We Cincinnati foodies tend to trip over one another whenever a new restaurant opens in Over-the-Rhine, clamoring to be among the first to experience it and talk about it and blog about it and post photos of it, until it all feels like a lot of white noise. We lustily spray our seed of excitement over a new place, roll over, take a nap, then immediately move on to the next "new thing." The latest target of our affection is The Eagle Food & Beer Hall, a bar and free-range fried chicken joint conceived by the same folks who brought us Currito and Bakersfield OTR.
The Eagle Food & Beer Hall (whose long name and hint of exclusivity reminds me of Pancho's Happy Bottom Riding Club) lies near the 14th and Vine intersection downtown. It's across the street from a Graeter's and two doors from a Holtman's Donuts. Actress Cate Blanchett was seen crossing the street here just a week ago, on break from filming her 50's-era movie, "Carol."
The Eagle's interior is dark and rustic, riddled with reclaimed wood and sporting fixtures apparently borrowed from the adjoining old post office that serves as the second dining room. At dinner-time, the place can be quite loud and crowded, so it was great to learn that, as of Reds' Opening Day 2014, they are also open for lunch.
A third of The Eagle's front menu and the entire back of it are allocated for alcoholic drink listings, including cocktails (e.g. OTR Iced Tea), a multitude of beers, wines and champagne. The remaining is a short but formidable list of food options, including appetizers, salads, sandwiches, sides and, most prominently, The Eagle's signature fried chicken. Non-alcoholic drinks are unlisted, so you'll need to ask the server to discover that they also serve a very fetching draft root beer along with the obligatory Coca-Cola products.
The menu arrives looking like a placemat. I've seen a couple variations of it floating around online, each new edition sporting updated, higher prices for particularly the chicken dishes. Still, for Over-the-Rhine, their prices remain competitive, and a $9 sandwich at The Eagle is far more food and a better value than the $11 sandwiches at other nearby venues.
For our first visit, we stuck to their much-ballyhooed, brined and "pressure-fried" Amish chicken. I chose a quarter of white meat, served with a spicy honey sauce, as well as a side of collard greens. My girlfriend opted for the fried chicken breast sandwich topped with cole slaw, spicy mayo and house pickles, along with a small arugula salad.
For starters, we chose the Brown Sugar Bacon. The three long strips flecked with cayenne and brown sugar lent them a pleasing, sweet edge that was fine for a few bites but grew tiresome and cloying by the second strip.
The chicken, however, was nothing short of delicious. Forget the spicy fried batter for a moment, which was good in its own right. The meat alone was moist, tender and needed no flavor enhancement from the honey sauce. It was as though we could savor the joyous contentment brimming from the bird's short-lived freedom. My girlfriend's sandwich was enormous: two towering halves of gorgeous chicken, colorful (not over-creamy) slaw and a hearty, grilled crusty bread that she said really made the sandwich.
Of course, my 1/4 chicken was smaller by comparison, but no less tasty. I would have appreciated a fluffy biscuit on hand to sop up the spicy honey sauce, a la KFC. The closest thing on the menu is the "Spoonbread," a 10-inch iron skillet filled with exactly the kind of cornbread I like: sweet and moist, with an intense corn flavor and a pleasing, down-home grit between the teeth.
The collard greens were particularly good, a small bowl packed with large, tender, substantial leafy greens. Bits of ham hock imparted meaty flavor to the slightly spicy broth, making this one of my favorite collard green preparations.
In a subsequent visit, I tried the pork sandwich, with its heaping of pork shoulder topped with broccoli rabe (a fascinating, tasty, slightly bitter green), house made hot peppers and provolone on a toasted Italian roll.
The sandwich was just as substantial as my girlfriend's chicken variety. In fact, I've witnessed three people, all big eaters in their own right, who'd failed to polish off both halves of any of The Eagle's sandwiches in one sitting. I'm a fairly big guy, but could barley finish half my pork sandwich. Anyone who's managed to devour a complete one is either super-human or in tragic need of portion control intervention.
The Eagle Food & Beer Hall exceeded our expectations, with delicious chicken and hearty sandwiches that make it a welcome addition to an already impressive line of Over-the-Rhine eateries.