Eating Cincinnati

My writing pals and I get cranky if we don’t see each other at least every couple of months, and that is about how long it had been since we gathered in Berea for Christmas.

But none of us had an entire weekend to devote—well, I did, but I am more boring than the others—so we settled on Cincinnati as a place to meet up. 

I had forgotten how barren and dead the stretch from Louisville to Cincinnati is, but then you swing around a large bend in the highway and the Cincinnati skyline jumps out at you as if served on a giant platter, an abundant jumble of colors and shapes and on a sunny afternoon in mid-February, it is thrilling as all get out. 

I squealed, I think, when I saw it.

My cooler, younger, hipper friends had set us up at the Aloft Hotel, Newport, on the Kentucky side of the river.  All glass and angles and modern lighting, this hotel is also pet-friendly, if that matters to you, with welcoming bowls of water just inside the sliding glass doors, across from the porter’s carts.  It reminded me a bit of a European hotel, with clever use of space, minimalist but inviting.

My room overlooked the revitalized downtown and Hofbrauhaus and Brewery.  There was a room-length desk with lots of USB ports and space for laptops and appetizers, because that is what we do when we gather. We check our phones. We eat.

Our Friday night plan ran something like this.

Let’s meet for drinks and appetizers in someone’s room, and then, at 5:30 Uber over  for drinks and appetizers at the recently renovated Hotel Covington.  Then, on to dinner.

As the Uber driver let us out he whispered to me that this wasn’t the best part of town, but the hotel was doing a brisk business, with people checking in and most of the plush sofas and chairs in the lobby bar occupied.  We started with a little something, which included, but was not limited to:  a charcuterie board, some cheeses and hummus and ciabatta, some cut up vegetables, I suppose, because that makes us feel righteous, and cornbread.

But not just any cornbread.  Two large rectangular pieces of cornbread, caramelized on top and bottom with a syrup/sorghum glaze, a little cap of butter, warm and dripping off the top. 
You all.  Our eyes rolled back in our heads. We fought over it.

As we nibbled and drank, we took photos to send to our pal, Beth, because she made us promise to take her with us, even though she lives in France.  We did, right up to the time we had to leave for Mita’s, across the river in Cincinnati.

Mita’s serves tapas, a small plate, tasting kind of menu.

We each ordered a couple of dishes to share, which is the point, and they brought the food in “waves.”  We ate in those waves for a couple of hours and on the ride back to Newport someone said,  “It’s hard to believe we will be eating pancakes in twelve hours.”

No one laughed, but made mental notes to  set our alarms.

The Maplewood Kitchen and Bar, billed as “a west coast cafe in the heart of Cincinnati,” is famous for its ricotta lemon pancakes, but also for its organic egg dishes, the chicken hash, and probably just about everything else it serves.  We managed to hit it just right…often on a Saturday the line snakes out the door.

We admired the Roebling Bridge—we crossed it several times.  Linking Covington and Cincinnati, it is a prototype for its more famous brother, the Brooklyn Bridge.  We visited the Cincinnati Art Museum, too, because, in addition to gourmands, we are aesthetes.  It is a fine collection, and we were calm and centered after a couple of hours of wandering.

Our time was coming to an end, but since we were in the Mount Adams area anyway, we decided to stop at the Mount Adams Bar and Grill, an old tavern with a sordid prohibition past.

No one was hungry, but we ordered a few light things to share, and again took photos to share with those who peeled off early for home.  We talked about them in their absence, and said funny things, and admiring our cleverness, texted and told them.

We stopped for gas somewhere out from Louisville, complaining and moaning about how much we had eaten, and purchased candy bars, and ate them in succession.

As you do.

Winter Shopping

I am not a big shopper. Most often when I do get around to it, I am sitting in front of a keyboard, while sitting on my sofa and flipping through Netflix offerings will clicking on ads that entice me on Facebook.

I have never liked to shop, especially for clothes, and my forays into clothing stores are more about restocking inventory than shopping sprees. Shopping implies discovery and adventure, a certain excitement and delight. Restocking implies exactly what it is, a list that instructs “one of these, four of those, a pack of those unless they can be purchased separately, then get two.”

And let’s face it, customer service—remember customer service?—has died a slow and painful death, has been dying for years, and some days it seems that it is as dead and buried as our ancient forbearers.  Now there is much discussion about the death of “brick and mortar” stores, and we have a shuttered mall to prove it. It has orphaned brothers and sisters all over the country, and I have sat on my sofa and contributed to their demise, and chalked it up to progress, and congratulated myself on moving with the times.

But then, one day, my phone wouldn’t work. That very sophisticated and expensive bit of technology from which I am inseparable, had a malady, and there was nothing to do but make an appointment with a twelve-year old “genius,” who hangs out at his “bar” at the Apple store, and so I signed up—on line and with some complications—for an appointment, on Wednesday, at 1:30, in Nashville.

It was a cold and rainy day, the middle of the week, in the middle of winter, and we pulled into the Dillard’s adjacent to The Mall at Green Hills. My pal, Alice, was having Apple troubles, too, so we had dual appointments and some time to kill. I had a wedding coming up and, while I had ordered some clothes, and then some shoes, I thought, why not take a gander in Dillard’s, just for the fun of it.

Well. You all.

Shiela was there, folding clothes and looking a tad bored, and since I was only one of two customers who seemed to be on the entire floor, she made a beeline for me, and help me she did. She was great. It was old school customer service, with honest opinions, and multiple trips to get me different sizes, and I left with an armload of things, all giggly at my good fortune and with feelings of genuine warmth for Sheila.

On my way to find Alice, I passed the Bobbi Brown counter, and Elliot was there, fussing around with the displays in a half-hearted way. He perked right up when I asked about the pot rouge and he fixed me right up with color, and lipsticks and an expensive but magical brush. Then he spent a good fifteen minutes showing me how to use that brush.

I looked fabulous.

Alice was having the same kind of luck over at the Origins counter. We carried our treasures—for they were treasures, so small and dear—in their nice little bags and blew kisses over our shoulders. Elliot and Alice’s person blew kisses back. I swear, it seemed as if we did, as we floated toward the escalator in the embrace of such goodwill.

We got a bit lost trying to find the mall from Dillard’s, but no worries…Tate saw our confusion and walked us to the door, then over the pedestrian walkway and waited and watched to make sure we found the mall’s back entrance.

I swear, it was if they had opened Dillard’s just for us. And the service at the Apple store was superb, too. And the Cheesecake Factory. Williams-Sonoma. Lush. Sundance. Nordstrom’s. And all the shops we popped into.

And we didn’t even venture into the fanciest and finest. Those scenes from old 60’s movies finally made sense, the images of the idle rich shopping with abandon, think Mrs. Maisel sashaying through Manhattan with bags and boxes stacked taller than the doorman’s head.

They say that bricks and mortar stores aren’t dead, but are transforming. Shoppers—read that millennials— love to shop, but want not just for goods, but for experiences. I get that, too. Shopping as theatre, spectacle, entertainment. Let me say, if retailers can deliver that, all presented with the big bow of outstanding customer service, then sign me up.

I will take a second job just to be able to see Elliot again.