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. Admittedly, the 31-year old sports radio talk show host has simple tastes. He’s never been to Boca and is eyeing the menu suspiciously. “What the hell is a roasted lemon?” he asks, referring to a first course dish of wood-fired baked lemons stuffed with anchovy, basil, tomato, and fresh mozzarella. I can tell by his incredulous tone that all his doubts—about the restaurant, about me, and about Cincinnati Magazine—have just been confirmed. I promptly order one for each of us.
A month earlier, Mo had responded to my annual Top 10 list by publicly declaring “it blows,” and posting his own list on 1530Homer.com. As an advocate for “normal people,” Mo provided 10 joints notable for good pizza, burgers, sandwiches, and chicken. His criteria was uncomplicated: there must be beer and television, with food that’s affordable and easy to pronounce. Naturally, I had to meet him. After a 30-minute live interview on his program, where we bonded over Bruce Springsteen and baseball, we agreed to settle the score with a dining doubleheader, selecting restaurants from each other’s lists.
Mo is scooping the contents of the hot roasted lemon and spreading it on the grilled bread. “Pretty damn good,” he admits. “It actually tastes like pizza.” He’s also impressed with the plate of house-cured meats. Not that I’m keeping score, but I’m two for two, and looking forward to the next at bat; one of Boca’s sublime pasta dishes, bavette con bottarga. Mo raises an eyebrow at the mound of thick noodles with oven-roasted tomatoes, parsley, breadcrumbs, and shavings of salted dried tuna roe. It breaches the pronounceable word rule, but his response is an animated “phenomenal.” With the last course of braised pork shank, I could knock this out of the park. Instead, chef Jono Fries pitches a plate of Boca sliders. The combination of sirloin, Velveeta, and pickle chips prompts an anecdote in which Mo recently consumed 24 sliders “and a shitload of beers.” Though I have never experienced the White Castle “crave,” we have a lot in common. While researching the July 2008 issue, I consumed nearly 25 pounds of steak and a gallon of cabernet in four weeks. I interpret Mo’s silent gaze as one of awe.
The pork shank arrives. Cured in salt and garlic, slow-cooked in red wine, vegetables, and pepper, the hunk of pig leg sits atop a mound of dreamy polenta. It is sensational man food. Mo is astonished. I’ve hit a grand slam. “That was big league,” he declares. Yeah Mo, I know. Game over.
Next month, Donna tries out one of Mo’s top restaurants.
Originally published in the July 2009 issue.