Good Eats in Cincinnati, OH


I recently traveled to Cincinnati for a work conference.  The conference was held right downtown, so I got to do a little walking around the riverfront and Over-the-Rhine districts.  The city has a lot of interesting old architecture, and, from what I’ve heard, has enjoyed quite a renaissance over the last few years.  I stayed away from the well known local specialty Cincinnati chili, which is basically spaghetti with a cinnamon-inflected meat sauce and (if you like) a mound of shredded cheese or beans on top, but I did score some other delicious eats in my brief time there.

Quan Hapa – This is an Asian street food place that’s small, cute, and modern.  I went with two steamed bun sliders: pork belly (garlic scallion, pickled daikon & carrot, peanut aioli) and sweet potato croquette (with coconut creamed spinach).  The buns were a little gummy and doughy, but the fillings were great, especially the pork.  I also got an order of their chicken wings (marinated in lemongrass & soy, tossed in nuoc mam and honey).  These were smoky, sweet, and addictive, not fried terribly crispy but very satisfying.  Finally, I could not pass up an order of the “vietnamese coffee bread pudding” – rich little chunks of bread soaked in a thin sweetened condensed milk/coffee liquid with chocolate chips melting everywhere.  Wow!  It was fantastic.

Taste of Belgium – I walked up here one morning to grab a Belgian (liege) waffle.  It was kind of a life-changing experience.  I ordered a plain one, and, though I was a little surprised by the density and sweetness of the thing, it was just insanely delicious.  I guess I haven’t had that many true liege waffles in my day, but  I may just spend the rest of my years attempting to make the perfect one at home.

Senate – Ok, this is the au courant gastropub duck fat kind of place.  They’ve got all kinds of gussied up, decadent hot dogs on the menu, and not too many vegetables.  The inside is nice, with exposed brick walls and a marble bar.  I ordered a lobster BLT (butter braised lobster, bourbon smoked bacon, baked egg bun, basil mayo) and some truffle fries.  The sandwich was decent despite some tough, sinewy lobster meat.  I think it was saved by the bacon, which was exceptionally good, and a light feathery bun that surprisingly held up to the filling.  The truffle fries were good as well, crispy and flavorful.

Graeter’s – Of course I had to try the local ice cream maker, who is known for their chocolate chip varieties.  This is because, from what I’ve read, they use the “French pot” method of making ice cream, in which molten chocolate is poured into the churning mix, resulting in randomly sized shards of chocolate rather than uniform pieces.  I ordered the black raspberry chip, and was richly rewarded.  It was really good.  There was actually a massive hunk of chocolate buried in my cup, but I’m not complaining about that.

Quick Bites: Durham and Hillsborough

Another little “European” charm place (see also Mateo, Toro, …) for Durham.  Irresistibly cute shop with fantastic ice creams.  The also offer indulgent sundae combinations.  I got the malted milk chocolate and it was smooth, rich, creamy – superb!

Return visits to Mateo and Pizzeria Toro:
Intial impressions of greatness confirmed!  Mateo has got to be one of the top restaurants in the Triangle.  And, after visiting Curate in Asheville, I’d say this place is just as good, or even better.  We tried a whole host of different things.  Standouts were the tortilla espanola, a think quiche-like concoction with tender thick-cut potato slices, some very nice meatballs in a tomato sauce, and a chicken/sherry/shallots/lemon/thyme/grits affair that I will be trying in vain to re-create at home.  As for Toro, the mushroom pizza is another winner.  Just the right amount of oil and coarse sea salt on a blistery crust, some fine cheese, flavorful local shrooms, and herbs.  Perfecto!

Hillsborough BBQ Company:
Well they can’t all be winners.  I had been excited to try this place, which cooks over wood.  But the BBQ was pretty lifeless and kind of dry.  The corn pudding on the side was undersalted.  It’s nice that they have three kinds of coleslaw (regular, western, and mustard), but the “regular” was nothing to write home about.  The ribs were better, although I didn’t love the ketchupy sauce.  The best thing was the hushpuppies, little balls of fried goodness.