Cincinnati is a city where Northern and Southern cultures collide

By Ben Young

AAA World Article

Nestled in the rolling hills of the Ohio River valley, Cincinnati is a city where not only state lines intersect, but Northern and Southern cultures collide. American Express, Travel + Leisure, and the New York Times have all identified Cincinnati as a top travel destination over the past year, and it’s no wonder—the city’s quiet but dramatic revitalization efforts have paid off, with energized downtown and Over-the-Rhine neighborhoods showcasing some of the best attractions the city has to offer.

In the past few years, small restaurants featuring notable chefs including Jose Salazar and Jean-Robert de Cavel have become a staple of the city. Pick any neighborhood, and you’re sure to find a collection of dining options to satisfy any palate. The Queen City has quickly developed a big culinary scene with mouthwatering dishes showcasing the best that Northern and Southern cultures have to offer.

The crown jewel of Cincinnati dining is Orchids at Palm Court, located in the historic Hilton Netherland Plaza. The building is one of the best examples of art deco architecture in the country, and the luxurious dining room is the epitome of Jazz Age elegance. You’ll feel like Jay Gatsby sharing the company of Daisy when you dine beneath the lofty ceiling decorated with gilt plaster and ornate frescoes of angels, Apollo in his chariot and classical scenes of 18th-century ladies and gentlemen.

The menu changes daily and presents highly sophisticated dishes made with local produce, such as smoked sturgeon chaud-froid, pan-seared lamb loin with macaire potatoes and roasted halibut with vin jaune sauce. To create these culinary masterpieces, the restaurant harvests from its own herb garden and beehives on the roof. The desserts are something extraordinary. We highly recommend you try the chocolate velvet cake with bourbon mousse.

Known for its steak, seafood and pasta dishes, Boca is a classy yet cozy restaurant with a sophisticated flair that makes it the perfect choice for special occasions. Chef and owner David Falk’s seasonal menu might include creative dishes like beef Wellington with prosciutto, wild mushroom duxelles and black truffle; branzino with bouillabaisse and saffron garlic foam; gnocchi fondata with black truffle and taleggio fondue; and chestnut soup royale with foie gras, prosciutto de parma, fennel, Yukon potatoes and bacon. The dessert menu might include dishes like foie gras macaron and coconut pannacotta, but Boca’s take on Ohio’s classic buckeye dessert shouldn’t be missed; it features a brownie with feuilletine, peanut nougat, opera glaze and peanut butter gelato. With a wine list that seems to be getting bigger and better every day, Boca’s atmosphere and pristine culinary creations are sure to please.

Across the river from downtown Cincinnati in Covington, Kentucky, Bouquet has quickly become known for its monthly four-course tastings and a menu supported by more than 50 local farmers. With a small dining room and bar boasting an extensive list of wine and bourbon selections, the restaurant’s menu changes frequently. Start your dinner with a small plate, such as the Mother Board—featuring four cured meats, five cheeses and a multitude of accompaniments—or the flatbread topped with Kentucky ham and cured egg. Your main course could include a cleverly conceived dish of duck confit with Kentucky mushrooms or a seriously hefty tomahawk pork chop with breakfast radishes and bourbon almond cream sauce. A menu mainstay is the Black Hawk Farm Wagyu burger, served on a brioche bun with melted onion, sauerkraut, pimento cheese and house pickles accompanied by potatoes.

About half an hour outside of Cincinnati in Liberty Township, Ohio, lies a converted farmhouse with concrete floors and exposed rafters and pipes providing a relaxed setting for enjoying delicious farm-to-table fare. Cozy’s challenges any expectations of suburban dining that you may have had, and the seasonally adjusted menu draws heavily upon local produce, some of which is grown on-site. Consider starting your meal with baba ghanoush and toast, the charcuterie plate or maple-bourbon pork belly. Favorites on the dinner menu include crab cakes with fried green tomatoes, buttermilk fried chicken and braised short ribs. The cast-iron scallops with fingerling potatoes and jalapeno bacon creamed corn also do not disappoint. Round out your dining experience with what can only be described as a delicious “slab” of carrot cake that will easily feed two or three people.

Revolution Rotisserie proves that rotisserie chicken can be used to create a wide variety of creative and delicious entrees. Whether at its original location in the Over-the- Rhine neighborhood adjacent to the revitalized Washington Park or its second location in the bohemian neighborhood of Pleasant Ridge, the restaurant prides itself on its hormone- and preservative-free Amish chicken used creatively in nearly all of its dishes. You can order the spit-roasted chicken by white or dark quarter or half—complete with some crisp skin and tender white meat, roasted to perfection. Be sure to pair it with some sides. Tater tots, including a version with parmesan and truffle; Brussels sprouts with plenty of butter and lemon; mac ‘n’ cheese; and glazed carrots are all great options. The chicken is also used in “chitas”—chicken sandwiches made on fresh grilled pita. Named after notable revolutionaries, favorites include the Nelson Mandela (black beans, pepper jack cheese, corn chips, cilantro, tomato and chipotle ranch) and the George Washington (arugula, feta cheese, cucumber, tomato, onion and tzatziki). The poutine makes a great starter and is served over tater tots instead of traditional French fries, and can be topped with chicken, braised short rib and egg for a new take on classic comfort food. 

Entered via Madison Road, it’s a café where you can enjoy afternoon tea, a pastry or a delicious quiche. From the back entrance located off a small roundabout, it’s a worldclass vintage bakery that feels like home and specializes in beautiful and delicious cupcakes, brownies, handcrafted bars, pastries and classic desserts. Whether you’re in the mood for lemon shortbread, macarons, a salted caramel cupcake or a caramel crumb bar, your sweet tooth will be instantly satisfied at BonBonerie. Our recommendation? Try the opera cream torte, the bakery’s signature cake for over 30 years. The double chocolate chip cake is filled and iced with BonBonerie’s to-die-for opera cream filling, and then covered with a rich chocolate glaze and Belgian chocolate shavings. Garnished with white chocolate buttercream rosettes and white chocolate diamonds, it’s no wonder this cake is one of the most popular wedding dessert options in the Cincinnati area. Be sure to check BonBonerie’s monthly cake and torte flavor menu, where you’ll discover favorites like raspberry Chantilly torte and death-by-chocolate cake.