Livin’ in the Cin: Outdoor Dining at Virgil’s
Outdoor dining: it’s fabulous in the spring and fall months, and every once in a while, we in Ohio get some great opportunities in the summer, too. Most of the time, outdoor dining is on the sidewalk, on a roof, or overlooking a river, but there are some neat, hidden patios that have views of a different kind.
Virgil’s in Bellevue, Kentucky is one of them. Upon entering, you’d never guess that there’s a patio, save for the sign informing you that it’s in the back. Follow the sidewalk, and a quaint little patio, overlooking a good-sized garden, awaits: fans cool you in the summer heat, and you can enjoy a beverage or your whole meal out there.
Matt Buschle, chef-owner of Virgil’s, took me on a tour of the garden before my meal there. We walked through the garden, and he’d pick things for me to taste. “Taste this,” handing me a leaf. “It’s sorrel. Tastes lemony, doesn’t it?” I nodded, having never had less-than-ten-second-old sorrel. “It doesn’t taste like that from the grocery store, does it? That’s why we grow so much of our own produce.” He pointed out huge expanses of mint (“We don’t make mojitos, but if we did, we could do it for months on end.”), picked off some garlic scapes (yes, they were garlicky) and mustard greens (“You like spicy, right?”) and pointed out the potatoes growing in containers on the roof, as well as hops that were growing from the roof to the patio.
We sat and talked while drinking a Stiegl grapefruit radler – a perfect patio beer, and a feature on tap at Virgil’s this summer. Then we went inside, and got cooking.
Buschle, who has training as a metalsmith and a background in theater, does everything fresh. I spent an evening in his kitchen, occasionally tossing him a bottle of brandy for tarte tatin, and watching how he and his sous chef prepare fresh, seasonal food in this neighborhood restaurant. This place shot up quickly – it had been open less than a year, and already featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. The notoriety (“I can always tell when that episode has aired, we get an increase in reservations”) has not changed what Buschle does, namely: he makes what he likes to eat, in the freshest way possible. He bakes his own bread, makes his own pie crust for the tarte tatin special, cures and smokes his own sausages and other kinds of meat, and occasionally does things like whole-pig and whole-goat dinners (just for fun).
So what about the eats? I’ve had many a meal here, and I love the carbonara-style pasta, with fresh andouille. The hot slaw is a favorite of mine, something I’ve made for years (and my grandma made for years before that). He tops his with blue cheese and a slice of bacon, and the trick to the perfect hot slaw? Toss the cabbage in the pan with the dressing to wilt it just slightly. It’s perfect. Other great choices? The Reuben (with house-made pastrami), the etouffee, the Cuban and anything on the brunch menu. Yes, you can have a full meal outside on the patio, as long as the weather cooperates. Unfortunately, the day I was there, it began to rain while we were cooking, so I only enjoyed a beverage out there and not an entire meal. Where else in town can you enjoy a beverage while you watch the chef grab some ingredients fresh from the garden?
Need some sweets? On the night I was there, tarte tatin was the special – a cinnamon-laced, upside-down apple pie, made a la minute (or, specifically to each order– like everything else at Virgil’s). Topped with local vanilla ice cream, it’s a delicious end to a sweet meal.
Livin’ in the Cin is the Cincinnati USA Regional Tourism Network’s (RTN) new initiative that taps into and creates a movement of passionate Cincinnati USA advocates. The goal is to generate awareness and excitement about the region and broaden residents’ perceptions of the area from a place they live to a place they should rave about to family and friends as a visitor destination.