Mayberry has been open for a while– and open for dinner since sometime in November. Because I wasn’t in Cincinnati a single Friday or Saturday night in November, my first opportunity to experience Mayberry came about because my mom made a Christmas request: “I don’t want gifts,” she said. “Take me out to a nice dinner!”
Since I’d heard overall good things about Mayberry, I decided that was the place to go. As I knew that Mayberry was small (located in a shotgun of a storefront in the former Tom’s Pot Pies location), and didn’t take reservations, we tried to get there early. There wasn’t room for three at the time, so we went over to Hamburger Mary’s for a cocktail. Twenty or so minutes later, we were seated at our table.
Also– be advised that Mayberry is BYOB– so if you decide to go into Mary’s for drinks, you’ll be toting your wine bottle too.
The menu for dinner, which will, I’m sure, be quite different when you decide to go, consists of a list of choices that can be ordered a la carte or in a reasonably priced prix fixe (3 choices) for $25. Be aware that the choices do not include dessert, so that $25 goes quite far for a hearty appetite– one heartier than mine! I chose the prix fixe menu, my mother chose one dish and a side, and Terry chose the now-famous Mayberry burger. We got a pretty good overview of the menu this way.
We started off with an American cheese and salumi plate for the table. Choices included a buttermilk blue, cheddar, and a couple of others– to be honest, I don’t remember precisely what they were– but it was a nicely balanced cheese plate, served with crostini. It was very accessible– my mother, who is my test of restaurant accessibility– liked all of the cheeses (except the blue, but she doesn’t like any blue cheese). The salumi assortment was also very flavorful– I love housemade salumi and charcuterie; I hope Josh keeps this one in regular rotation.
I do have a (small) complaint about the prix fixe– I wish that dessert was an option for one of the courses. Three dishes– all quite large, really– is a lot for dinner, and somehow, in my mind, I thought that dessert was the third course. Not a huge problem, really, but one nonetheless.
My first course was the crispy flatbread with figs, country ham, and goat cheese. It was a dish inspired by the South– sweet turkey figs, which apparently grow all over the place in the South, salty, rich country ham (a wine me, dine me household favorite which I think is entirely underutilized in American dining– its flavors are concentrated in the preservation process, and not as bland as “city ham” can be) and goat cheese on a flatbread. This was perfectly executed– salty, sweet, savory, crispy, creamy and chewy– a home run.
My next course was white bass with garlic white bean puree, brussels sprouts and carrot butter. This was a very delicate dish– bass, which is mild to begin with, was accompanied by a not-too-garlicky white bean puree, a few leaves of brussels sprouts (their strong flavor, in any more than the portion provided, could have been overwhelming, and a sweet carrot butter that had just a hint of caramelization from the roasted carrots. Very nice, and glad that Chef Josh sent this out before my next dish– he coursed the whole meal very well.
The next dish was the one I was anticipating the most– roast axis venison with cranberries, mint yogurt and granola. The medallion of roast venison was very tender, but not terribly flavorful. The yogurt and cranberries were a tangy contrast to crisp, barely sweetened granola. I loved the earthiness that the granola lent to the dish. It seemed just a bit underseasoned– but not unenjoyable. And visually, it was stunning.
My mother chose the pork with eggplant and apple. I was a bit surprised– I’ve never seen her eat eggplant. She really liked it, and didn’t realize she had ordered eggplant– so nice work there. I love pork, spice and fruit and had a bite– very nicely done. She chose a side of the famous macaroni and cheese– cheesy, a little upscale, but I think it would be at home… well, at home. Delicious.
Terry got the infamous Mayberry Burger– it’s really quite ridiculous. A huge burger, on a soft bun, topped with bacon, onion marmalade, and a poached egg. His only complaint? A bit too oversized and messy– he had to eat it with a fork. The flavor was delicious, with the yolk of the egg mixing with the bacon and well-seasoned burger. They should call it the breakfast burger– it’s the best part of Sunday breakfast on a burger. His side was the tater tot casserole– it, too, would be at home on someone’s breakfast table– crispy on the outside and cheesy on the inside.
All of that food, and we *still* went for dessert. Two desserts– one a warm chocolate brownie topped with caramel that was just as good as it sounds, but would have been better had it been slightly warmed. Still, it was rich and fudgy, and very good for breakfast the next morning! The standout dessert, however, was egg nog cream with the lightest gingerbread cookies you’ve ever tasted. They were essentially sugar cookies scented with ginger, cinnamon, cardamom and clove, dipped into clouds of nutmeg-flavored cream.
All in all? My mother loved it (which is all I asked for), but all three of us went away pretty impressed. I think Chef Josh is a guy to watch in town– he’s doing some inventive stuff with a homey twist, which is what Cincinnati is about, right? Comfort with just a dose of something fun and creative. Plus, everything he serves is just gorgeous– my point-and-shoot just can’t quite capture it. I can’t wait to go back– maybe on Saturday night?