I remember when Newsweek named Findlay Market as one of the ten best markets in the whole world. That was in 2019, and Findlay was the only US market to make the list. We knew the market was special, and it was terrific to see this acknowledgment.
The market has blossomed so much in recent years that the surrounding neighborhood has boomed, too. Along with the development of new apartments, condos and commercial buildings, the area has experienced a remarkable expansion of dining options.
For starters, Findlay occupies the only area of Cincinnati with restaurants owned by Cincinnati’s two superstar chefs, Jean-Robert de Cavel and Jose Salazar. De Cavel’s French Crust and Salazar’s Goose & Elder both hit a sweet spot of being perfect for the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood and a draw for folks from the entire region.
At a recent Sunday brunch at French Crust (1801 Elm St., frenchcrustcafe.com), we enjoyed a meal that featured one scrumptious dish after another. We had six in our party, and every item laid on our table was completely satisfying – and that was without any of us ordering the best-in-the-city quiche. De Cavel’s private collection of framed posters and other decorations express his personality and create a spot-on Parisian bistro ambiance. Chef de cuisine Carla Heiert creates omelets, soups, salads and casseroles that complement the glorious croissants and sweets of pastry chef Jean-Philippe Solnom.
I adore the quiche Lorraine and don’t usually resist it. But at this recent brunch, I discovered the “Le Creuset” casseroles. My salmon casserole with tomato, corn kernels, shiitake mushrooms and a creamy lemon sauce was wonderful, as was my friend’s steak casserole with potatoes, carrots, peas and a demi-glace (each $ 16). The lemon sauce on the salmon dish couldn’t have been more delightful.
At the opposite end of the market sits Goose & Elder (1800 Race St., gooseandelder.com). While French Crust opened almost 10 years ago, G & E has only been around since 2019. It was one of my favorite spots for carryout during the first year of COVID-19. With front and back rooms and several outdoor seating possibilities, the restaurant felt spacious enough to patronize last year when we started going back to in-house dining.
Serving from late morning until 9 pm or 10 pm every day except Tuesday, Goose & Elder excels at a variety of offerings. I can never get enough of the duck leg confit with grits and bacon-braised greens ($ 19). Lighter, wonderful options include a veggie burger based on falafel ($ 11.75) and avocado toast perked up with jalapeno and sliced radishes ($ 12.25). You can’t go wrong with the burger and fries, either ($ 8.50 for a single patty; $ 12.50 for a double). The back room with a bar and well-spaced tables is a welcome place to linger, while the front dining room is livelier.
Pho Lang Thang (1828 Race St., pholangthang.com) completes a triumvirate of truly outstanding restaurants adjacent to Findlay Market. If fragrant, savory and vegetable-forward Vietnamese cooking rings your bells, this establishment down the block from Goose & Elder has you covered. The restaurant quickly outgrew its original location inside the market several years ago, moving into a roomier spot across Race Street in 2019. Two COVID years later, the eatery still dishes out impossibly fresh salads, salad rolls, banh mi sandwiches and noodle bowls. Come dinner time, a couple of especially creative offerings might pop up. The expanded location includes an adjacent carry-out storefront, a much larger kitchen and a full bar.
Cheese fans — which probably includes just about everyone — shouldn’t miss The Rhined near the French Crust side of the market. Although you can find a lot of excellent cheese among the vendors in Findlay Market proper, The Rhined (1737 Elm St., therhined.com) has unique charms. You can relax at the little shop’s counter or in a back courtyard to sample cheese flights with or without a glass or two of wine. The shop sells those goodies and more to enjoy at home, too and specializes in regional cheeses, often made in small batches.
Cleverly and aptly named, Mighty Good: Meat n ‘Three (1819 Elm St., mightygoodotr.com) serves Southern-style comfort food at reasonable prices. The place also does good by staffing its kitchen with students from the Findlay Culinary Training Program in which students are ready for employment in area kitchens after 12 weeks of preparing dishes such as garlic chicken, Mississippi pot roast and blackened redfish, along with all kinds of sides and scrumptious desserts . Mighty Good patrons pick a meat and add three sides from a list of almost a dozen, all for $ 11; three pieces of fried chicken with two sides will cost you $ 15. I’ve had lunch there twice and enjoyed both meals, especially the fried chicken, braised greens, mashed sweet potatoes and cornbread. Pie slices, cobblers and banana pudding (each $ 4) come off pretty much like grandma used to make. There’s booze, too, including a few bottled beers ($ 3- $ 5), five wines by the glass ($ 8) and several cocktails such as bourbon and other whiskey drinks ($ 8-10).
For those who prefer to focus on libations, the neighborhood has several enticing watering holes. Just a couple of blocks from the market is La Ofrenda (30 Findlay St., laofrendatequila.com), which specializes in margaritas and other tequila or mezcal cocktails, plus a wide selection of tequilas and other spirits. A friend tells me that when La Ofrenda has Latin dance nights, the place is packed.
A bit farther from the market, in two separate directions, are OTR Stillhouse and Somerset. The former (2017 Branch St., otrstillhouse.com) is a combination distillery, brewery, bar and performance venue with oodles of space both indoors and out. There’s a menu of light bites, meaty grilled skewers, a burger with fries and a couple of noodle bowls.
Somerset (139 E. McMicken Ave., somersetotr.com) received a shout-out from Harper’s Bazaar in April as one of a handful of OTR establishments it recommends for out-of-towners (Pho Lang Thang also earned a nod). The restaurant is a bit of a walk from the market, but it may be worth the effort to see what made a national magazine pay attention. The place has beautiful ambiance, with a feel that’s both spacious and intimate. It’s also crazy-popular, but you can reserve space in advance via the website. Plan ahead, though: you’re not likely to nab a table last-minute. Reservations aren’t necessary, but without them you may have to hang out in a line for a while.
There are plenty of places to eat or drink within a short walk of Findlay Market, but these are some of my favorites. Next time you’re in the neighborhood, save room for a snack or meal in this historic part of Cincinnati.
For more information about Findlay Market, visit findlaymarket.org.
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