Review: Quatman Cafe

By the way we Cincinnatians talk, you’d think that everyone with a blue-collar background lives on the West side, and everyone who drives a German import lives on the East side, and never the two shall meet. Obviously, Norwood has been left out of the equation. Norwood has the working-class history (as the home of the former Cincinnati Milacron and GM plant) and upscale cache (Rookwood Commons, as much as Hyde Park would like to claim it, is a part of Norwood). In one neighborhood, it’s got the whole range of Cincinnati culture– and it’s actually a separate city unto itself.

Cincinnati is also accused of wanting to live in the past.  I think particularly of the West Side, where I grew up, and where people are quick to ask you which high school you went to, and if you went to a Catholic one, if you remember when Elder beat so-and-so, or La Salle did such-and-such, or if you remember when…  There’s a nearly unhealthy level of nostalgia in Cincinnati.  It’s what keeps us thinking about what was, and not what could be.

But this post is about the past, and the fact that you can relive it at Quatman Cafe.  That’s not a slam– it’s a fact.  This small, neighborhood joint in Norwood is so clearly reminiscent of my youth on the West Side, and possibly my parents’ youth, too.   It’s West Side-ier than the West Side is, these days.  The bar and bar stools are straight out of my grandpa’s basement bar on Westwood-Northern Boulevard, but where he had Wiedemann neon signs, these are Christian Moerlein (a brand that is both a throwback and progressive, all at the same time).  The guys at the bar have an easy rapport with the customers, who good-naturedly throw in color commentary at the Reds game playing on the TV, which is flat screen, but slightly off-kilter.  The chairs and tables are covered with red checked table cloths, and a friendly waitress takes your order.  One of the guys at the bar was wearing an Elder pullover and ball cap (east of 71!), and there is a ton of sports memorabilia on the walls.  It even has that slightly old smell– just a little musty– but oddly comforting to me.  The only thing that was missing was smoke (thank you, Ohio smoking ban).

We went on a rainy Saturday, and I didn’t tell Terry where we were going.  First stop: Sur la Table to cash in some gift certificates for a SodaStream (more on that in another post).  Then, I just had him navigate via Google Maps until we got to Quatman’s– it’s easy to surprise him since he’s still kind of learning the city.  You seat yourself, and check out the menu on the wall.  It’s simple: Hamburger, Cheeseburger, Lunchmeat (I’m not sure what that is, and I didn’ t dare ask), Ham and Cheese, and fish (Fridays only).  The special was a Cheeseburger, fries, and a drink for $6.19, and they featured their mock turtle soup (another throwback to the past– how often do you see mock turtle soup on a menu?).  We ordered two specials and a bowl of turtle soup.

Beer lovers, you’re in luck: Quatman’s has five taps, 2 macros (Miller Lite and Bud Light, I believe) and three locals: Hudy Amber, Hudy Delight and Christian Moerlein OTR.  Oh, and draft beer counts as your drink if you order a special.  The soup is good– that complex, beefy, tartly tangy flavor I expected, and most certainly not Worthmore’s from a can.  Terry had never had it– he was familiar with Louisiana turtle soup (made from actual turtles) but not its Yankee “mock” cousin.  He approved.  The soup served with local Shur-Good oyster crackers (the crackers I grew up on).

But you’re here for the burger, right?  The burger is served, by default, exactly as it was served to me as a kid:  squishy bun, thick slice of American cheese melted into a thick layer on top of the meat, and the only toppings are pickles and onions.  The burger (sorry Grandma) is much better– fresh meat, very juicy, and not cooked within an inch of its life.  The fries were pretty standard shoestring fries, but fresh out of the fryer.  I don’t know that this burger sneaked into my top five, but it’s definitely in my top ten Cincinnati burgers.

I don’t know how there is even a contest between Zip’s and Quatman’s: Quatman’s is much better.  But who can be objective when you’re talking about a memory?  Both Quatman’s and Zip’s are places that hold memories.  Quatman’s happens to be closest to mine.

Quatman Cafe on Urbanspoon

  • Tim

    Great review – love how you set it up by describing it as west-sidier than the west-side, never thought about it that way but you nailed it.

    One thing you left out is the whole paying situation… never get a check, just head to the register and tell them what you had (that’s old school)!

  • Beth

    Quatman’s, baby! I used to live around the corner but haven’t been in a while. The first time I went, I asked for a menu and the server rolled her eyes and pointed at the board on the wall. Thanks for reminding me that it’s time to go back. And up Montgomery to P Ridge Chili…

    • http://winemedinemecincinnati.com julie

      We figured it out before any eye-rolling occurred, thank goodness, but we did look around a bit, trying to figure out the whole payment deal…

  • Honnay

    There’s a Quatman’s a block from Main Street Yarns in Mason, where we’ve been hanging out and knitting on Friday afternoons. Wish you could join us!

    • http://winemedinemecincinnati.com julie

      I’ve heard the Mason location isn’t quite the same– but I’d be willing to try it (and knit with you)!

  • Marshall

    Good review, I couldn’t agree more. I went to Zip’s once, and didn’t see the need to go back.

    • Joepalooka

      Zips, Terry’s, Arthurs ALL equal GREAT burgers!!!!!!!!

  • josh

    One nit – why would anyone from Hyde Park want to claim Rookwood Commons?

    Now the city of Cincinnati might want the sales tax but that is a different story.

    • http://winemedinemecincinnati.com julie

      I’ve heard folks refer to Rookwood as being in Hyde Park. Simple.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002678115513 Les Scott Palmer

        Worked at some of the places in Rookwood. A lot of Hyde Parkers get pissed, if you remind them it’s Norwood soil.

  • Jeff

    Never been to Quatman’s, but it sounds worth the trip! Zip’s is okay, Gordo’s and Terry’s Turf are pretty darn good, but the BEST burger in the area is (was) the burger at Wildflower Cafe in Mason. Sadly, they no longer serve it on the pretzel bun, but I will be there tonight to try the newest version, served on Blue Oven english muffin!

    • http://winemedinemecincinnati.com julie

      Agreed. Wildflower’s is my #1 (The Better Half disagrees and cites Senate as his #1) and I’ll miss the pretzel bun… but the Blue Oven english muffin sounds awesome too. Report back!

  • http://www.expresscincinnati.com Elizabeth Mariner

    I rarely order red meat, so I may not be qualified to vote here, but I went to Terry’s Turf Club for the first time last night and had the best portabello burger ever! I have say my favorite fries are still the sweet potato fries at Virgil’s.

    • http://winemedinemecincinnati.com julie

      There are no vegetarian offerings (well, grilled cheese) at Quatman’s, but Zip’s does have both turkey and black bean burgers, so if you’re health conscious, Zip’s wins (of the two). Love the portabella, though!

      • Angie

        Hi.  Just want you to know that Quatman’s does offer a very tasty gardenburger.  For those who eat poultry and fish, the chicken salad is amazing, and they now offer a Yuengling beer battered haddock fish stick meal as well.

  • http://girlswhogrub.blogspot.com Girls Who Grub

    Couldn’t agree more! Quatman’s is great! We just reviewed it a few weeks ago as well!

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