August 2010 Issue
A Taste of the Tri-State
The greater Cincinnati area offers an eclectic mix of cuisine served in unique and historic restaurants.
It’s been a while since I visited Cincinnati’s historic culinary hot spots. When I lived there, I could sample the Queen City’s famous chili and Montgomery Inn’s legendary barbecue sauce any time I wanted. Nowadays I have to drive four hours to satisfy these cravings, so on a recent trip to Cincinnati I happily ate my way through some of the city’s noted dining landmarks.
Choose Your Chili
Since Cincinnati is known for its chili, it’s fitting to start a food tour of the city at Camp Washington Chili
(3005 Colerain Ave., Cincinnati 45225, 513/541-0061. campwashingtonchili.com
), which has been around for more than 60 years. At most local eateries, Cincinnati chili is characterized by its soup-like consistency and spices (often cinnamon or cocoa). It’s served in unique presentations such as “five way,” which pairs chili and spaghetti with onions, beans and cheese.
Natives often order their chili atop French fries and hot dogs, served with diced onions, mustard and shredded cheddar. At Camp Washington Chili, you can get all of the above, plus sandwiches, salads, soups and breakfast, served 24 hours a day, every day but Sunday, when the restaurant is closed.
The original location was demolished in 2000, but the standard recipe remains the same thanks to Johnny Johnson, who has been with the company since arriving from Greece in 1951. Stop by and read the plaques and accolades and see why it was given an “America’s Classics” award by the James Beard Foundation.
For those who prefer a heartier meal, a stop at The Precinct
(311 Delta Ave., Cincinnati 45202, 513/321-5454. jeffruby.com/precinct.html
) is a necessity. Owner Jeff Ruby has been a part of the greater Cincinnati culinary scene for nearly 30 years. Like most of Ruby’s restaurants, The Precinct’s location has a unique history. Located off Columbia Parkway (U.S. Rte. 50), the circa 1901 Romanesque-style building was once a patrol house, and has beautiful arched windows and an ominous (but cozy) atmosphere that recalls the restaurant’s roots. Images of old prisoners and officers hang on the brick walls alongside those of cele-brities who have dined at the Precinct.
But the best part, of course, is the food. Ruby serves up a variety of steaks seasoned with his signature pepper rub. The beef is hand-selected, aged and butchered on the premises, and menu items are often named after area celebrities. If you’re a fan of the Reds, try the Joe Nuxhall New York king sirloin, dubbed for the famed pitcher and broadcaster, or the filet named after one-time Bengal Shayne Graham.
The Precinct also offers a few excellent fish selections, including grouper and halibut.
No trip to Cincinnati is complete without a stop at Montgomery Inn
. There are multiple locations, but the original restaurant is in the suburb of Montgomery (9440 Montgomery Rd., Montgomery 45242, 513/791-3482. montgomeryinn.com
). The tangy-sweet barbecue sauce is something of a cult classic in the city, and it’s sold all over town. Longtime residents dip everything in it — including potato chips, onion straws and fries — and it is so popular that other restaurants often buy it to use on their barbecue dishes. Montgomery Inn is known for slathering it on ribs, as well as duck, chicken, pulled pork and brisket.
The original restaurant — located in a building that was once a stagecoach stop — was started by Ted and Matula Gregory in 1951 as more of a bar than a dining spot. One evening, Matula brought her husband ribs for dinner. Customers around the bar sampled them and raved about the sauce; soon, the couple was in the restaurant business.
Since then, celebrities — including Bob Hope, Elizabeth Taylor and presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton — have dined at Montgomery Inn’s various locations, and the restaurant ships sauce and other specialties around the world.
in Glendale (3 E. Sharon Rd., Glendale 45246, 513/771-5925. grandfinale.info
) is known far and wide for its desserts. Although the restaurant offers a full lunch and dinner menu, plus a Sunday brunch buffet, regular customers know to save room for the to-die-for baked goods, including cheesecakes and chocolate and berry desserts. The lunch and dinner menus are eclectic, ranging from standard American to French cuisine, including crepes stuffed with everything from shrimp and asparagus to chicken and almonds, and a filet and lobster tail combination. The brunch buffet includes quiches and crepes, along with dishes like fried chicken livers.
Although the building that houses Grand Finale has been around for more than 100 years, Larry and Cindy Youse didn’t purchase it until 1975. Together with friends and family, the couple repaired the structure, refurbished historical pieces (like the original tin ceiling) and filled the place with antiques and crafty touches like intricate birdhouses, creating a unique dining atmosphere. A gorgeous garden patio is open in the summer months.
Over the River
Cincinnatians know that the city’s dining scene extends south of the Ohio River. Chez Nora
(530 Main St., Covington, KY 41011, 859/491-8027. cheznora.com
), known for homemade lump crab cakes and remoulade, offers stunning views of the Cincinnati skyline from its rooftop patio. The restaurant features a 100-year-old mahogany bar, and is located in charming MainStrasse Village, a National Historic District that offers eclectic dining options. Try Strasse Haus
(630 Main St., Covington, KY 41011, 859/261-1199. strassehauspub.com
), which is known for its signature sauerkraut balls and potato pancakes, or Dee Felice Cafe
(529 Main St. Covington, KY 41011, 859/261-2365. deefelicecafe.com
), which serves up Cajun specialties like crawfish etouffee and shrimp Creole. (Be sure to try the Ricardo’s ravioli appetizer — deep-fried ravioli finished with a jalapeno crawfish cream sauce.)
MainStrasse is a walkable neighborhood of shops, parks, entertainment venues and historic landmarks — the perfect place to work off some of the calories accumulated on a culinary tour of greater Cincinnati.