Review: Knotty Pine on the Bayou

One thing Cincinnati isn’t known for: cajun and creole food.  German food we do.  We’ve got a reputation for fine French cuisine.  We even have a vibrant Italian community.  But most New Orleanians and other folks from Louisiana don’t seem to make it up this way, so it was surprising when I heard that Cincinnati (well, Northern Kentucky) has a joint called “Knotty Pine on the Bayou”.

It’s not really on the bayou.  It’s on a somewhat secluded-feeling area of the river in Northern Kentucky off of the AA Highway.  When Michelle gave me directions, she said, “It’s the second ramshackle-looking restaurant on the right, not the first!”  From the outside, it doesn’t look like much– it’s a ramshackle-looking restaurant on the river.  When you walk in, it is dark, yet welcoming.  A board lists the specials, and while you wait you can head to the bar and grab a drink.  Our reservation was for 9 PM, and we were seated very close to that time.

I’d have to advise not going late– by the time we got there and we attempted to order, they were out of ettoufee, alligator, and another item off of their specials board.  I find it a little odd that ettoufee is supposed to be a specialty, but is instead a “special”.  The server discovered they were out of the ettoufee well after I ordered, so I substituted the peel ‘n’ eat shrimp and a side salad instead.  I was a little disappointed– I wanted something a little more substantial than shrimp.  Not that they weren’t good– they were whole, head-on, and pretty tasty, but best for an appetizer and not for an entree.  The remoulade they were served with was also nice, with a good dose of red pepper for some kick.  The salad had a simple, tangy, red wine vinaigrette that I liked quite a bit.

Terry got the fried oyster entree, red skin potatoes, and collard greens, with a side salad topped with really chunky, very good blue cheese dressing.  Unfortunately, the fried oysters were overcooked, or the oil needed to be changed, as there was a distinct burnt flavor (but not appearance) and the oysters were a bit rubbery.  The redskin potatoes were nice, but the standout, surprisingly, was the collards– not overcooked, very flavorful with bacon and onions.  I would come back just for the collards.

Michelle and her husband, Kevin, joined us, and they got their “usuals”: for Michelle, Cajun chicken pasta, which was a ton of pasta, a ton of spicy cream sauce, tossed with a ton of chicken.  I’m only sort of exaggerating here:  she ate a lot, and it barely looked like a dent.  I’m pretty sure she could have eaten off of the portion provided for a week.  I took a bite– it was good, and spicy without being overwhelming.

Keving got red beans and rice and gumbo– he likes them quite a bit, and though I didn’t take a bite, it smelled very good (and disappeared quickly).

For dessert, Michelle, Terry and I split a slice of opera cream cake.  It was homemade, and made of chocolate (so it can’t be bad, right?), but the cake wasn’t terribly chocolately, and the icing wasn’t terribly rich.  It was good, in that homemade sort of way that I’m not always fond of getting in a restaurant, because I can make it myself.

Overall, I think my experience at Knotty Pine was “okay” more than anything.  I wasn’t as blown away or as enthusiastic about it as everyone I’ve talked to seems to be.  Terry, who has eaten his share of Cajun food, wasn’t terribly impressed either.  I would try it again– but I would want to make sure I got there early, to get some ettouffee and alligator!
Knotty Pine on the Bayou on Urbanspoon

  • http://idtmi.blogspot.com PHSChemGuy

    I’m a fan of the Knotty Pine – especially of their cajun sampler (basically the meat platter).

    For cajun food in the Tri-County area, I’d also recommend New Orleans To Go.

    http://idtmi.blogspot.com/2009/04/thanks-to-ruffryder.html

  • http://www.whatiatethisweek.com Graham

    1000% with you. Knotty Pine is over-rated. I find their food oversalted and otherwise underseasoned. I’ve been four times in the last 6 years, each time hoping they had made progress– I want to love this place as the setting is gorgeous and as you say, Cajun food isn’t exactly high on the Cincy list. But I just can’t do it. I do remember liking their red beans and rice, but that might just have been about it. I second the reco for New Orleans To Go. But Cajun with character still requires a roadtrip.

  • KSimm

    I will defend Knotty Pine. For cincinnati, they have excellent southern food. Next time you go, make sure to try these musts:

    1. Crawfish boil (flown in from Lousiana on TUESDAYS only this season)
    2. Frog Legs
    3. Alligator
    4. Fried catfish

    You can’t go wrong with any of the four. If they have the grouper special, that is also very good grilled or pan fried.

  • CincyCapell

    Haven’t been to Knotty Pine, but I used to love Dee Felice in Covington. Great music & good Cajun/Creol food. i haven’t been in about 2 years. anyone know if Dee Felice is still good?

  • Honest Guy

    The oysters on the half shell seemed a little odd. When I asked the busser if they recycled the shells and placed jarred oysters in them…..he replied with honesty, “yes, we do”. Do you really need to hear more about his place or do you need to waste your time reading one more review. Utterly disgusting. A health code violation.

  • Pine Fan

    I can honestly say it is one of my favorite restaurants in the Cincinnati Area. The saltiness of the food depends on what you order. At times it can be a bit overwhelming, but just ask for light seasoning and you shall receive just that. I do that when I order the Cajun Sampler. I have never had one bad experience there. The service is fantastic, the owners are there every single night cooking and greeting patrons, and the gumbo is heavenly. This is definitely a place you need to visit.

    As for recycling oyster shells, I am pretty sure most restaurants that serve oysters recycle them. Of course, they are washed, just like silverware is washed and reused. I know for a fact the oysters are high quality and not out of a simple ‘jar.’ I would make sure you stop getting your information from a 16 year old busser before trying to ruin an establishment’s reputation, Honest Guy.

    I have been eating at the Pine for over 10 years now, and always enjoy the food and atmosphere. Be sure to try the fried crawfish and gator, as well…you won’t regret it!

  • Parrothead

    Just got back from my first visit there over the weekend. I must say I was less than impressed. I had the blackened chicken over pasta and I can tell you it looked nowhere NEAR what the picture above looks like. The chicken was smaller, chopped up bits and there was less than HALF the amount of chicken in the picture. Also, there was absolutely NO spiciness to the sauce as the review indicates. It was more like a bland, tasteless roux. Most of the meals are way overpriced. Won’t be rushing back.

  • Oiche_shamhna

    I would venture to guess that none of the previous reviewers have actually had real Cajun Food. In fact if half these reviews were accurate then I would not need reservations but I do. Why? Because the place is packed every weekend and there can be only one reason for this. It is the food. I agree that New Orleans to go is good but no where is Ohio will you find a better Gumbo. As for Bland try there hot and spicy shrimp if you want something hot it packs a ton of heat. I would say that I have taken guest there for over the last 5 years and never once had anyone complain that the food was bad. Go in the summer and they have the perfect deck. I think the mistake most amateur cajun food critics make is that they think Cajun means on fire hot. This is a mistake It may be spicy but Hot is more an tex american thing and not Cajun or should I say French Acadia, and is often a rustic cuisine. and as far as Roux are concerned “Dark roux: The Acadians inherited the roux from the French. However, unlike the French, it is made with oil or bacon fat and more lately olive oil, and not butter, and it is used as a flavoring, especially in gumbo and étouffée. Preparation of a dark roux is probably the most involved or complicated procedure in Cajun cuisine, involving heating fat and flour very carefully, constantly stirring for about 15-45 minutes (depending on the color of the desired product), until the mixture has darkened in color and developed a nutty flavor. A burnt roux renders a dish unpalatable. The scent of a good roux is so strong that even after leaving one’s house the smell of roux is still embedded in one’s clothes until they are washed. The scent is so strong and recognizable that others are able to tell if one is making a roux, and often infer that one is making a gumbo.” And trust me they do an excellent job in this department. As far as NTG they are good but different I would rate them more as Creole Cooking vs Cajun and to one asking about Dee Felice. Yes the food is great there but still $$$

  • ro listermann

    My first experience Monday April 20th & I must say the service & the food was just incredible. Worth the trip.

  • http://Andouilleonline.com Johnny M

    You need to come out to New Richmond and try Anna Ree’s Andouille Restaurant….Cajun restaurant just past New Richmond heading East towards Point Pleasant…Great Cajun food and atmosphere….right on the OHIO river!! They also are very in touch with local producers and even have their own huge vegetable garden growing in the back yard!! Very cool…well worth the trip!!

  • T time

    The Knotty Pine is Amazing!