More than 230 years ago, the city of Cincinnati went by another name. No, I'm not talking about "Porkopolis" or the "Queen City." I'm talking about Losantiville. Yep, that's right. In 1788, three men by the name of Matthias Denman, Israel Ludlow and Robert Patterson bought 800 acres along the Ohio River, at the mouth of the Licking River. Another man who'd surveyed the area, John Filson, named it Losantiville. The name stuck for all of two years before Northwest Territory Governor Arthur St. Clair changed it to Cincinnati. A new downtown restaurant pays homage to that short-lived name, serving up sandwiches, quinoa bowls and the devilish, wheat gluten-based, dark vegetarian lord of meat substitutes, sietan.
Owner Brad Gilpin's Losantivill3 resides on East 7th Street in his former Gilpin's bagel shop location. They replaced the letter "e" at the end of their name with a "3" because, allegedly, three holds symbolic meaning in Chinese representing "sandwiches." Very little has changed in the format of the small space save a suspended bicycle, some minor color scheme updates and the quirky way two separate omnivore and vegetarian menus hang on the wall via spiral-bound notebooks.
Many different cultures and flavors are represented on Losantivill3's menu, no doubt reflecting the owner's broad horizon of past world travels. There are Thailand-inspired red curries; spicy Indian masalas; Mexican "chicken barbacoa"; Japanese curry; Philly (Filson) Cheesesteak; and Italian-esque pesto marinara bowls and submarine sandwiches. Diners can choose among several vegetarian and meat proteins, including seitan, chicken, steak and turkey. Their gorgeous-looking French bread is baked in-house and they apparently make their own seitan.
I tried out a couple of Losantivill3's sandwiches, a soup and one of their seitan-infused quinoa bowls to get a rounded impression of their lineup. Some of what they offer is indeed compelling and worth coming back for, but the sandwiches left little to be desired.
For my first lunch, I tried a bowl of Mexican Tomatillo Verde soup ($5), filled with chicken barbacoa, jalapeño, cilantro, quinoa and a lime wedge. The soup was appropriately hearty, but a little oily and lacked any heat or hint of jalapeño. Five bucks for a fairly small bowl of soup seemed steep. Still, it was a decent starter. The Jamaican Jerk BBQ chicken sandwich I had is no longer on their most recent menu. It consisted simply of pulled chicken, lettuce and a side of barbecue sauce on an 11-inch French roll ($8). I had asked for my sandwich to be toasted, but it was presented to me soft and doughy, not hot and crunchy as I had anticipated. As a result of so few ingredients and a lack of toastiness, the sandwich was lackluster and flavorless.
On my second visit, I tried the vegetarian North Indian Curry quinoa bowl, a vibrant golden curry with hunks of seitan paired with a heaping side of cilantro-flecked quinoa. Until that visit, I had never eaten seitan. I imagined it would have the semi-soft consistency of tofu, but it was instead very much meat-like, with a satisfyingly springy texture and an appearance that vaguely reminded me of Stove-Top stuffing croutons. The curry exhibited a wonderful, lingering, slow-building heat cooled by the herby quinoa. This was easily and resoundingly the best meal of my three visits.
My latest meal was the most disappointing. I ordered the Mexican Tomatillo Verde sandwich ($8), which was supposed to consist of chicken barbacoa, tomatillo verde salsa, refried beans, jalapeños, cilantro, lettuce and a lime wedge, all served on a toasted French roll. But once again, after expressly asking for my sandwich to be toasted, it arrived soft, doughy and a bit soggy. It's like they can't shake the ghost of Gilpin's and keep wanting to make steamed sandwiches. Worst of all, three primary ingredients were completely omitted. My sandwich lacked refried beans, jalapeños and cilantro. The tomatillo verde salsa was the only component that offered flavor to an otherwise bland, sapless sandwich.
I was a big fan of the owner's former restaurant, Gilpin's, and his curiously steamed bagel sandwiches. But Losantivill3 left me wanting. The menu on paper seems far more compelling than its predecessor, promising diverse and bold flavors. But the reality is that the folks behind the counter aren't up to the challenge of fulfilling that promise. Perhaps with some additional employee training, particularly on how to toast a sandwich and include all the listed ingredients, Losantivill3 can stick around longer than our city's original name did.