This is one of those places I’ve been to. <sad trombone>
Alas, there is nothing sad about any tryst with Senate, as it is one of my favorite places to go in the city. And since I’ve only eaten there four total times (one of those just a few days ago), I figure this review is warranted.
And Senate is so special, that I will rate it two different ways: one way as strictly a burger joint as I typically do, and another way as a restaurant as a whole, like in the case of Take the Cake.
If you haven’t had it, you absolutely must go. Here’s why:
Location: It’s hard not to love OTR. Coming from the “suburbs” (to be fair, I grew up way inside the 275 Loop; just not technically in the city of Cincinnati), it’s a breath of fresh air to see its resurgence and to finally have a plethora of great and various dining options. A self-proclaimed lover of all things NYC, Over-the-Rhine is probably the closest we Cincinnatians are, as far as trends and delicious restaurants go, anyway. I love OTR and, while the parking situation can be dicey, it’s generally not too bad. There are plenty of valet, parking lot, and street parking options. If there is a wait, there are also a ton of bars in the area to wait until your table becomes available (they text you when it’s ready (!)).
Atmosphere: Senate is located in—what I think is—one of the cooler spaces in the city. While the outdoor seating options are sparse, the interior décor and design are more than well enough done that the outdoor seating isn’t an issue that plagues me. The atmosphere feels a bit rustic yet minimal, modern, and comfortable (all of these things are appealing to me as well as my minimalist eye). The food may be gourmet, but the general atmosphere also feels pretty casual and sophisticated (read: fast paced and a little bit loud). It should be noted that the exposed brick really adds to the overall ambience. (It is positively necessary that I address the exposed brick because white people love that stuff.)
Food: I can’t say enough great things about all of the food I’ve tried at Senate thus far. The Truffle Fries are the best I’ve had and the [what I consider to be gourmet] cheeseburger is top 3 material in this city (I’ll rate that on its own below). Let me re-phrase that: the Truffle Fries are the best fries I’ve had in this city. That is not hyperbole. The aioli (or “fancy mayonnaise”) that accompanies them is also top notch. In addition to the cheeseburger and fries that I typically order, I’ve also tried the Hello Kitty 2.0 hot dog (beef hot dog, wasabi mayo, ponzu-wasabi slaw, bacon, wasabi peas, and sesame seeds), the Trailer Park Dog (bacon-wrapped beef hot dog, American cheese, coleslaw, crushed bbq Grippo’s, and brioche bun), Sweet Potato Falafel Sandwich, Lobster Mac & Cheese, and Roasted Marrow Bones as a starter. Admittedly, I’m a reformed picky eater and I’ll tell you what, all of the above are fan-freakin-tastic. While the cost can be a bit high for the fare that is offered (“gourmet street food”), it is definitely an establishment that everyone should try—at least as a “treat” of sorts. The service is also top notch, if a bit overzealous (yes, that happens).
Overall Grade based on this criteria: A+ [out of a possible A+]
It should be noted that this cheeseburger is on the Cincinnati Top 40, and atop the 40 does it absolutely belong. In fact, I think this burger is so good that I will boldly claim that it belongs with extremely illustrious company in my top 3 (Zip’s will always be #1, while Gordo’s and Senate continue to duke it out for the #2 spot).
Burger – 4.5/5
The Senate Burger is always cooked how I’d like (medium), it is always juicy, and the flavor is fabulous without being pretentious or trying too hard. My only gripe is that it can be slightly messy, which is a trait I could go without. I absolutely love cheese and other toppings on my burgers, but this wood-grilled angus beef patty is one that I could very well eat solo. Most importantly, it is consistent. That is hard to find.
Toppings – 5/5
The Senate Burger comes with cheddar, lettuce, tomato (I don’t like tomatoes, so eighty-six those), caramelized onions, brioche bun, and housemade pickles (I immediately hand those to Date because I don’t like those either). Oh! The bun also comes adorned with the same aioli that accompanies the fries. That is very, very important because yum. The combination of toppings is one of my favorites in the city, mostly because it doesn’t overwhelm or detract from the overall flavor of the meat; instead, it enhances it in a way that I feel only Senate Burgers can.
Burger to Bun ratio – 4/5
I don’t remember a ton about the bun, and that’s probably a good thing. Nothing bad sticks out about it, and, while it gets a little soggy, it’s not ever something that has bothered me.
Side(s) – 5/5
The Truffle Fries are the best fries I’ve had in this city. That is not hyperbole. The aioli that accompanies them is also top notch. There aren’t many things better than an outstanding side paired with an already-magnificent entrée, and Senate has done just that. I’ve also had the Duck Fat Fries. Those are good, but the Truffle Fries!
Linger Factor (NEW) – 5/5
Don’t even get me started on how much I can’t wait to get back to this place. I’m dying a little bit inside just thinking about it.
Total: 23.5/25 or 4.7/5
Senate not only serves my Top 3 burger, but it is also home to one of my Top 3 restaurants in this great city. Seriously. Try it if you haven’t already.