Cincinnati Magazine recently did an overview of burgers in the city. Their #1, Wildflower, is a great choice– and probably my #1, too. It’s an interesting list, and if you haven’t read it– either pick it up at a newsstand or read it online (warning: you must be a subscriber to read online). The list is pretty comprehensive– everything from the Arnold’s burger, to Terry’s Turf Club, to the Quarter Bistro (whose burger I sampled about a week ago, and it is really darn good), to Quatman’s–both in the city and in the suburbs. They did, however, miss one really great burger. I’m sure that if I asked them why, it would be because the hours are spotty, or because it’s essentially the lab class at the Midwest Culinary Institute, but it could easily stand up to any burger in the city.
Though the restaurant at the Midwest Culinary Institute is the Summit at night, run by Chef Winterrowd, during the day– some days, not all, and the schedule revolves around their quarter-based school calendar– it’s run by Chef Kinsella, and culinary students are put through their paces both in back-of-house and in front-of house at the MCI Restaurant. The menu, which includes soups, salads, burgers, entrees, and desserts– is entirely made by MCI students, from the buns for the burgers, to the house-ground meat.
I went for lunch last week with Tom and Carla from Hoperatives, and Michelle from Wine-Girl. Carla is a faculty member of Cincinnati State, so she’s been trying to get me to come down for lunch for a while, and in particular to try the burger.
We started off with a first course– Carla and I both got the gumbo, which is made by Chef Kinsella’s recipe, and as good as anything I had this past week in New Orleans. The roux base was nice and dark, giving it a lovely richness and nutty flavor, and it wasn’t too spicy.
Michelle grabbed the soup of the day, potato leek, which was delicious– topped with chive oil for an extra burst of flavor, it wasn’t as rich as I thought it would be (and that’s good– I didn’t order it because I thought it would be too heavy in the heat!), but was light and delicately flavored.
Tom got the Caesar salad with a poached egg on top– it came out a little later than the rest of the first course, since it is a lab kitchen, and apparently the poached egg wasn’t up to snuff. If you’re on a time crunch, it’s probably not good to pack in this lunch between meetings, as it can take just a tiny bit longer (the wait is worth it, though).
Tom, Carla and I all got the burger– it was topped with caramelized onions, and the bread was baked with red onion slices on top. I asked for the burger medium, and it was cooked perfectly– juicy with a bit of pink in the center, and topped with Gruyere cheese– the cheese was a little over-melted, but it tasted great. The chips (fried in peanut oil, for those of you with allergies) are delicious, though the red apple slaw is only average– I didn’t know it was apple until Carla mentioned it; it just tasted like cabbage.
Michelle got the club sandwich, which was on house-made focaccia, and accented with a tangy Alouette cheese. I took a bite– it was good, if a bit bready. I never like bread to overwhelm a sandwich, but the quality of the bread was good– so forgivable.
If you’d like to get a reservation, you’ll need a connection at the college– whether that’s a faculty or staff member or a student. With 15,000 students and upwards of 800 faculty and staff (both part time and full time), you’ve got a pretty good chance of knowing someone who might be able to get you in.