In their day, Cincinnati's five inclined planes must have been quite a sight, transporting passengers and freight up and down the surrounding steep hillsides. They were a means of transportation previous generations had relied upon to traverse the area's natural barriers long before there were an abundance of paved roads and cars. The distinctive, soft rumbling of the steam-powered platforms as they climbed and descended the tracks must have grown customary to those alive between 1871 and 1948. Raised in an era of highways clogged with SUVs and 18-wheelers, I find it hard to imagine a time when the incline was the best means of navigating Cincinnati's terrain.
Incline Public House is a restaurant and watering hole abutting what was once the top of the Price Hill Incline, the city's second-oldest and second-longest running of its kind. Closed in 1943, it was also Cincinnati's only double incline: two sets of tracks --one designated for passengers and the other for hauling freight. The restaurant marks the site of its remains, with a high perch offering sweeping views of the downtown skyline and Ohio River below.
We arrived one sunny spring weekend for lunch. The construction going on along a stretch of US 50 West didn't make our journey easy. If the Price Hill Incline had existed today, all we would have needed to do was head West along 8th St., take the Incline straight up, and we're there. Still, it wasn't too difficult finding Incline Public House once we'd meandered around Elberon and Mt. Hope Avenues.
The first question the hostess asked us was whether we'd like to sit outside. Nearly all the patrons were seated out on the large deck, though the space indoors offers only a slightly less panoramic glimpse of the city thanks to a prominent eastern wall of windows. On this sunny day, we chose to sit with the masses basking in the season's early rays.
The pub's spring menu offers 14 small plate items averaging $8 apiece, including lamb burger sliders, pork belly sliders, fried frog legs, scallop ceviche and creole egg rolls filled with andouille sausage and shrimp. Salads, artisan pizzas and sandwiches are available, along with three larger entrees that look appropriate for dinner hours.
A soup and sandwich combo was on my agenda, and the Duck BLT sandwich, with duck "bacon," mesclun greens, tomato and maple mayo, sounded perfect. For an extra $2, I substituted the usual accompanying hand-cut fries with a cup of the smoked red chicken chili, topped with cheddar cheese, sour cream and tortilla strips.
My girlfriend ordered the smoked beet & portabella sandwich topped with a "citrus salad" and a handsome slab of fried goat cheese on a toasted bun and served with a side of fries.
The food arrived fairly quickly and looked great despite the harsh sunlight beating down upon it. The hearty, buttery, toasted bread of my BLT was reminiscent of a good grilled cheese sandwich, with fresh greens and tomato nearly overpowering the duck bacon's surprisingly mild flavor. The thick-cut bacon didn't offer the intensely salty, crispy, greasy meatiness I'd hoped for. It was a solid sandwich overall, though I found it a bit on the small side given its hefty $11 price tag plus the extra $2 hit for swapping out the fries.
The cup of smoked red chicken chili was both hearty and intensely spiced, with high doses of cinnamon that were too assertive for my girlfriend to handle and nearly too overpowering for my taste buds. Cinnamon can make or break a dish, pushing the experience from the intended realm of the savory into the land of the sweet, and this overbearing chili tested all those limits.
My girlfriend's sandwich seemed far more substantial than mine; the fried goat cheese was so large that I'd temporarily forgotten it was cheese at all, repeatedly asking her how her fried chicken patty was. "It's goat cheese," she kept reminding me. The beet flavor wasn't overbearing in the sandwich, as I'd feared it would be. Even as a beet fan, I feel a little of it goes a long way. The toasty sweet bun made for a pleasant textural experience. We both agreed the hand-cut fries should have been crispier; instead, they were quite limp, but sprinkled with a pleasing spice blend that compelled me to finish off her plate.
After our meal, we perused the small park next door that commemorates the Price Hill Incline with fetching, informative bronze plaques and a handsome, photogenic overlook all its own.
Incline Public House offers an impressive-looking menu with gorgeous views of downtown Cincinnati. Our first experience was hit or miss and the prices overall seemed nearly as steep as the Price Hill Incline itself. We hope to try again soon.