Review: Senate

SenateA few weeks ago I realized that, outside of a preview, I’ve never actually written about Senate.  Sure, I go there all of the time (which should tell you something– I really do like it) but I haven’t given it an official “write-up”.  I’m fixing that today.

Senate is probably my favorite of the new restaurants downtown.  Sure, it’s super convenient to me, but I also like the vibe and the creative menu.  Instead of a review based on one or two visits, this is based on cumulative experiences.

Picture 241First, Senate is known for a couple of things:  a very narrow space and hot dogs.  They’ve been both lauded and criticized for both.  It can be difficult to get a table (the space seats only about 25 or so), and navigating to the bathroom can be a bit close, but it does make the bar area quite a meeting place– you can’t help but talk with your neighbor, and I’ve met up with old friends (and made new ones) just by sitting at the bar.

SenateAs far as the hot dogs, they’re good– Giminetti bakery buns, fresh-made sausages– and they’re creative.  My favorite is the old stand-by, Trailer Trash, which involves bacon, cheese, and barbecue Grippos, but each day they feature a new hot dog, usually  named after some celebrity (whether national, like the Brock Lesner, which was chicken sausage, bourbon-peach BBQ sauce, shaved red onions, arugula & bacon vinaigrette, or local, like vegan and Park + Vine owner Dan Korman, which involves a bean hot dog, sun dried tomatoes, arugula and goat cheese).  They’re fun and inventive, and generally priced between $9-10.  To be honest, I’d like to see the price drop by about a dollar, but until their business slows down (it appears packed each night they’re open), I doubt that will happen.  They are worth it.  (The Korean hot dog pictured was made gluten free- removing the bun– for my friend Erin).

Senate PoutineAs hyped as the hot dogs are, they’re not the stars of the show– as creative as they may be.   I find myself drawn to other items on the menu.  A favorite, particularly to share, and particularly when I don’t care about calories, is their version of poutine, made with their truffle fries, local cheese curds, and gravy.  They’re absolutely addictive.  Their fries come in two varieties: truffle ($5),

which are rich with thyme and truffle oil and served with a slightly spicy aioli, and duck fat fries ($6), which are also great.  I actually prefer the truffle fries (I’m a sucker for truffle anything) but both are very good choices.

Picture 238

I spent several summer evenings at the bar, eating their roasted peach salad– a nice vinagrette, great goat cheese, and roasted peaches; occasionally I paired it with soup, including a really fabulous mushroom soup I wish they’d add to the menu on a more permanent basis.

Other favorites– particularly late in the evening– include the burger (my favorite part of the burger is the caramelized onion; it’s definitely in my top ten burger list in the city) and the Lobster BLT (can it be bad if it involves lobster AND bacon?).


We have, on occasion, indulged in dessert– the “pretzel beignets”, served warm and in a paper bag, shaken with sugar and cinnamon.  They’re very good, but I actually prefer to eat a little more poutine, and a little less dessert.

They have cocktails, beer and wine. I usually end up with a Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale. Cocktails are in the $9 range, wine by the glass between $7-12, and draft beer between $6-8.  I think the cocktail and beer prices could go down slightly, but they will be releasing a new wine, beer and cocktail list later this week.

They will also be starting brunch sometime in the winter, after they finish some work on a basement prep area (their open kitchen is remarkably tiny for the number of folks cooking in it; they’ll need the space).  From Dan Wright, chef-owner of Senate, “Just imagine all the fun things we do with hotdogs except with pancakes, french toast, housemade sausages & eggs.”  Sounds exciting, particularly on a Sunday morning, perhaps before a matinee at the Ensemble Theater?

There has been talk of Senate expanding, but they’ve decided against it.  When I emailed Dan about it, he said, “We feel there is a certain energy about Senate and we really don’t want take away from what we have going.”  I don’t blame them. What they’ve got going on is pretty good.

Senate on Urbanspoon

  • Britteny

    Interesting, goat cheese on a vegan hot dog??

    • julie

      I’m pretty sure Dan orders it without the goat cheese (but I haven’t asked him).

    • Christopher

      It’s actually a vegetarian hot dog. The brioche bun and the goat cheese would conflict with the vegans.

  • Kathy

    Until reading this, I never realized Senate is shaped like a hot dog. I wonder if that’s why the “certain energy.”

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  • The Boyfriend

    Actually, Senate easily makes my Top FIVE Burgers in the City list. Add the truffle fries and a beer? Yum.

    • julie

      Obviously, I need to work with this top five thing.

  • Wedding Photography Cincinnati

    I’ve been to the Senate for a drink or three, but have yet to have a meal there. However it seems like every review says the same thing – amazing food with almost shocking prices (for hot dogs anyway)

    • Julie

      I think it’s funny that there’s a lot of “just a hot dog” when they’re clearly not Kahn’s on an 8-pack bun (and how much do they charge at a ballgame for that?) I don’t consider the prices at all shocking– generally, Terry and I make it out of there for about $50.

      • Eric

        Two people for $50? How is that not shocking? To each his own, I guess!

        • julie

          Two people, $50, for drinks and food at a fairly nice restaurant is about average, I’d say. If it’s any less, I usually call that a pleasant surprise. :)

  • visualingual

    I don’t know… I ate at a similar place in the heart of yuppiefied Brooklyn for quite a bit less than Senate’s prices, and I thought that my food was better. Senate’s drinks are great, though, and I think I’ll stick with those and maybe some fried.

  • vudutu

    Truffle fries rule

  • Lisa

    The poutine is INCREDIBLE! I actually made the people at the table next to ours try mine so they could experience how good it was. They proceeded to order their own. It’s not a pretty dish, but I wanted to lick the plate when I was done.

  • Courtney

    Love Senate. In fact, I was just there this evening. I don’t have a lot to add to this conversation except for the fact that sometimes I wish the menu included a couple of healthier options (aside from two salads at 8 or 10 bucks a pop). Ah well. Like you said, they’re doing well without my 2 cents. And I’ll keep going for the bourbon barrel ale.

  • Mark Mallette

    Please guide me to the three BEST burger joints in town.I have a burger fiend friend in town tomorrow (he loves great fries too)and would appreciate your suggestion.Thank you. MDM

  • Cincinnati Bites

    Agree completely about the poutine –quite good (even if I did get “corrected” for pronouncing it correctly!) ;)

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