Cincinnati has long been a place to call home for my family. Three of our four children were born in Cincinnati hospitals. Our youngest daughter is again a resident and a member of the house band at downtown’s Howl at the Moon piano bar. One of the best parts about living in Cincinnati is what USA Today recently called “one of six small cities with big food scenes.” An issue of West Chester & Liberty Lifestyle dedicated to the area’s food and spirits has opened a treasure chest of memories for me. I trust it has for you as well.
From five-star restaurants featuring exquisite culinary delights to a five-barstool greasy spoon serving reasons to buy Alka-Seltzer, pursuing food in Cincinnati is an addiction to flavor. There are some tastes that are just uniquely ours. Long before Oprah discovered its “worth every penny” creaminess, we knew there was no ice cream like Graeter’s. For more than 140 years, the famous French-pot handcrafted process and huge chocolate chips has allowed Graeter’s to set the ice cream standard few others have matched. The gift pack of six flavors we sent a few Christmases ago to our Florida daughter is still her “best present ever.”
Speaking of standards, there may be no higher bar set than that by the “Ribs King.” Grown from humble beginnings in a small building in Montgomery to its current four locations, the Montgomery Inn is one of the finest family restaurants in the country. The smooth flavor of the sauce and the fall-off-the-bone tenderness of the meat have made the Inn a favorite for actors, athletes and every U.S. President since Gerald Ford. Browsing the pictures on their walls tells the story of our city, our country and our family. Birthdays and anniversaries in the May family are celebrated with a taste that lingers longer than the ribs on the plate.
But it was in Cincinnati that I learned food is also about fellowship. I came to the Upper Price Hill area as an eighteen-year-old enrolling at Cincinnati Christian University. Miles from home, local restaurants became a place to build lifelong friendships. Left on Glenway took us to a Frisch’s location where sundaes and hot fudge brownies were often the late night treat. Tuesday nights sent us packing to the LaRosa’s on Boudinot. All-you-can-eat spaghetti, salad and bread tempted twenty to thirty of us each week. I am sure the chain lost money the moment our five cars pulled into the parking lot.
But there was no place we frequented quite like Skyline Chili. Perched at the intersection of Glenway and Warsaw, Skyline stood as a lighthouse steering us from the ragged rocks of classrooms and libraries. In 1974 for two one dollar bills–tip included–a five-way and a drink could be the prized possession. The Mediterranean spiced meat atop spaghetti and smothered with grated cheese provided the backdrop for conversation, counseling and contemplating the future. The waitresses often knew our order and had it waiting as we walked through the doors. We helped ourselves to the infamous bowls of crackers or refills on the drinks so that no one would have to scurry to serve us. It is impossible for me to walk into a Skyline today without hearing voices and seeing faces from my past. A smile is destined to crease my lips.
To this day, I don’t like to eat alone. In Cincinnati, there simply is no reason to. Bon appétit!