Thursday, April 24, 2008

Great American Ball Park

Great American Ballpark
100 Main Street
Downtown Cincinnati

Rock concerts and ball games are generally not known for their food, and arenas and stadiums aren’t the best places around to find vegetarian fare. There are options available, however, as long as you don’t mind hunting and aren’t too picky.

Great American Ballpark has plenty of concession stands on every level of the stadium, and most have at least something vegetarian. The list includes nachos, jumbo pretzels, popcorn and LaRosa's cheese pizza and, if you don’t mind some traipsing around, there are also veggie-dogs.

The veggie-dogs are a little elusive. Not every hot dog vendor has the veggie-dog, so put on the ol' hunting cap and go for a stroll. We usually opt for the view level seats on the top deck when we go to a game, and the only concession stand that serves up veggie-dogs on that particular tier is Dugout Dogs, conveniently located next to the Skyline Chili stand behind section 418/518. It’s even more difficult to locate the beer vendor selling Christian Moerlein, but at $7.75 a cup it’s maybe best to do without. Just for the record though, the Moerlein vendor is tucked away near section 527, by the elevator.

I'm not a big fan of veggie-dogs but feel that it is my duty, as a vegetarian, to have one at the ball park, lest they decide it isn't a profitable item and get rid of it. I give props to GABP and Sportservice for offering it, even if the actual product isn't the greatest tasting thing in the world and at $4.25 costs as much as an entire pack of veggie weiners from the grocery.

I think the problem with GABP veggie-dogs is that they sit around awhile because there is probably not a huge demand for them. I've been to three games this season so far and have tried the veggie-dog on each occasion. Much like the Reds, the results have been inconsistent; sometimes they suck, other times they're pretty good. One time the dog was almost cold - surprising since they are kept in a heated case, and on another visit the skin was tough and chewy, as if it had been heated and reheated several times, which more than likely it had been. Perhaps it is just too early in the season to get a good one.

My favorite way to enjoy a veggie-dog is to squirt on a packet of Texas Pete's hot sauce and a packet of pickle relish (both can be picked up at Dugout Dogs), add a thin line of mustard and ketchup, and top it all off with a few cranks from the onion grinder. The onion grinder, by the way, is one of my all-time favorite gadgets. If only diced onions were always so easy and convenient!

Lastly, go ahead and splurge. Wash it all down with a Moerlein Select. Just be careful not to spill it when Brandon Phillips knocks one deep, or Edwin Encarnacion powers a 3-run homer in the bottom of the ninth to grasp victory from the jaws of defeat!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Nicholson's Tavern & Pub

Nicholson’s Tavern & Pub
625 Walnut St.
Downtown Cincinnati

Located directly across the street from the main entrance to the Aronoff Center, this Scottish-themed pub sees a lot of theatre traffic. We hadn’t realized there was a matinee performance scheduled on the day we visited the restaurant and were turned away from being seated in the dining area because we didn’t have a reservation. I didn’t know they took lunch reservations, nor did I think they would be needed. Ah well.

Luckily the bar area was not yet filled up with theatre-goers grabbing a last-minute lunch (or drink) and we managed to score some seating along the wall of the pub. It wasn’t an ideal place to sit because my husband, father-in-law and I had to sit next to each other on a long bench instead of being able to sit across from one another, which made it difficult to carry on a conversation. Long, narrow tables are secured to the floor in front of the benches, incapable of being moved to suit the diner’s needs. The design worked out ok for my husband and father-in-law but I found myself perching on the edge of the bench in order to shorten the distance my fork had to travel. Being petite has its disadvantages, I suppose.

Nicholson’s has an excellent selection of draught beer, single malt Scotch and bourbons. My father-in-law was surprised to see English favorites like Old Speckled Hen, Whitbread Ale and Young’s Oatmeal Stout on tap, and chuckled pleasantly when he learned they also stock Dry Blackthorn Cider. Our kilted server knew his beer and brought samples for us to try. If you go, get a pint of Young’s Double Chocolate Stout instead of dessert. It’s full of chocolaty, beery goodness.

I was disappointed to find that there isn’t a single vegetarian entrée listed on the menu. Nicholson’s is part of the locally-owned Tavern Restaurant Group, which also operates The Pub at Rookwood, The Pub at Crestview Hills, deSha’s and The Polo Grille, so I was surprised that they didn’t have anything vegetarian on their menu when the other restaurants in the group do. When I mentioned this to our server he told me that although it isn’t stated on the menu, the Roasted Chicken Penne could be made sans chicken as a vegetarian dish. Truthfully though, whenever I see a menu without anything vegetarian it sends up a warning flag to me that the restaurant isn’t veggie-savvy and that the kitchen might think that picking the chicken out of a cream sauce makes the dish vegetarian. Maybe I am wrong to think this way, but after 20+ years of dealing with the after effects of dishes that contained non-vegetarian stock, I’m naturally a little wary.

The restaurant does list a few appetizers that probably would have been ok – oven-baked goat cheese, spinach and artichoke dip, and fried pickles – but I opted instead for a salad and a side of fries, which I figured would guarantee vegetarianism. The Tavern House Salad consisted of mixed greens, red onion, dried cherries, toasted almonds and crumbled stilton topped with a creamy basil vinaigrette. It was very tasty indeed. The fries, eh, not so much. They were simply your garden variety frozen steak fries, available at supermarkets everywhere. I hit ‘em with some salt and malt vinegar to make them palatable.

I’d like to offer Nicholson’s (and the Tavern Group in general) a suggestion for a good, authentic vegetarian option that is hugely popular in U.K. pubs: The Ploughman’s Lunch. This simple and delicious option consists of a large chunk of cheese (usually Stilton or Cheddar), a thick wedge of crusty bread with butter, a small salad, a pickled onion and a sliced apple. It’s easy to prepare, healthy and incredibly filling. Best of all, it can be made with items the restaurant already stocks. Why they haven’t yet thought of it is mystifying.
Nicholson's Tavern & Pub on Urbanspoon

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Greenup Café

Greenup Cafe

308 Greenup Street

Covington, KY


It had been a while since we'd gone to Greenup Café for Sunday brunch and when the day dawned sunny and crisp we thought it'd be the perfect morning to visit with my father-in-law, who is currently visiting from England.

A few things have changed since my last review, including their opening time for brunch. Whereas they used to begin serving brunch at 10 a.m. now they begin an hour earlier. We weren't aware of the time change and arrived just prior to ten, worrying that we'd left it too long to get a table. Luckily we only had wait about ten minutes before a table was ready. There isn't a designated waiting area at the restaurant, so those waiting usually have to stand around in the carry-out area being jostled around while servers weave in and out of the adjacent kitchen.

The restaurant was short staffed today but our server remained attentive, friendly and completely unflappable, all qualities of a true professional. The kitchen also seemed to be struggling today, as meals were slow to arrive, and the usually awesome roasted potatoes were underdone to the point of still being crunchy in the centers. Because we'd waited so long for our food to arrive we were loathe to send back anything, opting to simply leave the potatoes untouched on the plate.

My husband and father-in-law both chose the Greenup Omelette, which they agreed was tasty although my husband admitted it was not the light and fluffy divine creation he'd come to know and expect from previous visits. The omelette that arrived today was, for want of a better word, lumpy. It tasted better than it looked, but that isn't saying much. It was stuffed with mushroom, tomato, gruyere cheese, asparagus and topped with creme fraiche, so perhaps they can be forgiven a little for the lumpiness.

I ordered the croissant with avocado, brie, red onion and tomato, which comes with the aformentioned potatoes and a small side salad. Aside from the potatoes the rest of the meal was heavenly; the soft, chewy croissant coupled with creamy avocado and brie and the crunch of red onion is a perfect combination. I've tried nearly every vegetarian item on Greenup's brunch menu, and I always return to the croissant sandwich because there's an explosion of flavor in every bite.

In anticipation of my father-in-law's visit we had purchased several discount gift vouchers for Greenup from the Greater Cincinnati Independents and used one today. The $25 gift voucher covered everything but the tip - what a great deal! Hopefully the restaurant isn't becoming a victim of its own success and that today's experience isn't indicative of the direction Greenup is headed. We still have a couple of vouchers left to use.

Greenup Cafe on Urbanspoon

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Great Sunflower Project

Val over at Cincinnati Locavore has written about a really interesting study called The Great Sunflower Project.

All over North America during the summer of 2008, participants will be monitoring honeybee activity on wild sunflowers that they have planted in their gardens. The group conducting the research sends out the wild sunflower seeds (it has to be a specific type of sunflower for the study) for participants to plant, then at certain times during the summer participants will watch the sunflower to log the amount of time it takes for five bees to visit. Participants send their data to the Great Sunflower Project, where the data is tallied to see where bee activity is health and where it is not.

I know that the media has only jumped on the colony collapse disorder bandwagon in recent years, but my father - who farmed his whole life - voiced his concern about disappearing bees from the mid-1980's until his death in 1999. His worry and concern passed to me, and I've tried to make sure that there are plenty of pesticide-free, bee-friendly flowers and plants in my garden.

Observations I made during the summer of 2007 escalated my concern about the welfare of the honeybee. I saw plenty of bees visiting my garden, but I began to notice that some of them seemed sluggish, as if they'd been drugged or on an all-night bender. Some acted as though they were in pain, rubbing their little legs around their heads and eyes. Still others landed on flowers and then simply forgot how to fly away again, as if paralyzed. I'd see them late in the evening - long after they should have gone back to the hive - sitting on a petal or hanging on a stem, and they'd still be there the next morning, covered in dew.

I know my neighbors already think I'm nuts for squatting on the sidewalk near a bed of clover giving pep talks to the little guys, and for cheering them on as they buzzed around the bee balm, foxglove and campanula in my garden, so it will come as no surprise that I've signed up to participate in the Great Sunflower Project. I can hardly wait to tell the bees about it!

Thursday, April 10, 2008


4165 Hamilton Avenue
M-Sat: 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Sun: 11 a.m.-8 p.m.

Cincinnati’s Northside neighborhood is filled with interesting, eclectic shops and restaurants that reflect the diverse, creative spirit of the community. There is groovy Shake-It Records, one of the best independent record shops in the country; Northside Tavern hosting live, local music every night of the week; Bughouse Video for all your cult, foreign, and film-noir needs; and an array of independent restaurants dishing up delicious homemade delights.

Melt bills itself as an "eclectic deli," serving vegan-friendly gourmet sandwiches, soups and salads using whole, unprocessed ingredients in environmentally-friendly packaging. They source locally when possible and are mindful of re-investing in the local economy and community.

The restaurant is appealingly quirky with brightly painted walls of berry and periwinkle, and comfy, mismatched tables and chairs. Dine-in meals are served on funky thrift-store dinnerware, and local artists showcase their work here too, further decorating the cheerful space. When the weather is nice, be sure to check out the zenlike outdoor dining area in back.

Nearly everything on the menu is vegetarian or vegan. There are veggie cheesesteaks made with seasoned seitan, vegan melts of savory, baked tofu, BBQ hoagies made with tempeh, and a half-dozen awesome, healthy salads served with multi-grain bread from Over-the-Rhine bakery Shadeau. The restaurant makes all their dressings in-house - there are four vegan and four vegetarian dressings on offer - and for $4.50 you can get a 16 oz. side of dressing to go.

All the melts and deli sandwiches are served with a choice of sunchips, mixed greens or ginger rainbow slaw, or for a small upcharge you can substitute from their a la carte menu, which includes pesto veggie pasta salad, vegan penne & "cheeze," seasonal fruit salad or roasted rosemary potatoes with curried catsup. They also boast a mean vegan chili that garners rave reviews, and their soup of the day is always vegetarian. Best of all, nothing on the menu runs more than $7.50. How fantastic is that!?

I'll be honest - I'm not a huge fan of "fake meats." Don't get me wrong. I think they serve a purpose, and were useful when I first became a vegetarian, but since at that time they weren't as easy to source as they are today, I learned not to rely on them. Although I was tempted by the BBQ tempeh hoagie, on my most recent visit I decided to go with their daily special - the Torpedo Burrito (a baked tortilla wrap of scrambled tofu, guacamole and spinach) served with a spicy, homemade pico de gallo. The wrap was healthy enough but I felt it lacked seasoning. Tofu doesn't have a flavor on it's own, instead it takes on the taste of marinade or whatever it is cooked with. The scrambled tofu in the burrito was very bland, but could have been alleviated had they scrambled it with some basil pesto or other seasoning. The addition of pico de gallo helped, but there wasn't enough of it. I also got a side of the roasted rosemary potatoes, which were fantastically tasty if a little cold by the time they reached the table, and the curried catsup was a welcome surprise.

My non-veggie dining companion opted for The Joan of Arc, a roast beef melt of red peppers, roasted garlic, blue cheese, caramelized onion and provolone melted on focaccia. Other non-veg items include Tuscan chicken, Albacore tuna and turkey.

The restaurant offers several meal-sized appetizers, including a Mediterranean plate of homemade hummus, olive tapenade and vegan pesto pasta salad, a brie plate served with fresh fruit, toasted walnuts, mixed greens and multi-grain crackers, and nachos covered in vegan chili and pico de gallo. For the kids there is baked grilled cheese, gourmet PB&J made of natural peanut butter with raspberry preserves on French bread, or a protein choice (turkey, chicken breast, roast beef, tuna or baked tofu) served with sunchips or fruit.

Although I've heard grumblings about Melt's portions being on the small side, personally I haven't found that to be the case. In fact I have yet to leave room for their scrumptious baked goods, which is a real shame since Melt offers a nice variety of housemade vegan dessserts. There are also cupcakes, brownies, bread puddings and key lime bars from local bakery Take the Cake.

Much like the community it serves, Melt is open-minded, friendly and inviting. It's the kind of place that encourages patrons to linger and soak in the hip, unpretentious ambiance.
Melt on Urbanspoon

Friday, April 4, 2008

Jordan Valley

Jordan Valley
211 W. 4th Street
Open: M-Tues 11am-11pm
Wed-Sat 11am-1am
Sunday call ahead, as they sometimes close early

A lot of folks shy away from Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine because they are unfamiliar with it and aren’t sure they will like it. Even some vegetarians I know aren’t “adventurous” enough to give it a try, which is a shame since it is not only incredibly tasty but healthy to boot.

I’ve listed a menu primer at the end to aid those unfamiliar with this culinary style, but let me just say that if you are interested in trying it but are worried about wasting money if you don’t like it, go to Jordan Valley.

Located next to the Scientology center between Plum and Elm, the restaurant doesn’t look like much from the sidewalk and on rainy days there always seem to be smokers puffing away under their canopy, but don’t let that put you off visiting, because it’s a great place to get delicious Middle East vegetarian food at rock-bottom prices.

The family-owned and operated restaurant looks a little scruffy and well worn as you walk in the door, with some travel posters of Jordan, a couple of camel-shaped planters and artificial trees the only decorations, but hey, we aren’t paying for ambiance here and if that’s what it takes to keep the prices down, so be it.

There are numerous vegetarian selections in every section of their modest menu. Of course there are plenty of salads: Greek, Middle Eastern, Tabouli, and Fattoush. I was disappointed in the Middle Eastern salad I chose on one occasion, as it was absolutely drowning in tahini. Tahini, a paste made from toasted sesame seeds and olive oil, is a staple in Middle Eastern cooking and is probably best known as an ingredient in hummus and baba ghanoush. I love the taste of it in moderation, but the salad was really swimming with it. Too bad.

There is a combo platter of several items on the appetizer list, which includes hummus, baba ghanoush, falafel and tabouli. There’s also manakeesh (spelled manikesh at Jordan Valley), a Lebanese flat bread pastry topped with a spice mix of thyme, sumac, toasted sesame seeds and olive oil. For those afraid to risk it, there are also veggie burgers, fries and cheese pizza.

By far my favorite items on their menu are the pita wraps; not the powdery, tough supermarket-style pita that some places use, but a melt-in-your-mouth soft but substantial flatbread similar to Indian naan, stuffed with your choice of falafel, hummus, Greek salad or grilled cheese. Do yourself a favor and try the falafel wrap – it’s a meal in itself and at $3.79 is an unbelievable deal. The falafel is perfectly made; ground chickpea patties that are crispy brown on the outside yet soft and crumbly on the inside. GORGEOUS! I frequently make falafel at home, but since I bake instead of fry mine, they are never quite as savory – or as addicting - as the ones at Jordan Valley. They are generous with the falafel too, as usually there are three or four croquettes stuffed inside, along with onions, lettuce, pickle, tomato, and hot banana peppers, with what tastes like tzatziki drizzled on top. Sometimes you get beets and cucumbers too; I guess it depends on who’s making the wrap that day. The falafel wrap is hot, filling and seriously addicting. I swear sometimes I wake up in the night craving one, and just writing about it is making me yearn to dash over there for a fix.

At least it’s an addiction I can easily afford!

As promised, here is a Middle Eastern cuisine primer. I’ve included a pronunciation guide for each item, but there is usually more than one way to pronounce many of them. This is also not a complete listing of Middle East and Mediterranean cuisine, as I am listing only the vegetarian items available at Jordan Valley.

Baba Ghanoush: [bah-bah gah-NOOSH] A puree of eggplant, tahini, olive oil, lemon juice and garlic. Used as a spread or dip for pita and flatbread.

Couscous: [KOOS-koos] granular semolina (cracked wheat) that can be cooked and served with milk as porridge, with a dressing as a salad, or sweetened and mixed with fruit as a dessert.

Falafel: [feh-LAH-fehl] small, deep-fried croquettes or balls of spiced, ground chickpeas. My husband likes to make the joke “I don’t wanna feel awful” whenever he’s asked if he’d like falafel for dinner. If you don't get the joke, say it out loud.

Fattoush: [fah-TOOSH or fah-DOOSH] Salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes, onion, lettuce and green pepper with lemon juice, olive oil, parsley, mint, garlic, salt and vinegar, topped with toasted pita bread. Sumac lends a slightly sour taste to this dish.

Greek Salad: Also known as “village salad,” it is comprised of chopped tomato, cucumber, red onion, salt, pepper and oregano with olive oil, although common additions are green pepper, kalamata olives, feta cheese and pepperoncini. When added to a pita, tzatziki sauce is often used.

Hummus: [HOOM-uhs or HUM-uhs] Thick puree made of mashed chickpeas seasoned with lemon juice, garlic, and olive or sesame oil. Sometimes tahini is also added.

Manakeesh/Manikesh: [mne-eesh] Similar to small pizza with a blend of thyme and olive oil.

Middle East Salad: Salad made of diced tomato, cucumber, onion and tahini.

Pita bread: [PEE-tah] Also known as pocket bread, this flatbread is made of white or whole-wheat flour.

Tabouli/Tabbouleh: [tuh-BOO-luh] Bulgur wheat mixed with chopped tomatoes, onions, mint, parsley, olive oil and lemon juice. Usually served cold.

Tahini: [tah-HEE-nee] Thick paste made of ground, toasted sesame seed, used to flavor various dishes.

Tzatziki sauce: [za-ZEE-kee] Creamy combination of yogurt, cucumber and garlic, usually served as a dip or dressing.

All of Jordan Valley’s vegetarian options run under $5 except for the combination platter, which costs $7.50 and when you consider the number of appetizers included, that’s excellent value and a great way to sample what they’ve got. Another plus: they are open late seven days a week, serving up delicious and cheap vegetarian fare well into the night.
Jordan Valley on Urbanspoon