Cincinnati is known for steaks– well, after people get past chili and Graeter’s, they remember that there are steaks. Most people thank Jeff Ruby for that– and they’d be right. Part of that success was also due to Jimmy Gibson, Ruby’s long-time executive chef.
I would be remiss, however, if I didn’t note that he wasn’t always a Ruby’s guy: he’s headed up kitchens at The Phoenix, the Ciao Baby group, Dolce in New York, Plaza 600, Red and most recently, FB’s QBG (Quality Bar Grub). He’s been on Food Network. Now, he’s got a restaurant with his name on it, and it’s a reflection of Gibson’s brash, quirky personality.
I’ve eaten at Jimmy G’s twice: once, some small plates with some girlfriends and another time a big birthday dinner for The Better Half and a friend. I need to pop in and eat at the bar sometime– my guess is that, too, is an experience. Said experience begins during your descent into the underground restaurant. Jimmy G’s is in the former Wah Mee location, and parts of it still feel a little 1970s Chinese. Other parts feel a little Haunted Mansion at Disney World. Other parts feel straight out of my grandma’s basement. The bar is a little 1960s go-go. Somehow, it all works.
The menu is disjointed as well: part fusion restaurant, part steakhouse. There are Asian (Singaporean, Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese), Middle Eastern, Peruvian, Spanish, French and American touches on one menu, and often in the same dish. Again, it works: if you’re an adventurous diner, you’re golden. If you just want meat and potatoes, you’re covered there too. The starters run the gamut from super-creative to “safe”: the “tummy tuck” is pork belly and apricot in a sticky, gooey, crispy dish with the flavors of the Middle East. The potato raclette, another gooey item, this time with cheese, is a fun interpretation of the Swiss’ way of making sure every bite of cheese is just a little bit crispy– paired with potatoes and an egg (for good measure). The shrimp cocktail is classic steakhouse fare, with shrimp as big as your hand and some intense cocktail sauce. “Gribbles” are wood-fired meat on a stick of the chef’s choice each night.
I’ve focused mostly on starters as they really can be a meal, but I’ve done entrees once: for the birthday dinner. I knew The Better Half wanted steak (that’s the only thing he ever wants for his birthday), so I went for something else entirely: fried chicken with a spicy Asian-inspired glaze, crawfish and watermelon: the Singaporean picnic basket (complete with checkered paper underneath). Every once in a while, I like whimsy in my food, and this was both whimsical and delicious. The breading was perfect, and the pieces were perfectly fried. I’d have liked slightly meatier bits of chicken (not that I’m advocating for over-bred commercial chickens, but these hens were a little scrawny), but the size did lend the pieces to polite eating in a restaurant. For the record, even Emily Post says it’s acceptable to eat fried chicken with your fingers. It’s probably not OK to lick the sweet-and-spicy glaze off of them, but I’ll look the other way, mostly because I’ll be doing the same thing.
The Better Half got the steak special: a bone-in, dry-aged rib steak. It was well-seasoned and melt-in-your-mouth good. I’m fairly sure The Better Half (who is quite the steak connoisseur)’s eyes rolled back into his head after the first bite. I think I stole three bites (there was plenty, even for leftovers)– it was that good. At $52, this might be special-occasion for most, but it is a steak I’d put up against any steak in the city (and maybe even in the country). There. I said it. For you traditional steak lovers, you can get some killer macaroni and cheese to go with the steak or plain old mashed potatoes (ingredients: butter, butter, butter). You won’t be sorry.
We did not do dessert on either visit: for the birthday dinner, we had custom-made cupcakes from CinSational Sweet Treats delivered to the restaurant (which the staff was happy to accommodate). Half were Daiquiri (with rum, for The Better Half) and the other were Bourbon-Chocolate with Salted Caramel (for Jeremy, who loves bourbon). If you need cupcakes– get a custom order. They’re fantastic. The staff even found a couple of candles and stuck them in the cupcakes for the birthday boys. No singing, thank goodness.
Jimmy G’s is a trip– one you should take.