In these hard times rife with gentrification, where high powered land developers buy up modest homes in modest communities only to tear them down in favor of $700k monstrosities, it has proven to be a particularly tragic hardship for hungry, displaced hipsters whose only desire is to find a neighborhood they can call home...a sanctuary from haters where kind folk may cater to their every culinary and craft beer whim.
Fortunately, white guilt hasn't deterred those of us who are morally struggling with the ugliness of uprooting diverse cultures in favor of trendy restaurants from spreading this mindset to areas outside of Over-the-Rhine. Now, at long last, we've also got Pleasant Ridge within our bleachy, homogeneous crosshairs.
As a Pleasant Ridge resident, did you revel in all those years in which you could enjoy authentic Ethiopian cuisine? How about that long-lived divey chili mainstay that's been serving great comfort food for decades to a variety of people? Sooner than you think, more of these options may fall by the wayside in favor of decidedly hipper alternatives.
The former Emanu will soon be home to an OTR favorite, Revolution Rotisserie. There's a bar modeled after Stephen King's "The Shining." Next to that is a New York-style deli full of patrons shoveling down sandwiches and sipping highfalutin drinks. Yet another taco joint owned by non-Latinos enjoys long wait times. And just last year, a too-cool-for-school microbrewery armed with a blue sasquatch-like logo called, Nine Giant opened its doors, offering "evolved" drinks and eats, getting raves for being one more place we Caucasians can come to feel safe.
Do I sound bitter? Do I have the right to be upset or annoyed given that, despite the repercussions of the neighborhood's future social make-up, new business is always better than a row of boarded up store fronts? Why should I cast shade on entrepreneurs who, unlike myself, are genuinely trying to keep at least a small contingent of people happy and well fed? Who pissed in my goddamn Wheaties, grumbly McGrumbleson?
As someone of mostly Northern European descent, I do find myself reflecting on the above thoughts quite often. I'm torn not because many of these new bars and restaurants are often regarded as completely lacking in any redeeming value. On the contrary: most are led by talented people doing great things for the community. Most, in fact, are pretty damn good. "But," my little guilty voice says, "at what price?"
We stepped through Nine Giant's doors to immediately find something I hadn't quite anticipated: a healthy dose of diversity. Indeed, this place wasn't as whitewashed as publicity photos had led me to believe. And it did not suffer from an overabundance of carefully coiffed twenty-somethings. There were middle-aged folks here, families, friends...neighbors. This was strange. This was upsetting. This was not at all fitting my narrow-minded narrative.
A chalk board over the bar featured a list of ten house draft micro brews. Most major varieties of beer were available: there were your kolsches, your IPAs, your Belgian style ales and wheats and fruity saisons. The list varies week-to-week because, as their menu reads, "there are no flagship beers" here.
The food menu is equally abbreviated and offers a weekly rotating number of specials. There is a set of at least semi-permanent appetizers and entrees, including the mac 'n cheese, hand-cut pomme frites, jalapeno crab rangoon, grilled cheese, falafel salad and grass-fed cheeseburgers.
My girlfriend and I stepped in line, grabbing a menu to peruse before stepping up to the end of the bar. We each ordered half-pints of beer, along with two entrees and an appetizer. I chose the grass-fed cheeseburger ($10), a side of pomme frites ($5) and a "Missing Wires" Belgian strong pale ($3), while my girlfriend opted for the falafel salad ($9) and a half pint of "Happiness is All the Rage," a guava ginger Berliner Weisse ($3).
The dining room is lively and loud with conversation, large front windows showcasing the busy Pleasant Ridge intersection of Montgomery and Ridge Roads. We sipped our beers while awaiting the entrees. My golden-hued Belgian ale tickled the palate with hoppy, citrus notes, while my girlfriend's cloudy, almost milky golden Berliner Weisse was quite sweet with assertive smacks of guava and ginger. We each chose our own beer as superior.
The entrees soon arrived: my grass fed cheeseburger sported a thick, hearty, medium-cooked patty topped with a gooey beer cheese, house pickles, lettuce, caramelized onions, tomato and a mayo-based "secret sauce," all on a toasty brioche bun. The burger was as delicious as it was satisfying, the slightly sweet bread perfectly complementing each ingredient.
Our shared side of piping hot, crispy pomme frites came with a house "tomato jam," which thankfully wasn't like those awful "salsa-like" house-made ketchups we've all suffered from ("Real tomato ketchup, Eddie?!?"). This variant had not only a fresh tomato flavor but that slight vinegary kick everyone comes to expect from ketchup.
My girlfriend's falafel was cooked perfectly: a nicely defined, crunchy and moderately spiced outer layer protecting a soft, almost creamy, green-hued inner core resting on a fresh bed of a romaine and kale mix, rounded out with chopped cucumber, tomato, pickled red onion, feta and a side of lemon tahini dressing.
Nine Giant offers delicious craft beer and high-end pub food at surprisingly affordable prices. I arrived at Nine Giant thinking the absolute worst, about its motivations, about the future of Pleasant Ridge, about myself. But I came out feeling hopeful and more respectful of a community that just might have a better grasp on how to make the neighborhood a better place for everyone than I'd given it credit for.