Northside Fun on the Weekend - Lunch at Melt!

I am spending more and more time in Northside - it's such a unique neighborhood - I'm a bit jealous actually! I wish Pleasant Ridge had a bit more of that feel and a few more of their businesses!

Saturday for lunch, Carole and I headed to Melt...I'd been once before but hadn't reviewed and was excited to go back.
It's a cute little spot along Hamilton just down the street from the Hideaway & Northside Tavern.

Inside are two huge chalkboards that are filled with all of the vegan, vegetarian and carnivore selections. There are also items from Take the Cake for dessert.

The soda selection isn't the normal Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite. I got a Pomegranite Izze which was delicious. It can be quite busy when you order so you get an animal on a stick for your table order. I was a turtle on this day.

Muffeletta $7.65
Turkey, olive tapenade, roasted red peppers and provolone melted on focaccia.

Carole got this - it looked good. I didn't try it but the bread seemed pretty crispy and I wasn't sure if it was really "mushable" as in getting the sandwich to press together. She did get another one to go for her husband.

The sandwich comes with a side option. Carole and I both chose the salad with the creamy garlic dill dressing. Pleased to say - we both enjoyed it. There are multiple side choices, some with additional cost.

The Hoffner $8.45
Roast beef, marinated mushrooms, red onions, baby spinach, Swiss and horseradish vegan mayo melted on sourdough rye.

This was my choice. It was really good and I enjoyed it very much. I'd love the sandwich with chicken instead of roast beef - I'm not a big "deli meat" fan but this was definitely tasty!

There you have it - quick and painless - Melt is great!

Caveat: There are quite a few things on the menu that someone who likes "plain" and "normal" might take issue with - but I'm sure there's a way to get turkey and lettuce on white bread as well.

Melt on Urbanspoon

La Mexicana - Newport's Hidden Treasure

Amongst a row of pawn shops and little local diners sits La Mexicana. It's a traditional Mexican restaurant - and when I say traditional - I mean it! Very authentic - you can get GOAT!

Once inside there are a few booths on each level or you can just head up to the counter and order. The menus are on the table or above the kitchen area.

They have a few basic items: tacos, chalupas, burritos, enchiladas, quesadillas, etc... Each has it's own little uniqueness but you basically pick the item you want and then pick the meat and go from there...There are probably 10 different selections for the "insides" from goat to carnitas to steak to vegetarian.

There is also a nice beverage selection - there was even the Mexican Coke with real cane sugar!

First coworkers got the coke and the apple soda to go along with the chips and salsa that was brought to us. It's a green salsa...I have to admit I didn't try it. My stomach was a little jumpy and they said it was spicy so I decided to avoid it...

We did get some guacamole for our chips and thank God we did! This was some amazing shiz! So fresh and chunky - more like pico de gallo with guac mixed in. I think I pirated a bit much of it...but I couldn't help it!

Russ had the flag burrito...yes - it looks like the Mexican flag and it's about the same size! The thing is ginormous! Russ got carnitas inside and didn't love the meat but he did like the burrito and wants to go back and try some other meat selections.

Jeff got a combo of a chalupa and a taco. The taco had bistec and the chalupa had goat. He really enjoyed both of them.

I got a vegetarian taco and a chalupa with carnitas. The vegetarian taco was excellent although I was hoping for some sauteed veggies. It was lettuce, tomato, avacado, onion, cheese and probably something else. The shells are small but homemade - so delicious!

The chalupa was okay - it was a lot of "bread" - I sort of opened it up and ate it like a salad and took bites of the top since it was crispier and had a little more flavor. The filling was really good and I loved it - which hey - that's the main thing!

This is Steve - he's the owner's son and was very helpful and friendly and...he wanted his picture taken!

Overall I didn't LOVE everything I had but I really liked it and can't wait to go back. I think I'd like to try a quesadilla and more tacos and try different kinds of meat fillings.

La Mexicana on Urbanspoon

Take the Cake and the Lunch!

Been dying to try Take the Cake in Northside after following them on Twitter. See - every day they post their menu - oye and on Tuesdays you get $1 off if you mention Twitter!

My coworker and I finally found a day open and went...on the way we HAD to stop into the Northside Gallery to see the kitten from last weekend's visit to Slims.

We also got to see some cool art!

And we saw the kitten but she was too squirly for the camera - so we got a picture of what we thought was the mama cat - but it's not - she's just her buddy. She was camera-ready and very talkative!

But onto Take the Cake!
Too many vertical pictures - but it's the way the door is - I couldn't help it. Take the Cake is in a nice, unassuming location across the street from Slims and Honey.

Once inside - the counter is jam-packed with patrons ready to get their lunch on and ready to get their cupcake on!

The seating is "European" as one woman described it with communal tables as well as counter seating. I definitely enjoyed it as we struck up a nice conversation with the ladies next to us!

So much so - they let us take a pic of their dessert! The top is a lemon poundcake, the bottom is a chocolate cupcake with cheesecake on the top exploding out of it. I decided that's what I'm getting next time!

But onto our lunch - I had requested via twitter something with goat cheese. Not too much of a stretch - usually is every day! This was the roasted red pepper and goat cheese pizza. Quite a helping size! It was pretty good - I think if it had been HOT it would have been excellent. The salad needed more dressing...but I was saving room for a cupcake (yes - eat the pizza, not the salad - makes no sense).

My coworker chose the Spinach & Cream Cheese Quiche - yeah - cream cheese! She said it was much like goat cheese in this instance and enjoyed it. She did say the best part was the crust and agreed about the salad.

Lisa also likes the backward logos from inside the store and we had to snap a shot of the ladies sitting next to us on their way back to work.

It is a bakery first and a lunch spot we had to save room for dessert. There are brownies, macaroons, coconut cupcakes, red velvet cupcakes, chocolate cupcakes, custards, cakes and cookies! So much to choose from!

Lisa chose the chocolate cupcake with buttercream icing. She was definitely happy with it. The cupcake isn't really moist and is dense.

I had to go for the coconut with cream cheese frosting. It's also a coconut cupcake...Again - dense cupcake. I also realized I think I'm more of a buttercream fan - it's good for cream cheese frosting - that's just not my favorite. I'm a sugar addict.

Also worth mentioning the lunch specials are pretty affordable. Both of ours were $5.50 each...and a $2.50 cupcake and it's not a bad lunch. The cupcakes are dense too - you might be able to split one although I'm not big on sharing cupcakes.

Take the Cake on Urbanspoon

Drag Queens, Comedians and oh yeah - some food

Something you may not know about me - I've been doing stand up comedy on the side for about 5 years's one of the first things I did in Cincinnati. I took a class at the Funny Bone on the Levee from Jeff Jenna. He's a great teacher (plug plug plug).

Since then I've been doing charity shows a few times a year and one of my favorites is run by Gene Sell and it's for a variety of GLBT charities in the Cincinnati area. This week was the big annual fundraiser and I think this year was for the Gay & Lesbian Community Center of Cincinnati. It always features a host of Drag Queens and comedians. I love participating in this show - it's always a full house and always lots of fun.

This year's show was at the Syndicate in Newport. If you have an event and you need a venue - this place is nice! Big nice bar, great huge cheap parking lot across the street, wait staff that will come to the tables, big stage, etc...

The Syndicate also has food - although the menu is fairly hidden on their website.

For the show - they had a limited menu of 5 items all priced at $8 each - which was a good deal. Drinks were $2 for a soda and didn't have free refills (really?). Service was excellent - our waitress was on top of everything!

My pictures aren't the best - it was a little dark and it's hard to tell if they're in good focus in the dark...

The wings - it was 12 wings for $8 and they were good sized. One friend was very happy - it was very very filling. They were spicy... My other friend didn't like the sauce - but she's a picky one.

I opted for the "Say Cheese" which was a smattering of cheese-related items. I had fried cheese, cheese filled 'shrooms and cheese puffs with a side of marinara.

The marinara was cold...all of the items were pretty good I'd say. Nothing outstanding - nothing terrible. Why serve it on a doily? Are they not washing the plate after?

Ahh...Linda Gambino ordered the "Big Balls" - of course she did! The balls were big...the pasta and marinara accompanying them - not so much. Surprised it wasn't spaghetti and there wasn't much sauce. Linda said the balls were okay but admitted she's Italian and it takes a lot to impress her when it comes to balls. (I know - just opening the door for her comments).

Ahhh - a blissfully happy couple that joined in the fun to watch me perform. Neither is gay, lesbian, drag queen or comedian - although Craig did wear his sparkly shirt.

They ordered the skins...I have to say - they look a little sad.

And now - onto the entertainment - only a couple of pics as I was distracted by having to actualy perform! The straight waiters from Brio performed three numbers - 2 of them were topless. This made the crowd VERY HAPPY.

And here's me with a Drag Queen from the evening. She's much taller - she was practically on her knees in this shot (again - open to the peanut gallery). I don't know her name even though I see her at every show! Anybody know?

On the whole - it was a great night and $10,000 was raised for charity!

The food - eh - it was okay. I don't think it's probably a great representation of them in a normal dinner setting so I won't fault them. But with all the places I want to try - not sure I'll run back. But - if I need a place to host an event - I'm there!

Newport Syndicate on Urbanspoon

Colorful Tour of Findlay Market

I love the idea of Findlay Market but I have only been once. Honestly - I suck at driving in OTR so I hesitate to go on my own. But this past weekend, my friend Scott planned a mega-day for us that included Findlay Market, Taste of Cincinnati and an afternoon at Dad's!

Findlay Market is the closest thing Cincinnati has to the Pike Place Market in Seattle. I love the colorful entrance! It's so bright and vibrant and just welcomes you in!

I don't know the names of any of the stores I went into but I urge you to go in and explore on your own! We saw a lot of delis and this one caught my eye because of the big ol' row of fresh breads!

Outside there were lots of vendors with fresh fruits and vegetables - a bright array of colors just waiting to be picked up and taken home!

There's also entertainment. This gentleman was outside singing and playing some great music. His name isn't James Dean - but something like that - James Deagon maybe? He made a joke, "You know James Dean? That ain't me."

Ahhhh! The magnificent morel! I have only had these once at the Summit last summer. They were decadent when I had them at the Summit.

The flowers are just beautiful - most aren't very exotic but if you're looking for a beautiful hanging basket - Findlay Market is the place!

On one end of the market there is a large fruit & vegetable merchant and there I saw this young man singing and playing his gui-tar.

There are a couple of Oriental Markets that we found...I mean who can't use some THiT GiAM BONG HEO?!

Here are some of the more exotic flowers we spotted along our tour as well.

Beyond these, inside there are the famous waffles and tons of meat markets (not like MLTs - actual sausages, steaks, etc...)! There are plenty of plant/flower vendors, fake purses, birdhouses, jewelry and more.

So it's my recommendation is that if you're new to Cincinnati or if you've lived here your whole life - if you haven't been to Findlay Market - take it upon yourself to go. Bring a "green" bag to take home all your goodies!

Findlay Market
1801 Race St, Cincinnati
(513) 721-6533

Balboa's - new location in O'Bryonville

Pop Quiz: Name the establishment in this building on Madison in O'Bryonville?

Answer: Balboa's!

Yeah - don't feel bad if you didn't know - it's been about a dozen things in the past few years!

Inside it's clean and kinda funky - cool layout, big bar, spacious seating, etc... It's a nice place on the inside. But decorating doesn't make good food.

These are the pepperoni rolls. Verdict? Too much bread, bitter pizza sauce, not enough pepperoni & cheese. Not bad but not as good as Betta's.

My friend is EXTREMELY picky - she got the burger, plain, well done. Unfortunately she didn't like it...the meat had seasoning - lots of garlic/onion. I had a bite - it's definitely a homemade burger but did have an after taste. Fries were fine.

By recommendation of the server (who was very good) I got the philly cheesesteak. Little odd that I was asked what I wanted on it - well I'd like what normally goes on a philly cheesesteak. I got cheeze whiz (cuz that's what comes on them), mushrooms, onion and black olives. And then I got onion rings instead of fries for an extra $1.

I have to say - I was pretty disappointed. The bread was good...shipped in from Philadelphia which is impressive. The sandwich though - I mean - it's a philly CHEESE steak. I want cheese! I couldn't even taste the cheeze whiz! Also - the sandwich and the onion rings sort of had a bitter after taste that wasn't good. I think something on the sandwich was burned and the onion rings tasted as though the oil was old.

I would take a Penn Station over this any day of the week...

The other thing to note is that my friend ate one bite of her burger and then ate her fries. She doesn't like seasoning and didn't like it. The server said she was going to comp the burger or 1/2 the meal or something. The manager came over - apologized - thanked her for being so easy going about it. Then - bill comes - charged full price. That's just lame...He also semi-insulted me. I won't repeat it and I know it was a joke but it was rude.

That said - I don't think I'll be back - maybe for pizza...but Dewey's is just down the street so it's doubtful.

Balboa's Philly Steak & Pizza on Urbanspoon