Tucker’s, I think, is one of the best kept secrets in Cincinnati. If you drove past it, on Vine—not in the re-invented Gateway Quarter, but in a less redeveloped area of Vine Street—you’d think it was a total dive. Its outside is unpretentious, even run-down looking, and you could easily pass it by if you weren’t looking for it. Inside, however, is some of the best, most sincere food I’ve had in Cincinnati—and I mean it.
The inside is as unpretentious as the outside—a few booths, some bar service, a cook slinging short orders right behind the bar. A giant glass container of fruit salad sits nearby, dipped into occasionally as an accompaniment for an entrée. They have specials, but get them early—because they go fast. The clientele is diverse: poor and rich, old and young; I even spied a Franciscan priest who had walked down from St. Francis Seraph, and who knew everyone. The tattooed, bespectacled waiter treats you as if you’re a regular, even if it’s your first time. In the corner, someone is photographing the restaurant, throughout the day, for a time-lapse retrospective of the day (for future exhibition at the Carnegie in Covington). It’s just the kind of place where all of these things (that elsewhere would be chaotic) just work.
We went on a Sunday, hoping to grab some of the shrimp and grits that they’re famous for—well, as famous as a well-kept secret can be. We perused the menu. The front side is breakfast, filled with lots of standards (eggs, pancakes), some not-so-standard (vegan offerings such as vegan bacon and sausage, brioche French toast that smelled absolutely amazing) and all of it, based on the crowd of people inside this small restaurant, very good.
The shrimp and grits—I got the very last order—were the best I’ve had in town: better than Hugo’s, better than Lavomatic, and better than anywhere else I’ve had them outside the South. The shrimp were spicy, but not too spicy; the sauce of scallions and Tasso ham rich and delicious. The grits were perfect—creamy, seasoned well, and not sticky or gloppy—obviously very fresh. It was accompanied with a biscuit and some of the aforementioned fruit salad.
Terry’s patty melt was a very classic patty melt: hamburger, cheese, pickles. That’s it. It was well crafted (good meat, pickles on the sandwich and not on the side) and the fries were crisp. There’s not a lot to say—it’s traditional diner fare, done well.
The really cool thing about Tucker’s? Their main supplier is Findlay Market. I saw one of the guys from Eckerlin’s bringing in sausage as we dined. You get the diner experience with high quality ingredients, at a low price—our two entrees, plus coffee, was $14, with tip—plus you’re supporting local suppliers and restaurant owners. If you find yourself looking for a down to earth breakfast or lunch experience (they close by 3 PM), head down Vine towards Tucker’s.