Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Favorite Places to Eat in Cincinnati

Been writing a lot about the Bearcats lately, and still excited for the rest of the year, but wanted to take a break after the awful performance of the defense so far to talk about something else.  What follows is my list of my favorite places to eat in Cincinnati.  Lots of people do best of lists, but I find it hard to take my own opinions and say “these are the best.”  For this list price matters.  I absolutely loved the Precinct the first time I went there and if someone told me they are paying for whatever meal I want I would probably go there, but it’s a $70-$100 dollar per person meal by the time you get out of there so going there with any sort of regularity just isn’t in my budget.  All of these places are places I could go to at least somewhat regularly.  There are some pricier spots but even those you are looking at half the price of a trip to the Precinct.  Enjoy.

16.  The Eagle -  Located in Over the Rhine, the Eagle is a relatively new spot.  I’ve only been once and it specializes in a food I don’t like to eat often, but that food was so good it goes on the list.  That food is the fried chicken.  I went there and got the quarter pound of white meat with an order of French fries.  It was delicious.  Others I have talked to swear by the mac and cheese and I look forward to going back soon and trying it.  The Eagle has an awesome beer selection.  It’s the only place I’ve eaten that had Ithaca Flower Power IPA on draft (one of my personal favorite beers, though it sometimes is a little hard to find).  Additionally, the pricing at the The Eagle is very reasonable.  The only downside is the often long wait, but if you are willing to make a night of it and enjoy a couple of great beers while you wait, I would highly recommend this spot. 

15.  Oakley Pub and Grill- Been to a bunch of places and had a lot of bar food, Oakley Pub and Grill is my favorite of those spots.  The prices on the food are great.  All the typical bar food is solid and the fish is excellent.  They have a solid beer selection with reasonable prices, but I really enjoy going up on a Thursday night to enjoy a half price bottle of wine and their pulled pork special.  They have a special food item every day, the best I’ve tried was the pulled pork French fries.  If you get there at the right time, the outside seating is an ideal spot to watch a sporting event.  For bar food and sports viewing, I highly recommend Oakley Pub and Grill.

14.  Double Dragon II-  I had to include a Chinese carry-out spot on this list, because I love Chinese carry-out.  Since Mark Pi left Cincinnati, I’ve been trying to find a Chinese carry-out spot to take its place.  I’ve gotten Chinese from many places all over the city, but no place had the combination of delicious takeout and reasonable price that I found at Double Dragon II.  This is great, because it also happens to sit about a mile away from my apartment.  I pick up food from Double Dragon at least once a month and enjoy the hell out of it every time. 

13.  Sugar and Spice- The only breakfast spot on my list, Sugar and Spice is the best breakfast spot in the city.  I discovered the place probably about a year ago and have been back a few times since.  Everything I have had has been delicious from the Omelet’s to the Peach French Toast.  Most days the owner walks around with little samples for you to enjoy of various things on the menu.  About the only downsize is that it is always crowded and there is always a wait.  The place is small and the tables put you in close quarters, but I find that to be an enjoyable part of the overall atmosphere.  Sugar of Spice is on Reading Road an Avondale and if you haven’t checked it out yet, do yourself a favor and go. 

12.  Bangkok Bistro-  Cincinnati offers several good Thai food options (actually the city is great for many type of ethnic food), but Bangkok Bistro is my favorite.  I go for the Crispy Pad Thai, which is a great combination of crispy noodles, shrimp, chicken and the other Pad Thai essentials (or whatever it is that gets put in to give it that delicious taste).  They offer you a choice of 1-10 on the spice level.  I like to go for a 6, which packs some noticeable heat, but allows you to enjoy the flavors.  It’s located in East Hyde Park and has plenty of seating, including a small outdoor section.  I have never had any trouble getting in.  The prices are fine, maybe a little higher than some Thai places, but the price is worth it for the quality of the food (and the amount of it). 

11.  Mazunte Taqueria-  This is a recent discovery for me, though I think it may also be a recently opened restaurant.  Located in Madisonville, Mazunte has some of the best tacos in the city and probably my favorite taco chips.  Ordering at Mazunte is a simple as walking up to the counter.  It’s a small restaurant with limited seating, but they do a great job of find everyone a spot as soon as possible.  The build your own margarita bar is a nice touch and the chips and salsa bar is solid as well.  The caso was solid and the chips being so great takes it up a notch.  I particularly loved the steak and pork tacos, but have had them all and they are all good. 

10.  Alfio’s-  Another recent discovery for me, but one that I absolutely have loved on both of my trips there.  Fair warning this is one of the two pricier options on my favorite places to eat in Cincinnati list.  If you get a drink with dinner the meal is probably going to run $30-#35 dollars a person.  That said, if you want a nice meal one night go and enjoy yourself.  My first time there I had the night’s special which was beef tenderloin (cooked a perfect medium rare) and some sort of crab ravioli, which was one of the best meals I’ve ever had.  The second time I ordered off the regular menu and got the 5 cheese angus ravioli, which was also excellent.  Plenty of good, unique options of which I’ve had a taste of a couple others and they were good (including a short rib risotto). 

9.  Adriatico’s-  The best pizza in Cincinnati relocated a couple of years ago and now offers an extensive beer selection.  Adriatico’s is located on McMillen in Clifton in a pretty tiny building.  There is often a crowd, but the food is worth the trip.  Don’t bother with specialty pizza’s like you may find a Dewey’s or places like that, instead a simple Sausage and Pepperoni pizza is about as good as it gets.  The Sausage is cooked perfectly with the right amount of spice and the pepperoni is big and greasy.  The beer selection is great with tons of quality draft beers (sometimes rotating in and out, my favorite trip there was the day they had Three Floyds Alpha King on draft).  It’s hard not to get the pizza when at Adriatico’s but I went for happy hour one day and got the half price wings, which did not disappoint.  Just a great place to go eat. 

8.  Dusmesh-  It’s my favorite Indian spot in the city.  Located at the bottom of Ludlow between the Clifton Gaslight and Northside, Dusmesh offers high quality Indian cuisine.  Last time I went it was still a place you could bring your own bottle of wine to enjoy with the meal (really helpful for keeping the price down).  I’m partial to the Lamb Saag, but I recommend going with a group and sharing.  We usually do the saag, tandoori chicken and chicken tikka masala.  No Indian meal is complete without enjoying the Nan, I am partial to the Onion Nan and the Potato Nan. 

7.  The Cactus Pear-  When I go to the Cactus Pear, I go for one meal, the Caribbean Fajitas.    I have been to the Cactus Pear many times and have never ordered anything else (so I can’t tell you how everything else is, though I assume it’s good).  However, the Caribbean Fajitas are one of my favorite means, great spices, great combination of food (jerk chicken, zucchini, peppers, onions, sweet potato, pineapple salsa, sour cream and lettuce) and a ton of food to enjoy.  The Cactus Pear has very good margaritas as well as good chips and salsa.   Seriously, Caribbean Fajitas, go get them. 

6.  Terry’s Turf Club-  Probably the hardest part of my list was ranking the three burger places that are coming up.  In all honesty Terry’s Turf Club has the best burger, but it also has the longest waits and the stiffest prices.  Terry’s is worth the trip and when you are craving it you probably won’t want anything else.  The selection of sauces and cheeses for the burgers are top notch.  The burgers are enormous, so enormous that halfway through I am always full and considering saving the rest, but the delicious temptation of finishing is just too much.  Terry’s is small and consistently packed.  If you go with just one other person, you will likely be put at a table with another couple, but that’s kind of part of the charm.  For me, their best sauce is the roasted red pepper and goat cheese, but many swear by the burgundy wine and wild mushroom / truffles.  I’m sure most reading have had Terry’s, but if you like Burgers and haven’t, just go.     
5.  Quatman Café-  There is one and Mason and the original in Norwood (on Quatman) of which I have only been to the Norwood restaurant.  This is a no frills kind of place.  It keeps everything simple.  You walk in and sit at white checkered table clothed tables.  The Burgers come with lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles and cheese, that’s it.  And really, that is all a burger needs.  These burgers are excellent.  They are big, juicy, perfectly seasoned and delicious.  And the best part about Quatman Café is you can get in and out with a burger, fried and a beer for less than 10 dollars.  It’s an unbelievably great deal.  I’ve been to Quatman a ton of times and only had to wait for a table once.  The food is always prepared quickly.  I always consider getting something else when I go, but can never pull the trigger.  Tried the chili once and it was very good.  If you want a top notch burger at a great price, I highly recommend Quatman Café. 

4.  Gordo’s-  The Burger place on the list I ultimately rated highest.  Until I hate the roasted red pepper and goat cheese sauce at Terry’s I would have said Gordo’s had the best burger.  Even after, the burger is right there.  I recommend the Jean Robert or the Gordo (the Jean Robert being my slight personal favorite, though I go back and forth).  When Gordo’s first opened I went all the time.  It seemed like the place had everything priced at the lowest possible amount.  They had an amazing beer selection and the high quality beers always seemed to be priced 2-3 dollars lower than anywhere else.  The Burgers and Fries were a steal (8 bucks was what I remember when it opened).  The prices at Gordo’s have gone up, but that doesn’t mean they are bad prices, just not the absurdly great deal it was when it first opened.  You can still get an incredibly high quality burger and fries for 10-11 bucks.  They still have a great bottle beer selection and also have constantly rotating 4-5 taps of quality draft beer.  Just a great place to go eat.  I’ve been to Gordo’s so often I’ve even ventured away from the burgers.  The chicken quesadilla, fish tacos and pork belly tacos were all excellent and again prices were good.  Because of the top notch burgers, beer selection, non-burger options and reasonable prices I rated Gordo’s highest among my three favorite burger joints. 

3.  Bakersfield-  It’s very hyped and very crowded, but the hype is correct and it’s worth dealing with the crowds.  Bakersfield has the best tacos I ever eaten.  I am particularly partial to their two types of pork tacos (the pastor and the chochinita pibil) as well as their short rib taco.  Each taco has its own very unique flavor profile, different from so many of the tacos I have eaten anywhere else.  Additionally, Bakersfield has the best Queso dip I have ever eaten.  Great tacos and great queso are pretty much all you need for a great Mexican place, but lastly Bakersfield has an awesome whiskey selection and makes an excellent margarita.  I highly recommend the Barrel Aged Manhattan.  It may be a little pricey, but it’s a delicious beverage. 

2.  Montgomery Inn-  The other pricey option on my list of favorite places to eat.  Montgomery Inn barbecue sauce is delicious and different from pretty much any barbecue sauce I’ve ever had.  Their ribs are fall off the bone tender and the sauce compliments them perfectly.  However, Montgomery Inn is not limited to just ribs.  When I go, I almost always get some sort of combo.  I cannot go without the ribs, but the other stuff is just so good to.  My two favorites are the shrimp, which comes with a plum sauce and spicy mustard, as well as the duck with a nice orange sauce.  And of course there are the always great Saratoga chips.  Montgomery Inn has been my favorite restaurant for most my life and I make no apologies for it. 

1.  Eli’s Barbecue-  Ribs and pulled pork are probably my two favorite foods and Eli’s barbecue offers delicious versions of both.  Eli’s does not give you a ton of choices, but everything there is so good that this doesn’t matter (well I say everything but I’ve only had the Ribs and Pulled Pork, though I’ve been told the Hot Dogs are awesome).  If you go on a nice night, you may have to wait a while in line and then for your food, but it is well worth the wait.  Plus, all the waiting is on the front end as once you are done with your meal you don’t have to wait for a check.  Eli’s is the perfect place to go on a nice night, because of its extensive outdoor seating.  Eli’s is bring your own beer, so you are not going to run up your bill buying drinks.  Just sit outside, have a beer or two, and enjoy the evening.  Their sides are good as well.  I highly recommend the jalapeno corn bread and I almost always get the mac and cheese.  Lastly, Eli’s prices are as good as it gets for the food you are getting.  A pulled pork sandwich and two sides in 8 dollars and because there are no waiters for your outside order that’s the extent of the cost.  Talk about an amazing place to eat. 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

How the Bearcats Can Beat Ohio State

Saturday is a day all Bearcat fans have been looking forward to, as UC gets a chance at one of the Ohio State Universities (the Columbus Branch).  Nobody disagrees that Ohio State has been the premier college football program in the state of Ohio, but as the other major University in the state Bearcat fans believe this game should be played more often (hell I believe in basketball it should be played every year and in football I’d like it to be played on a home and home basis).  Sadly, this game does not get played often and because of OSU being scared to play it in Cincinnati the game got moved back to Columbus.  Because the game is played so rarely, a win here would be that much sweeter. 

However, winning in Columbus will be a tall order.  Though Ohio State struggled against Virginia Tech, this is still an immensely talent team with blue chippers all over the field.   The Buckeyes freshman QB has gained valuable experience already and will be much better than he was in Ohio State’s early loss.  This is former Bearcat Urban Meyer’s third year at Ohio State and the Buckeyes have only lost 3 games in that time.  Given some of the Bearcat’s struggles early this season winning may seem like a daunting task, but I believe there is a formula for success that the Bearcats are equipped to achieve.  If the Bearcats perform at the high level they are capable of, in many ways they may be a very difficult matchup for Ohio State.

To me the biggest matchup in this game is the UC wide receivers vs. the Ohio State defensive backs.  Make no mistake, this will be the best set of wide receivers the Buckeyes face in the 2014 regular season.  Going into the season the biggest question on the Ohio State roster (prior to the injury to Braxton Miller) was whether the Ohio State secondary could be better than last season.  So far this year Ohio State ranks forth nationall in pass defense, but that number may largely be a result of who they have played.  Ohio State started with a Navy team that never throws the ball, then played a Virginia Tech team breaking in a new QB (and one that has rarely been known as a prolific passing offense) and then played a completely outclassed Kent State team.  So while Buckeyes fans may be encouraged by the secondary so far, this will be the first true test of the season.

Last season the Buckeyes ranked 121st in pass defense and the Buckeyes didn’t exactly play a murderer’s row of passing offenses.  Yea, Clemson was loaded in the bowl game, but teams like Michigan State, Michigan, Cal and to a lesser extent Northwestern and Illinois weren’t amazing passing teams and all of them were able to gash the Buckeye secondary, at times, through the air.  This is an area that Ohio State cannot feel 100% comfortable with, despite the solid start and the Bearcats have the talent to exploit it.  In the first game the Bearcats had 6 different wide receivers catch TD passes.  The Bearcats have had 9 different receivers (plus 2 running backs and a tight end) catch passes in their 2 games.  They have size, speed and burst from their receivers.  This is a talented group that will absolutely test the Ohio State secondary.

For the Bearcats to beat Ohio State they are going to have to challenge the Buckeye secondary consistently.  They are going to need to get first downs and keep the defense off the field for extended periods of time.  Gunner is going to need some time to throw, but he’ll need to take advantage of a strong group of receivers and hopefully an Ohio State secondary that still has issues.  I think the run will have to be a secondary option against Ohio State.  Their defensive line is too good to simply try to run at them regularly.  If the passing game is working and the Bearcats are exposing the secondary, I believe the running game can offer a good change of pace and can be an area of strength for the Bearcats. 

Offensively the Bearcats have shown flashes of being incredibly explosive this year (particularly the first half against Toledo), but defensively has been a struggle so far.  I think Ohio State is too good offensively for UC to shut them down.  Their offensive line will be a big advantage and Meyer has traditionally boasted some of the best rushing attacks in the country.  Despite that, UC has talent and speed on defense.  If the Bearcats defense plays a solid game and show significant improvement from the first two games, they can slow this Buckeye team down enough to win the game.

My hope is the Bearcats get aggressive with run blitzes and pressure designed to keep Barrett in the pocket.  The hope would be to make a few stops on first and second down that put the Buckeyes in third and long situations.  I know Ohio State is going to have success running the ball, but some well-timed run blitzes and pressure could get them off schedule.  When UC gets OSU off schedule, it must take advantage.  Simply put, UC must stop Ohio State on third and long situations if it hopes to leave Columbus with a win.

I also hope to see the Bearcats use a few more man concepts in the secondary this game than the first two games.  Many of the chunk plays the first two games were given up where players left their man either not understanding the coverage or thinking there was help in another area.  I think man concepts would limit these types of mistakes.  I am sure the talented Ohio State receivers will be able to create some separation, but even that will at least require a good read from Barrett and not allow him simply to throw to spots where receivers have been left wide open. 

I’ve heard some people speculate that UC was playing vanilla with their defense the first couple of games so as to not put anything on film.  I partly agree with this interpretation, but I do not think it was in the hopes of not putting anything on film.  I think UC hoped to get acclimated to the new defensive system at game speed.  I think they were working on their essential concepts and base defenses.  I do not think that style will be enough this week.  I think they will have to change it up.  They will have to bring pressure at times and will have to give different looks in the secondary.  The goal should be to make Barrett beat them in third and long situations. 

Additionally, the goal should be to make Barrett beat them by completing multiple passes.  Avoiding the chunk plays that plagued UC the first two weeks will be huge.  When UC brings some pressure the design of the defense should be such that everything stays in front of their secondary.  Sure tackling will be important in these situations.  In the Buckeyes loss to VT this year, Barrett was only 9-29.  I don’t think the UC defense is capable of that kind of success, but that does show me that making him try to beat them without big plays would be the right strategy. 

Lastly, the Bearcat special teams must not kill them.  This was an issue last year.  I don’t think UC has to be exceptional, but they cannot shank punts, give up big returns or turn the ball over on special teams.  Perhaps just as importantly, the field goal kickers must deliver if given an opportunity inside 40 yards.  The Bearcats have the talent to win this game, they have areas where they can expose the Buckeye defense, but executing at a higher level than they have so far this year is critical.  I think the Bearcats need to score in the mid 30s or higher to win.  I have not seen a high enough level of consistent execution yet this season to predict a Bearcat victory.  I think they are capable, I think they will score on Ohio State, but I have not seen the defense do enough yet to predict a win.

Prediction:  Buckeyes 41 Bearcats 31
(At least I feel decent about my chances of being wrong on this prediction…Go Bearcats)