Sunday, November 13, 2016

Maplewood Kitchen:

Maplewood Kitchen (1 of 1)

Maplewood Kitchen Hash Brown

Maplewood Kitchen Blackberry Lemonade

Maplewood Kitchen Supergreen Margarita

As David and I have watched downtown restaurants open in the past several years, sometimes we feel like the downtown and Over-The-Rhine areas are part of a life-sized game board of Monopoly.

Maplewood Kitchen Fruit Side

I’ve long joked that David Falk is trying to own the block 6th and Walnut, with Nada, Boca and Sotto right next to each other. Dan Wright (Senate, Abigail Street, Pontiac) is another participant in the game. Falk and Wright have been very successful -- but there’s another set of players that are making some aggressive moves.

I’m talking, as you may have guessed, about the Thunderdome Restaurant Group.

Bakersfield. Currito. The Eagle. It’s easy to spot the work of John and Joe Lanni, just look for the line of people waiting outside.

Most recently, they’ve ventured south and west, to the 84.51 building on Race Street. Maplewood Kitchen is the newest investment from Thunderdome, and it is quite the investment. The interior of the restaurant is stunning. With each endeavor, Thunderdome has upped their game a little.

Pottery Barn Fever Dream
Straight out of one of those Restoration Hardware catalogs full of things no reasonable person can afford

If Bakersfield is a bar for devil-may-care young folks that hit tacos hard and happy hour even harder, and The Eagle is a restaurant those same folks can later bring their kids to for a grilled cheese while the adults enjoy a large goblet of high-life respite, Maplewood Kitchen is a place where tastes have evolved a bit: You’re thirty-five now. Time to start ‘eating clean’, even though you don’t know what that really means. Here, have a cold-pressed juice cocktail. Sure, it’s $10, but you’ve got a good job and a 401K. You can afford it. Maybe not more than one, though. You’ve got a lot of errands to do today.

The process is pretty straightforward. Walk through the front doors, solve the Cracker Barrel-esque puzzle to get your menu clipboard off the hook hanging from a brass rail, and make your way to the front of the line, where you can select pastries, juices or other beverages. At the register, place your order (including cocktails) and take your number to your seat of choice.

Maplewood Kitchen Menu Setup
If you can't get it off the hook slink away in shame and just order the burger

After you’ve had some time to appreciate the decor and the fact that they have put sparkling water on tap, your drinks and food are brought out to you.

We’ve been to Maplewood Kitchen several times now, and have tried a variety of dishes and cocktails.

First, drinks. Cocktails, as I alluded to above, aren’t inexpensive, but cold-pressed juice isn’t a cheap thing to make. The Supergreen Margarita, made with 100% agave tequila, Cointreau, sour mix, and a blend of spinach, pineapple, romaine, kale, parsley and celery juices, is unlike any margarita I’ve ever had before. I was skeptical at first, but did enjoy it and would order it again. The grassiness of the green juice added another layer of complexity to the drink. I felt sort of healthy ordering it, another plus.

Maplewood Kitchen Supergreen Margarita
How Green? Supergreen.

Next, the Roasted Tomatillo Bloody Mary. David’s the bigger bloody Mary fan, so he tried this one. We appreciated the unique take on the drink, but it needs salt, spice and more acid. The solution for that would be simple-- a splash of green hot sauce, like Tabasco, would do the trick.

Maplewood Kitchen Roasted Tomatillo Bloody Mary

Maplewood Kitchen Roasted Tomatillo Bloody Mary

Blackberry Lemonade is a crowd-pleaser. Not only is it very pretty to look at, the cocktail is delicious. I’d get this one again for sure.

Maplewood Kitchen Blackberry Lemonade

The cocktail I was most curious about was the Sol Driver, a blend of Tito’s vodka, Grand Marnier, Sol Glo juice, fresh orange juice and orange bitters. This was probably my second favorite cocktail we tried.

Maplewood Kitchen Sol Driver

Maplewood Kitchen Sol Driver

Now, the food. Don’t skip the sides. The hash brown is excellent, the bacon crispy, and any place where you can get a side of goetta automatically gets extra points in my book.

Maplewood Kitchen Hash Brown

Maplewood Kitchen Bacon

Our first visit I opted for the Breakfast Sandwich, David for the Avocado Benedict. The bread for the sandwich I really enjoyed, with excellent ‘holes’ in the ciabatta structure. The goetta needed a little more crunch, but the flavor was excellent. Where this sandwich really goes off the rails is the tomato jalapeno jam. For a savory sandwich, there was a lot of it--and the jam was extremely sweet. While this combo can work well with some dishes, it combined with the mushy goetta for a very strange experience.

Maplewood Kitchen Breakfast Sandwich

Maplewood Kitchen Goetta Close-up

Maplewood Kitchen Breakfast Sandwich
Do not pump up this jam

David’s eggs on his Benedict were poached beautifully, although the naming does raise some questions. Traditionally, a Benedict contains some sort of meat or protein - bacon, ham, goetta, etc. While tasty, this dish doesn’t include any of that--or even the traditional hollandaise sauce.

It seems that putting some spin on the traditional Eggs Benedict is standard practice nowadays, but this one pushes the envelope in how many elements you can change and still call something Benedict.  Given the ingredients, it would be more fair to label this a variant of "avocado toast."

I get what Maplewood is trying to do here, but Benedict isn’t supposed to be healthy, it’s supposed to be an indulgence. I would rather have seen the dish try to straddle the divide a bit better. Workaround: order a side of tasty bacon and assemble to your liking.

Maplewood Kitchen Avocado Benedict

Maplewood Kitchen Avocado Benedict

The burger is delicious. Toppings are well proportioned, the bun holds up and the meat blend is excellent. This is one of our top burgers downtown.

Maplewood Kitchen Burger

Maplewood Kitchen Burger

Another great sandwich is the chicken club. You wouldn’t think it would be hard to get a great club sandwich somewhere, but the reality is sometimes the simplest things are the hardest to find. We’ve gotten the club several times now, and have been very happy with the sandwich, also served on excellent 16 Brick ciabatta bread with flavorful piri piri sauce.

Maplewood Kitchen Chicken Club

Lastly, the Maplewood Omelette and the Bistro Steak and Eggs. We enjoyed the omelette, but the steak & eggs stole the show. Tender steak with a nice punch of chimichurri, toast with delicious jam and some of those spectacular hash browns --if you’re feeling a big breakfast, this is the way to go.

Maplewood Kitchen Omelette

Maplewood Kitchen Steak and Eggs

Maplewood Kitchen Steak and Eggs

Maplewood Kitchen is a great addition to this corner of Downtown, which has largely been overlooked when it comes to new development (read: get it while you can, retailers and restaurateurs). It's nice to see Thunderdome try something different, as well.

Welcome to the neighborhood, Maplewood.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Frida 602:

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have noticed a trend with some of my tweet content over the past year. It started innocently enough with me running a 5K race last spring.

After running inside on a treadmill all winter, I started to take my workouts to the road--and the races. I started upping my mileage during the week, getting more competitive, and on May 1st this year, ran the Flying Pig Half Marathon.

The Flying Pig has one of the earliest starts of the races I’ve run. To his credit, David got up at 5 a.m. on a Sunday without complaint to watch the race start at 6:30 and wait for me to finish about an hour and 45ish minutes later.

At most races, once you cross the finish line, there are usually volunteers with water, free bananas or other small snacks. I usually take the water, but skip the other goodies. Because when I finish a race, there are usually three things I really want, listed below.

1. A hug from David
2. Nachos
3. Margaritas


To fulfill that wish list, sometimes we head north to Chuy’s in Kenwood, to Mercado downtown, or take a short trip across the river to Frida 602.

Interestingly enough, Frida 602 is also owned by the same people that own Otto’s, the subject of my previous post. You’ll notice some similarities--the pairs of salt and pepper shakers, some quirky decor, and a menu that doesn’t disappoint.

Frida 602 not only has a nice selection of tequila, they also specialize in mezcal, which is a spirit that is growing in prominence in the past few years. The selection of mezcal at the Party Source has been steadily expanding, and now takes up several shelves as opposed to a few bottles.

The good mezcal (not that caramel colored stuff with the worm in the bottom) can get pricey, so if you want to learn more about it, this bar is an excellent place to start, as they have flights you can try. Flights are also a good idea because mezcal itself can vary so wildly.  Some are smoky and bold like Scotch, while others are delicate and vegetal like a more nuanced tequila.

A copita, or traditional tasting cup for mezcal.

The cheese dip at Frida 602 is excellent, and the thicker (almost too thick in my opinion) chips are up to the task of scooping out the melty cheese with a nice broiled crust. Don’t be scared of the peppers--they look spicy but are very mild.

Don't be skeered

I like the nacho assembly particularly. While digging around in a pile of chips and delicious toppings for that perfect combination of beans, cheese and whatever else you’ve ordered on your nachos has its charms, the nachos at Frida 602 come out on a plate already assembled and loaded with beans, cheese, chicken, cilantro and crema.

Individually assembled for your snacking pleasure

The real star of the “antojitos” menu is the empanada. If you go to Frida 602, do not skip it. The perfectly deep fried pastry is filled with juicy, braised short rib in a slightly spicy sauce and served with chimichurri and crema. Hands down, it’s one of our favorite things on the menu.

Get you some

We’ve also eaten all the tacos on the menu. In one sitting. Don't look at me like that!

Our favorites were the fried fish and the fried chicken, as well as the braised beef. The brussel sprout taco is also surprisingly good for what appears to be the token vegan dish on the menu. The only miss was the chicken taco, which was a bit dry.

These are substantial tacos, so we recommend either getting them with the flour tortilla (best with the fried stuff) or requesting a double wrapped corn tortilla so they don’t fall apart halfway through.

goat taco

Structural integrity holding...for now
Too many tacos
Only God can judge me

Drinks are excellent as well. Everything is fresh, vibrant, and housemade. No retail mystery mixes were spotted.

If you want to go traditional, there’s a solid house margarita. The passion-fruit punch, which is a delightful pink color, is so tasty I’d recommend a pitcher for a group--because you definitely won’t want to share an individual order.

Passionfruit punch
Oaxacan mule
Frida Margarita

We’ve tried two desserts, the key lime pie and the tres leches cake. The pie has great flavor with real lime zest, and the cake is some of the best we’ve ever had. The torched marshmallow at the top really takes it up a notch. This is another thing not to skip at Frida 602.

One of the best parts of indulging post-race is I get to eat the whole thing without any guilt