48 Hours Eating our Way Through Cincinnati

When my Dad moved from the tropical paradise of Barbados to the not-even-close-to-a-tropical-anything city of Cincinnati, Ohio last year, I was more than a little bummed. My vacations spent sitting on white sandy beaches, sipping Banks, & eating copious amounts of flying fish would be replaced by… well, I wasn’t really sure what. Despite the fact that I was born in Cleveland & attended college in Columbus, I hadn’t really spent much time in Cincinnati. So when my Dad invited us up for a long weekend over Memorial Day, I figured it would be a great chance to see my Dad, relax, & not do much else because what really was there to do?
I couldn’t have been more wrong!
We flew direct from DCA to Dayton Regional Airport Friday evening. Since Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky International Airport is the nation’s most expensive airport (the difference between the two? $200 each!), Dayton is a good option if you’re visiting someone who doesn’t mind the hour drive. Dayton, however, is not a good option if you already have a sketchy history with the airport that may come back to haunt you (let’s just say that I didn’t really anticipate driving home on Monday evening…)
For dinner, we headed back to through Cincinnati, over the Ohio River & into Covington, Kentucky, an extremely charming town with brick streets lined with restaurants, bars, & shops. The first words out of my mouth: “Who knew Kentucky could be so cute?”

(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

Our destination for the evening was the Dee Felice Cafe, a gumbo slurping, martini serving, jazz rockin’ restaurant just over the river. Walking into Dee Felice, you’re immediately transported to New Orleans. A five piece jazz band blasts old school favorites from a stage over the bar. The calamari is fresh, the martinis are cold (& only $5 on Friday nights!), the jambalaya & shrimp creole spicy (they’re not kidding – really spicy), & the service friendly & attentive. I could have sat there all evening, bobbing my head to the sounds of Louisiana jazz.

(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

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Whether in Cincinnati or Barbados, Saturday morning to my Dad means farmers market time. An excellent chef, he heads to the market to pick up his produce, bread, meats, & cheeses for the week – tres European. We tagged along with him Saturday morning to the Findlay Market, which instantly brought back memories of Saturday mornings at the West Side Market in Cleveland, my five year old self tagging along as we perused rows of polish sausage, sweet chocolately cakes, & doughy pierogi.

(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

Findlay Market is in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood of downtown Cincinnati & has been around since 1852. Every weekend between April – November, vendors set up open-air booths along the sides of the market selling everything from fresh herbs, to produce, to gelato, to BBQ, to flowers. This scene is vibrant & community-y & you just don’t feel like you’re in Ohio. I asked my Dad to recommend some of his favorite vendors & he said the following:

– Mama lo Hizo: the best burritos in Cincinnati, especially the breakfast burrito

– Daisy Mae’s: excellent veggies, fruit and fresh flowers

– Krause’s for cheeses and deli meats

(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

For lunch on Saturday, we met some friends & their adorable eight month old daughter at Hofbräuhaus, right over the river in Newport, Kentucky. Modeled after the “legendary” Hofbräuhaus in Munich, this huge restaurant felt like the real thing. The main hall is lined with community tables to encourage conversation &, of course, beer drinking out of enormous liter beer steins. Because of the little one, we sat in a smaller side room which is non-smoking (so weird to have to choose!), but nevertheless still felt authentically German. We sipped on half liter glasses of Munich Weizen & munched on giant Bavarian pretzels with beer cheese dipping sauce. The bratwurst was the real thing – such a difference from what you buy in the grocery store! The atmosphere was fun & it’s definitely kid friendly at lunch time.

(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

Following a much needed nap & some good ol’ relaxing, we got cleaned up to head to dinner at the chic, charming, so not typical Ohio, Nicola’s. Tucked into a neighborhood that has seen some tough times (it was ground zero for the riots in 2001), this 15 year old restaurant serves up some amazingly authentic Italian food. The anti-pasti is served on a wagon wheel sized lazy susan & comes with a variety of fresh meats & cheeses, many purchased at the Findley Market. The pasta is made fresh in house – my squid ink tagliolini with lobster & cauliflower is some of the best I’ve ever had – & the fish is flown in fresh daily. Dessert was also good – we sampled an interesting spin on authentic tiramisu (same ingredients, different presentation).

(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

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There’s nothing more American than watching a baseball game, on Memorial Day weekend, under a bright blue sky. And there’s definitely nothing more American than watching a baseball game, on Memorial Day weekend, under a bright blue sky, from a padded, shaded seat on the concierge level of the ballpark (capitalism at its finest!). We were lucky enough to get my Dad’s company seats to see the Cincinnati Reds beat the Colorado Rockies in a home run derby-esque game on Sunday. The highlight of sitting on the concierge level is that they’re constantly giving you more complimentary food than you could possibly imagine: BBQ sandwiches, hot dogs, cheeseburgers, bratwurst, soda pop, ice cream sandwiches, grilled chicken salad, fresh fruit salad (yes, really) &, because it was so hot out, popsicles during the sixth inning. It was a fun afternoon at a beautiful stadium – Americana at its finest!

(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

On Monday, we headed back to up Dayton, stopping at the Original Pancake House for brunch (a favorite discovered during our first trip to Chicago). We said our good-byes at the Dayton Airport & thanked my Dad for a great weekend.
Who knew what a hidden gem the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky area actually is? That there are so many cool neighborhoods to wander? That there are so many great, authentic restaurants? The city is definitely worth a second visit – luckily we’ll be back in July!
Some other places worth a stop in the Cincinnati area…
Montgomery Inn: this Cincinnati institution is world famous for their ribs, which are indeed some of the best I’ve ever had. Come hungry, as the portions are huge. The ribs are obviously the main draw, but the pulled pork, beef brisket & roasted chicken are also highlights.
Hyde Park neighborhood: the super cute Hyde Park neighborhood is located on the east side of Cincinnati. Home to a town square lined with shops & restaurants, it makes for a lovely afternoon of wandering. Make sure & stop by the old school Graeters ice cream parlor – no trip to Ohio is complete without it! If you’re lucky enough to visit in the summer, there’s only one flavor you should be ordering: the fantastic strawberry chip.

(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

Habits Café: a welcoming patio overlooks a very cool old fashioned movie theater in the hip, historic Oakley neighborhood. We stopped here for a drink one evening – their beer list is thick & impressive. The perfect way to spend a balmy summer evening.
U.S. Air Force Museum: located not too far from the Dayton Airport & only about an hour north of Cincinnati, this is a great (free) museum, which tells the history of the U.S. Air Force. There are lots of aircraft to marvel at, including an impressive collection of presidential aircraft. Make sure you make a reservation ahead of time to go see that exhibit: the collection includes the Air Force One plane that carried back President Kennedy’s body.

(C) Christina Saull – All Rights Reserved

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About christina

Christina is a 30-something D.I.N.K. travel writer & photographer who travels the world often wedged into the middle seat. Follow her on Twitter & Facebook.

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3 Responses to 48 Hours Eating our Way Through Cincinnati

  1. cincy March 2, 2013 at 5:54 am #

    “you just don’t feel like you’re in Ohio” what does that mean?

    also, check your Findlay spelling.

    • christina March 2, 2013 at 1:50 pm #

      Thanks for correcting me on “Findlay!”

      Findlay Market felt very European to me, not like the small farmers markets I’ve been to elsewhere in Ohio. An interesting, eclectic mix of food, plus great walkability, felt very unique.

      Hope you enjoy the market as much as I do!

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