Review: Moerlein Lager House
The view, the view, the view.
It’s about time someone in Cincinnati took advantage of the fact that we live on a river. Covington has riverside dining. Newport takes advantage of views. Why not Cincinnati? The food could be from a vending machine and the beer a macrobrew, and I’d still go to the the Lager House just for the views.
Good thing I don’t have to eat Fritos and drink PBR. The options are much, much better.
I think Moerlein’s Lager House, a joint operation between Christian Moerlein and Stone Creek, is quite possibly the most hyped restaurant opening I’ve seen in the nearly five years I’ve been writing wine me, dine me. Part of it is the location– it’s the first locally-owned restaurant to open on the Banks, which themselves have been in the works for ten years. Part of it, too, is that this is the first restaurant to acknowledge Cincinnati’s brewing heritage.
If you stand outside the Lager House and squint just right, you can see up Main Street and into the Over-the-Rhine Brewery District. The rooms are named for various Beer Barons, and there’s a hall of fame, too. The walls near the bathrooms are lined with old beer ads: wine and cocktail drinkers, this is not your place (though they have a pretty good wine list, and I’ve had a Manhattan there; it wasn’t bad).
Some of the beer is made on site, some of it is made remotely (something Moerlein CEO Greg Hardman has always been open about), at least until the Moerlein Brewery opens in the old Husman building in Over-the-Rhine. They feature monthly specials (Kolsch in summer, stouts in winter) and you can get nearly any kind of Moerlein beer, as well as many non-Moerlein options (I adore the Duchesse de Bourgogne, a Belgian-style sour, but at $12, I generally just go for a Se7ven hefeweissen, which you can only get at the Lagerhouse). Beer flights, beer dinners– a beer lover’s paradise.
With that much beer, there has to be food, and the menu is quite extensive. It is not, however, terribly vegetarian friendly (a few dishes can be made without meat on request, a few of the appetizers are vegetarian to start with, but there is room for improvement) nor particularly health-conscious, but it is fairly spot-on as far as Cincinnati traditions. The menu is pork-heavy, with my favorite being the hops-smoked pork belly, served with spaetzle (a traditional German pasta) and some tremendous Brussels sprouts. A friend came into town from New Orleans (quite a food town) and he just raved about this dish, so I later ordered it: it is rich, but there is something about the caramelized pork that makes me forget how bad it is for me. The spicy garlic shrimp were also a hit with the New Orleanian, who was understandably hesitant to order shrimp in a landlocked area. He was lucky he was my guest, or else I’d have fought him for the last bits of sauce, sopped up with toasted bread.
For something slightly lighter, the beer can chicken (made with Moerlein’s OTR– many of the dishes involve beer) can be ordered as a sandwich or as an entree, and it’s as tender and flavorful as chicken can be. Salads are an option, but they’re still a bit on the heavy side– the Southwestern salad made a good lunch one day (lunch for two, really– the portions are huge).
Lager House seems to be gaining a following for their burgers, which are delicious and messy. For $11-13, I wish they came with fries instead of chips, but that’s a small complaint. The BBQ burger, ordered by The Better Half for lunch one day, was juicy and messy (and huge). I’m afraid to try the pastrami, bacon and cheese-topped Moer Burger.
The one area for improvement is the service. I’ve had attentive, great service with servers knowledgeable about the menu, and I’ve had servers that did not provide the same kind of service, even well after the opening kinks were worked through. It’s also hard to get in, despite their large capacity: get a reservation or grab a communal table in the bier garden. I had some of the best service I’ve had in a restaurant there on a recent Thursday night with a few girlfriends. I’d probably avoid it during Reds games or events– Opening Day was fun, but absolutely crazy.