By Anne Mitchell
“I’m coming to Cincinnati to visit. What restaurant should I try?”
I see people ask this question again and again on national websites like Chowhound or Eater, and the reply is always, “Skyline and Graeter’s — that’s Cincinnati!” Well, yes, they are. But is that really Cincinnati now? It’s like saying that you should go to New York and have a Gray’s Papaya hot dog. They’re iconic, but they can’t begin to tell the story of New York’s dining scene.
As we wrap up 2012 in Cincinnati, we’ve got a helluva story to tell — and some bragging to do. I write about drinks and dining, and I can’t even get around to all the new places that are opening. The way our food scene has taken off, there are so many destinations to devour that maybe you should save Graeter’s for a cone on the way to the airport after visitors have put on their comfy elastic-waist traveling pants and are groaning that they can’t eat another bite.
A few years ago when I wrote an end-of-the-year wrap-up, I whined that we didn’t have a variety of international restaurants. This has really changed. Someone stumped me recently by asking if I knew of any Norwegian restaurants here. I don’t think so. But when you’ve got Facebook fans anxiously awaiting the opening of a place that’s serving fertilized duck eggs, then you’ve got an adventurous international dining scene.
Even if balut is not your bag, we’ve got something else that you’ll love. We’ve got a bigger, better locavore scene. We’ve got new gastropubs, the exploding Gateway/OTR destination and the trendspotters and Tweeters who’ll lead you to them. Let’s look back — and ahead — at the significant eats and drinks around us.
Slap Your Mama Moments
My personal best bites for 2012 are a pretty eclectic bunch. These aren’t in any particular order, they’re just moments that made me say Mmmm.
Babushka Pierogies at Findlay Market: These butter-sautéed morsels are my top comfort food of 2012.
Soft-shell crab at The Anchor-OTR: The fact that I shared this fat, tasty crab with someone is probably more significant than it if I had told her my PIN and handed her my bank card.
Torched Marshmallow Sundae at Hello Honey: Would I be giving a bad example to youngsters if I admit that I skip lunch every once in a while and eat this instead?
Mahogany’s Trotter: This meaty shank bone was the best thing at Taste of Cincinnati this year, hands down, and I have not been able to find it again since. If they had it on their menu at The Banks, I’d have to get a frequent dining card.
Salted Caramel Brownies from Queen City Cookies: If pastries could be superheroes, these would wear capes. Their powers for good are amazing.
The Horse’s Neck at Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar: OKBB’s respect for Kentucky’s most treasured export knows no bounds. This cocktail showcases it just fine.
The explosion of eateries and drinkeries in the Gateway/Over-the-Rhine district is just incredible. In 2012 alone, we added Bakersfield, The Anchor, 1215 Wine Bar & Coffee Lab, Kaze and Quan Hapa; Mayberry moved in, and Collective Espresso started to brew.
What Daniel Wright started with some glorious street food at Senate has become a sensational success. When the weather’s nice, you can start the evening with a cocktail on Main Street and keep eating and drinking your way west until you end up at Washington Park — but only if you pace yourself. There are so many stops along the way!
Local Makes Good
The locavore movement starts to make sense when you see local produce and local products show up on local menus. Even if it’s Klosterman buns at Frisch’s, that’s good. But when it’s hot dogs from Avril Bleh Meats at Senate, or Napoleon Ridge Farm’s lamb at Local 127 and their baby veggies at Bouquet, then that’s even better.
Why? Because that makes local sourcing sustainable. As much as I want to think that the pound of spring peas I pick up at the farmers market will keep that farmer growing, it’s not enough. The tipping point, the point of economic viability, comes when they’re supplying someone who uses a lot more peas than I’m ever going to eat. Farmers like working with chefs to see the creative ways their products are used, and it’s great for both the restaurant and the farm when they talk each other up.
Can’t hurt the consumers, either, when the cook and the farmer are both staking their reputation on ingredients that are fresh, safe and top quality. For a start, read menus for ingredients from Napoleon Ridge, Carriage House Farms, bread from Shadeau and Blue Oven bakeries or distilled spirits from Woodstone Creek or OYO. To learn more and support the local sourcing trend, check out Cincinnati Locavore, Edible Ohio Valley, the Central Ohio River Valley Food Guide and Slow Foods Cincinnati.
Tacos Every Day
Taco Tuesday has been transcended. There are now taquerias enough for every night, and that’s no bad thing. The year kicked off with the opening of Bakersfield, where I had one of my favorite cocktails