Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Black Friday: A Homegrown Cincinnati Holiday

Dexter Determines His Shopping Strategy
      I grew up in a retail family and recall my Mom having to work the day after Thanksgiving at Lazarus Department Store.  (At that time it was never referred to as Black Friday.)  It wasn’t until years later that I came to realize the history behind the biggest shopping day of the year.

Fred Lazarus Jr.
      Fred Lazarus Jr. was the son of one of the brothers that started F. & R. Lazarus in Columbus, OH.  Working in the family business, he grew the retailer substantially and right before the stock market crash of 1929 they joined with Bloomingdale's of New York,

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Zip’s Café Serves a Tasty Timeless Burger

Entrance to Zip's Café

      What can be said about a Cincinnati institution that has been serving burgers since before they were in vogue (again)?  Zip’s Café has consistently offered one of the best American hamburgers for 85 years, flame broiled and constructed on a honey egg bun with all of the ingredients from local suppliers.  Combine a pub style atmosphere that promotes communal dining with a friendly staff that welcomes everyone, including kids, and you have the secret to its success. 

The Pub Atmosphere with Model Train
Wall Sign Stating
"Mind Your Children
 or They Will Be
Given an Espresso
and a Free Puppy"
      Jan and I were out for the afternoon so we dropped by for lunch last week.  Jan lived in Mt. Lookout for several years so this was one of her regular hangouts.  Nothing much had changed except for a few new wall decorations. She didn’t even look at the menu.  I had only been there once before so I needed a little extra time. I took my cue from Jan and decided on

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Krohn Conservatory 2011 Holiday Show Adds City Sights

The Brent Spence Bridge Over the Entrance to the Display House
      Open through January 1st, the revamped Holiday Show “Trains, Trestles, and Traditions” included more city structures than ever before.  New for this year were Union Terminal, the painted ladies in Columbia-Tuscalum, the Brent Spence Bridge, and the Eiffel Tower at King’s Island that were all added to the familiar buildings of Mt. Adams.  Passing under the bridge, we entered the world of miniatures all made from

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Mae Ploy Thai Cuisine and Sushi Bar, Alias Chinatown

      Driving down Alexandria Pike in Highland Heights, KY one would never find Mae Ploy, an unassuming freestanding restaurant with the sign blazing “Chinatown”.  That was left over from a previous owner, but what you’ll find inside has no comparison.  Although it’s not high on atmosphere, the surroundings are pleasant and casual with a few quirks.  The first oddity you’ll likely notice is the “office” at the entrance.  Yes, the chef is set up in the see through space for everyone to wonder what he’s up to.  From there, you’ll find the sushi bar with comfortable stools and a dining room with formica® booths.  

The Casual Dining Area and Sushi Bar
      Hopefully, you’ve not discarded this hot spot by now.  The food is what you’re there for and it was special!  The menu was lengthy so we started out with a Thai Iced Tea and Coffee.  Those are our favorite accompaniments to a Thai meal and these did not disappoint. My coffee was loaded with sweet cream and Eric found the tea to be

Monday, November 14, 2011

Brij Mohan Brings Exciting Flavor Combinations to Indian Fare

      I’m continuing my quest to better understand Indian cuisine with Anisha coming to my aid.  One of her favorite restaurants is Brij Mohan because of its consistent preparation, sweets, and flavors of Southern Indian fare.  Eric and Lisa had tried it out when I was out of town, so we were happy to suggest it to Marty and Michael when we decided to meet for dinner.

      It’s a storefront restaurant that’s spacious inside with orders placed at the counter.  I never know what to order so having the chance to sit, contemplate the descriptions, and go with what sounded best was all we could do.  Where was Anisha when we needed her?  Eric couldn’t remember what he and Lisa had for an appetizer (which they found to be their favorite) so we started with

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Two Views of “Melancholia”: The Sick Soul of Europe Has Morphed Into The Apocalypse

Eric’s View of Melancholia

      There were a number of European movies – practically a subgenre – released in the 1960s (La Dolce Vita, L’Avventura, Last Year at Marienbad) that presented the upper crust dealing with ennui and lost dreams, but also having a glamorous, decadent time of it too.  Pauline Kael referred to them as ‘the sick soul of Europe parties.’  Lars von Trier’s Melancholia is the latest in this line and it ups the ante by first showing another, newly discovered planet (Melancholia) crashing into Earth before merging

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Bricco: Solid Entrées Leaves One Wishing For More

Bricco's Cheery Interior

      Continuing our day outing in Akron, Cindy, Georgene, Lee, and I headed to Bricco near Canal Park.  Lee’s daughter had recommended it so we were putting her to the test.  It was late…after 2:00…so the lunch crowd had died down.  The look was industrial with white tablecloths, several private booths, bright accent colors, and a friendly staff to warm things up. 

      The menu looked a tad adventurous.  I asked for recommendations from our server to which she immediately offered up their Chicken Salad, Pumpkin Ravioli, and Pizzas.  None of those were grabbing us, but Georgene and Lee took her suggestion of the Spinach and Roasted Butternut Squash Salad.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Akron Art Museum: A Work of Art

Steel, Glass, and Italian Renaissance

      Ohio is fortunate to have so many second tier cities that house prominent public art collections.  Dayton and Toledo come to mind, along with Akron that emerged with the opening of the Knight Building in 2007.  The contemporary wing is somewhat like a glass and stainless steel prop plane that has landed and taken the original 1899 Italian Renaissance revival style building under its wing…literally.  The result has received reactions from “huh?” to “wow!”  I feel it totally works and connects the two structures in a way that is symbolic of a city that has reinvented itself.

Akron Art Museum
      I was visiting Cindy in Medina when we decided to take a day to visit Akron for the temporary exhibit Landscapes from the Age of Impressionism.  Her painting friends, Georgene and Lee joined us there.  The three of them are plein air artists, a genre that was

Monday, November 7, 2011

World Cuisine comes to the West Side at Vitor’s

Dexter Checks Out the Entrance to Vitor's
      A few years ago, we went to Vitor’s with Lisa for brunch.  It was in a small building with H & R Block.  We had some remarkable French toast and were impressed that they had a coffee bar.  Since then, Vitor’s moved to a larger location on Harrison Avenue and some of our friends have eaten there and said they thought it was excellent.  We had a coupon and thought we’d go there for lunch.  It’s a charming building – actually, two connected structures – with several international flags on the street side façade and a patio in the back.

A Display of Awards and the Dining Room
The interior features include a tile floor that resembles slate, burgundy walls with white chair rails and large, framed posters of Parisian landmarks.  There are a number of dining rooms and the coffee bar, which is set off to one side.  The reason for enumerating these details is because it feels like

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Queen of Cincinnati Theater Receives National Honor

     Ensemble Theatre’s own D. Lynn Meyers was recently chosen as one of four  finalists for the Zelda Fichandler Award. The award, given by the Society of Directors and Choreographers Foundation (SDCF), recognizes an extraordinary director or choreographer who has made and continues to make a substantial contribution to the national arts landscape through theatre work.  The third annual national award was presented to Blanca Zizka, Director of the Wilma Theatre in Philadelphia, on October 24th at a ceremony at the Arena Stage in Washington, DC that Ms. Fichandler founded 61 years ago.

      Congratulations to Lynn for an honor well deserved for her unending commitment to local artists and the transformation of Over-the Rhine and the Gateway Quarter into a vibrant downtown neighborhood through the enrichment of the arts.  It wouldn’t be happening without her!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Queen City Cookies...Eat. Smile. Repeat.

      Findlay Market is known for showcasing local food artisans and their specialties.  We chanced upon Queen City Cookies a few weeks ago while showing off the area to some relatives.  The shop has the feel of one located in a resort area or a European town.  Peggy Shannon is the pastry artist who formed the idea from her passion for baking and the fine arts.  All of that love shows in the store décor, visual presentation, packaging, and of course...the cookies.  

Customized Cookies

      Customized cookies are the feature.  The highest quality buttery shortbreads are iced with dark chocolate, white chocolate (ivory colored), or fairy dust (glistening porcelain white) highlighted with white or chocolate piping.  There are over 460 antique molds from Peggy's collection to customize your order for every occasion.  Frida Kahlo was the inspiration for Frieda's Creations (they use the European spelling) with assorted colorful images

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Brontë Bistro: Something So Inconsistent Stays Miraculously Afloat

      Brontë Bistro was originally a café that focused on lunch and lattés at Joseph-Beth Booksellers.  It’s always had an interesting menu and, over a decade ago, it expanded its space, its hours, and its offerings.  It’s always been a pretty space centered on blond woods, charming bar area, and bright annex space.  However, its Achilles heel has been the service.  For a couple of years, there was the Chris Rock look-a-like who possessed neither Rock’s intelligence nor wit.  At various times, there has been a dreary female server – different faces, but same attitude – who acted like she’d rather be anywhere but working – really?  How about quitting so that a smart, enthusiastic unemployed person could work.  Fortunately, this has eventually happened, though the best servers have distinguished themselves quickly and usually moved on – to other restaurants with greater tips, or to positions in their professional discipline, or college/graduate studies?  Right now, the service is good, though I wish the servers (and this is practically true everywhere except top flight restaurants) would clear everyone’s plates at the same time, rather than piece meal, because the diner still eating is made to feel like he or she is somehow slow or inconvenient.  I realize servers are trying to be efficient, but it’s rude.

      The first strange element this past Friday was that there were open tables in both the original space and many in the larger annex, but there was a twenty minute wait.  We didn’t have a problem with the wait, but other potential patrons did and it made no sense that they couldn’t be immediately seated since Joseph-Beth is not the hopping place it was a decade ago on Friday nights, though it improved about three years ago.  The other off-kilter element was the food.

Salmon Burger
      Brontë Bistro has made it a practice to present some specials from a featured cookbook.  It’s created synergy between the restaurant and the bookstore.  For savvy cooks, it’s also been a preview of potential purchases.  There weren’t such specials on our last visit so