Downtown Cincinnati is not overall a good place to get pizza. You can get Papa Johns, Donato's, and LaRosa's (the local megachain dearly loved by most Cincinnatians, but not by moi), Sbarros, and a few other places. But good pizza? The outlying areas have it, but downtown is nearly devoid.
Yesterday, I found what I believe to be the best pizza in downtown Cincinnati, which isn't saying much, but it is rather good -- good enough to be[url='http://www.bestofcincinnati.com/years/bestof2004/pages/eats.html']named as a staff favorite in 2004[/url] by the editors of the local independent weekly newspaper.
[url='http://cityguide.aol.com/cincinnati/entertainment/venue.adp?sbid=133367']Harry's Bar and Pizza[/url] is a little beyond the boundaries of what most people will say is downtown, being that it is across the northern "border", ie Central Avenue, by about a block and a half. Since most of Cincinnati's the truly interesting lunchtime eateries are on the northern edge of town, I'll stretch the truth a bit and include Harry's as part of downtown - just two and a half blocks from [url='http://www.roadfood.com/Forums/pop_profile.asp?mode=display&id=18685']Ephus[/url]'s office.
That said, if you are walking from downtown, you'll note a less than subtle change in the neighborhood as you cross Central Ave, and so if you are not comfortable in somewhat rundown neighborhoods even in the middle of the day, this isn't for you. I probably wouldn't walk the area myself after 5 pm or so, to be honest. If you're ok with this, there are good eats to be had.
The name says it is mainly a bar, but I think that's really only true at night. During the day, it is a nice little lunch place with a suprisingly good handtossed personal pizza, pizza by the slice, a variety of good looking sandwiches, salads, and other typical bar fare as well. Notice the overstuffed sandwiches are designed more or less exactly like those at Primanti brothers in Pittsburgh: meat, veggies, fries, and slaw all on one unhinge-your-jaw-to-make-it-fit enormous sandwich.
The inside is pure local bar and grille. The owner/manager (Tony) says he and his brother Domenic bought the bar, then named "The Overflow", two years back and did extensive remodeling, including turning the stage area into a working kitchen. Rough brick walls interrupted by framed black and white photos of working class folk and events from the distant past. Plenty of TVs mounted on the walls, all tuned to sports channels, and a small bar no more than 9 feet wide at the far back of the dining area. One major point of warning here, to be fair: the bathrooms are located on the second floor, up a fairly narrow and very
steep flight of stairs.
The pizza by the slice is what drew me in, but seeing that it is kept in a warming rack and wasn't selling quickly, I opted to try only one slice - the special of the day, deluxe with sausage, pepperoni, onions, green peppers, and mushrooms - and supplement this with a personal sized 7" cheese pizza.
The slice was decent size (cut from their standard 15" pie) but was somewhat underwhelming, as I thought it might be, but this appeared to be almost entirely due to two things : 1) I think when pizza is going into a warmer, cooks tend to undercook it a bit, figuring it will retain moisture longer while it sets, ergo dry out less quickly, and be saleable longer. 2) it sits in a warmer for a bit. Best strategy here is to tell your waitress to give you a slice from whichever pizza came out from the oven last. But I will say this: the veggies were fresh and crisp, the sausage was in large, flavorful chunks, and at just $1.50 to add a slice (2 bucks when ordered by itself) it was an outstanding bargain.
The manager I spoke to told me they sell tons of slices during late weekend evenings, when they are open til 4am and are serving clubbers who roam from one nightclub to another in the main street entertainment district. If you end up here at those hours, I think the slices turn more quickly....but unfortunately the manager tells me that the pressure to put out slices quickly also results in a lot of complaints about the pizza being undercooked. Moral of the story is....eat here during the lunch hours, not late :-)
The real winner
, though, was the individual plain cheese pizza, which I had ordered as "leave it in the oven just a few minutes longer than you usually do".
This could be better - I'll get to that in a minute - but was nonetheless outstanding. Liberally flecked with bits of italian hers and spices, plenty of cheese, and a very bright, fresh tasting sauce that was full of (but not overpowered by) basil and oregano. This was a somewhat thinner sauce than I usually like, but it had a good flavor - very savory, not sweet at all - that seemed to improve some as it cooled. I checked with the manager on the sauce, and he said they do start with a canned tomato paste base but do cook and spice it to their own recipe from there. I'd say that this pie has a lot more cheese on it (see the photo below, where the cheese overflows the side of the pie) than one might typically expect, so if you like less cheese, just tell your waitperson and I am certain you'll be (as I was) quite accomodated. For 4.75, I feel like I got a real bargain here.
Likes of nice bubbling, good crust browning, the abundance (overabundance? you decide) of cheese, and the flecks of herbs are all in evidence in this closeup shot:
All that said, I think their crust was good, but would be improved if they made it just a bit thinner, say using a dough ball about 90% of the size of what they use currently. This would cut food costs and also allow the crust to cook more thoroughly. My pie's crust, although cooked a bit longer than usual, was still a bit dough-y on the sauce-facing side as well as toward the center.
I watched a LOT of long, hoagie-type sandwiches go by me while I waited and they all looked top-notch. The manager says the sandwiches are their top sellers during the day, and I will definitely get one of those on my next stop, which I hope is soon.... Addendum 1:
I returned on 9/27/2005 to try one of the baked subs that the manager said are the top sellers at lunchtime, and I was not disappointed. Top notch roasted rare beef - extremely juicy and full of luxurious beefy flavor - baked with provolone and then topped with veggies, and horseradish mayo on a high quality toasted herbed roll. As per my usual, I ordered it with lettuce and onion only. I noted at this stop that the waitperson never wrote down my order, and nonetheless they have yet to get one wrong. I have to say, this is easily the best sandwich I have ever had in downtown Cincinnati. A real winner, and only 5 bucks with chips or 6 bucks with fries.
I also asked the waitress to bring me a slice of whatever by-the-slice pie was the freshest when the sandwich was ready, and this (as on the previous visit) was decent but unremarkable. Go with a sandwich or a individual 7" pizza, and you will not go wrong here. Addendum 2
I returned for another slice and an order of cheese fries. I figured I'd eventually get a better slice, but this one (the day's special, pepperoni and sausage) was pretty much the same as the others - a little undercooked, low on sauce, a bit doughy, and etc - same as before.
I decided to go the extra buck to add bacon to the cheese fries, and it was good but not great. The bacon was indeed freshly cooked and chopped, and the fries were certainly improved by the fact that some skin was left on (see pic below) but the overall product was fairly ordinary. I'll have to try them with the optional garlic or cajun seasonings (25 cents extra) next time. Addendum 3 (10/14/2005)
I stopped back in, sat at the bar right at the entrance to the kitchen, and ordered a individual sized deluxe (pepperoni, sausage, green pepper, onion, and mushroom) pizza, and again, well done. While I was there I saw a number of sandwiches go by, all looking great, but noted that all the pizzas looked a bit undercooked, at least to my amateur eye. My well done pie was just right - good but not excessive browning on top, and a nicely browned fully cooked crust. A really great pie that could be improved a bit with fresh mushrooms replacing canned, but great nonetheless. Addendum 4 (10/20/2005)
There was a comment on the [url='http://www.chowhound.com/midwest/boards/midwest/midwest.html']Chowhound Midwest board [/url]recently about Harry's - here's the relevant snippet of the comments from CH'er SBCochran
: thanks to you I had a pretty good lunch at Harry's Bar about a week ago but couldn't find your original post for follow-up. At that time, I had your recommended roast beef sandwich on herbed roll. Quite tasty, though somewhat meager portion (or maybe I was too hungry).
Also, got one of their small cheese pizzas for takeaway later. Let's just say this is an item that doesn't travel well. If I'm back in the area, I'll have it there.