Review: Chi-nnati’s

I found myself, one recent weekday night, hungry for something.  I couldn’t quite put my finger on what.  I had a few qualifications:

1) It had to be on my way home from work, and, since by that time it was 6:30, not far off the highway.

2) No fast food.  I wanted to sit, relax, and have a cocktail.

3) Not terribly expensive. I really wanted to go to the Brown Dog Cafe, but I also wanted leftovers.

4) Not Asian cuisine of any sort

5) Something I hadn’t written about yet.

I am not easy to please.

So, as I drove down 71, I decided to get off at Montgomery Road in Kenwood.  I knew that by simply turning left, I’d have a few options.  The first one I noticed?  Chi-nnati’s.  They had a big sign out front that said “Happy Hour”.  Sold!

Okay, if you throw a cocktail my way, I’m a little easy to please.

I popped into Chi-nnati’s (pronounced “Shuh-nati”, or thereabouts, it wasn’t consistently pronounced among the staff)  well in the middle of the aforementioned happy hour.  I used to love Jalapeno’s, but there’s no hint that this building was ever a Mexican restaurant.  It’s completely redesigned, very modern, with some fantastic signage.   Honestly, if I didn’t know better, the experience of the restaurant is so slick that I’d assume it to be a chain.  I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.  Time will tell.

Unfortunately, the hostess didn’t get off on the right foot.  As a single person, we often get the worst seats in the restaurant.  I’m not sure why (industry folks, please explain the logic here), but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been seated next to the bathroom, or in a corner, or in what felt like Antarctica because I was a single diner.  When it’s crowded, it doesn’t bother me, but when there are only two tables in the restaurant with diners, I’d prefer something a bit nicer.  I asked, politely, and was moved to a window seat.

I ordered a gin and tonic ($4), and a half-price appetizer, bruschetta.

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I was hungry, thus only half of the dish was left before I realized that I ought to take a picture.  The bread was nice, crusty bread, toasted with garlic and butter.  The tomato topping was bland– the tomatoes weren’t quite ripe, and it essentially tasted like salsa with no heat.  It needed more basil and garlic and salt to bring out the flavor.

It’s a good thing I got it, too, because I had forgotten how long Chicago-style deep dish pizzas take.  It’s a half an hour from ordering until it’s on your plate, so by the time I’d have gotten it I’d have chewed my arm off.  This is not a meal to enjoy if you are in a rush.

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Chi-nnati’s menu features both Chicago-style deep dish pizza and a thinner, cracker-like crust.  The specialty pizzas range from a Cincinnati Chili pizza to a Barbecue Baconnati pizza, Canadian bacon and pineapple– and, of course, a create-your-own.  Since the Barbecue Baconnati pizza was not available as a deep dish, I chose a simple preparation of bacon, pineapple and onions in a deep dish crust.

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The pizza was good– the sauce spicy and rich, with lots of cheese, and a good amount of toppings.  The pizza was huge– a 10″ small, said to feed 1-2, really could have fed four.  I had a slice, and took the rest home (I was full from the bruschetta, and one slice is a lot of pizza and cheese).  I liked the deep dish crust, dusted with cornmeal, and liked how well it held up to its toppings.  The onions and pineapple were not soggy or overcooked, but there was a major problem (in my opinion) with the bacon:  it was not cooked prior to baking.  As the bacon was inside the pie, there was no danger of it overly browning, so why not fry it up?  Instead, I got smoky bacon flavor, with chewy pieces of soft, pale bacon instead of a crispy crunch (which is what I was looking for).  My preference– but also a complaint.

My dinner ended up being around $25, with lots of leftovers.  The pizza is not inexpensive– those $1.50 toppings add up– so take a friend at happy hour to keep the prices lower.  Two people who can agree on toppings would be more than satisfied with an appetizer and a 10″ pizza split between them.

The service rounded out to be fair– the server wasn’t terribly attentive, but I didn’t want her to be.  Sometimes it IS nice to eat alone.

I’d definitely go back– it’s nice to have some choice in town.  Next time, I’ll try the thin crust.

Chi-nnati's on Urbanspoon

  • http://getinmahbelly.blogspot.com/ liz

    finally, a review! :) i have to try this place, i love chicago style pizza. but re: the bacon, gross.

    re: single dining, i totally hate that. i always just tell them that i don’t like the table and i want to sit somewhere else. nobody has ever told me no, but why do they do that? i especially don’t understand it when the restaurant is mostly empty. if i am eating alone isn’t it much more likely that i am going to notice the surroundings?
    .-= liz´s last blog ..cuba cafe in covington is closed already! =-.

    • http://winemedinemecincinnati.com julie

      Like I said– I don’t mind it when the place is packed, but if it’s just me and a couple of other tables? There’s nothing wrong with eating alone.

  • kid-cincy

    My wife and I ate there last week. Overall, it was OK. Our server appeared to be brand new, so she didn’t know anythng about what wine and beer they had. We also ordered the bruschetta, which I thought was good. We ordered two pizzas, a thin crust shrimp pizza, and a deep dish with spinach. The shrimp pizza was very good, but they accidentally burned our deep dish. They quickly put a thin-crust spinach in the oven to give us something to eat, and then comp’d us the deep dish and made it to go. Both of the spinach pizzas were good, but both had a problem I’ve never encountered before — they had WAY too much ground black pepper added to them. It wasn’t a big problem for me, because I like spicy food, but my wife was a bit disappointed. If you don’t like spicy, you may want to ask before ordering, or make a point of mentioning that you don’t want any black pepper added.

  • E.

    That looks like a decent Chicago-style pie – at least they get the deep dish concept right in that it’s NOT the same as a “pan” pizza (i.e. all crust). But I will always contend that pineapple on a deepdish is always very, very, wrong. Even more wrong than it is on regular pizza. ;)

    • http://winemedinemecincinnati.com julie

      Pfft. Pineapple is good on nearly everything. ;)

      • E.

        NEARLY. I am a pineapple *fiend*. I’ve been known to go all Harry-Met-Sally while eating a really good fresh one. Tacos al pastor w/ the meat marinated in pineapple is one of my favourite dishes in the entire world. But on deep dish pizza w/ sauce & cheese? You’re weird, but I promise I love you anyway. ;)

        • http://winemedinemecincinnati.com julie

          Ha! Yeah, we all have weird food things. I guess mine is pineapple on pizza. :0

  • http://nearlythebionicwoman.com Christina Baita

    They do the same thing to families. Why wouldn’t you put a family by the window so that at least the kid(s) can look outside. Or, at least ask if you have a preference and not simply decide for you.

    As far as the restaurant is concerned, are there any other choices that do not involve dough?
    .-= Christina Baita´s last blog ..5 Steps To Reversing Type 2 Diabetes And Insulin Resistance =-.

  • http://www.foodstuffsnati.blogspot.com/ Sara

    Ah – the picture of the bruschetta reminds me when we went (maybe a month or so ago?) we also got the bruschetta. Only it had a really cloyingly sweet balsamic “glaze” drizzled over it. I love balsamic, but this was…well, yech. We literally pulled it off in clumps. Very glad to see it looks like they’ve changed that preparation. And agree with you on the pizza – it was very good, and I loved the cornmeal-yness of the crust.
    .-= Sara ´s last blog ..New Orleans Bound =-.

    • http://winemedinemecincinnati.com julie

      They’ve changed it, but it’s…. well, it’s still not that great. Edible, however, and not insultingly priced during happy hour.

  • http://www.cincinnatibites.com/ Cincinnati Bites

    There’s a scene in the movie, “The Lonely Guy” in which Steve Martin shows up alone and, as he’s escorted to his table, a giant spotlight follows him as the rest of the diners look on mockingly.

    My guess is that wait staff put single people in corners because that’s what the patrons often ask for to remain inconspicuous. ;)
    .-= Cincinnati Bites´s last blog ..Restaurant Review: Shaan Indian Cuisine =-.

    • http://winemedinemecincinnati.com julie

      I know, I just have “LOSER WHO CAN’T GET A MAN!” written *all* over my forehead. ;)

      • Eric

        Here it is, Julie! ;)

  • Lisa

    We had a similar experience with service. We have 4 kids and felt immediately that this place was not kid-friendly. It was not crowded, but when we entered, we were told that they were out of high-chairs. Our server was able to round one up eventually. There isn’t a specific “kids” menu, so we ended up ordering appetizers for the kids. This was quite a pricey meal. The server told us that a pizza would take 45 minutes which was not an option for us with hungry children (and parents!). I ordered a salad with grilled chicken. The chicken was over-cooked and dry like jerky. The mozzarella sticks were good, but the red sauce that came with them was so bland. We won’t go back.

  • CincyCapell

    I loves me some Chicago style pan pizza, but I’ve been disappointed time & time again by the attempts at restaurants here to make it, including Chi-nnati’s. Here’s what we do now when we crave Pan Pizza:

    http://www.americastestkitchen.com/recipe.asp?recipeids=3369&iSeason=8

    Honest to God, this recipe from America’s Test Kitchen produced the BEST pan pizza that I’ve had outside of Gino’s in Chicago. Plus it’s easy to make too boot! The Mrs & I usually prefer traditional thin crust Pizza Margherita made with Mozzarella di Bufala, but when we crave Pan Pizza this recipe is the only thing this side of The Windy City that delivers (no pun intended).

    Frank Sinatra – My Kind Of TownUploaded by kamatrikero. – Watch more music videos, in HD!

  • AngiMama

    I’m not sure if anyone has replied about the lone diner seating but I can comment on that. Its a monetary thing. Prime tables are usually given to tables that have the most people and look like they will spend the most.
    Lets face it a tip from one person cannot compare to a tip from four. The same goes for families. They are less likely to order a lot of alcohol or expensive food and therefore will have a lower check and lower tip. Of course none of this applies if you are regular diner at the establishment.

  • chipster

    Hey, in that clip from Lonely Guy, was that Eric Estrada at one of those tables in the beginning? Fancy Dinner for Ponch………

  • jessica

    Chi Natti was the worst dinning experience I have ever encountered. We waited 15 minutes without even being greeted, had to ask for a server, and were told that we would have to move to another table in order to be served. We had the unfortunate experience of being sat next to a group of over intoxicated men who found it necessary to shout the “F” bomb at the top of their lungs for my three year old daughter and all of the other children to hear. The manager Neal was completely unable to handle the situation. Told us that we needed to switch tables yet again, but he would speak with them. The table was then served another round of shots and a pitcher of beer. This of course lead to much more “F” bombs being shouted. When we asked if we could please have our pizza to go, the manager told me that i had no reason to be mad and that it was to be expected on a Friday night. “In a family restraunt??” I asked and he told me yes and that he could not do anything about the situation that I should have moved. To top this experience off, while eating our now cold pizza at home, my husband found a long hair as a hidden surpise inside the pizza. I suggest you never ever waste your money or your family dinner on Chi natti’s!!

  • http://smithsoccasional.wordpress.com Laura

    I’ve been there a number of times and have always enjoyed my meal. I recommend simply the thin crust pizza with cheese only. Plain but yummy. Reminds me of a pizza I got at No. 28 in NYC. Also, they have Tiramisu. My favorite. It is often slightly frozen, but I kinda like it that way.

  • Tom

    Having lived in Chicago for ten years before moving to Cincinnati, my wife and I agreed that in terms of Chicago-style deep dish pizza, Chi-natti’s gets low marks. I think the real problem was the cornmeal-heavy crust. They say it is authentic, but we never encountered it Chicago–maybe you need to go to the South Side. We actually think that the deep dish at Mio’s is much, much better. On a second visit, I tried the Italian Beef sandwich. Again, they pretty much got the concept right, but the execution was way off. For a good, and very authentic Italian Beef, try Hot Dogg’n It in Symmes Township (Montgomery Road, just south of Fields-Ertel Rd). Finally, as others commented, the service left a bit to be desired. We had high hopes for Chi-natti’s: we are bitterly disappointed. It is unlikely we will return.

  • lyle gorch

    Chi-natti’s has pretty good thin crust pizza, but really lousy bartenders. They don’t talk to the customers and think putting up bar glasses is more important than taking a drink order. In fact, order your Happy Hour drink about 30 minutes before it ends. I ordered my drink at 6:45. They served it at 7:05 and rang it up full price. Now that’s customer service!

  • http://www.yahoo.com/ Mircea

    You’re a real deep thknier. Thanks for sharing.

  • Powersjc

    Chi-nnati’s has great events during the week to consider. On Wednesday nights it is family night, but what really caught my eye was the deep dish challenge on Thursday nights in May. All you have to do is eat a 12-inch, all-in, deep dish pizza in 30 minutes or less and you could win $100. Should definitely check it out!