'Best' restaurants vs. 'favorite' restaurants. (There’s a big difference)

·4 min read

Happy Wednesday, everyone. I don't know about you, but I'm still recovering from this year's Taste of Cincinnati. Given all the tacos, wings, goetta and Lord knows what else I ate there, I'm focusing my diet this week on fruits, vegetables and antacids. If you want to read about some of the best things I ate, you can find them here. In the meantime, here's what's on my mind this week.

'Favorite' vs. 'best'

A few weeks ago, when I was a guest on the Eddie & Rocky show on WLW, host Eddie Fingers asked me a question along the lines of, “Where do you go when you just want to grab something to eat?” The way I took the question was more like, "Where do I go when I just want something reliably good and not overwrought?" A place where I can truly relax and enjoy myself.

The answer that immediately came to mind was the National Exemplar in Mariemont.

The National Exemplar in Mariemont.
The National Exemplar in Mariemont.

If I really think about it, the Exemplar is probably my favorite restaurant in Cincinnati. I know there’s a little nostalgia mixed into that declaration (it was a favorite of my parents, too). And I’m not saying it’s the best restaurant in Cincinnati, but it certainly meets all of the criteria I mentioned above.

I think that’s an important question for everyone, really. Not what is the best restaurant in Cincinnati, but what is your favorite restaurant in Cincinnati? For some, it might be a fine dining establishment like Le Bar a Boeuf or Jeff Ruby’s. For others, it might be a beloved bar and grill that's close to home. But think about it for a moment. If I asked you, "What is your favorite restaurant?" what would immediately pop into your head? Feel free to let me know via email. I’d be interested to hear.

Some thoughts on live music at restaurants

Live music at Arnold's.
Live music at Arnold's.

There are some restaurants in Greater Cincinnati that are known for featuring live music. Arnold’s is a good example. Dee Felice is, too. When I go to either spot, I know what I'm in for. In fact, that’s usually the primary reason I'm going.

That said, there is a particular feeling of dread I get when I’m sitting at a restaurant enjoying a nice conversation with a friend and a few guys suddenly show up with amplifiers and a drum set and start setting up. Oh, man, I think. This place is about to go through a serious vibe shift.

Live music at restaurants (especially when it's unexpected) makes me feel guilty, like I’m supposed to focus on the band instead of my dining companion. I never know if I should put down my fork and clap at the finish of every song. And then, if no one claps, I feel bad for the band and start over-enthusiastically clapping, myself.

Part of this is on me. A simple check of a restaurant's website would probably let me know if a band is playing. Still, in my cranky opinion, restaurants that aren't known for live music should mostly shy away from it.

Dissenting opinions are welcome.

Why food lovers should join the Mercantile Library

Chef and TV personality Vivian Howard at the Mercantile Library
Chef and TV personality Vivian Howard at the Mercantile Library

Last week, I made my way to the Mercantile Library to hear celebrity chef Vivian Howard give a lecture titled Hearth & Home. Howard, who hails from Deep Run, North Carolina, is host of the excellent PBS series “A Chef’s Life” and writes an excellent monthly column in Garden & Gun magazine (don't let the name fool you, it's far more focused on food and culture than firearms).

Howard's appearance is just the latest example of how the team at the Mercantile continues to enrich and refresh the programming at the 187-year-old private library.

In the past, they’ve also hosted New York Times food writer Melissa Clark and (a while back) Julia Child. More recent events included a wine tasting and talk with California vintners Peter Stolpman and Ruben Solorano and a conversation with Victoria Eady Butler, who is the great-great grand-daughter of Nathan “Nearest” Green, a former slave and mentor to Jack Daniels. (Though it took a while, he is now recognized as Jack Daniels first master distiller.)

If you haven’t joined the library, I highly recommend doing so. But you don’t have to be a member to purchase tickets.

Well, that's it for now. Tune in next week for my thoughts on the true meaning of farm-to-table restaurants and the problems my love of paw-paws have inflicted on my otherwise healthy marriage. Juicy stuff, right? See you Wednesday.

Keith Pandolfi covers food and dining for The Enquirer/Cincinnati.com. Click here for his most recent articles, and follow his latest dining adventures on Instagram @keithpandolfi or via the  At the Table newsletter

The historic Mercantile Library boasts a large collection of volumes spanning a wide range of subjects.
The historic Mercantile Library boasts a large collection of volumes spanning a wide range of subjects.

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: 'Best' restaurants vs. 'favorite' restaurants. (There’s a big difference)