By Sondra Katkin
Combine a talented chef, a “grand” location, a personal vision and you have the formula for Firehouse Grill’s early success. Only six months old, but this “baby” can fly. Molly Davis, marketing director and co-owner with her husband Bob, a former fire fighter, touted the unique amenities of the restaurant: “Our huge capacity — including an outdoor patio that can seat 220 people, an indoor area for 300 more, our eclectic menu and our wonderful chef and his “family” in the kitchen.” She added, “The Grill exceeded our expectations. Who opens a restaurant in this economy, especially without a restaurant background?” Molly and Bob were committed to their vision and quick learners. Molly was charming and informed. She introduced me to executive chef, Jason Goldschmidt, a slender, handsome young man who had been the sous chef at Mitchell’s in Newport. A graduate of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music, cooking was his second love. Since orchestras were shrinking but waistlines weren’t, the writing was on the menu.
On the day of my visit, the sun was shining and the two tiered patio couldn’t ask for better weather. Sometimes, people pick restaurants just because they have a small outdoor dining area and sure enough, everyone crowds to these places. That won’t be a problem for the Firehouse Grill’s al fresco dining. There is room for multiple guests (220) with a vibrant view of a small lake and lovely landscaping — even a fragrant magnolia blossoming in September. The umbrella covered tables promised shady comfort and a fireplace will keep diners warm when the weather chills. Molly was proud of the setting, since it’s rare to have a patio that doesn’t face a busy street or parking lot. It’s also handicapped accessible with two entry ramps.
The menu features what Polly Campbell, the Enquirer food critic, called “casual with a twist.” The hamburger was accompanied by fresh homemade kettle chips and “twisted” with an avocado, hot sauce dressing that may make you glad there is a commemorative fire truck with its gigantic hose parked outside. Oh yes, hot and spicy, just the way my husband Steve likes it. He says that if it makes his forehead moist, it’s good stuff. This sandwich passed with flying colors. For those looking for the best hamburger, not only did it satisfy our “yummy” test for the beef, it had a true char grilled flavor — the smoke that can give you a legal high. If you suffer from jalapeno pepper repugnance, the Firehouse Grill will gladly serve it your way. Their consideration for their guests with allergies was also impressive. Goldschmidt explained, “We make sure we use freshly cleaned pans and separate cooking areas, uncontaminated by other foods.” They are working on a gluten free menu. He added, “I want you to eat the food that I would want to eat.”
Salmon salad lovers (like me) will be pleased with the the delicious “Firelight” salmon spinach salad. The plate’s palette of colors will ply your palate with taste sensations of sweet red strawberries, pleasantly sour goat cheese and earthy toasted walnuts decorating the dark green baby spinach. A light dressing of sugar cane vinaigrette unites all the disparate ingredients into the perfect flavor accompaniment for the thick, fresh Atlantic salmon, enhanced by its char grilled preparation. You could eat this and congratulate yourself for choosing such a healthy meal, and then go ahead and splurge. Indulge yourself with the grand finale, the homemade key lime pie. Years ago, a friend in Miami introduced me to a “Florida” signature dish, preparing a key lime pie from scratch with love and skill. Goldschmidt’s version was a reminiscent delight. The interesting “twist,” toasted macadamia nuts, added another layer of flavor to the real key lime juice in the creamy filling. The graham cracker crust completed the comely confection with the necessary crunch. While staying well away from the crust, Steve, my gluten averse spouse, competed with me for spoonfuls of the tempting tart.
“The service is surprisingly good,” according to Polly Campbell. To achieve this accolade, chef Goldschmidt holds menu discussions and tastings for his workers, sometimes numbering well over 100 people. He explained, “That way they become a knowledgeable serving staff.” He believes he’s found the ones who want to grow with the company. This is what people take for granted when they rent the spacious banquet facilities for bar mitzvahs, showers and corporate presentations (power point ready with any type of audio/video and multiple large screen TV’s). They have a full time event coordinator on staff to make sure the parties are events to remember, and there is free rental with a minimum food order. Goldschmidt added, “the sheer size of the place allows us to accommodate large parties almost anytime but reservations are best.”
One large party occurs each Friday when they host the Bengal’s pep rally, broadcast on ESPN radio (1530). From 3:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. there is commentary on the team’s game from last week and their upcoming game. Many other sports oriented patrons like to gather around the huge bar for Alabama and Notre Dame games. They may also be drawn by the number of craft beers (draws) on tap. People are taking their beer very seriously now — a growing group wants IPA (India Pale Ale). I was fortunate to take a sip of Kentucky Bourbon Ale, a stronger brew, aged in bourbon barrels and served in a 10 ounce snifter. It was smooth and creamy with “a hint of butterscotch” according to Molly. I caught the hint of bourbon and wished it weren’t so early in the day, and that I didn’t need to keep a clear head. They also serve wine by the glass or bottle and cocktails, including the popular house cosmopolitan.
Another bonus for me was their Southwestern pizza. It made me remember that it takes a good, yeasty bread dough to make an excellent pizza crust. How often do you want to eat the rims, the “bones” of the pizza? You’ll want these. The talented chef has created a wonderful topping of basil pesto sauce, spinach, caramelized red onions, artichokes, roasted red peppers and feta cheese. I was glad I didn’t have to share this one (gluten).
Molly pointed out that “All the menu items (which range from tempting appetizers, soups, salads, sandwiches, wraps, steaks, hamburgers and desserts) are priced under $21 dollars, so people can afford to come back frequently; our food is a splurge someone can feel good about.” Happy hour is every day from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. The restaurant is conveniently located near the intersection of Reed Hartman and Pfeiffer with plentiful parking. Operating hours are from 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Monday to Thursday; Friday and Saturday, 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. (the kitchen closes at 11:00 p.m.); Sunday, from 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
The Firehouse Grill
4785 Lake Forest Drive
Cincinnati, OH 45242