Cincinnati has not been left out of the culinary quest that has gripped the rest of the country.
In addition to the aforementioned Taste of Belgium, Bakersfield and Twelve Fifteen, we’ve supped at Boca, an upscale Italian eatery downtown in a tall room that once held the classic Maisonette, and Zula, which serves flatbreads and mussels. (Any flatbread in Austin?)
We shopped in Findlay market for the makings of summer salads, mostly Mediterranean, served at a coctail party for Joan Kaup and Rick Pender’s conversationally gifted friends.
My first night here, we caught Cincinnati Opera’s sprightly "Don Giovanni" at the Music Hall. This company produces a summer season of four or five operas using musicians shared with the symphony. I’m always amazed at the consistently high quality of singer/actors summoned by regional opera companies, and this was no exception.
Rick took me to a Reds game in the Great American Baseball Stadium. A crisp, welcoming ball park, it afforded us fine seats to watch the home team beat the Milwaukee Brewers in closely contended game. Afterward, we sampled Morelein ales, the home town heroes of brewing, analagous to Graeter’s, the city’s super-rich ice cream.
I explored the Cincinnati Zoo by myself. Located over the hills and neighborhoods that surround the University of Cincinnati — a prestigious school that might make a good match with the Big 12 conference — the zoo is among the best in the country. Not in the league of San Diego or Omaha, per se, but better than any in Texas and equal to New Orleans, Memphis or Minnesota.
The fact that it doubles as a botanical garden explains its superior landscaping. The zookeepers put a lot of emphasis on demonstrations and encounters, which can be enlightening or kitsch, depending. There’s a fanastic insect house, lots of nighttime enclosures and close attention to detail, except around Swan Lake, which seems an unresolved remnant of a zoo past.
Also spent several hours at the Underground Railroad Museum’s Freedom Center. This big waterfront building matches the Bullock Texas State History Museum in scale and ambition. The subject here is slavery, slave trading, the long path to freedom and today’s slavery and human trafficking. The muscular building could use a hall for temporary exhibits, but it has lobby space to spare.
Downtown Cincinnati and nearby areas are made for walking. The city was sliced up by interstates, but after several tries, planners have found a solution for the waterfront at least, balancing surface bridges, big stadiums and a lovely, thin park. The city was not so lucky with Interstate 75, which blocks easy access to parts of the West Side.
I’d visited the city’s art musuems on previous visits. This time I peeked into the Art Deco wonders at the Netherland Hotel and the old rail station that now serves as a home for multiple cultural attractions.
It’s true that no matter what city you visit, your guides make the experience what it is. Rick and Joan have certainly done so, introducing me to their fascinating friends singly, doubly and in larger groups. For such a relatively short visit, I feel like I’ve met a fair cross section of at least the creative class.
On to Binghamton, N.Y. and the second half of my June getaway.