Review: Hugo

Shrimp and grits. If you ask anyone who knows anything about Southern cuisine, specifically low country cuisine, this is about the time you should get out a handkerchief: let the drooling commence. Shrimp. Grits. What could be better?

Now, seeing as my wonderful dining partner is from the South (Alabama, specifically), I have gotten quite the education on grits. What are grits? Grits are ground hominy. Hominy is the soft white part of the corn kernel after the outer “shell” has been removed– often with lye. Don’t listen to Tyler Florence, who I recently saw do a recipe on his show that was purported to be shrimp and grits– ground cornmeal is not grits. That’s polenta. Polenta is great stuff, but it’s not grits. Grits come in instant, quick, regular and stone-ground. There is a world of difference between the three, and stone ground grits (though they take longer) are infinitely better. The texture is just incomparable. You can pick stone ground grits up in the Cajun section of Jungle Jim’s, or you can buy them at a more reasonable price online. Terry purchased some from this store last Sunday, and they got there on Wednesday before we left for our trip. We’re set for grits for a good long time.

I had shrimp and grits for the first time on a recent trip to Nashville. They were fantastic– a little spicy, with white cheddar grits, bacon and shrimp. It was simple but exceptional. When Hugo opened recently, and I found out that their shrimp and grits were supposed to be great, I had to try them. Initially, we were supposed to go there for my birthday in November, but we just never made it. Finally, Terry called me at work and said, “Make reservations for Hugo.” So, I did.

Hugo is in Pho Paris’ old spot in Oakley. They specialize in “sophisticated Southern”, with menu items including fried green tomatoes, corn fritters, short ribs and hoppin’ john (black eyed peas cooked with bacon). These aren’t your Kentucky grandma’s version, these are instead rich and sophisticated, with interesting twists on these old standards.

I got pretty excited because they supposedly have the best foie in the city. We decided on foie as an appetizer, but then our server told us the specials.

Dammit.

The first course special was braised pork belly with apples. Pork belly is so fashionable and so tasty– you get crispy outside, moist, porky inside, and a succulent layer of fat. It was topped with a fondue– so pork and cheese. Oh, man. This portion was huge– it could have been an entree for two– and Terry and I could only manage to eat about half of it.

I will never be a size 2.

Of course, we still got the foie. Terry has become a veritable foie fiend, and I’m happy to share it with him. Hugo’s was pan-seared, served with dried apricots on top of corn bread and pine nuts with a pineapple gastrique. The pineapple was sweet and a little sour, and the foie so rich, they were an excellent compliment. I think it was better than Red’s.

We skipped the second course and moved right on to the entree. I decided on duck: I am so in love with duck these days, can you tell? This was duck confit, served with butternut squash, cider jus and radicchio. It tasted like fall– rich and spicy and heady.

Terry got the shrimp and grits. This wasn’t the rustic dish I had in Nashville, but more refined– the grits were finely ground, the tasso rich and a little spicy, instead of getting its spice from jalapenos. It was delicious and well prepared and deserving of its local fame.

For dessert, we split a Huguenot torte. which was rich with pecans and apples, and topped with house-made maple ice cream. The ice cream was absolutely the best part of this dish. It was creamy, rich, but somehow light. The torte itself was OK, but no more than okay; it was a little dry and a little overly nutty for my tastes. But the ice cream? Oooh.

Sophisticated Southern– this was fine dining with a touch of the South. These were traditional fine dining staples kicked up with Southern flavors. All of the dishes were rich– I hope that Chef Daly changes this a bit for the spring– but all were appropriate for this still cool weather. I will definitely be back– if just for the grits and the foie!

Hugo on Urbanspoon

  • Cin Twin1

    Welcome home! I have been to Hugo only once and went because I had purchased a gift certificate from the Cincinnati Original restaurant website. They should be running the deals again soon for the 2nd quarter. Keep us posted if you hear anything!

    Anyway, I had the duck when I went too, and thought it was fantasitc. I have since tried to make it, order it out (Pigalls), and still think that Hugo’s is the best. What is it about grits? I made some Sunday night in chicken stock with a little freshly grated parmesean, and dang they were good. I have a similar obsession to oatmeal and I think it has to do with the texture.

    My mom was in town last week and we took her to Nicola’s. She lives in Seattle, and as a fellow foodie, and lover of good food, she was blown away by the quality and service. Welcome home, and I can’t wait to hear about the trip!

  • Chris S

    Welcome back :)

    Hitting up hugos in a few weeks myself, so I love the preview! Pork belly sure does seem to be all the rage lately, just had it Lavo (It was sublime with the egg and beets).

    If you like somewhat dressed up grits, I can definitely recommend Tinks over off of Ludlow in Clifton (on Telford). They do (or at least used did when I went) a shrimp and cheddar grits that was quite tasty.

  • valereee

    Check it out: You’re a Snap-and-Eater.

    What kind of eater are you?

  • inflammatory writ

    That food looks so good. OMG. The pork belly looks unbelievable. I’ve never actually had it. I bet I’d love it.

  • Julie

    Cin Twin– Thanks! The GCF will start their coupons on the 11th! I love oatmeal too– I’m the only person who eats oatmeal *out*. I love it. I love grits. I just love grains, period. And.. I had duck in DC. TWICE.

    Chris– pork belly with eggs and beets? I love beets, and I love Lavo’s beets– there’s nothing better than home-pickled anything. Terry doesn’t like beets, so I get them all to myself. Mmm.

    I haven’t been to Tink’s in years– I need to try them again.

    Valereee– I’m a snap-and-eater, and I try to be a baggist. :P

    Kari– You WOULD. It is pork heaven.

  • WestEnder

    Speaking of green tomatoes, does anyone know who stocks them around here? Madison’s (Findlay Mkt) used to have them but not anymore. I can’t find them anywhere.

  • Chris S

    Tinks isn’t in the Hugo’s or Jean Ro class, but if you get the right server, several of their dishes have impressed in the past.

    And definitely a big thumbs up to the Lavo pork belly. That one is a must have.

  • Cin Twin1

    Random Question:

    I have lived in Cincinnati for two years and have never been to Northside. I told my hubby I wanted to go Friday night for dinner. After doing some research I think Honey’s is a little two expensive for a Friday night dinner (saturday we are doing scotti’s). Would anyone recommend Slims or The Hideaway? Is the another place we should check out instead? Thanks!

  • Julie

    Slim’s is in a similar price range to Honey; I’d suggest Hideaway. You can eat outside if the weather’s nice, or you can bring your food into the Northside Tavern and listen to live music. They have boiled, chilled new potatoes as a side– rolled in kosher salt with a side of hot-creamy mustard (I believe it’s cut with mayo). Super, super good stuff.

  • Julie

    Westender– I’ve found green tomatoes year-round at Jungle Jim’s. They’re near the Lucky Charms/Trix Bunny/Honey Bee band and they usually have Whistle Stop Cafe fried green tomato batter mix next to them.

  • WestEnder

    Thanks!

    I figured JJ would have them since they have everything. It’s pretty far, though. Anyone spotted those elusive green tomatoes closer to the city?

  • Julie

    I’ll keep my eye out. I think I’ve seen them at Kroger’s in Hyde Park, but I couldn’t tell you if they were any good or not. My spidey sense says “no”.