Mayberry is a new, not-quite-a-month-old restaurant located at 915 Vine Street, wedged between two other popular downtown eateries: the re-opened Hamburger Mary's and the venerable Scotti's.
I'd actually "discovered" Mayberry by accident, much like Christopher Columbus had "discovered" America. I had yearned for some soul food and trekked to Court St. to feast on sweet potato fries and a fried catfish sandwich from Flo's Plate Full of Soul. Much to my surprise, a sign posted there had indicated they'd moved their restaurant "two blocks down" to 915 Vine Street. Imagine my confusion when Flo's was nowhere to be found at the alleged new location. Instead, there was Mayberry.
I didn't stop in that day --I had become too flustered at the loss of Flo's, and I didn't want to take that disappointment and anger out on another restaurant. Still in denial, I'd held on to the remote chance that Flo's had simply done some re-branding and had changed their name to Mayberry. Of course, that was silly. I confirmed with Mayberry's owners via Twitter that they'd never heard of Flo's, but they were more than happy to feed me.
And so they have.
The place has generated a lot of positive buzz downtown, thanks to a trifecta of good fortune: the reputation of Chef Josh Campbell, who also owns World Food Bar at Findlay Market; great word-of-mouth via a cult-like food blogger following; and Campbell's successful and active engagement in the techno-world of Tweets, Facebook groups and other social media.
I talked a few co-workers into visiting Mayberry this week. It wasn't hard: the chance to try a new burger was universally compelling. The four of us stepped inside the restaurant to find it bustling with lunchtime business. We were fortunate to secure one of only a few tables in the place: the remainder of the available seating is in the form of a bar-like counter that runs along one wall and along the front window.
Perusing the short menu immediately evokes memories of down-home comfort food: a sloppy joe (aka Sloppy "Josh"), a tuna melt, a burger, pot roast, mac & cheese and tater tot casserole. But it seems like it's written out on the chalk board almost with a wink and nod, as there's also a hint of sophistication behind these simple-sounding dishes, stopping well short of pretension.
Chef Campbell could have taken the obvious approach in terms of tying the Mayberry name to his decor, but there are no framed photos of Andy Griffith or Barney Fife here. Instead, the walls are stark white with black painted spirals, on which hang original, two-tone artwork depicting well-known Cincinnati landmark buildings.
We each ordered "The Burger," which is described as 100% Angus beef with peppered bacon, onion marmalade and a poached egg on top. It took some convincing to get any of my co-workers to join me in the egg adventure, but in the end, two of them asked to have burgers served without it. The Burger also came with a pleasing salad of mixed greens and a slightly sweet, creamy house dressing.
Of the four of us, only one person didn't like their burger. He felt the texture and flavor was more "meatloaf-like," as though there was more filler than there was meat. While I agreed there was some aspect to it that reminded me of a (really good) meatloaf, I was not put off by it, nor were the remainder of my co-workers. The Burger was packed with flavor, thanks in large part to the delicious onion marmalade.
We'd expected to have a much messier time with our burgers than we had, particularly for those of us who'd opted for the poached egg. But the eggs weren't at all runny --in fact I would have liked to have had a bit of a runny yolk to blend in with the burger juices.
My one complaint about the restaurant is its lack of beverage choices. You can get a 12-ounce Coke, coffee, bottled water or juice, all for an extra $1.50. There's a soda vending machine on 7th street that still serves 12-ounce cans for just 50 cents, and I found myself longing for that machine, especially after finishing my Coke halfway through the burger. I would love to see Mayberry serve something truly derived from its fictitious, North Carolina namesake: sweet tea. That would perfectly compliment its down-home dishes.
With wholesome comfort food at reasonable prices, Mayberry is a much welcome downtown addition, quickly making me forget about a certain defunct soul food place that shall henceforth remain nameless.
Price: Cheap (under $11 per person)