations. The gathering is held on Saturday mornings at 9 a.m., but it’s not a standing meet-up, so call ahead to confirm. Over-the-Rhine, (513) 651-5483

Fried Chicken: Greyhound Tavern

For something so simple, fried chicken is easy to mess up. It can be bland or salty, dry or soggy. At Greyhound Tavern, they’ve been making it since the 1930s and have become adept at avoiding those pesky pitfalls. Served family-style along with copious communal sides on Mondays and Tuesdays, their version boasts tender meat and well-seasoned breading (though we would like more crunch). Plus, retirement-age folks keep coming back, so maybe it’s healthier than it seems. Ft. Mitchell, (859) 331-3767

Bubble Tea: Tea N’ Bowl

A scoop of small, gummy tapioca balls in the bottom of a cup of tea is bursting the bubbles of tea drinkers everywhere. The pearls are soft on the outside with a sweet, chewy inside, making for a drink that’s fun to eat, and Tea N’ Bowl in Clifton offers nearly endless flavors and combinations—everything from vanilla milk tea to passion fruit slush to ginger hot tea. We like strawberry, lemon, or a blend of the two, but whatever you choose, it’s hard to go wrong. Clifton, (513) 421-9111

Newfangled Cookie: Chocolate Chip and Oreo, Donna’s Gourmet Cookies

Our local cookie mistress has done it again. Donna Phelps, who perfected the chocolate chip cookie ’round these parts when she launched Donna’s Gourmet Cookies, is not resting on her laurels. She’s researching! And developing! She’s giving the people what they want—and that is the marriage of chocolate chip and Oreo. Donna previewed the treat for the opening of her new shop location—it hasn’t made it on the permanent menu, but we’re officially making our request. Symmes Twp.,

Latte Art: Rob Hoos, Tazza Mia

Rabbits and dogs and dragons, oh my! Tazza Mia head roaster Rob Hoos takes latte art to the next level. By combining great crema (medium to light roasts work best), whole milk foam, a well practiced free-pour technique, and a little etching, Hoos can top off your latte with hearts, tulips, bears, cats, even a fire-breathing dragon. Says the self-taught Hoos, “I worked on it for a year before I was really happy with it. I used to buy five lattes before my barista shift started and practice.” 600 Vine St., downtown, (513) 381-1293


Build-a-Best: BBQ Dinner

Ribs: SmoQ

SmoQ does its ribs two ways—a spicy dry rub and a sweeter, saucier version—and we loved them both. Which is better? Order half a rack of each and decide for yourself.

Pulled Pork: Eli’s

Eli’s pulled pork sandwich wins for both flavor (smoky meat, tangy sauce) and texture (tender center pieces, crunchy burnt ends). Topped with cool coleslaw and piled on a grill-toasted bun, it might be the best thing we ate all year. (513) 307-8318

Baked Beans: Walt’s

We didn’t find any barbecue joints making beans from scratch, but among the tricked out canned versions, Walt’s stood out. Vegetarians beware: They mix in some hearty hunks of brisket.

Coleslaw: Jim Dandy’s

As we see it, the quality of coleslaw is inversely proportional to the amount of mayo. Jim Dandy’s is crunchy, chunky, and light on the dressing.

Cobbler: Aunt Flora

Aunt Flora’s cobbler is the obvious choice (she’s been on Martha Stewart and Oprah), but it’s also delicious. The fruit and dough are laid down in several layers, so every bite has plenty of both. At press time, she was moving locations, but it’s well worth tracking her down.

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