CINCINNATI -- Nearly two years after opening, Krueger's Tavern has hit its stride as "the" place for burgers, sausage and beer, thanks to the restaurant's focus on house-ground meats.
"Krueger's is having a banner year," said Joe Lanni, one of the owners of the restaurant's parent company, Thunderdome Restaurant Group. "In the past year, through great operations and menu choices we've made, sales have been up (roughly) 40 percent year-to-date."
According to Lanni, when Krueger's first opened, it executed a lot of good ideas all at once and ended up confusing the customers.
"It was a lot of great stuff but not a unified message," he said.
This fall, the restaurant is launching new menu items designed to deepen its niche in house-ground meat specialties prepared with a touch of German flavors, and industry veterans Clint Walker Jr. and Kelly Lough are joining forces to bring these changes to life.
Walker has worked in various kitchens, including Jeff Ruby restaurants Carlo & Johnny and the (now shuttered) Waterfront. He was most recently at Bakersfield prior to becoming executive chef at Krueger's last year.
Lough, who recently joined the Krueger's team as general manager, has roughly 20 years of experience in restaurant management and most recently worked as general manager at the Eagle.
"We're creating new menu items with a fall theme and are sticking somewhere toward the German style of food," Walker said. "We've got sauerkraut, apple and beer incorporated into a lot of our dishes."
As of Nov. 1, customers can try new offerings like sauerkraut balls and a braised-pork sandwich. Sauerkraut, Lincolnshire sausage, cream cheese, onion, garlic and parsley form the basis of the sauerkraut balls.
"They're rolled up with bread crumbs, deep fried and served with champagne mustard sauce," Walker said.
The pork in the braised-pork sandwich has been braised in Guinness beer, Strongbow beer, apples, sauerkraut, onions and garlic. Muffaletta bread, along with Dijon, Gruyere and braised red cabbage, complete the sandwich.
Gone from the menu are items that were either not seasonal or detracted from Krueger's brand, such as the Cuban sandwich and white-bean hummus.
"One of the exciting things about the change of menu is really being able to hone in on Clint's culinary expertise," Lough said. As an example, she cited the new chopped salad, which brings together ingredients such as shaved fennel, pistachio and candy-striped beets atop a bed of greens dressed in honey-basil vinaigrette.
Also new this fall is the meatball hoagie, which features Italian sausage, ground beef, ricotta basil and Parmesan cheese. According to Walker, the kitchen makes all of its sausages and burger patties, a process that takes eight to nine hours.
"The Lincolnshire sausage and Italian sausage are our two top-selling sausages," he said.
In addition to being showcased in the hoagie, the Italian sausage is also available as an entree, served with crispy polenta, fennel and olives braised in tomatoes, wine and bacon, and Parmigiano Reggiano.
Lough said the menu launch also opens new possibilities of even more creative entrees in the future.
While Krueger's is known for its more than 70 varieties of canned beer and house-made gin and juice, Lough sees an opportunity to further develop the wine program, too.
"Because Clint has so much culinary background, we have every reason to dig in and find nuances in beautiful wines," she said. "This would be an amazing time to have a Riesling dinner with the pork braised in apple."
Lough hopes to roll out a more extensive wine list in the coming weeks and envisions hosting wine-related events in the near future, as well as more private events.
"We are one of the few restaurants in Over-the-Rhine that has a separate space (on the second floor) that can do it," she said, estimating that the second floor can seat up to 30 in a private or semi-private configuration.
Lough and Walker recognize the things Krueger's has going for it and plan to build on them. For example, Krueger's is the only restaurant with a rooftop patio in Over-the-Rhine. The rooftop patio is outfitted with heaters and will remain open into the cold season.
"We're going to have some hot-cider specialty cocktails," Lough said.
Krueger's is also one of the few restaurants in Over-the-Rhine that takes reservations. However, Lough said she recognizes they need to do a better job at publicizing it, as she has noticed many customers still don't know about it.
As Lough and Walker talked about the changes they have planned, they often referenced each other's strengths, exuding excitement and a genuine respect for each other's expertise.
"When people like us come together, something really cool is going to come out of that," Walker said.
Address: 1211 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine
Hours: 11 a.m.-midnight Monday-Friday; 10 a.m.-midnight Saturday; 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Sunday; brunch: 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday-Sunday
Information: -513-834-8670; www.kruegerstavern.com
Grace Yek writes about food for WCPO Digital. She is a certified chef-de-cuisine with the American Culinary Federation, and a former chemical engineer. Questions or comments? Connect with her on Twitter: @Grace_Yek.