I am starting to get confused.
People are talking about the Anchor– and, you know, people have been talking about the Anchor for years, except they were talking about the greasy spoon in Covington, and not the hip, straight-from-Brooklyn eatery in Over-the-Rhine. Now, instead of hearing about griddled goetta and eggs-over-easy, I’m hearing about lobster rolls and oysters.
Either way, sounds good to me.
Run by Derek dos Anjos, a Wilmington native who ran a similar restaurant in Brooklyn, this relatively new addition to the neighborhood focuses on seafood. Now, hold it right there, naysayers: you can get good seafood in Cincinnati. We have amazing things called “airplanes” and “refrigeration” that allow landlocked Cincinnati to get seafood from the coasts that are very good quality. It’s a little more expensive than getting a lobster roll in Cape Cod, but it’s a good experience.
Anchor, on a corner storefront across the street from Washington Park, is the first restaurant to open near the park, soon to be followed by Zula’s across the street and a top secret project in the old Enzo’s space. It isn’t as crowded as some of the Vine Street restaurants, and also take reservations (a rarity, I assure you).
I’ve nibbled my way around the menu, both solo and with friends.
Their cocktail service is great– a few good, solid drinks that are well-balanced. They do a solid Bloody Mary (even virgin): spicy and fresh-tasting. Their take on a Dark and Stormy is also really nice, with some house-candied ginger as garnish. In fact, I’ve mostly eaten at the bar– let’s face it: the bar is the place to be (and the head bartender, Chrissy, formerly of Taste of Belgium, is fantastic).
My first visit was for lunch. Their lunch-exclusive shrimp tacos are how shrimp tacos should be, and should certainly be served on the dinner menu. The plate was bright and inviting, with guacamole, spicy mayonnaise, lots of pico de gallo and perfectly grilled shrimp. Two tacos is a good lunch portion. I also tried the kale salad, which I liked so much I ordered it again: kale, a citrusy dressing, Parmesan and an unexpected pop of crunchy hazelnuts. I don’t know what they do to the kale– and mind you, I like kale already– but this is a heavenly salad. It was a great, healthy “nibble” when I went out with a friend for happy hour, where they have drink specials and $1.50 east coast oysters.
The oysters, which I’ve had three times now, are great. They’re really fresh, and the staff is knowledgable about the different varieties. Price is around $2.50 per oyster, and they also have seafood plates to share that include Jonah crab and lobster. They’re served with mignonette, house-made cocktail sauce and some extra horseradish in case you need an extra kick. Combine that with a Bloody Mary and you might blow your tastebuds out. Whew!
The Better Half and I have sampled a few of their dinner menu items. Their fish special (the night I went, branzino) can be ordered prepared a couple of different ways. I went Thai-style, and they’ll happily debone it at the table for you. The branzino was good, but I gave The Better Half the side-eye the entire time, jealous of his highly recommended (by the bartender) Trout BLT: fried trout, bacon, lettuce, tomato, great bread. Amazing.
This was the same night that we went a little crazy on sides: their onion rings, freshly beer-battered and piled sky-high, are tremendous; some of the best I’ve had anywhere. Hush puppies were good, and brussels sprouts, caramelized and a little spicy, were outstanding.
The main complaint I’ve heard about is price– particularly around the lobster roll, which I haven’t had. For two of us for a gluttonous dinner, our bill was around $100– not inexpensive, but not out of line for the Gateway Quarter. Seafood isn’t cheap, but when I had dinner recently with a friend of mine from Boston, I asked him: “What would you pay for a really good lobster roll in Boston?” His response? “$22, at Amrhein’s.” So, considering they’re right on the water (and we– well, we’re on the water, but there are no lobsters there, I hope), the $24 or so for the lobster roll at Anchor isn’t bad.