Tuesday, July 28, 2009

City View Tavern

City View Tavern
403 Oregon Street
Mount Adams
http://www.cityviewtavern.com/

The mercurial, interactive web site is a fitting introduction to this fun establishment, where half the tiny structure is taken up with a pool table, and the other half offers jawdropping views of the city.

City View Tavern: does what it says on the tin

The tavern rocks inexpensive bar food and pints. The menu is small and consists mostly of burgers, but the vegetarian patron isn't neglected. There are two meat-free sandwiches: the "Big Ted No Ted" ($3.50) is a cheesy kaiser roll with all the fixin's minus a beef patty, and the "Big Cheese" ($3) is a grilled cheese and tomato sandwich slathered in brown mustard. Everything here is so affordable that we splurged on pitchers of Moerlein OTR and the Big Cheese and still had plenty of change left for the jukebox.

The Big Cheese sammich and a pitcher of Christian Moerlein

The humble sandwiches are appetizing and hit the spot, and well-priced pitchers keep everyone happy, but both are secondary to the panoramic skyline views. The teetering outside deck is the place to be at The City View, where you are eye-level with the tree-tops.

The twin towers of Procter & Gamble look like grimacing sentries

Looking south toward Newport from the tavern's patio

Afraid of heights? Me too, but I was ok out on the terrace as long as I didn't look straight down. For those not wanting to chance it outside, or if the weather isn't agreeable, the Tavern's wall of windows gives you the vista without the virescence.

City View Tavern on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Hofbrauhaus

Hofbrauhaus
3rd and Saratoga St.
Newport, KY
http://www.hofbrauhausnewport.com/

Although we live within staggering distance of Hofbrauhaus, we don’t visit as often as we could because there isn’t much for the vegetarian diner. Traditional German cuisine is based primarily on pork dishes, and to expect their food to be anything more than that served in a traditional German restaurant is unrealistic.

Welkommen!

The primary draw for Hofbrauhaus is their beer, which is brewed on site using only hops, barley-malt and water. It is very, very good. So good, in fact, that it is nearly impossible on the weekends to get into the fantastic biergarten. We passed by the restaurant one Saturday evening after a Reds game and the queue to get in was at least 100 people deep, and as the restaurant and biergarten were at capacity, no one was getting in until someone else left. And no one was leaving; once you are there, the festive atmosphere keeps you firmly planted. To say that the place is jumping on the weekends is a vast understatement. It's no wonder merrymakers dance on the tables - there's no room elsewhere.

Beware the Chicken Dance!

There are no prices on the beer menu, but a half-litre clocks in at $4.50 and a litre around $8. Can’t live without the giant mug? Opt to keep yours for an additional fee. The restaurant has a ceremonial keg tapping at 7 p.m. on the last Wednesday of each month to celebrate the next month's specialty and, since the limited editions tend to run out prior to month's end, attending a keg tapping will guarantee a sample.

The brewhouse

The half-litre stein

The Bier Sampler

Hofbrauhaus offers a Gardenburger entrée for vegetarians, so kudos for that, even though there is nothing noteworthy about it. Non-vegetarian food at Hofbrauhaus can be hit or miss. On a recent visit Steve opted for the schnitzel cordon bleu, which was supposed to be a fried pork cutlet stuffed with ham and Swiss cheese. Instead, the schnitzel came topped with sliced ham and bier cheese sauce. When we mentioned this to our server she said that the restaurant no longer stuffs the schnitzel, which is unfortunate, because the meat was tough and dry, and no amount of cheese was going to cover that up.

The stuffed schnitzel that wasn't

Not in the mood for a veggie burger, I ordered the pretzels w/ bier cheese appetizer as my main dish because I knew from previous experience that it’s usually a good bet, but on this occasion the dough hadn’t been heated through so the pretzels were still cold in the middle, plus the bier cheese was lukewarm and coagulated, with a skin on top that suggested it had been sitting around awhile. Perhaps it is simply the luck of the draw though, because a week later we hung out in the beer garden with friends and the pretzel/bier cheese appetizer was amazing; piping hot, soft pretzels and equally hot, gooey cheese perfect for dipping. When they get it right, Hofbrauhaus has the best soft pretzels around.

Pretzels and bier cheese

There are plenty of vegetarian-friendly appetizers on the menu, ranging in price from $7.50-$9, or opt for the $12.99 Newport Combo Sampler for variety. Choices include Knusprige Zucchini (fried zucchini), Kartoffelpfannkuchen (potato pancakes), onion rings, fried pickles, sauerkraut balls and the aforementioned pretzels with bier cheese. Don’t bother with the soups; none are vegetarian. Likewise avoid the specialty salads, although they do offer a lone meat-free salad on the assortment of side dishes.

The side salad

The Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky area has a very rich and storied brewing history, due in no small part to the German immigrants who settled here over 100 years ago. The brewery names alone are a perfect indicator of this strong German heritage: Weidemann, Hudepohl, Burger, Bavarian Brewing Company, Christian Moerlein. In fact by the 1900 census the German population in Cincinnati burgeoned to over 60%, before anti-German hysteria took hold during World War I and streets, place names and even surnames were changed to sound more American.

Although a lot of the regional culture was suppressed during the first half of the last century, the hard-working populace remained, as have their children and grandchildren. That Munich-based Hofbrauhaus would choose our area as their first American brewery and restaurant is a no-brainer, and it has certainly helped bring German culture back into the mainstream. Just check out the biergarten on a Saturday night.

Hofbrauhaus Newport on Urbanspoon

Friday, July 17, 2009

The Machine Room

The Machine Room
Great American Ball Park
100 Main Street
Downtown

For those of us who grew up in the during the era of the Big Red Machine - when the Cincinnati Reds dominated the National League year after year and won back-to-back World Series titles - this sports bar inside Great American Ball Park should be a Reds fan's dream. Decorated with memorabilia from the halcyon years of 1970-1976, The Machine Room delivers a satisfying dose of nostalgia to long-time fans. The bar opens three hours prior to game time and the wall of windows provides a great opportunity for early arrivals to watch batting practice.

Welcome to The Machine

A view of the outfield from our table

Outdoor seating is also available

The Machine Room's full service bar is surrounded by high-definition televisions, ensuring that no one misses a bit of the action come game time, and it's also the place to be at the end of the game, when Fox Sports Ohio commentator Jim Day stops by for post-game wrap-up.

Jim Day prepares to go on-air

We attend a lot of Reds home games but had never visited The Machine Room because their menu isn't posted online and I wasn't sure there would be anything for the vegetarian diner. There was only one way to find out, so we got there early to give it a try. To view the menu, click here.

Fancy a game on the Mr. Redlegs pool table?

First off, the only vegetarian "entree" is LaRosa's cheese pizza. Non-meat eaters that don't want pizza are relegated to a couple of deep-fried, greasy appetizers or a side salad. I asked our server if we could get the Mountain of Nachos appetizer sans ground beef and she assured me that it was no problem. What she didn't tell us was that the restaurant doesn't reduce the cost. I think that's naughty.

Secondly, the food really isn't very good, even for a sports bar. One would think that a sports bar inside a ball park would offer something other than what's served at the dozens of vendor kiosks, but actually they serve the exact same food and charge a premium for it. I won't go as far as to say the food was awful, but it was pretty close. I'll let the photos speak for themselves:

A side salad

The "mountain" of nachos

Montgomery Inn pulled pork sandwich

The damage

As if the food wasn't bad enough, our table was near the restaurant's bussing station and the young man clearing the tables was chucking dishes and cutlery around like he was Edinson Volquez. Every other bite seemed to be accompanied by a loud, jarring crash. Maybe it wouldn't be as noticable in a crowded bar, but we were there early and the place hadn't yet filled up enough to cushion the clatter.

Visit for the memorabilia, not for the food

The Machine Room certainly doesn't live up to the great 70's era Reds team, and if I was one of the storied players of that period I would be embarrassed to be associated with it. Make no mistake, this is sub-par bar food by even sports bar standards. The memorabilia may be a grand slam, but the food is a goose egg.

With nothing good to say about the food and the less said the better about the Reds loss to the Brewers, we can at least enjoy some evening shots from the park:

The Reds Team Shop

Looking north from the stadium

A view of Covington from the plaza



Machine Room on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Green Earth Grill

Green Earth Grill
mobile food cart
Fountain Square
Downtown
http://www.greenearthgrill.com/

Tuesday is Market Day on Fountain Square - local farmers usually found at Findlay Market sell everything from fresh fruit and veg to honey and potted plants, crafters hawk gourmet cookies, organic preserves and natural soaps, and there's even a granny selling homemade monkey bread. Caitlin is cooking away, A Taste From Belgium offers Jean-Francois's famous waffles, and right in the middle of it all is the Green Earth Grill.

Green Earth Grill

Although I am not sure whether or not the little food cart is an offshoot of - or affiliated with - the Loving Cafe, a quick glance at their vegan information packet confirms that they are part of Supreme Master Ching Hai's family. The basic tenets of Suma Ching Hai's Quan Yin Method of enlightenment is similar to that of other Eastern religions: meditation and living a life in accordance with nature, which includes refraining from taking the life of sentient beings (eating no meat, fish, poultry or eggs), among other beliefs.

As with Loving Cafe, the Green Earth Grill relies heavily on meat analogues. While fake meats are not my thing, I like what GEG are trying to do and applaud their efforts to convert the meat-eating masses. Many of the office workers on the Square weren't quite sure what to make of a vegan food cart, but it seemed that quite a few of the souls brave enough to try the free samples were impressed enough to order the full meal. Right on!

There are typically three choices on offer each week, two of which appear to be regular items and one rotating special. So far I have tried the BBQ hot “vings,” which is a seitan dish seasoned with barbeque sauce to taste like chicken wings; a Veggie Gyro of seasoned tofurkey slices, grilled green peppers and onions, diced organic tomatoes and slathered with Vegenaise; and the Summer Salad, which is described as being akin to “eggless egg salad.” Comprised of similar ingredients to egg salad but made with Vegenaise and chickpeas in place of eggs, it is by far the most interesting and best tasting of the three. I don’t like egg salad – eggs plus mayonnaise is just a recipe for clogged arteries as far as I’m concerned – but this healthy alternative was a real treat.

Summer "eggless egg" salad

The only downside to Green Earth Grill’s food is that it is messy. They list the hot vings and summer salad as wraps, but both are served open-faced and brimming with filling. They are impossible to pick up without wearing half, and the plastic forks aren’t as Earth-friendly as a cutlery-free wrap would be. I would suggest they opt for larger flour tortillas and wrap them before serving.

The BBQ Vings wrap

The veggie gyro is a likewise impractical sandwich, with ingredients heaped on top of a small pita. It’s great that the Grill is so generous with their fillings, but it’s no fun constantly worrying that sauce is going to ooze out into your lap or down the front of your suit every time you take a bite. They might want to copy other gyro sellers in town and cocoon the sandwich in deli wrap paper.

Veggie Gyro smothered in sauce

Fountain Square isn’t the only location in town where the Green Earth Grill food cart makes an appearance. It was recently spotted at the Northside 4th of July parade, and is one of the vendors for Second Sunday on Main. If you see it around town, go on and give it a try. These tasty vegan sandwiches are only five bucks and you'll be helping save the planet with each bite.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Food Inc. Documentary opens July 10 at The Esquire

If you missed out on U.C.'s screening of the new Robert Kenner/Eric Schlosser documentary Food, Inc. back in May, there's still time to catch a local screening. The film opens at The Esquire Theatre on July 10. Whole Foods Market will be on hand on opening night with free, organic food samples and coupon books for organic and natural products.

Rated PG 94 min.- This documentary explores how our nation's food supply is now controlled by a handful of corporations. These corporate food giants often put profit ahead of consumer health, the livelihood of the American farmer, the safety of workers and our own environment. We have bigger-breasted chickens, insecticide-resistant soybean seeds, even tomatoes that won't go bad, but with that we also have new strains of e-coli and heavily processed foods. Starring Eric Schlosser, Joel Salatin, Richard Lobb, Carole Morison and Troy Roush.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Recipe: Bruschetta

I know I'm rushing the season a little bit because none of my tomatoes have ripened yet, but the weather insisted that I make a big ole plate of bruschetta and crack open a bottle of prosecco.

The ingredient list: 1 French baguette, olive oil, 1 large tomato or a couple Romas, garlic, fresh basil, mozzarella (Bel Gioioso is vegetarian), salt and pepper


Finely dice the tomato


If using something other than Roma tomatoes, leave them to drain for half an hour


chop fresh basil


This sprig got chomped by insects


Combine tomatoes and basil with a couple glugs of olive oil, then hit with a shake of salt and a crack of black peppercorn


Slice the baguette into half-inch pieces and broil until they begin to brown. Rub browned side with garlic and turn over


Top with slices of fresh mozzarella


Pop bread back into the oven for a few minutes - just long enough for the cheese to get good and melty


Spoon tomato mixture over melted cheese and enjoy!


What's your favorite bruschetta recipe?

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