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Cincinnati Bites
Basil Noodles from Ruthai's Thai Kitchen

Posted Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Note: the following review is for a restaurant that has since closed.

On a quest to try a new-to-us sandwich place for lunch, we stopped by Salt of the Earth, located at 4760 Red Bank Road, in Madisonville.

Salt of the Earth reminds us a lot of O'Bryonville's What's for Dinner. Both offer deli sandwiches, soups and a wide array of seasonal, homemade vegetarian and carnivore-friendly dinner and dessert items, all displayed behind glass cases. Their hours are also frustratingly similar: they are both closed by 7 pm, with Salt of the Earth shutting down at 6:30 pm weekdays and by 2:45pm on Saturday. What's for Dinner, in fact, is the source of one my running gags:

"What's for Dinner?" I ask my girlfriend.

"I don't know, what?" she replies.

"Nothing, because What's for Dinner is closed," I belly laugh.


Salt of the Earth has been around for about a decade, but you wouldn't get that impression when first walking in. For example, there was a lot of confusion with regard to the process of placing an order; the place seemed to lack any overt menus posted anywhere. The woman behind the counter waited for us expectantly, but didn't offer much help despite our obviously confused looks. Perhaps she thought that's how we normally looked.

We finally asked where the menu was, to which she replied by pointing over to the opposite wall, where it was nearly hidden from view. They are in desperate need of a prominent menu, an "order here" sign or some sort of obvious visual cues to assist new diners. Unlike the items on display at What's For Dinner, none of Salt of the Earth's items were labeled, so one had to either guess at them or ask the woman behind the counter to describe everything.

As it turned out, the menu is quite simple: their signature vegetarian sandwich is showcased first. It consists of two slices of "sweet bellagio bread" (a Ciabatta variant) holding a layer of fried eggplant, roasted red peppers, fresh spinach, balsamic vinaigrette and an outlandishly large hunk of goat cheese. Carnivores can get similar sandwiches with turkey, ham and a few other deli meats. Beyond that, you can order any item available behind the glass cases.

We both opted for the vegetarian sandwich, which were each under $7. My girlfriend ordered a side of fresh fruit, while I chose a side of sauteed brussels sprouts and a side of blue cheese cole slaw.

After seating ourselves with our drinks, another couple entered and we noted they were obviously as confused about how to order as we had been. Fortunately for them, a different woman was now behind the counter, who'd noted their confusion and, before they spoke, began to explain to them where the menu was and detailed the glass case items.

Vegetarian sandwich w/brussels sprouts and slaw
Vegetarian sandwich w/fruit salad

Our lunch was set before us on plastic plates, the massive contents of the sandwiches held together by toothpicks. They were visually stunning to look at, but I immediately wondered how I was going to cope with the unusually large proportions of toppings. We both agreed that the massive block of goat cheese was a bit overwhelming; we resorted to shaving off chunks of it with our forks, scraping the excess onto our plates.

The fried eggplant tasted good, but I wished the ratio of eggplant to cheese was more in the eggplant's favor. Still, I appreciated the combination of the eggplant, the textural marriage of crunchy spinach to soft cheese and peppers, and the chewy texture of the bellagio bread. My girlfriend thought the entire sandwich lacked much flavor, but she did enjoy her fruit, which tasted both sweet and fresh.

My side of warmed brussels sprouts was good, but only if you like brussels sprouts. I had thought their preparation would have helped tone down the bitterness, but it hadn't. Still, I'm a brussels sprouts fan, quickly dispatching all the ones I didn't share with my girlfriend. The cole slaw was interesting: slightly mayonnaisey with small chunks of blue cheese.

By far the best tasting item of our lunch was Salt of the Earth's homemade brownie. I understand it's been voted Best Brownie and it's easy to see why: it's richly chocolately, not too dry, not too cakey, with a slight coffee-like finish.

Salt of Earth offers some fairly decent sandwich and deli fare, but needs to brush up on helping first-time diners along the ordering process. The sandwich menu remains static but the deli and dessert items rotate, so we expect to return again.

Salt of the Earth on Urbanspoon
Salt of the Earth

Price: Cheap (under $11 per person)
Service: Fair
Rating: 2.5 out of 42.5 stars

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Ratings Legend
four stars = Outstanding
three stars = Good
two stars = Fair
one star = Poor
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