(Dateline: Cincinnati, Byline: Mike Clark, Texas Bureau Chief)
This is a story about Cincinnati, Ohio, but there are hot dogs in it. Good ones.
Way back in the 19th Century, downtown Cincinnati was bisected east-to-west by the Miami and Erie Canal. Thousands of immigrant Germans took up residence north of the canal, prompting everyone else in the city to nickname the canal after that majestic German river, the Rhine. And the neighborhood where all the Germans lived was called “Over the Rhine.” Today, the locals shorten that to “OTR.”
The canal is long gone, filled in and paved over with eight lanes of concrete known as the Central Expressway. OTR itself, full of Italianate architecture, a classic example of a 19th Century urban neighborhood, gradually fell into decay. Actually, “decay” is being polite.
Fast forward to the late 20th Century, when OTR is declared a national historic landmark, and forward again to the 21st Century, when significant resources are marshaled to renovate the blight and recover the neighborhood. As little as five years ago, OTR was a place where genteel folk would not dare set foot; but today, it is Cincinnati’s vibrant new district for the arts, entertainment, recreation, and food.
One of the gentrification pioneers in the food category is Senate Pub, self-described as “lo-fi pushers of beer, wine & gourmet street food.” Senate took up residence on Vine Street just a block and a half north of the Rhine. Roughly one-third of the menu at Senate is taken up with hot dogs – or to be more clear, quarter-pound all-beef dogs with eclectic gourmet dressings. Witness:
The Trailer Park — bacon wrapped, american cheese, coleslaw, crushed grippos (local, flavored tater chips);
The Chicago — tomato, mustard, onion, neon relish, sport peppers, pickle & celery salt; and,
The Lindsay Lohan — goat cheese, caramelized onions, bacon, arugula, balsamic & tons of drama…
…to name a few. If for some reason you’re dogged out, the other two thirds of the menu at Senate are just as eclectic, including their version of the Canadian staple Poutine, and some to-die-for Pretzel Dough Beignets served warm in a brown paper bag (the better to shake the sugar coating), accompanied by a caramel mascarpone (Italian cream cheese) spread so rich it should be illegal. All this combines to make Senate one very popular place.
You’ll see from Senate’s web site that their success has generated a little ego baggage – Guy Fieri (Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives) showed up with his camera crew last year, and if you’re willing to shell out $39.99 plus tax, you can have your very own Senate Cookbook – but a little hard-earned ego does not diminish the quality of the eats even one bit.
Senate occupies a single storefront, so seating is limited to the bar, a single row of tables opposite, and a few more in the back. The wait for a table can sometimes exceed an hour. Go early or go late, or if the place is full, get your name on the list and then go browse some of the boutique shops that continue to spring up in the ancient storefronts Over the Rhine. Senate will call your cell when your table is ready.
And while you’re in OTR, listen for the ghosts of 19th Century Germans. They wail mournfully for Senate to start serving Bratwurst & Kraut.
Senate Pub Review