Growing up I went out to eat a lot. But aside from the occasional Potato Skins and Mozzarella Sticks (not that there’s anything wrong with either; we just didn’t do a whole lot of branching out), I never truly appreciated the art that is appetizers — a necessary precursor to most meals. My appreciation for appetizers probably started around the time BK and I started dating, which just so happened to be about the time I started branching out a bit more with my culinary endeavors.
Appetizers are a great way to either bulk up a meal, or scale one down — y’know, by splitting an app and getting a couple of drinks — and there are a lot of really good starters in the area. Here are some of my favorites (avoiding most foods that have their own lists, like chicken wings and french fries):
Poutine (Senate Pub, OTR) – $12 (add $2 for a fried egg)
Fries or not, Poutine from Senate is the best appetizer around. This dish needs no introduction or description if you’ve had it. If you haven’t had it, it’s probably been recommended to you, and for very good reason. Senate is one of my favorite restaurants and its take on Canada’s signature dish lives up to all the hype you’ve heard. And good news, Northern Cincinnati: Senate at Summit Park in Blue Ash is opening soon!
Whipped Ricotta (Red Feather, Oakley) – $12
Red Feather’s #3 burger was what brought us to this Oakley eatery, but it’s the Whipped Ricotta with Grilled Baguette, Truffle, and Honey that will make us go back. As we walked in, I could smell the truffle oil in the air. We were seated next to a couple eating this delectable starter and I knew I had to have it. It was awesome.
Brussels Sprout Salad (E+O Kitchen, Hyde Park) – $15
Trust me, I was as turned off as you probably were when you saw “kale” and “brussels sprout,” but this small plate featuring fried kale, chiles, carrot, cabbage, and shrimp is outstanding. Also, it’s partially fried, so it’s got to be good, right?
Grilled Corn (Mazunte, Madisonville) – $3
Okay, this is technically a side, but still. Grilled corn in the husk with dried chile, aoli, lime, and queso is the perfect compliment to some of the best tacos this city has to offer. Keep in mind they’re seasonal and they will be making their return this spring. And at $3, it is the best deal on this list.
Pork Belly Buns (Kaze, OTR) – $4.50 ea
The year was 2013. The first time I had a Pork Belly Bun, I described my experience with Kaze as “OTR chic (with the likes of A Tavola, Mayberry, and Senate).” I loved it back in the olden days of Vine Street and the Pork Belly Buns are still great. Rest in peace, dear Mayberry.
I know most of these are not cheap, but they can be shared between two or more people, which can help with the cost.
Musubi (Quan Hapa) – $6
While researching appetizers in the city, and more specifically those I’ve had, I stumbled upon the fact that Quan Hapa serves one of my favorite dishes of the past couple of years — Spam Musubi, a popular lunch and snack food in Hawaii that I originally tried by Ono Grindz at Asian Food Fest in 2015. This spam, rice, caramelized onions, and gojuchang sauce delicacy is absolutely on my must try list.
Veggie Egg Roll (Bamboo Kitchen, Kenwood) – $1.75
Spicy Edamame (FUSIAN, multiple) – $2.50
Cheese Nuggets (Bacalls Cafe, College Hill) – $4.95
Choriqueso (Taqueria Mercado, Central Business District) – $7
Grilled Halloumi (Terry’s Turf Club, East End) – $4.75
Rest in Peace
Devilish Eggs (The Rookwood)
The Rookwood was one of my favorite restaurants. It served one of my favorite burgers, fries, and appetizers. I really miss this place.
Pimento Cheese Fritters (Son of a Preacher Man)
This too-short-lived fried chicken joint was located in O’Bryonville and fell victim to leasing issues. Not only was the fried chicken very good (the sandwiches served on biscuits were awesome), but the Pimento Cheese Fritters served with jalapeño jam were outstanding, and the primary reason I try to get pimento cheese anything everywhere I can.
Featured image: Devilish Eggs from The Rookwood