To kick off our late-summer vacation, my wife and I decided to go on an afternoon date to the Contemporary Arts Center in downtown Cincinnati on Saturday, September 3. We hadn’t been to the museum for a while, and we were excited to see the new exhibits and installations.
To start our afternoon date, we had lunch in the museum lobby at Collective CAC Café. Using locally sourced products and high quality ingredients, this unassuming restaurant boasts an array of excellent food and drinks, all within a unique and exciting space. Although known for its coffee – which comes from nearby Collective Espresso in Over-The-Rhine – and weekday lunch fare, the smaller weekend menu at Collective CAC offers some of the most delicious and well-priced brunch dishes downtown has to offer.
Since we’d already downed a pot of coffee with breakfast, my wife and I decided to try some of Collective’s non-coffee beverages. My wife tried the blueberry iced tea, and I – always a sucker for a dark brew – opted for the black iced tea. The blueberry tea was lightly sweetened and incredibly refreshing, and the unsweetened Earl Grey was cool, smooth and bold.
For an entrée, my wife chose the ‘greens and eggs’ plate. Consisting of two over-easy eggs, toast and sautéed kale, the dish was hearty and balanced, earthy and fresh. The eggs were well seasoned and delightfully runny, the Sixteen Bricks challah toast was nutty and flavorful and the tangy smoked paprika vinaigrette added a slightly spicy touch to the bright greens.
I was in the mood for something a bit more rib sticking and decided to indulge in the fried chicken biscuit with a side of roasted potatoes. A Southerner by birth, I have high standards for biscuits and fried chicken, and Collective truly delivered. The fluffy and rich biscuit was topped with a sheen of golden honey butter, the chicken was perfectly cooked and nicely spiced and along with the pickles everything combined for a vinegary, dilly, zesty and succulent bite.
The roasted potatoes were some of the best I’ve had in a very long time. Much to my surprise, the dish included sweet potatoes in addition to russets, and the rosemary aioli added a nice herbaceous and creamy element to balance out the earthiness. The potatoes were extremely well cooked, and they had a wonderfully crisp caramelisation.
With a small tip the meal cost just under $27, which is quite a bargain for downtown brunch fare, and we were left happily full for our museum visit. Thanks to a substantial gift from The Johnson Foundation and generous funding from museum patrons, the Contemporary Arts Center offers free admission. With a happy wallet, my wife and I perused the installations and had a wonderful time seeing all the interesting and thought-provoking work displayed in the CAC.
After our visit, we decided to relax at Fountain Square for a few minutes and then head over to our favorite ice cream spot: Hello Honey. This small store on Vine Street – in the shadow of the Macy’s building – features handcrafted, made-in-house ice cream and a variety of specialty desserts. Many of the flavors are seasonal – which makes for a unique visit each time – and every bite is truly heavenly.
My wife and I each got double scoop bowls – it was the start of our vacation after all – and we both opted for one scoop of honey vanilla. For her second scoop, my wife chose the brown butter caramel, and I settled on the bourbon black walnut. As an added bonus, I topped my ice cream with a torched, house-made marshmallow. One of Hello Honey’s claims to fame, the torched marshmallow is unlike any you’ll ever have, and it makes an indulgent addition to any ice cream flavor.
Needless to say, our ice cream was spectacular. The flavors were subtle and well balanced, and the texture was absolutely perfect. Overall, it was an amazing way to end our afternoon, and at only eleven dollars, we were able to enjoy a wonderful date for less than $40.
I hope you get the chance to dig in at Collective CAC and grab a scoop at Hello Honey too. And as always, happy eating!