Yes, I get that very cliched Breakfast at Tiffany‘s song stuck in my head when I hear the name of the newest brewpub around town, Brew River, located in the former Maribelle’s location on Riverside Drive which, along with Eastern Avenue, is really becoming a destination for some really delicious food: Eli’s, Terry’s Turf Club, Bella Luna, and now Brew River.
We grabbed a small table in the bar area, tucked away in the corner– great for watching what was going on, but not so loud that we couldn’t hear each other. Bonus: we got to see lots of plates come down from the upstairs kitchen, which helped us decide what we we’d order for dinner, and gave us a great view at was going on at the bar. Our server brought us our menus, which were beautifully designed but had a misspelling on the cover (yes, this is what happens when you have two people with four degrees related to English between them look at your menu). Once we opened them, we were overwhelmed with the choices: beer, wine, food, dessert. There’s a lot going on here.
Looking up from the menu, we could focus on the bar, which is the focus of Brew River. There are a ton of beer taps, a ton of bottled beers, and another ton of wine. It’s a little overwhelming– as the waiter rattled off the specials, both beer and food, by the time we’d gotten to the end of the list, we weren’t quite sure what the first things were. I’d love it if the featured taps were included in an insert in the menu. That said, I ended up with an Apricot saison on nitro– I love sour beers of any sort, and putting it on nitro gave it an incredible creaminess. There are some exclusive Brew River beers, as well as a craft beer geek’s paradise, with pages and pages of beer selections. It’s one of the best selections of beers at a restaurant in the city.
Chef Michael Shields studied at MCI and under Emeril Lagasse, and the Creole touch of Lagasse is evident in his menu. I couldn’t resist the small portion of New Orleans-style barbecue shrimp, and I was very pleased with my choice for appetizer. I love the buttery spiciness of barbecue shrimp, and this version didn’t disappoint, but it was significantly lighter. I really appreciated that– all of the flavor, not as much butter, and the portion was perfect for two.
As an entree, I chose buttermilk fried chicken. It was an airline breast, battered and deep fried, served with a light coleslaw and some fried potatoes. The chicken was perfectly cooked, incredibly flavorful, and very crispy. The coleslaw was a perfect accompaniment– not too heavy with mayonnaise, but not too sour with vinegar, either. The potato wedges were nicely crispy (though I’d have preferred their fries). I asked the server for a side of ketchup. “It’s a dollar. Is that OK?” I’d heard about this ketchup before: it’s a slightly different variety daily, homemade, and delicious. I splurged. This version had what seemed to be five-spice powder, and was a beautiful, late summer tomato color (not artificially red). I want a whole bottle to take home.
The Better Half decided he was going back to New Orleans for a Po’Boy. This one featured fried oysters, sriracha mayo and pickled ginger for a twist. The sandwich was super flavorful, and I appreciated the twist on the traditional. I wasn’t certain that the pickled ginger would work, but it did, beautifully. My only complaint is that I’d have liked the bread to be a bit toasted so that the bread would have stood up to the fillings a bit more. A small complaint– it was an overall solid sandwich. Paired with some crazy-good frites with that same five-spice ketchup? Awesome.
We were strong armed into dessert– okay, I don’t mean it quite the way it sounds, but who could resist an apple brown betty with R0gue Hazelnut Nectar gelato? Not us. It was everything a betty should be: lots of apples, cinnamon, a crispy top, and the Rogue hazelnut gelato was unexpectedly good. Next time, I’m going for the Adult Beer Float– raspberry lambic with raspberry lambic gelato. Oh, yes.
The best thing about Brew River is how they’ve incorporated beer into most of their menu– including desserts. Shields has a level of creativity that I’ve really been hoping for when it comes to beer and food, particularly in a beer city like Cincinnati. It’s much appreciated. Not only is there beer in much of the food, but every dish has several suggested beer pairings, both from the Brew River line of beers as well as their “guest” beers. There’s something for everyone.
After our dinner, we chatted with Shields, who was doing a tour of the first floor (beer in hand), talking to customers. I couldn’t resist asking about the ketchup: Shields decided he wanted to make his own condiments: he didn’t want bottles of Heinz or French’s on the table. The ketchup is where he plays– he wouldn’t confirm it was five spice (though I got a smile when I suggested it), but he does make it fresh. It is worth a trip just to grab a beer and an order of frites with that incredible ketchup at the bar.