Sometimes life just smiles on you. Friday night I was very pleased to be able to attend the preview party for the new Yard House restaurant here in Cincinnati. The Banks have really started to come alive and after enjoying an evening there with friends I can say that this restaurant is a great addition to the development.
The beer is what Yard House is known for. They brag about having the world’s largest selection of beer on tap and I believe it. Even knowing in advance that they had over 160 beers, I was still kind of shocked when I walked in and saw the bar in the middle of the restaurant with row after row of gleaming taps. I tried taking pictures of it but it was like trying to capture the grand canyon on film. You just have to see it to believe. While I was there I saw Carla of Hoperatives and asked her what she thought. She was thrilled with the selection, pointing out how rare it is for her to go to a restaurant that has even one beer she’s never tried, let along dozens. Coming from a beer blogger that is high praise indeed. Charlie started out with a Fat Head IPA while I enjoyed the Rivertown Brewing’s Roebling Porter. I was enjoying a beautiful few of the Roebling Bridge from our table so how could I resist a good beer from a local brewery? Both beers were great and not something I get to order in a restaurant everyday. Read Tom Aguero’s review of the night on Queen City Drinks for a more detailed review of the beer.
Being more of a cocktail nerd than a beer nerd, I switched to the mixed drinks after my beer and I was not disappointed. All of them were beautiful, elegantly displayed and well prepared. Despite being a beer restaurant the bar staff at Yard House clearly put some thought into their mixed drinks. These were no “Friday-rita” style generic cocktails swimming in pre-made mix. All of the mixed drinks had fresh ingredients, were generous portions, and had something interesting about them. My favorite was the Jameson Mule, their take on a Moscow Mule but made with Jameson whiskey and their house made agave-ginger syrup. It was so good I ordered a second one and paid for it after my drink tickets ran out.
The food that we tried was quite delicious as well. For the opening night party the food was coming around in sample size for the guests to enjoy so I can’t really speak to an individual entrée but everything was amazing. A lot more seafood than we typically get here in Cincinnati if you are not at a specifically seafood restaurant. I attribute that to the chain’s heavy West Coast presence. Everything was good but the fish tacos were the dish that the people at my table fought over every time they came around. I didn’t ever see any desserts come by so I can’t say if they live up to the rest of the experience but after everything I saw, I have faith they can pull of sweets.
Of course with any restaurant, the people make a lot of difference. If I get amazing food with lousy service, I am less likely to return than if I love the people but the food is just ok. The opening night preview party was packed, everyone was new at their job, and most of the people there weren’t paying and therefore weren’t tipping. It would be easy for wait staff to get overwhelmed, surely, or just plain blow you off under these circumstances but this was the exact opposite of our experience. It was actually really lovely and refreshing to be at a restaurant where everyone was optimistic and enthusiastic about the future. No one had gotten the chance to start hating their boss or to suspect that the busboy is stealing tips from them yet. It was one of the few occasions where the whole staff seemed genuinely excited to see you. We were so impressed by our server, Courtney, that we all had to have our picture taken with her and we included her in the interviews we did. Of course this was also after several beers and cocktails for our group but our love of Courtney was cemented before we all got buzzed so I think it was a genuine experience.
Overall it was a great night. The Yards is a great addition to the Banks. It is safe and traditional enough to appeal to suburbanites on a night out and has enough innovation and craft beer emphasis to appeal to people more adventurous in their dining. One reason I really loved Yard House was that I think this restaurant is the perfect place for a mainstream beer drinker to be introduced to local beer. Someone who normally drinks Miller but who eats at Yard House after a game is much more like to want to try something new when there are that kind of wonderful diversity. And of course the other reason I loved them was that they treated my group like we were just as important as the big guys from Fox News who were there that night. For one night I could pretend like I was a minor celebrity and it felt good.