On the road again, and it’s time for a travel post. Be warned: this one has nothing to do with beer. I do still have two write-ups to do on Michigan breweries, and I will. But today, it’s all about Cincinnati.This is my first visit here, and I must confess, I’m surprised by what I’ve found. My limited experience of Ohio has not been very, shall we say, diverse. So when I asked my hostess for dinner suggestions, I mentioned salad, since summer has settled on the Midwest like a heavy and slightly damp blanket.Ah, yes. About my hosts. Whenever practical, I like to find lodgings via Airbnb. For the uninitiated, it’s a site that lets you rent beds, rooms, or entire dwellings from people all over the world. You can also use it to host other travelers. Yes, it’s safe. And it’s awesome. Instead of an impersonal hotel, you stay in someone’s home, making it much easier to experience a city like a local. I’m pretty sure that’s part of the site’s copy, actually. So anyway, I booked a spacious room in a 100-year-old house in Cincinnati, near UC. The hosts are a lovely couple by the names of Alison and Jules. The price is quite reasonable, and I can’t complain in the slightest about the accommodations. True, the stairs to the second story are quite steep, and the floor of my room tilts downward slightly, toward the outside wall. I’m not even being tongue-in-cheek when I say that’s part of the charm. Oh, and the towel they loaned me is soft enough to tempt the most seasoned towel thief. Fortunately, I am not one.
I find that the best way to explore one’s immediate neighborhood is to go on a walkabout. Besides, after driving all day, the car and I were ready for a short break from each other. I started out, carefully following Alison’s directions to find salad. But I got sidetracked by all the eateries advertising various types of Asian cuisine. I landed at Tea ‘n’ Bowl, a bubble tea and Chinese stir fry and hot pot joint. Good choice, me. Apparently, this place has won a bunch of “Best such-and-such” awards.
The waitress, a young lady named Lyn, was quite friendly and helpful. When she found out that I tend to write about beer, she suggested I check out Taft’s Ale House, which is housed in St. Paul’s Evangelical Church, in the Over-the-Rhine area. Sadly, I don’t have time this trip to check out any breweries. Let that sink in for a sec; no pints, brewery tours, or pub grub. At all. I know, I’m slippin’. I also wanted to visit Rhinegeist Brewery, but my internal debate on whether to walk there was decided by a rainshower, and impending dusk.
Back to Tea ‘n’ Bowl. If you’ve never experienced the wonder of bubble tea, you need to. It’s an iced tea, often flavored, with large tapioca “bubbles” in the bottom. It’s usually served with an extra large straw, so you can slurp up the tapioca spheres. This time, I went for the “royal” Earl Grey milk tea. I’m a sucker for the canned milk teas often found in Asian grocery stores. This was like that, but fresher. And with the added charm of tapioca bubbles. And then there was the Hong Kong wonton soup. I tend to agree with chef, author, and CNN travel/food journalist, Anthony Bourdain, on the necessary ingredients for happiness.
“All of the things I need for happiness: Low plastic stool, check. Tiny little plastic table, check. Something delicious in a bowl, check.”
Granted, the low plastic stool and tiny table were missing; I guess they haven’t caught on in Cincinnati. But the wonton soup definitely qualified as “something delicious in a bowl.” The murderously hot pockets of shrimp and pork goodness arrived at my table, floating in a sea of golden broth, accompanied by what I think was bok choy, and buoyed by a mass of noodles too large for two of me to finish. Sorry about that, Lyn.
Confession time: I cannot eat a bowl of any kind of Asian noodle without splashing some of the broth on my shirt. Most embarrassing. So I asked the waitress if there was a clever trick to eating the noodles. She told me to spin the chopsticks to pick them up, “like people use a fork to eat pasta.” Lightbulb moment. It totally works. Noodles = mostly conquered.
About halfway through my meal, I was presented with a small dish of house-made kimchi. “It’s kind of spicy,” Lyn warned. And it was. Also, delicious. I don’t think I’d ever tried kimchi made with cucumbers and black fungus before. If you’re going to eat unfamiliar fungus: A) don’t ask. B) have it fermented. It was a little chewy, and quite tasty. I hear black fungus is “very popular in China.”
My stomach full, I headed back to my lodging, just in time to get rained on a bit. Good thing I wore a hat, or my hair would have got wet. Doing no damage to it whatsoever. On the way, I snapped a couple pics of the St. Monica-St. George Parish Newman Center. It is, apparently, the home of the Catholic Campus Ministry for UC. I liked the architecture, but my efforts to do it justice were thwarted by constant traffic getting in the way of my shot. Ah, well.
One last note about the neighborhood: it looks pretty sketchy, but is mostly full of university students, and business owners who seem to cater to them. Still, the occasional doorway filled with people smoking random substances was enough to persuade me to head inside before dark. And there you have it; Cincinnati has a vibrant food and brewery scene, probably lots of cool history and historic buildings, and bowls filled with deliciousness.