brisket-at-Rivertown
Food + Drink

Butler County Food Tour

Butler County offers a wide range of dining experiences, whether you’re looking for dinner and a movie or great down-home barbecue.

Rivertown Brewery & Barrel House
Although it’s been around since 2009, this brewery opened at its new location in Monroe on Jan. 20. With 30 beers on tap at the bar and 24 drafts available on the patio, there are plenty of options for beer lovers to explore. “For us, what has always been really important is that we have a beer for everyone,” says owner Lindsey Roeper. “No matter where they are in their beer journey, we want to have something for them.” If the number of choices is too daunting, Roeper has some suggestions. She says Rivertown Brewery’s signature beer is a vanilla espresso imperial porter, while its most popular variety is its lager. The food menu is based around slow-smoked barbecue served in different variations, including out-of-the-ordinary preparations such as tacos and skillets. Try This: Order the beef brisket, infused with Rivertown’s Russian imperial stout — a beer brewed with a blend of dark malts and ghost chili peppers. 6550 Hamilton-Lebanon Rd., Monroe 45044, 513/402-7135, rivertownbrewery.com

Cinebistro's pan-seared salmon
CineBistro

Guests at this luxury theater aren’t forced to choose between dinner and a movie — they can enjoy both in a sophisticated setting that puts the average snack bar to shame. Patrons must arrive 30 minutes before show time to get settled in and comfortable in their luxurious reclining love seats. Servers take each guest’s order, including beer or wine from the fully stocked bar, and menu options that range from wagyu beef sliders and crab dip to sesame-seared tuna and dry-aged rib-eye. The food and drinks are brought out right before the movie starts, allowing guests to enjoy their meals as they watch their film of choice. “We found a niche,” says Fred Meyers, vice president of CineBistro. “There is an adult audience who really appreciates a finer night out for dining and still loves the movies.” Try This: Order the pan-seared salmon, served on lemon-whipped potatoes with sauteed shrimp and an avocado-key lime butter sauce. 7514 Bales St., Liberty Township 45069, 513/463-0470, cinebistro.com

Ribs at Neal's BBQ
Neal’s Famous BBQ

Starting with a grill and just $10, the earliest days of Mike Neal’s business exemplified the phrase “humble beginnings.” The first incarnation of his restaurant opened in a former ice cream parlor with just three tables and a few more outside. His smoker, which he kept going through winter, spring, summer and fall, was also outdoors, garnering attention from passersby as he slow-cooked ribs in his homemade barbecue sauce. Today, that sauce is bottled and sold in grocery stores throughout the state, while the restaurant has since moved on to a new and larger location. Currently located in downtown Hamilton, Neal’s Famous BBQ continues to serve up delicious homemade barbecue in a family-friendly atmosphere with plenty of good vibes. Guests can choose from brisket, pulled pork and ribs, as well as a host of side dishes. Try This: While the ribs are Neal’s favorite menu item, he advises guests not to miss the side of mac and cheese. “It’s made of four different cheeses,” he says. “It’s made from scratch, and there is a whole lot of love put in it.” 202 N. Third St., Hamilton 45011, 513/737-2783, facebook.com/nealcafemidwest

Chicken and waffles at Mockingbird
Mockingbirds Cafe

Vibrant yellow walls and a ceiling adorned with brightly colored umbrellas create a fun, inviting atmosphere, but it’s the fresh and local ingredients that serve as the cornerstone of this Middletown cafe. Owner Nancy Griffith only buys ingredients from food producers within 50 miles and changes her menu based on the season. “Whatever I can get at that time,” Griffith says. “Right now we’re really salad heavy, but in the winter we scale that back because the produce then isn’t as good.” It’s important for Griffith to have a lot of meat-free options on the menu, such as the hummus plate and her freshly made soups. However, meat eaters will find plenty to like here, including a Cuban sandwich that Griffith says is one of the two most popular items on the menu. Try This: The other popular item is Griffith’s chicken and waffles. The chicken is prepared with an air fryer, which produces a crispy outer layer without the extra fat and calories of a deep fryer. 1024 Central Ave., Middletown 45044, 513/465-5038

High St. Cafe's eggs Benedict
High St. Cafe

This popular breakfast and lunch spot serves up made-from-scratch meals using only the freshest ingredients, be it the hollandaise sauce on the eggs Benedict or what goes into the restaurant’s soup of the day. The friendly atmosphere makes it easy for guests to become regulars and regulars to become friends, while the antiques gift area near the front of the restaurant adds to the place’s charm. The eatery’s trio of owners decided to open the cafe after all three desired a change in career paths. Co-owner Anthony Cianchetti, who grew up in Hamilton, also wanted to help play a role in the revitalization of Hamilton’s city core. “It just felt right to create something here,” he says. “The downtown is on the upswing and we want to be a part of that.” Try This: Order the traditional eggs Benedict. The hollandaise sauce is made from scratch every morning when the first order is put in, and Cianchetti says the dish is one of the restaurant’s most popular breakfast options. 250 High St., Hamilton 45011, 513/805-7428, highstcafe.com

Halo Halo at Dai Traing Bistro
Dai Trang Bistro

Offering an eclectic menu filled with Vietnamese, Filipino and Korean dishes, Dai Trang Bistro offers something a little different to Butler County’s food scene. Owner Michelle Pham says her restaurant serves dishes people often aren’t familiar with, but she enjoys opening her guests’ minds to new things, such as bubble tea. “It’s fun because they try it and then love it, of course,” Pham says. She adds that the restaurant has four chefs. Two hail from the Philippines, one from Vietnam and one from Malaysia, where they learned to cook using items directly available to them, such as coconuts and freshwater fish. This fresh-first philosophy means everything from appetizers to desserts is prepared from scratch. Try This: A sweet Filipino iced tropical dessert layered with red beans, caramelized bananas, corn, coconut and other ingredients not normally associated with dessert, Halo Halo is big enough to share but also comes in a single-serving portion. 4970 Union Centre Pavillion Dr., West Chester Township 45069, 513/860-3777,  daitrangbistro.eat24hour.com

Crab cake Napoleon appetizer
Jag’s Steak & Seafood

Since 2003, Jag’s Steak & Seafood has provided its guests a place to have a great meal in an intimate setting or a night out full of live entertainment. Offering two distinct experiences, guests can decide what they’re in the mood for, but, either way, chef and proprietor Michelle Brown says her goal is to create an experience that stretches far beyond what’s on your plate. “It’s about when you pull up to the valet, how you’re greeted at the hostess stand, we really just try to drive hospitality,” explains Brown. ”You kind of have to have a servant’s heart to be in this business — and you really have to love it.” The menu includes options not usually seen at a traditional steakhouse, including a raw bar of oysters and crab legs, a sushi bar with a variety of rolls and a lineup of creative soups, including crab and red pepper bisques. Try This: Order the crab cake Napoleon appetizer, which starts with a lump crab cake, topped with an avocado salad and served with creamed corn, fried tomato cilantro creme fraiche and pickled cherry peppers. 5980 West Chester Rd., West Chester Township 45069, 513/860-5353, jags.com

Photo credits: CineBistro: courtesy of CineBistro; Neal’s Famous BBQ: Gaylon Wampler; Mockingbirds Cafe: Jenn Prine; High St. Cafe: courtesy of Butler County Visitors Bureau; Dai Trang Bistro: courtesy of Butler County Visitors Bureau; Jag’s: courtesy of Jag’s Steak & Seafood

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