Pontiac BBQ

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This past weekend, BK and I wanted to try somewhere new [to us] after the Pride Parade, so we walked eight blocks north to finally give Pontiac BBQ its time. We were initially seated at the bar, where we each had a beer (Blank Slate RYEsing Up for me; Phin & Matt’s Extraordinary Ale for BK) and Pulled Pork, Nacho Cheese Poutine before we had another friend join us and we moved to the communal table up front.

At our second location, we got more beer (Founders Curmudgeon for me and Friend; Leffe Blonde for BK), BK and I split the Brisket Burrito (salsa on the side), Friend got the half order of Brisket, and we all split fries. Which brings me back to my favorite three things among an all-around great experience at Pontiac:

  • Ranch Dressing. This house-made delicacy was ON FLEEK, and you know how I like my ranch. And how infrequently I use that word.
  • Pulled Pork, Nacho Cheese Poutine. While a little salty, this stuff was awesome. Forgot to 86 the jalapenos, but at least we know for next time (and they were easy to pick off). Made with crinkle fries!
  • The service. Huge fan of our server and his general zeal for ranch dressing.

I’ve never been a big barbeque person (I swear, I’m coming around), but I really liked Pontiac and will absolutely be back.

BK’s Final Take: The barbeque was really good. The fries were a bit too salty, but the poutine was good.

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Weekend Recap: Cincy Pride Edition

weekend

Photos (top to bottom, left to right): Breadsticks with cheese from LaRosa’s in Dublin; pizza box from LaRosa’s; Scripps Center “dressed up” for the upcoming All-Star Game, as taken from Smale Park; Pride Parade from Fountain Square; hanging out with BK at Taft’s Ale House; Yappy Hour with Franklin, Nyoh, and Boomer at The Growler House; Pride Parade; Jim Obergefell in the Pride Parade; Sugar N Spice coffee mug

This past weekend was a busy one and, while I felt like I was constantly on the go, it was also really great, and included: a quick jaunt to Columbus and checking out LaRosa’s in Dublin; a lot of good beer from The Growler House, Taft’s Ale House, the OTR Beerfest CANival at Washington Park; the Cincinnati Gay Pride Parade; checking out a new [to me] restaurant*; breakfast at Sugar N Spice*; and an adventure around town to locate as many All-Star Game mustaches as we could find in three hours*.

Given the SCOTUS Marriage Equality Decision that was made on Friday, the Pride Parade on Saturday morning was awesome. Everyone was in high spirits and it was a fantastic event shared by the LGBTQ community and its allies. There were so many children in attendance and everyone seemed to be having a wonderful time. Of many highlights, my favorite was seeing the man, the legend, Jim Obergefell, riding on a float in his hometown parade. I’m always proud to be from this city, but seeing Jim Obergefell, the man who took his fight to SCOTUS, and experiencing another Pride only added to that.

It was yet another eventful summer weekend in Cincinnati. I hope you all had a great one, too!

*More on this later.

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Nation Kitchen and Bar

Nation Kitchen and Bar

Left: Tachos; Right: Quesadilla Burger and sidecar of Loaded Tots

There are plenty of cheeseburgers to try in the greater Cincinnati area and Nation was another great tryst with my favorite American delicacy. Nation is first and foremost a bar, but also happens to serve pretty good food. And a decent bar they are because they also serve jager bombs. I was sure to ask whether that was something they had because it is my primary criteria when judging bars in the OTR area (I know it is technically located in Pendleton, but work with me here), as very few serve jager bombs, Fireball, and flavored vodka. What can I say, I drink like a frat guy and don’t care for muddled, pulpy drinks. One point for the good guys. Another point for the good guys when I heard The Essex Green playing on their soundsystem — a song I’ve never heard in public, no less.

The space was pretty great. Not a huge bar, but plenty of seating, including an outdoor patio that was well lit with string lights and looked awesome. If it weren’t Hell°, we’d have considered sitting outside. Instead, the eight of us were fortunate enough to find seating in a secluded back room where there was also a TV to watch the NBA Finals as we hung out, drank beer, and had our respective burgers.

Nation featured order-at-the-counter (er, bar) service, which is my favorite, although the service we did have was pretty awesome. There were many things ordered at our table, including Tachos for an app (spoiler alert: they were awesome) and BK and I decided to split the Quesadilla Burger (pico on the side) and a sidecar of Loaded Tots (with extra ranch of course, don’t be silly). Aside from the tater tots being a bit too salty, they were generally awesome (tots, guys!). The Quesadilla Burger was really good, too, although I am really jonesing to try their namesake Nation Burger (there is a deal called The Hatchet, which includes the Nation Burger, fries, and Carrie Ale — Nation/Listermann collaboration and Nation’s flagship brew — for $12). Unfortunately, BK and I were not hungry enough to justify ordering all of the above. I also got to try Sweet Pot Tots and they were fantastic. I’ll likely opt for those in the future.

Everyone liked what they got (including the couple who had been about five times in the first week Nation was open to the public) and I’m really happy that there is a new bar and burger joint about five minutes down the road (and just around the corner from the others we were with). I will absolutely be back. Maybe even for jager bombs. And definitely for brunch.

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Weekend Recap: Father’s Day Edition

It’s Sunday night and, as BK figures out how to get the first Harry Potter book on my iPad, I’m reflecting on another wonderful weekend spent in our great city.

Weekend Recap: Father's Day Edition

Photos (top to bottom, left to right): Streetcar Burger (BrewRiver); Nati Crepe, frites, and Cincinnati Anthology (Taste of Belgium); BK and me at The Redmoor; A Little Crazy by Revolution Brewing (The Growler House); us at Ault Park; two all beef dogs with pulled pork crispins, cole slaw, and BBQ, with macaroni and jalapeño cornbread (Eli’s BBQ); Ault Park; Franklin and an All-Star Game mustache (Washington Park); crab rangoon (Suzie Wong’s)

On Friday I picked up lunch on my way home from work from Cafe DeSales (yeah, summer hours!). Later in the evening we met up with some friends of BK’s who were in from out of town and went to dinner at BrewRiver GastroPub before we all went out for a couple of beers at The Growler House.

Saturday morning I woke up and the dreary weather put me in the mood to take myself on a delicious breakfast date to Taste of Belgium, where I had my usual Nati Crepe (with syrup on the side) and Belgian Frites, before I checked out Elm & Iron*, and then picked up some donuts for the weekend from Holtman’s (glazed twist and yeast with chocolate icing for me; blueberry glaze and yeast with white icing and sprinkles for BK). Saturday night we went to some friends’ wedding at The Redmoor in Mt. Lookout before ending the night with one more beer at The Growler House.

While most people consider Sunday to be a day to rest, it always seems that is our busiest day of the weekend. For Father’s Day, we continued our tradition (started last year) by meeting my brother, sister-in-law, nephew, and dad for our Second Annual Father’s Day Lunch at Eli’s BBQ before going to Alms Park. After the park, we went home to pick up Franklin to spend some time with him at the Washington Park Dog Park, where he made some friends and we got to tire him out so that we could grab a beer at — you guessed it — The Growler House before meeting up with BK’s dad and family for Father’s Day dinner at Suzie Wong’s. After Suzie’s, we went down to Wiseguy Lounge in Covington for a drink and, because the sunset was so amazing, we were fortunate enough to end the weekend with this:

Cincinnati Skyline at Sunset

I hope you all had a great weekend like I did and, to all you dads out there, I hope your Father’s Day was just as great.

*More on this later.

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Favorite Five: Local Beer

Local Beer

I won’t pretend that I’m some sort of beer connoisseur, but given that I “beertend” at a craft beer bar and date a guy who’s pretty into the stuff, I’ve learned a lot about it. I consider myself a casual — at best — beer person, and I’m sure there are many others who can relate to that distinction, especially with the rising in popularity of craft beer and breweries. I have taken it upon myself to throw out some suggestions with regard to my palate* and beers from local breweries that I enjoy — advice from one newfound casual beer drinker to the next, if you will.

Favorite Five Beer Styles:
Stout
Recommendations:

  1. Opera Cream Stout (sweet stout, Blank Slate)
  2. Shamrock Shake (Irish cream stout, Listermann)
  3. 562 Lateral (oatmeal stout, Listermann)

Pale Ale
Recommendations:

  1. Zeppelin (American pale ale, Christian Moerlein)
  2. Don’t Talk Sh*t About Norwood (pale ale, Listermann)
  3. Zen (session pale ale, Rhinegeist)

Rye
Recommendations:

  1. Hustle (rye pale ale, Rhinegeist)
  2. RYEsing Up (rye saison with peppercorn, Blank Slate)
  3. SPRYE (MadTree)

Summer Beer (okay, I know I cheated here, but I needed a broader category)
Recommendations:

  1. Strawberry Pig (creme ale, Christian Moerlein)
  2. Blueberry Lager (fruit beer, Rivertown)
  3. City Flea (summer session wheat ale, Taft’s Ale House)

Amber and Brown Ale (I know I cheated again, but I wanted to combine the two and both are largely malty, so bear with me)
Recommendations:

  1. Shroominous (brown ale, Blank Slate)
  2. Fork in the Road (India amber ale, Blank Slate)
  3. Ohio Knife (brown ale, Christian Moerlein) This was, unfortunately, a limited release, but will always be a favorite.

Honorable mention: Planetary Eclipse (black IPA, Listermann), Se7en (Hefeweizen, Christian Moerlein), Altered (pale ale, Christian Moerlein), Lift (Kölsch, MadTree), First Pitch (American pale ale, Taft’s Ale House)

Because BK has an entirely different palate than I do, I enlisted his help beer and writing prowess to share his opinion. Here’s what he had to say about his favorites in the local beer scene:

IPA
This is a big IPA town — a ton of West Coast influences early on with Rhinegeist and MadTree’s early stuff. Those two have really produced the flagship beers for Cincinnati, but there are other beers worth mentioning:

  1. PsycHOPathy (MadTree)
  2. Truth (Rhinegeist)
  3. Lesser Path (Blank Slate)
  4. Sabre Tooth Tiger (Rhinegeist)
  5. Jungle Honey (Listermann)

Sour
There really aren’t a ton to choose from yet, but Rivertown’s recent refocus toward sours has had some real hits (and admittedly, a few misses for me). Also worth mentioning is the relatively new Urban Artifact, which I’ve really liked so far.

  1. Kriek Lambic (Rivertown)
  2. Finn (Urban Artifact)
  3. Out & About (Blank Slate)

And a couple more worth seeking out:

  1. Coffee Brown (Mt. Carmel) – A brown ale that’s the best “coffee beer” I’ve ever come across. I could drink it all day.
  2. Long Way Home (Blank Slate) – Untappd says it’s a “black IPA,” but you could even call it a dark ale. Lots of coffee and chocolate flavor on it; incredible if you can find it.
  3. Galaxy High (MadTree) – One of the most drinkable imperial IPAs I’ve ever come across — citrusy and refreshing.
  4. Cinnamon Roll Chickow! (Listermann/Triple Digit) – This is a beer that tastes like cinnamon rolls. The Chickow! series is all great, but this is my favorite.
  5. Pineapple Saison (The Woodburn) – The brewery itself is coming soon, but I got to try this at a preview event and it was really, really good. Perfect summer beer; I can’t wait to try more from them.

Truthfully, it’s hard to go wrong with the hundreds of local beers from our many local breweries. What are some of your favorites?

*Disclaimer: I am not huge on sours and IPAs, so my list is admittedly lacking in those areas. I left that to BK.

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Blank Slate Brewing Company

Cincinnati doesn’t want for much in the beer department, but there are certainly breweries that stand out among the rest. I think of it like French fries: they’re all great, but some are simply better than others. Blank Slate is one of those standouts. I have never met a Blank Slate beer I didn’t like and they even brew my favorite beer of all time.

Sadly, it wasn’t until I started working at a craft beer bar in December did I have the pleasure of trying anything from Blank Slate. And soon thereafter I got to check out their taproom — what was once a one-man operation expanded and opened the brewery to the public in late 2014. It is one of my favorite taprooms in the city, as it is relatively small, friendly, and unassuming. The bartenders have always been personable, flights are super reasonable (four tasters for $5), there is seating outside, there are chalkboard walls in the bathrooms (that part gets pretty immature in the witching hours post-flights), and they even have food once in a while (think food trucks and hot dogs).

But back to the beer.

Blank Slate 

Me having Opera Cream Stout at every opportunity

The majestic collaboration brew that is the exemplary marriage of roasted stout goodness and BonBonerie’s Opera Cream Cake, Blank Slate’s Opera Cream Stout is the best beer I have ever had (out of about 200 distinct beers to date, according to Untappd). Scott (“founder, proprietor, janitor, and yeast farmer”) and his team somehow perfected the Opera Cream Stout without it becoming too rich, but man, did they do it. Its popularity prompted a pretty massive production and distribution (for what was supposed to be a limited release beer, anyway), but now it sits dormant until — I am hoping — dark beer season returns.

In addition to The Best Beer I’ve Had, Blank Slate features many wonderful options that vary pretty widely in the land of brew. Always go for a flight, as there are four+ great beers on tap at all times. Some other favorites include:

RYEsing Up – rye saison with peppercorn
Shroominous – brown ale with shiitake mushroom (not “mushroomy” so much as “earthy”)
Fork in the Road – India amber ale
Orchid’s Bloom – saison/farmhouse ale (limited release)

Blank Slate does beer so well and so expansively. If you’ve never had any of it, do. If you’ve never been, go.

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Wurst Bar in the Square

I’d been wanting to try Wurst Bar for a long, long time, but seeing as it was one of the lesser diet-friendly eateries I’d been wanting to try, it kept getting put on the backburner. BK, being the second-generation American that he is, loves German everything. It was becoming very necessary we check this place out.

Mt. Lookout, as far as parking is concerned, is one of my least favorite neighborhoods in the city (right up there with Mt. Adams; maybe even worse). But seeing as I got home early-ish from work, and we are the grandparents we are (at least as far as what time we eat dinner), we found street parking around 6pm and a table big enough for three in the back of the tiny place. (Be careful with happy hour-goers, as they take up a ton of space in the not-so-big restaurant.)

The Wurst

We decided to start off with Flying Pigs in a Blanket because pretzels, beer cheese, and carbs: what’s not to love about this German fare? The pretzels and wrapped sausages were great and we loved the accompanying condiments. For my meal, I decided on the U-Betta Goetta (goetta link with diced hash browns, maple bacon gravy, and topped with a poached egg), which I still talk about. It was awesome. I’m not usually one for a ton of flavors in one meal, but it all worked so well together. BK and I split asiago truffle fries, which were fine, but they weren’t much to write home about.

Wurst Bar was really good and so was our service. I liked the place, even if it was small. I’d love to go back and try the burger, although I’d be happy to have the U-Betta Goetta again.

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Favorite Five: Indian Restaurants

On any given day, if you were to ask me what I’m craving, there is a 90 percent chance I would say, “Indian food.” The first time I tried it I was in college and I hated it. It wasn’t until about six years ago my former boss told me I had to try it again; that we would make a lunch trip to Baba India for me to try whatever I wanted from the buffet.

From that time, I’ve never looked back, and I think I’m still making up for lost time.

My palate for Indian food has varied only slightly over the past six years and, with what originally started as opting for chicken makhani, has made its way to ordering pretty strictly paneer dishes and — more specifically — shahi paneer or paneer makhani depending on the restaurant. My all-time favorite Indian dish is shahi paneer and I will order that from Indian restaurants where I know they’ll get it “right” (with shredded paneer — how I like it). Otherwise, I’ll happily stick with paneer makhani. And garlic naan is a must, too. In my opinion, an Indian restaurant must excel in three areas: accuracy in spice level, freshness of food (paneer especially), and quality of naan.

Cincinnati Indian

While Cincinnati may have a number of really good Indian restaurants (seriously, this city is not lacking in that department), these are my top five favorite — the upper echelon of Indian in Cincinnati — in order:

  1. Delhi Palace (Silverton) – Given how much I love and crave Delhi Palace, it has undoubtedly become my favorite Indian restaurant in the area. The shahi paneer is what dreams are made of, and everything else we have had on the menu has been great. We absolutely love this place and try to get there as much as we can to satisfy our Indian cravings (which happen often).
  1. Shaan Indian Cuisine (Oakley) – Out of my top five, we live closest to Shaan, and therefore eat there the most. That is a good thing, given they have a “frequent flyer” card — every seventh meal is free. The food is great and the service is even better. Plus fantastic naan and a $7.99 lunch buffet, which is all-you-can-cram-into-a-to-go-box.
  1. Brij Mohan (Sharonville) – Brij Mohan’s “vegetarian” categorization didn’t faze me, as I eat paneer dishes anyway. I was more concerned for my dinnermate, though, as he typically eats chicken dishes. All concerns were expunged when I got a text message the following day reading, “Just had [Brij Mohan leftovers for] lunch. That place was realllllly good.” I totally agree.
  1. Swad Indian Restaurant (North College Hill) – I’ve admittedly only been here once, but I really enjoyed it. The service was outstanding (got a free dessert, even), food was good, and the naan was some of the best around. None of this should come as any sort of shock, seeing as they are the same owners who were behind the original Dusmesh. If we lived closer, we’d have been back by now.
  1. Ambar India (Clifton) – Once upon a time Ambar was the standard to which I compared other Indian restaurants — until I had the top four of the list, anyway. The food is always good, fresh, and flavorful, and the naan is great, too. I still really like this place but as I said, there is so much good Indian food around here.

Honorable mention: Baba India (Oakley), Deep India (Clifton), Tandoor (Montgomery)

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Dog-friendly Cincinnati

It should be no surprise to you that, in February, BK and I got a puppy. Given I post pictures of him and talk about him frequently, I feel like everyone should be privy to this information by now. And now that we have our regal pooch in our lives, the landscape of what we like to do has certainly changed. We often ask ourselves, “Can we bring Frank?” or “Is it dog friendly?” And, while we still have a lot to learn and many more places to take him, we have found a handful of spots we can bring Franklin along that we have really enjoyed.

There are many places (restaurants mostly) where dogs aren’t welcome due to health restrictions, but fortunately many of those restaurants that have patios are dog friendly as a result. Here are some of our favorite places so far:

daThe Growler House and The Famous Neons Unplugged – dog-friendly drinkeries

Cafe de Sales, Revolution Rotisserie, Happy Belly on Vine, and local creamy whips – dog-friendly patio spaces (along with most eateries that have patios)
Washington Park – dog-friendly green space where there are often food trucks and events happening; a place where you can grab food to-go and eat it

In addition to the aforementioned, we have really taken to two area dog parks:

bOtto Armleder Dog Park

We have fallen in love with Otto Armleder Dog Park. Not only is there a huge (I’ve heard four acres) green space where Franklin can run free (he doesn’t get this at home, seeing as we live in an apartment) and mingle with other dogs, there is also Little Miami River access a short walk from the fenced dog park area where dogs can swim. The first time we visited, the water was only about a foot deep and was perfect for him to bound around without going all the way under — a great way to introduce him to the water, especially after he found a mud puddle to play in.

In short: It’s free to visit and park; there is a ton of space to fetch, run, and play frisbee; and there is water access. Otto Armleder Dog Park hit the trifecta.

cWashington Park Dog Park

When we are more pressed for time or if we want to make food a part of our trip, Washington Park Dog Park is the perfect place to go. The dog park itself is smaller in size and can get pretty crowded, but we’ve learned that Franklin does better with a bit of a crowd anyway. He also really loves the water feature there, from where he can splash and also drink when he’s thirsty. BK has also deemed him the “maitre d of the dog park,” as he is able to greet all newcomers.

Parking at Washington Park garage costs about $5, but there is also street parking available, usually for less (please note the changed parking meter times). But the park itself is great for socializing more than running free rein, and I highly recommend making a trip of grabbing some food to-go or enjoying a meal on a patio nearby (Happy Belly, Revolution Rotisserie, or anywhere in Findlay Market or OTR are some ideas).

We are always looking for new ideas. If you have some, let me know! 

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Bamboo Kitchen

If you’ve been reading for a while or if you know me at all personally, you’ve heard me rave about my favorite Thai restaurant, Mekong Thai Cuisine. You’d also know a little piece of me died when Mekong closed last year. It devastated me so entirely that I shed an actual tear. My favorite dish in the history of everdom was to never be had again. The horror!

mekong
A couple of months ago, after having heard rumors of a new restaurant — “Mekong 2.0″ — opening in a new location on Kenwood Road, we stumbled on the Mecca that is Bamboo Kitchen. The menu looked to be similar on Yelp, and it was confirmed when we walked in and everything was nearly the same (menu items, menu, and even most workers); just with a new name. And with a liquor license, pho, banh mi, and a nicer seating area (albeit pretty small)!

Our first visit to Bamboo Kitchen was packed, so we got our order to go. (I was so happy to see it packed because I never saw Mekong like that and I want Bamboo Kitchen to thrive forever.) The food was exactly the same and my Thai garlic chicken (no veggies; 1.5/3 spice level) and veggie roll were just as amazing as I remembered.

On my second trip back I also got our order to go, and the now owner (former worker at Mekong) greeted me by saying, “I saw your order and knew it was you! I was hoping you’d found us!” followed by the story of Mekong’s demise and how Bamboo Kitchen came to life in its wake. The poor people in line behind me had to have heard me in hysterics while catching up with one of my favorite workers who obviously remembered me and valued me as a customer.

I am happy to say that, since I rediscovered Bamboo Kitchen, I have reclaimed my Dukedom on Yelp and my “mayorship” on Swarm. And I still can’t get enough. Man, I missed that place, but I am so unbelievably happy Bamboo Kitchen is alive and well — and for what I hope is a long, long, long, long time to come.

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