There are neighborhood joints, and then there are neighborhood joints.
Say, for instance, that you might be lucky enough to stumble across an eatery that had the intimate scale, small-town friendliness and homey charm of the tavern down the block, combined with the sophisticated snap and whip-smart service of a fine restaurant?
Well, you’d be exactly that lucky if you’d already discovered the Riverbank Cafe, which has quickly become the place to dine in Hamilton, the Butler County seat that sits between Dayton and
Cincinnati along the banks of the Great Miami River.
The Riverbank Cafe is perfectly named, as it sits a literal stone’s throw from that very river, and just across the High-Main Streets Bridge from downtown. Newly opened in what is known locally as the Rumple Building, a three-story brick commercial structure at Main and B streets that went up in 1857 and has over the years housed an iron works, a hardware store, a drug store and haberdashery.
Experienced restaurateurs Dennis and Robin Kurlas opened the Riverbank Cafe in the renovated building in July 2007 and became instantly popular with a dependable and playful American-grill menu that grows a little at a time.
How’s this for fun? The Cafe’s smashing signature appetizer is BLT Soup. Someplace else, it would be a simple tomato bisque; here, it’s topped with croutons, just the right amount of chopped bacon and romaine lettuce and a drizzle of mayo. And yes, it tastes like a BLT. Elsewhere on the appetizer menu, nachos get the same sort of treatment, served with a blend of cheeses, black beans and smoked barbeque pork. If you’ve a mind, take a stab at the Louisiana Fried Corn Cobbettes, which are just what they sound like and well worth it.
Downtown lunchtime diners know that Riverbank sandwiches, like the burgers, are hefty in size and original in concept. Pot Roast Sliders are a novel take on the White Castle-style mini-burger; the Smoked Turkey Panini is topped with, ahem, cranberry sauce; the “Schizophrenic Reuben” is as lively as billed.
It’s a tossup on which is our favorite burger: The Americano, which is served “Parisian style” with a topping of cheddar and shoestring fries, or the Onion Straw Cheeseburger, which is covered with Swiss, sauteed mushrooms and fried onion straws. You’d do well with either. Friends swear by the pizza, as well.
Fish, chicken and beef round out the reasonably priced dinner menu, topping out at $13.95 for the Orange Roughy. We tried the Jumbo Ravioli ($11.95), stuffed with spinach and smothered in a rich and fragrantly seasoned marinara sauce; and the Tilapia ($9.95), which arrived pan-seared in garlic and herbs, and was served atop rice garnished with tomatoes and a dusting of Jack and cheddar cheeses. We knew it was good, but when our son got his hands on the leftovers a day later, he took a bite and offered a singleword of hushed praise: “Dang.”
RIVERBANK CAFÉ, 102 Main St., Hamilton, 513/896-1666. www.riverbankcafe.com
. Mon.–Thur. 11 a.m.–10:30 p.m., Fri. 11 a.m.–11 p.m., Sat. 8 a.m.–11 p.m., Sun. 9 a.m.–8 p.m. Entrees:.