Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to 24 hours in Cincinnati. Ohio is a smallish state with a surprising number of large cities. When I stopped in Ohio for my 50 States in 5 Years project, I could have selected Columbus, which is both the largest city in Ohio and the state’s capital. Or I could have made like Tina Fey on 30 Rock and gone to Cleveland. But instead I decided to spend more than 24 hours in Cincinnati.
It’s the 3rd largest city in Ohio, the birthplace of our largest president, and it’s just a short walking distance from Kentucky. If you’ve ever wanted to have a 3-way (not what it sounds like) and be attacked by evil clowns, 24 hours in Cincinnati should be right up your alley.
24 Hours in Cincinnati
Where to Stay?
The Symphony Hotel is one of my favorite hotels in the United States, not just in Cincinnati. It’s the perfect choice for your 24 hours in Cincinnati. The rooms are adorable, and the amenities are amazing. You get everything from breakfast made to order to complimentary chocolate in the room. Plus the restaurant with dinner and live music is fantastic.
24 Hours in Cincinnati
What to Pack?
You’ll need comfy shoes for all the walking we’re going to do. If it’s summertime, I love my special pink Birkenstocks. These aren’t your grandpappy’s Birkenstocks anymore. They come in every shade, and I always get compliments on my electric magenta shoes.
If the weather is rainy or snowy, which can happen in Ohio, I recommend the Asgard Rain Boots. They are comfy/cozy and keep my feet dry all day. Plus they’re cute enough that I can wear them out without feeling like some gauche tourist with gross feet.
Finally, since we’re going to be out all day, you’ll want a battery for your cell phone. I always use the Anker charger. It’s light enough to fit in even a small purse. Plus the Anker lasts for several full charges of a phone, so I’ll never run out of juice!
24 Hours in Cincinnati
Morning: Explore Covington, Kentucky
Covington, Kentucky was recently in the news for rather more controversial reasons than being featured on this blog. (Though the boys involved in the incident were not actually from Covington proper, but rather its suburbs.)
But Covington has long been a pleasant morning trip to take from Cincinnati. How often can you take a quick walk from one state and end up in another state? While Covington is not as big as Cincinnati, it certainly has enough landmarks and history to teach you…
three fun facts: covington, kentucky
1) Daniel Carter Beard
Daniel Carter Beard, probably Covington’s most famous son, was a founder of the Boy Scouts of America. He was born in Cincinnati, but he moved to Covington as a kid, and he grew up in this adorable white house. It’s now a National Historic Landmark, but unlike the Juliette Gordon Low House in Savannah, Georgia, you can’t go inside or take tours. It’s a private residence.
Just pay your respects to the mummified and bronzed corpses of Daniel Carter Beard and this distressed little boy and be on your way!
2) Mother of God Church
The Mother of God Church is one of the most historically interesting churches in the area. It was founded in the 19th century as the “mother church” for the German Catholics who had immigrated to Ohio.
The community poured all its money into making the church as lavish as it could be, from a 100-foot dome supported by columns covered in gold leaf, to stained glass windows imported from Munich. I don’t know if that’s a good thing, but Munich seems like the kind of city that would be good at making stained glass windows.
If you’d like to check out those special Munich stained glass windows yourself, just poke around the outside of the church and probably somebody will let you in. The caretaker seemed very excited to have a tourist visiting Covington on a Wednesday morning and let me take as much time and photos as I wanted. Probably he will be just as nice to you, even if you’re not as adorable as I am, Internet Stranger!
3) The practice bridge
The number one reason for any New Yorker like me to spend 24 hours in Cincinnati is the chance to see the Roebling Suspension Bridge. This is the bridge that makes it so easy to walk from Cincinnati to Covington in the first place. But do you notice any similarities to a bigger, more famous bridge?
Yup, this bridge was the suspension bridge that John Roebling built before he began work on the more famous Brooklyn Bridge back in my hometown. In fact, the success of this bridge was how he knew the (larger) Brooklyn Bridge could be successful.
One thing the Roebling Suspension Bridge has that the Brooklyn Bridge doesn’t is a collection of big ol’ murals documenting the history of Covington. Here we have a group of sad young white men marching across the river over what look like cardboard boxes with sticks poking out of them.
Here is Jacob Price, a 19th century minister, businessman, and leader of the African-American community in Covington. (You can probably tell from the mural that Price’s business was in lumber.) My favorite story about Price is that when he was 74 years old, his house caught on fire and he had to jump out the 2nd floor window to survive. That’s a scene right out of Hollywood! Why hasn’t Morgan Freeman played this guy in a movie yet? Get on it, people!
After my visit to the Mother of God Church, I was also interested to see this mural dedicated to the churches of Northern Kentucky. I like how it’s designed to look like stained glass that may or may not be from Munich.
24 Hour Treat: Skyline Chili
At last, Internet Stranger, it is time for our 3-Way. Skyline Chili is a chain, but it’s a local chain to Cincinnati, so it counts as Very Authentic. It was started in the 1940s by a Greek immigrant named Nicholas Lambrinides. The chili contains a number of secret spices that make it taste slightly sweeter than any other chili I’ve ever tried. (Spoiler! One of those spices is definitely cinnamon.)
Apparently the correct order to place at Skyline Chili is a 3-Way, which is pasta topped with chili and a whole lotta grated cheese. But this was my first time, so I didn’t really feel comfortable with the 3-Way. I decided to just stick to the basic Skyline Chili. The 3-Way will have to wait until our next 24 hours in Cincinnati.
24 Hours in Cincinnati
Afternoon: Underground Railroad Freedom Center
One of Cincinnati’s most important contributions to American history was the role it played in the Underground Railroad. Cincinnati was a major hub for enslaved people escaping from slave states like Kentucky and trying to head up north to freedom.
The Underground Railroad Freedom Center tells the stories of the brave men and women who were involved in the struggle for freedom and equality in this country. There’s so much information in the Freedom Center that I could hardly do it all justice in this blog post. Instead, I’ll leave you with…
three facts: underground railroad freedom center
1) Slavery Before the Civil War
It’s easy for someone like me, who was born in New York City, to think that slavery was just confined to one small part of the country. But look at that map of the United States in 1861! See how much of the country had legalized slavery. Even some Union states like Missouri, Kentucky, and Delaware had slaves. On top of that, 12 of our first 18 presidents owned slaves at some point in their life. It’s hard to argue that the entire nation wasn’t complicit in the institution. (Abraham Lincoln said as much many times in his life.)
2) Heroes of the Underground Railroad
Much of the Underground Railroad Center is dedicated to telling the stories of heroic individuals. Harriet Jacobs was an enslaved woman from North Carolina. She escaped from her abusive captor by hiding under a crawl space on his property for seven years. Eventually she escaped altogether and made it to New York where she wrote a book called Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.
This book helped publicize the widespread sexual abuse that enslaved women experienced. I really can’t imagine the courage it would take to do half the things Harriet Jacobs accomplished in her life. Reading about the stories of people like Ms. Jacobs makes me realize that I don’t actually have any problems.
3) Salmon P Chase
One of the most important abolitionists associated with Cincinnati was a man named Salmon P. Chase. I know he sounds kind of fishy, but just hear me out. Chase was a Cincinnati lawyer who rose to become Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. While he was still a lawyer in Cincinnati, he argued for fugitive slaves who were in Cincinnati escaping their captors. Chase believed that once an enslaved person entered a free state, they should automatically be considered free.
He continued to argue in favor of civil rights for all after he became Chief Justice, and he was the first Chief Justice to allow African-American attorneys to make arguments before the Supreme Court. I don’t understand why more streets and schools and things aren’t named after Salmon P Chase. His name is both righteous and delicious!
24 Hours in Cincinnati
Late Afternoon: Contemporary Arts Center
In most cities, the art museums close around 5 PM. But as we’ve established, Cincinnati is not most cities. And here, from Wednesday to Friday, the Contemporary Arts Center stays open until 9 o’clock in the PM. The exhibits here change frequently so the art can stay contemporary with a capital K. But some of the things you might find include sticker art…
There are signs around the museum asking you not to lick the art, and it disturbs me that they need to say that because it means that at least one person DID try to lick the paintings.
You could get trapped in a giant prism. (Can you see me taking a photo in this photo above? That’s what I call a selfie.)
You could also get chased around the museum by a terrifying gaggle of clowns.
Oh good! I think I’m safe now! The clowns won’t find me here. What’s that you say, Internet Stranger? Look behind me? No, I’m not going to fall for that trick.
24 Hours in Cincinnati
Evening: Dinner at Orchids at the Palm Court
Orchids at the Palm Court is one of the most famous fine dining destinations in all of Cincinnati. It has the words “orchid” and “court” in the title, so you know it’s classy. I selected Orchids at the Palm Court because it offers a tasting menu, and it’s my general policy to seek out tasting menus all over the globe like a cheetah stalking its prey in the night, or whenever it is that cheetahs stalk things. Now that I successfully vanquished Cincinnati’s last word in tasting menus, I give you…
approximately top 10: orchids at the palm court
Every tasting menu needs to begin with an amuse bouche. That’s just science. This AB is clearly modeled on the famous Arpege egg by French legend Alain Passard. But you know this one is American because it has bacon in it. Bacon makes everything better. USA, USA, USA!
This next bite was a perfect ball of smoked salmon with a sesame cracker on top for crispness. I liked the shape of this dish, almost as if they were trying to reform the salmon into a little fishy.
One thing I liked about this tasting menu is that they really showcased the main ingredient in each dish and didn’t drown it in a lot of froufrou nonsense. Sometimes you want to let the quality of the food speak for itself. This was a perfect glarb of burrata (glarb is a highly technical culinary term) and it didn’t need much more than that sprinkling of pistachio for a bit of texture.
Batting cleanup, we have a surprising choice for a tasting menu. This is a tomato soup with fresh cheese tortellini. I don’t believe I’ve ever eaten something homey like tomato soup with tortellini on a tasting menu before. But why shouldn’t a classic from Nonna be a fine dining experience? After all, everyone knows that their Nonna is the best chef in the world.
This dish was one of my favorites, next to the burrata. IT is scallop served with peas, lardon, which is Fancy for bacon fat, and dukkah. Dukkah is a delicious Egyptian seasoning that can be made by glarbing all kinds of spices together. Frequently one of those ingredients in the dukkah is mint, so it makes sense that it would go well with peas. Dukkah and peas, classic spring combination!
Now the dishes begin to get a little more substantial. I loved this spicy pork topped with grapefruit and shishito peppers. I had never eaten pork and grapefruit together before, but the sweet acidity of the grapefruit combined with the mildly spicy peppers made the pork, which isn’t always a terribly exciting piece of protein, a pleasure to eat.
For the final main course, we come to the specialty of the house. Veal cheeks are pretty much always on the menu at Orchids at the Palm Court. They are so tender and full of meaty flavor. While I was eating these, I really had to resist the urge to roar in the middle of the restaurant like the Tasting Menu Cheetah that I truly am. Instead of potatoes, the veal cheeks were served with a creamy rice noodle cake. I admired this choice because the veal cheeks are so rich, it makes sense to serve them with a lighter kind of starch.
At this point, my waitress came along and asked me if I wanted the extra cheese course, and I said, “Bitch, please!” I mean, I said it with my eyes and not actually aloud because that would be horribly tacky. Out loud I just said, “Yes, thank you.” The cheese course consisted of just one type of cheese: the rich sheep’s milk cheese from France known as Petit Basque. It was served with champagne gelee, preserved grapes, and spiced pistachios. I am here to tell you, my friends, champagne gelee is the kind of addition to a cheese plate our troubled world sorely needs right now.
Ready for dessert? How about a cream cheese custard with white chocolate crumble and a golden raspberry sauce? I had never encountered a golden raspberry before. In fact, I thought they were just an award given out to bad movies. They are sweeter than Not Golden Raspberries, which would probably have been a little too tart with the smooth cream cheese and sweet white chocolate. Plus that golden color adds that extra notch of class I expect from an Orchid Court.
Any proper tasting menu needs two desserts. That’s just science. This is a miniature decadent chocolate cake all dressed up in its Sunday best with a tuile wrapping and flowers on top. Exotic fruits are always a pleasure, but sometimes a girl just wants a great piece of chocolate cake, even if she is a Tasting Menu Cheetah. Thanks for obliging, Orchids at the Palm Court!
That’s a Perfect 24 Hours in Cincinnati!
What would you do with 24 hours in Cincinnati? Are you ready to start booking your hotel in Cincinnati? Have you ever tried a 3-Way, or are you too shy? And is that clown still sitting behind me? Please leave your thoughts below!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY spend 24 hours in Cincinnati. If you have time for an extra 24 hours in Cincinnati itinerary, try this one.