Queen City Eats: Jungle Jim’s, Half Day Cafe and Taste of Belgium

Hey guys! I have a SUPER long post for you today. I spent 4 days visiting the in-laws in Cincinnati last week. We had to use our Ultimate Air tix before they expired. Let me tell you that is the way to travel my friends. It’s an executive jet company that only flies Charlotte, Cincinnati, Chicago and New York so if you are in those cities you need to check it out. There is no security to go through, you can show up 10 minutes before your flight, they pour you coffee, they give you freshly baked delicious cookies, there are no middle seats, you get free cocktails and an on board meal or snack. Absolutely easiest and most enjoyable travel experience I’ve ever had and that’s coming from a daughter of a 747 captain :)

I’ll be honest and say my experiences with the Cincinnati food scene in the last 5 or so years I’ve visited have been, shall we say, lack-luster. Since I am not a fan of their staples La Rosa’s pizza, Buffalo Wings and Rings, the bastardized sausage concoctions they call goetta or strange chili (although I have caught myself having evil cravings for Skyline chili). This last trip I did begin to appreciate some more of their unique contributions and can see a little bit of culinary expansion in what Banana Man’s cop friends call hipster food. I don’t qualify myself as a hipster by any stretch but I was so happy to see previously run down areas turning into a foodie hubs…areas like the OTR, Over-The-Rhine district which I’ll tell you about a little later in the post.

Our first morning there was a Friday and since all our friends and family were working Banana Man and I had the day to explore and eat! It was hilarious when I picked a breakfast place called the Half Day Cafe in the town of Wyoming and he had no clue where it was. Banana Man was born and raised in Cincinnati and he had never been to this place or any other place in this area which is only 20 minutes from where he grew up. They say West siders never leave the west side and it is so true. He is so lucky he got away and moved to California to meet me! Haha! He needed me to expand his horizons in his own city. His brother happened to be driving behind us when we thought we were almost there. He called us and asked us where we were headed. We gave him the address and he said “good luck, hope you have a gun to protect yourself!” It was pretty shady looking. We were looking for 1 Wyoming St which turns out there were actually 2 streets named Wyoming and the GPS decided to take us to the wrong one…well at least we wouldn’t be needing the gun. Win.

After a few extra minutes of driving we found our way to a charming historic looking area with beautiful Victorian and Craftman style houses lining the streets. I can not wait to go back to the Half Day Cafe as soon as we return to Cincy. I fell in love with this place and everything from their menu, to the people, to the beautiful big windows and most importantly the heavenly breakfast that we savored. First I ordered the broiled grapefruit which had a gorgeous carmelized ginger topping. It wasn’t easy to dig out with my spoon but the flavors did a little dance in my mouth. I have never seen such a thing on a restaurant menu before and I’m totally going to make it at home!

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Chris had this mango rum butter French Toast and it was like finding the pot of gold under the rainbow. He practically licked his plate clean.

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I ordered the sweet potato pancakes with a side of bacon and rosemary potatoes. I love that their menu is a la carte so you can pick and choose everything to your exact liking of combinations. The pancakes were amazing, somewhat thick but so silky. My dreams are made of these pancakes.

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It really was a true Mom and Pop and I was so charmed by Pop coming over and talking with us for a good while. We talked about the Cincinnati food scene and how it is “really growing up”. He told us about some of his favorites which gave me ideas for the next trip, primarily located in that OTR area I was telling you about.

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Happily taking our coffee to go we headed out to a bonified foodie mecca: Jungle Jim’s. It is the Disneyland of all things edible. It’s a magical production of culinary delights and a smorgasbord of of worldly treasures. This is not like any other grocery store or farmers market you have ever been. It is a colossal mega market spanning 300,000 sq ft of deliciousness. It is eclectic and down right bizarre. Watch this history channel documentary of the store to get a better feel for it:

And here’s Banana Man himself posing with his beloved Chiquita banana outside of Jungle Jim’s. The only good bananas are Chiquita ya know! Their offices were based there in Cincinnati for a quarter of a century before realizing they really belonged in the rightfully crowned Queen City of Charlotte last year. (I am probably pissing off a lot of people by saying that) From one Queen City to another.
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I took scores of pictures inside and I just couldn’t decide which to post so here they are all to overwhelm you as I was. A feast for the senses. An appetite on overdrive. From enormous ostrich eggs, to whole pig heads, kangaroo meat, unidentifiable fruits and veggies, butter bar, bakery, fishery, cooking school, cigar bar, hot sauce haven, wine and beer a plenty and yes of course the award winning bathrooms:

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I picked up this trio of salami’s infused with wine. Going to serve them at the recipe club meeting tomorrow!

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Award winning Bathrooms, yes and here they are. You walk through what looks like a single  port-a-potty and into what is actually a full amenity facility. It’s still a bathroom though just hilarious they make such a point of it.

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Saturday morning we went to breakfast at Taste of Belgium in the Over The Rhine area. After talking to Banana Man’s friends I was afraid I would be held at gun point or see some drug deals going down from the sounds of it. We made it out safe and sound, unscathed and very full.
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We sat at the counter and watched the magic happening with the waffle irons and crepe skillets. Every table was packed and a long waiting list was forming. The counter though was the best seat in the house in my opinion. I was so entertained.

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I got chicken and waffles which has long been a comfort food favorite of mine. This was epic chicken and waffles. It was a sweet Belgium style waffle with a fried chicken cutlet smothered in hot sauce and syrup. This is probably not replicable in my kitchen and makes dining out all the more wonderful.

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This odd looking dish is a Cincinnati special. You know how I said earlier that I thought their sausage concoction of “goetta” was really gross. Well Taste of Belgiums version is really really GOOD! Basically what goetta is: sage sausage, pinhead or steel cut oats and seasoning. That’s it. So in this version the goetta is plated on top of Belgium frites (fancy fries) and sauteed peppers. Then a fried egg tops the whole thing. I freaking loved it, go figure! I have promised Banana Man to attempt making goetta at home. It’s going to happen and when it does I will make it like this.

The trip was great, quality family time and discovering new amazing quality restaurants and no kinks in the travel plans. I wish every trip could be so successful! I’m leaving again, this time without Banana Man to fly back to Monterey to see my family. I get to see baby Mac who is almost 2 now!!! My mom is re-opening her new boutique in Carmel and I’m celebrating my dad’s birthday. Amongst numerous other events the Pebble Beach Food and Wine Festival will be going on and I’m hoping to somehow get myself in there at least one day. It’s a world class event at a world class place. I’m just dying to go. I’ll keep you posted!

5 thoughts on “Queen City Eats: Jungle Jim’s, Half Day Cafe and Taste of Belgium

  1. Jungle Jims is the only place I tell people to visit in Ohio. It is literally the ONLY place worthwhile in that state.

  2. Awesome! I am so jealous of your trip to Jungle Jim’s! I would be there every single day if I lived in Cincy! I used to drive through there several times a year on my way to and from college, and I always thought it was such a pretty river city:)

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