Northside is growing as a hub for innovative, interesting food. You have (in no particular order) Melt, The Hideaway, Slim’s, Take the Cake and, of course, Honey, which occupies Boca’s original location on Hamilton Avenue. Some friends of ours wanted to go out to dinner, and wanted me to suggest the place. Ever so thoughtful, they said we should try something I hadn’t written about. So, I chose Honey. I last ate there in November of 2007, for my birthday, and was very impressed. I figured that it would be great, so no one would be disappointed.
Honey is a restaurant that seems to belong in some city that is known to be much hipper than Cincinnati usually is thought of being. It’s very clean and spare in its decor, and its food is just a little adventurous. They don’t take reservations, but feature a nice bar with some great cocktails; great dirty martinis and ginger martinis. On a Saturday night, we had about a 45-minute wait, during which we (a party of four) drank cocktails and perused the menu. One of the members of the party doesn’t drink alcohol, and was impressed by the variety of sodas, juices and other non-alcoholic beverages available. Though many restaurants take into account low carb or vegetarian lifestyles, not many consider those who don’t drink. We were seated nearby the kitchen door, which most people would find to be a bad location, but not us! It ended up with perfect lighting to show off their food in pictures. Little did they know!
As we had four people (normally, it’s only two), we had a chance to sample a far greater number of dishes than we normally do. We started with a first course of three appetizers: Honey’s famous fries, polenta, and crabcakes. Honey is known for its fries, made of Yukon, Sweet and Idaho potatoes, served with a chili-lime honey. I love perfectly prepared “frites,” which these were, and I particularly like sweet potato fries, so this was a great combination, complemented nicely by the warm, sweet yet spicy chili-lime honey. I could probably make a meal out of the fries alone. The polenta was pan-fried, and topped with caramelized onions, smoked mozzarella and roasted garlic and garnished with balsamic reduction and infused olive oil. It was crisp on the outside and creamy on the inside, and complemented with some of my favorite flavors. It was beautifully composed and quite tasty. The crabcakes were also good, garnished with part of an artichoke, caper berries, and an eggplant, with plenty of crab. The first course was a home-run. Could they continue through the rest of the meal?
We ordered four different entrees: scallops and pork belly, a Honey burger, meatloaf and ravioli. The scallops and pork belly were my favorite. They were perfectly braised pork belly and perfectly cooked scallops on top of a sweet potato puree, with a sweet tasso ham reduction tying it all together. The Honey burger, perfectly cooked-to-order, on a fresh bun, was moist and juicy, topped with fresh toppings (including guacamole!) and accompanied by more of those great Honey fries. Meatloaf was inventive: moist, with tasso ham reduction like the scallops, peppery mashed potatoes and an assortment of vegetables. The four of us barely spoke, our meals were so good, except to offer each other forkfuls to try.
The waiter then came by with dessert menus. I doubt any of us would normally get dessert and an appetizer, but the desserts all sounded so good, we could barely decide what to get. We settled on bread pudding, chocolate cake and a lemon pound cake. The bread pudding was rich with raisins and a sweet rum sauce, and would normally have been the star of the show… except that we had the other two desserts, which were even better. The lemon pound cake we had a great, crumbly crust and dense crumb, and was set atop some lemony creme anglaise with blueberries. The chocolate cake was the star of the show, flourless and dense, with an unanticipated accompaniment: concord grape sorbet. It was similar to pairing chocolate with good port, the richness of the cake was cut by the slight tartness of the sorbet.
In all? Not a single disappointment in the entire meal. Honey is a place I’d like to go back to more often; this is a hidden jewel in Cincinnati. Now, if only they’d accept reservations!
Julie Niesen, wine me dine me in Cincinnati