Fork in the Road thinks you should get out of town on occasion, since dozens of destinations lie within just a couple of hours of the city. In this Excursions column, we’re covering the best places to eat in popular weekend trip locations. See more Excursions and Summer Fridays ideas in our archives.
If you’ve been to Edward’s in Tribeca for its monthly Cincinnati Night, you’ve likely heard the regulars say that the best cooking along the Ohio River comes from Skyline Chili and Larosa’s. They likely haven’t been home in a while. Today, those restaurants don’t even make the best drunk food in the Buckeye State. So if you’re making the trip Midwest for the holidays to see your family — or you want to touch down to see how much longer the Bengals can stay in first place on a technicality — consider eating elsewhere.
Head over the Rhine after the game to lick your wounds and fingers over honey-coated fried chicken and failed-boy-band-inspired gourmet dogs chased with Malbec-and-rye cocktails from Queen City’s reigning bartender, all before lining up for late-night burritos worth the frostbite. And yes, we mean that Over-the-Rhine. The neighborhood you once feared to wander is now the neighborhood you can’t afford to call home, and while the windswept streets are currently being torn up to install a streetcar in time for next year’s All-Star Game, you can still keep warm ducking into every storefront along Vine Street and its side streets during a comfort food crawl.
If any place will convince your unshakable parents of the neighborhood’s gentrification, even as they attempt to lure you to Montgomery Inn (925 Riverside Drive; 513-721-7427) with the promise of the stalwart boathouse rib joint’s addictive 63-years-in-the-making chipotle barbecue sauce, it’s the subtle touches of heat in the bounty of small plates at Salazar (1401 Republic Street; 513-621-7000). Here, you can make a meal of the Jean-Georges and Per Se vet’s precious $5 nibbles, including peppery fried brussels sprouts with a frothy yuzu emulsion, kimchi-garnished fried oyster sliders, and sweet sorghum-brushed pork belly skewered with blistered shishitos.
Because you’ve already eaten enough Skyline Chili to last a lifetime back in Manhattan, display your merit with the restaurant’s patch, designed by nearby Steam Whistle Letterpress, and pick up a few cards, too, to write out over a beer at the post office. And by post office, we mean The Eagle (1342 Vine Street; 513-802-5007). Named for the USPS logo, the months-old beer hall retains walls lined with the original building’s P.O. boxes, but it is way more serviceable, dishing out plates of whole fried bird sided with just-as-hot honey in the same time it takes to garnish with candied bacon their Guinness Bloody Mary. Scoop up melt-in-your-mouth sides like maple-buttered spoon bread, white cheddar grits, and fatty collards, all portioned to make a meal in their own right.
Step outside, and you’ll find dessert at every turn. Across the street is Graeter’s (1401 Vine Street; 513-421-5300), and for once, you’re not limited to the bowl of mint chocolate chip at Edward’s, or the icy pint of Buckeye Blitz in the back of your bodega’s freezer. Instead, have a hot-fudge-smothered wedge of chocolate bundt cake scooped with Peppermint Stick, or forgo ice cream altogether at Holtman’s Donuts (1332C-2 Vine Street; 513-381-0903). A waft of sugar glaze will make you forget that this place has the ominous-sounding Guy Fieri “Fist Pump of Approval” as you eye the old-school bakery case racked with classic marble-glazed cake rounds and cinnamon-sugared twists.
For a sweet tipple, turn toward Main Street and Japp’s (1134 Main Street; 513-381-1524). Rockabilly kitten Molly Wellman’s transformed a 19th-century wig shop into a cocktail saloon with weekly rotating chalkboard menu of her latest libations. But forget those and go off-menu with her for a soul-melting Midnight, an equal-parts stir of high rye, Malbec, and Kahlua.
If it’s after midnight and you’re still sipping through Wellman’s other bars about town (she’s also behind Myrtle’s Punch House and Neon’s), you’ll be lucky if you’re able to stand and point when seeking out an after-hours snack. Lucky for you, that’s all that’s required at Gomez Salsa (107 East 12th Street; 513-381-1596). The walk-up window is the back door to growler filling station Half Cut, and toasts ninja-sized Turtle Shells, a split crispy burrito bursting with as many fillings as you can functionally circle with a golf pencil after 2 a.m.
Take it indoors at the downtown outpost of the 21C Museum Hotel before bed, where they inexplicably let guests wander the contemporary-art galleries 24/7 with food and drink in hand. Wake up to a jolt of caffeine from Collective Espresso (4037 Hamilton Avenue; 513-698-2966) in Northside.
Even the owners behind the new restaurant scene in OTR have been priced out of their neighborhood, so after they’ve one by one started moving way above the Rhine to Northside, they’ve realized they need to eat, too. Now the low-rent neighborhood’s quickly gentrifying into a hipster haven studded with record shops, bakeries, gourmet groceries, and retro taco lounges like Tacocracy (4029 Hamilton Avenue; 513-541-8226), where you can find even more unorthodox Mexican cooking, like a mustardy garlic mashed potato hard shell.
Beside Collective Espresso, you’ll find happy chicks manning the ovens at Happy Chicks Bakery (4035 Hamilton Avenue; 513-386-7990). Butter cookies and brownies with herbaceous infusions dominate the menu and air you breathe here; treats come in flavors like peanut butter curry and rosemary-cardamom coffee. And if you missed your chance earlier this year to pick up local artist Rebecca Weller’s decorative cake paintings at Anthropologie, here, the pastel layer-cake still-lifes line the walls.
Before you head home, say farewell to family and friends back in OTR at Senate (1212 Vine Street; 513-421-2020). The gourmet hot dog joint’s really a sit-down affair, and the perfect place to show everyone you’re doing OK. The loaded franks have names like Kylie Jenner, Nick Lachey, and Lindsay Lohan, and they’re piled with goat cheese and caramelized onions, pickled jalapeños and queso, and mushroom pico de gallo. It’s your best bet for assuring Mom and Dad that this is what a hot mess really looks like — and you don’t resemble it. At least not this year.
Follow Adam Robb on Twitter, @lifevicarious.