I like food.
OK, you probably already knew that. A few weeks ago, a friend asked me what my favorite restaurant of all time is. I panicked. I actually broke a sweat and I’m pretty sure my heart started racing. What a question! My favorite restaurant? Of ALL TIME? Like, I only get to choose one? Yikes. So this got me thinking. Fortunately, I’ve been to a lot of restaurants in a lot of places. Why not post about it? After all, an excellent dining experience is like an adventure… for your mouth!
So let’s get started. I did have to give my friend an answer, so I’ll give you one too. But, I do live in Ohio, and since I frequent the cities here the most, I’ll also tell you my favorite places in the Three C’s. If you’ve been there too, let me know. Have another place I should try? Share away!!
My first home – Cleveland (sort of… you get the picture)
This is a new favorite of mine and I’ve only been twice. We’ve all heard of it, or at least the mastermind behind it. Lola (Michael Symon’s restaurant!). It’s located in the East 4th Street entertainment district. First of all, if you haven’t been there, shame on you. Cleveland has done wonders to transform its social scene over the past few years and this area is the heart of it all. Lola is located on a small section of a pedestrian only street. This is fine dining, folks. They welcome you in your game attire, but let’s not make a habit of it. The service is impeccable and the food, top notch. The first time I visited Lola I was by myself. I took some study materials as I was teaching a class the following weekend. NOT RECOMMENDED. It’s hard to concentrate with good wine and low lighting. Luckily, my food was out in minutes and it was phenomenal. A sweet corn gnocchi. ‘Nuff said. The second time we visited, the item that stood out the most were the pierogies on the appetizer menu. I married a Pole, so I am required to like pierogies, but these were delicious. Better than any pierogi I’ve ever had – stuffed with beef cheek and mushrooms. YOWZA.
My second home – Cincinnati
Cincinnati has one of the best culinary scenes in the state. My guess is, this is the work of the chefs that led the iconic Maisonette – for the longest time, North America’s highest rated restaurant in our very own state of Ohio. One of its last chef’s Jean Robert de Cheval is still in Cincinnati, perfecting his skills as the owner of The Table. Since, many other great chefs have hit the ground running in Cincinnati and I was fortunate enough to indulge in their epicurean masterpieces for 7 years. Since its fall in 2005, the Maisonette building has at least been resurrected and thank God, not by apartments or a law firm or something boring like that, but a fabulous restaurant that also ranks high on my list of favorites – Boca. The atmosphere is one of my favorites of all time. You just have to go, people. I can’t tell you anything more.
A number of Cincinnati’s chefs have won awards, been on TV and more. But one chef in particular stands out in my mind – Jose Salazar. Everything he creates is amazing. He opened his namesake restaurant, Salazar, almost three years ago. It is still, by far, my top pick when returning to the Queen City. Jose was nominated and a semifinalist for the 2016 James Beard Award. The restaurant is small and bustling. Most nights, good luck getting a table. The menu is always changing and I could choose
something blindfolded and not be disappointed. Jose recently opened a second restaurant a few blocks south, Mita’s, named after his grandmother. This restaurant has distinct Latin flair, but one thing you
can expect no matter which of his restaurants you choose – the food will be amazing, the drinks all handcrafted and beautiful, the service will be impeccable and he will be there, expediting in the kitchen. I swear the man lives at his restaurants, but it’s that love that shines through in everything he does. If you haven’t been to either of these places, add them to your bucket list. You will not be disappointed.
My home – Columbus
This is a tough one. And I’m a tough critic. As you can probably tell, I have high food and service standards. I also do not believe in not taking reservations. No place that doesn’t take reservations is so good it’s worth an hour or month long wait. Sorry. There are too many excellent restaurants I’d rather go to that respect my time. In Columbus, this happens more than it should. Luckily, I have some favorites lined up for you (all take reservations!) and one in particular that you probably haven’t been to before! Because, heaven forbid, it isn’t in one of the Columbus entertainment districts.
Columbus is different than Cincinnati in that it has a lot of GREAT, bistro type restaurants. Restaurants that specialize in one thing or another. Cincinnati on the other hand, has a handful of excellent, hands down best freaking restaurant, fine dining experiences you’ll find. Good news! I can afford more of the quick stops in Columbus. Some of our standbys are Marcella’s (or anything Cameron Mitchell, really), Wolf’s Ridge Brewing (the brunch… oh, my…) and Hubbard Grille (Gorgonzola & Walnut Gnocchi – every. time.). We also love to brunch, so if you serve breakfast too… and before 11AM? SOLD.
This leads me to my favorite restaurant, situated on a busy little corner in Powell, OH – Kraft House No. 5 (KH5). KH5 was an accidental discovery. See, there’s this winery. It stole my heart. We go there A LOT. I don’t even drink that much, people, but set me up with a bottle of Jeff & Gina’s wine at Powell Village
Winery and I’m set… for life. (The picture below is one for the history books. Who thought we could sit on the patio — without a fire and a coat — the last weekend in October?!) If you’re going to try KH5, you need to make this part of your trip. Great news, Powell is small. Park your car at one place or the other and you can easily walk between the two. Anyway, we’re here for food. KH5 has so many good things, it’s hard to pick out what to discuss. Here’s what you have to try: KH5 Burger, Muscles & Fries, and
seasonally, if they have it, this quinoa, lima bean salad thing on the menu with skirt steak. MUST TRY. One of my favorite dishes at KH5 comes after the savory. There is this dessert, that is mind blowing – their S’mores Creme Brulee. It’s seasonal. But when it’s there, they’re in trouble. It goes so fast. We actually went there once (for my birthday, of course) and it was gone. Ask when you get there if they have it and make that server hold it for you!!! OK, so I mentioned brunch. it’s important. TJ and his man friends swear by KH5 brunch. Not only do they serve excellent craft beer, but look at the Chicken & Waffles! If you plan it right, you might catch them on a Distillery Tasting morning. Gin and Breakfast?
OK, OK. At this point if you haven’t already abandoned this post to find something to eat then you’re probably thinking, “And none of these are your all time favorite?” You’re right. They’re not.
How does a girl choose her all time favorite restaurant? Is it somewhere I frequent? Somewhere where I can always name my favorite entree or dessert? No. For me, it was somewhere that I always tell people to go. I’ve actually only been there twice. My first experience was so impactful that when I think about my first visit, it makes me smile. Does this restaurant know how it makes me feel? Probably not. Could it be skewed because of the time in my life that I found it? Maybe. But either way, I know if you go, it’ll make you happy too, or at least your belly.
My one-time home! – Charleston, SC
Slightly North of Broad (S.N.O.B.)
There! I said it! That’s it. Kind of a funny name, right? Or at least its nickname is. Guys. This place is magical. If you’ve ever traveled by yourself, you know what it’s like to eat alone. Sometimes it’s hard. A restaurant quickly moves to the top of my list when they cater to solo diners. So here’s the story –
I lived in Charleston, SC for 4 months. I was still in college and I was on the last week of an internship. My roommate had left a month ago. I was so homesick. I wanted to go home so bad. Don’t get me wrong, Charleston is my favorite city in the US, it wasn’t Charleston’s fault. I missed my family, friends, my boyfriend. I decided I would treat myself that last week to what our hotel told people was one of the best low country dining experiences you could find.
I had a reservation, so they knew I was a loner, but I always find it hard to admit “it’s just me” when at a restaurant. This is the moment of truth, folks. Where do they seat you? It’s the make or break of the experience. The hostess smiled at me and said, “would you like a regular table or would you like to sit at the community table overlooking the kitchen?” WHAT?! You mean, I get to watch the crew without paying for a chef’s table? You’re rewarding me for being alone?! (Well, that’s probably not what she was thinking, but whatever). I almost squealed at the opportunity.
This table overlooks the kitchen and had neat little stacks of books about Charleston. I flipped through
some of them, but was immediately interrupted by a member of the kitchen staff who wanted to see how my evening was going.
This was at least 6 years ago, so I do not remember what I ate. I know, I wish I had a memory that good. But, I’m in the service industry, and that is what stood out to me the most. It’s why it’s my favorite restaurant. They took better care of a solo, not-yet-of-age diner with a very low bill than they would a royal family. It meant so much to me. Over the course of my dinner, multiple members of the kitchen staff stopped by to talk to me. I left and quickly returned on my next trip to Charleston one year later with my friend, Sam (the same one that asked what my favorite restaurant is!). This time, I know exactly what I had. My favorite was a Pork Belly appetizer that was the perfect balance of sweet and salty. The wine was exceptional. Needless to say, the service paid off, and this time, my tab wasn’t so low!
If you’re ever in the low country, make a stop at S.N.O.B. I hope that it gives you the same feeling it gave me.
And with that – I hope you can discover some great epicurean adventures and share them with me!
“People don’t take trips, trips take people.” – John Steinbeck