It’s been 10 years now since Maisonette closed. My family couldn’t afford to go often, but what wonderful memories. I’ve heard that when the restaurant first opened, business was so slow that they pulled some kind of elaborate prank to get noticed. Is this just a legend? —Gone Appetit
Cincinnati legends and myths can be quite persistent. We still get visitors asking to see the exact spot where all those turkeys tragically splattered. You can, however, believe this: Despite the world having had a decade to catch up, Maisonette still holds the record for consecutive years (41) earning Mobil’s Five-Star restaurant rating. And that one you heard about a bit of fakery during the early days? True.
When Maisonette opened its world-class French restaurant in 1953, most locals did not bite—in Cincinnati, French means fries, dammit! Business was awful. So Vallie Comisar, determined to fulfill the vision of her deceased husband, Nathan, served up an appetizingly devious plan: For six weeks, she created a buzz of exclusivity by turning away almost all reservations. Most of the few she allowed in were, strategically, local media VIPs. Vallie seated them only at the front room’s five tables, and then choreographed the waiters to cart exquisite meals past them into the adjoining (vacant) rooms. Before you could say “media manipulation,” word spread, the waiting list became real, and Cincinnati became a destination for one of the world’s finest restaurants for the next 50 years.
Officially, the restaurant’s name is not supposed to include the word the; it is simply Maisonette, meaning “little house.” Cincinnatians have ignored this formality, and with good reason. In our city’s history, Maisonette will always be the definite article.
There’s a relatively new emergency medical center in Hyde Park, at the ramp leading to I-71 north. The sign states it’s a branch of The Jewish Hospital, showing the “J” logo resembling a Jewish shofar. But the building’s shaded window panels, over 20 feet high, form an unmistakable Christian cross. What gives?—What’s up, doc?
Triage requires that we first address your question’s most dire emergency, stat: Never refer to this location as Hyde Park! The fine homes of the 45208 renounce all linkage to the commercial riffraff of the 45209. Those ever-erupting shopping malls adjacent to the emergency center may bicker over whether they’re in Oakley or Norwood, but Hyde Park? Please. Hyde Park has no emergencies, only opportunities.
As for the architectural dissonance you observe, it is actually a sign of God-fearing harmony. Mercy Health, formerly Catholic Health Partners, recently merged with Jewish Hospital; together they operate this new facility in the merged neighborhood of OakNorleywoodHydeParkNot. The shofar logo was installed quite intentionally alongside the cross-shaped window design, a welcome sign of brotherhood in our troubled world. Do note, however, that this reconciliation of opposing ideologies has its limits: the facility’s official name is the “Rookwood Medical Center,” sidestepping all geographical controversy. Have a blessed day.
I am not so foolish as to request your definitive ruling on “Cincinnatee” vs. “Cincinnatuh.” But why, after more than 200 years, can’t this city agree on how to pronounce its own streets and neighborhoods? If we can correctly say “Boo-dih-no Avenue,” why do we put up with people saying “Shih-viot” and “Quee-bek Road?” This drives me nuts.—Potayto, Potahto
The Doctor predicts that a decision on Tee versus Tuh will soon be unnecessary. The Society Of The Tuhs is past its reproductive years and is a dwindling constituency. Unless their population becomes gerrymandered into an influential voting bloc, time will do its work.
As for the other pronunciation issues that inflame your internal organs, they will likely burn much longer than the brief candle of our meager existence; you should consider releasing them. Regional quirks such as the ones you cite exist everywhere. In each locale there are certainly those who scold the populace with schoolmarmish contempt, but they just as certainly have no effect. Languages and pronunciations are tribal, nurtured from birth along with religion and patriotism, and are not relinquished easily. Just ask those citizens of the other Quee-beck.
The Doctor thanks you for not additionally requesting a definitive list of which Cincinnati hills constitute The Seven.
Originally published in the March 2015 issue.
Illustration by Lars Leetaru.