CINCINNATI — Chances are, if you’re a Cincinnati native, Skyline Chili, LaRosa’s and Graeter’s bring out the warm fuzzies — and maybe even pride.
Out-of-towners often seek out these classics to experience a culinary communion with the Queen City. But in recent years, a new generation of foods has emerged, rippling across Greater Cincinnati and beyond, with the potential to become the new Cincinnati staples.
Taste of Belgium waffles
Taste of Belgium has a spot next to Cincinnati institution LaRosa’s at Great American Ball Park. These Belgian waffles are true to their roots, made with stocky dough and speckled with Belgian pearl sugar. The sugar is baked right into the buttery waffle, turning into pockets of caramelized, crunchy sweetness. You can try these waffles at any of the four ToB restaurants, as well as at Findlay Market, North Market (Columbus) and, of course, at the ballpark.
Senate hot dogs
These whimsical, done-up hot dogs have become a culinary milepost in Cincinnati. Senate is not only considered a protagonist in the Over-the-Rhine food scene, its gourmet hot dogs continue to earn national praise for being among the best in the country. Senate tricks out its dogs with high- and low-brow ingredients such as bechamel sauce, braised short rib and crushed Grippo’s, making them a party in a bun that Cincinnati is happy to call its own. Get a dog at Senate’s original location in Over-the-Rhine and, starting May 19, at its second location in Blue Ash.
Streetpops gourmet popsicles
These popsicles exploded onto the scene with vibrant and creative flavors such as raspberry lemonade, chocolate sea salt and Thai basil lime. Streetpops got its start in 2011 with pushcarts at markets and festivals around Cincinnati, but it has come a long way. Today, you can find these small-batch gourmet treats at more than 50 area Kroger stores, in addition to its headquarters in St. Bernard, retail stores in Oakley and Over-the-Rhine and at various markets and festivals.
When Dewey’s first opened in Oakley 19 years ago, it ran counter to the prevailing trend of commoditizing pizza. This early adopter of craft pizza stayed true to its vision of making a better pizza, using fresh, hand-tossed dough, quality ingredients, a stone oven and even an open kitchen to showcase the handcrafting of the pie. Today, many Cincinnati families, including those who grew up on Dewey’s, are bringing their kids back to enjoy classics like the Dr. Dre, Edgar Allan Poe and Green Lantern. Dewey’s has 24 locations across cities including St. Louis, Columbus and, of course, Cincinnati.
Holtman’s gained a new level of visibility when the Over-the-Rhine store opened in 2013, but this family business has actually been around since 1960. Now a new generation of social media-savvy fans are discovering these golden beauties, and so has the rest of the nation, it seems. Buzzfeed described it as “donut heaven,” Travel and Leisure included Holtman’s in its “Perfect Three-day Weekend in Cincinnati” and Food Network star Alton Brown even put it on his list of “Favorite Donuts in the U.S.A.” Get yourself a dozen at any of its locations in Loveland, Williamsburg, Over-the-Rhine and, soon, West Chester.
The Eagle fried chicken
This crispy wonder got its start in Over-the-Rhine in 2013 and has since won the hearts of many with its brined-then-fried chicken served with house-made hot honey. The Eagle is one hot joint, serving anywhere from 700 customers on a weekday to a dizzying 1,400 customers per day on weekends. Recently Buzzfeed called this fried phenomenon “the best chicken in the city.” Order a whole chicken — or some portion thereof — at any of the Eagle’s locations in Indianapolis, Columbus, Louisville and Over-the-Rhine.
This foodie gelato started small a little more than 10 years ago in the back of specialty food markets in Glendale and Findlay Market. The gelato starts with handmade bases, which are then flavored with fresh ingredients — all produced in small batches. Known for creative flavors such as Caramello and Sea Salt, and Double Dark Chocolate, Madisono’s is the go-to gelato for many local chefs and restaurateurs. In addition to the more than 50 local and regional restaurants that carry Madisono’s, you also can get pints of this sweet fix at stores like Kroger, Market District, Whole Foods and Jungle Jim’s International Market.
What began as a booth on Fountain Square six years ago has now turned into the go-to barbecue spot around town — even among local chefs. This no-frills, come-as-you-are joint is very technique-driven when it comes to the food, serving up platefuls that have been smoked, cooked and finished right. Eli’s BBQ ranked third in the nation in Business Insider’s Best 50 Barbecue Joints in America. Grab a pulled-pork sandwich, a side of baked beans and a can of soda for under $10 at either Eli’s Findlay Market or Riverside Drive locations.
Although these handmade graham treats are based just across the river in Newport, Cincinnatians have adopted them as their own. The grahams got their start seven years ago as a small cottage industry. They are vegan — they do not contain dairy, eggs or artificial colors. In addition to the original grahams, they also are available in other flavors such as Cornmeal Lavender Bites and Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip. You can get Grateful Grahams in local and regional stores like Kroger and Whole Foods, as well as independent stores and online.
Grace Yek writes about food for WCPO Digital. She is a certified chef-de-cuisine with the American Culinary Federation, and a former chemical engineer. Questions or comments? Connect with her on Twitter: @Grace_Yek.