Restaurants & Reservations: Dining in Cincinnati

What happens when a rabbi and a lawyer walk into a bar? We'll let you know in a few years, but until then we'll do our best to share with you our favorite (and not-so-favorite) Cincinnati restaurants and hope you'll share some with us, too!

Max & Erma's: Whoop Dee Do.

Max & Erma's7800 Montgomery Rd. • Cincinnati, OH 45236 • (513) 794-0100

His Take

As strange as this may sound, this was actually supposed to be a review of Romano’s Macaroni Grill—particularly the one across from Kenwood Towne Centre on Montgomery. There was only one problem: it closed. Caught off guard, we found ourselves driving through the parking lot hungry and distraught that they had closed a perfectly decent Italian chain without consulting us first. In our haste to find food, we drove past Max & Erma’s. I hadn’t been to one of their restaurants in years, and my date had never been, so we decided to check it out.

Max & Erma’s could be compared to other mid-scale eateries including TGI Friday’s and Ruby Tuesday’s only it’s a little quieter and a little darker than both with a menu that is a little less exciting than either. Nevertheless we only took a couple of minutes to narrow down the choices and decided to start with Black Bean Rollups, which are small tortillas filled with beans and veggies and served with salsa and a Tex-Mex dressing.

Shortly after placing our order, the restaurant manager came over to speak with us. While we’re accustomed to managers coming over to say hi and check on the meal at finer establishments, we were caught off guard to have the manager come over at M&E’s before we even ate anything! It turns out, the manager came over to inform us that our server’s family member had been in a car accident, so the manager would be covering our table for the duration of our visit. The manager was very nice and made a concerted effort to make sure our food came out promptly and that we had a positive experience despite the change in the batting lineup. And with that, on to the food...

The Black Bean Rollups arrived shortly after we ordered them. They come five to a plate for appetizers, which was an ample serving for us to split and both be happy. The rollups were pretty good, particularly with some additional pico de gallo added to them.

My entree for the evening was a burger with sauteed mushrooms and guacamole (just a spur of the moment decision). The burger was decent, but nothing too exciting. It was right around a half-pound (though they’ll claim it was 10 oz.) and came served with fries and some trimmings. I ordered the burger done “medium,” but it most certainly came out well-done. It’s just hard to find a restaurant that knows how to properly cook a burger these days. I guess I have to leave it to the Morton’s, Ruth’s Chris, and Palm’s of the world (or my dad) to cook meat the way it was ordered. Even the bun was pretty lame—straight from the plastic bag at the grocery store I’m sure. It doesn’t take much to make things a little more exciting; even toasting the bun would have been a good start. But alas, it was just a big burger (at least it was big!). It also came with fries, which were nothing special to write about either.

BUT, there was a happy ending—if you like chocolate. We noticed the table next to us devouring an enormous piece of chocolate cake, so we decided to inquire about it by asking the manager for a dessert recommendation. Interestingly, the manager’s favorite was the banana cream pie, which is supposedly “made from scratch” on-site. However, she also said the chocolate cake was very rich even though it was prepared elsewhere. She was right. The cake met the necessary criteria for a repeat visit: big, rich, delicious frosting, chocolate (duh), and something at least moderately unique (crushed oreo crumbs)—all at a very reasonable price. So we just might be back eventually to try something new for dinner and something familiar for dessert!
Her Take

I have driven past Max & Erma’s many times since moving to Cincinnati, but I had never set foot in one, until we discovered that our intended destination, Macaroni Grill, no longer existed, and we were in Kenwood and hungry, and wanted to be a bit more adventurous than our usual standbys of Cheesecake Factory or Maggianos. He described it to me in a comparison with TGI Fridays, and I don’t think he was that far off. It has the same type of menu spanning almost every type of food (except, strangely, pastas), it has similar nostalgic American pop culture décor on the walls, and it has that chain restaurant feeling of uncertainty of how nice a restaurant it really is.

I had a little bit of trouble picking an entrée. There is almost nothing vegetarian on the menu, so while the menu was many pages long, I was immediately narrowed down to about two choices. I decided on the “ultimate combo,” choosing a loaded baked potato (minus the bacon) and the village salad (also minus the bacon). We weren’t sure how full I’d be on those items, so we added the black bean roll-ups appetizer.

The roll-ups were great, and a little different. It was the typical tex-mex ingredients, beans, veggies, and pico de gallo, but rolling them in mini tortillas was at least a new, creative presentation. Impressively, they stayed together and nothing fell out, but they also left a good chunk of empty space at the end of each roll, making that less of a feat.

My combo initially came out wrong—both parts with bacon—but since our waitress had left in a hurry (see column to left), probably just as she put our order in, we dismiss that mistake as unusual. The manager was a little horrified and corrected the order disturbingly quickly. I had another meal in under two minutes. Neither part of mine was all that exciting, but they were certainly good. No complaints, but no raves either.

We decided to splurge on the chocolate cake afterwards, because it looked great, and really, we’re bad at turning down desserts anyway. The restaurant is known for its cookies, although apparently the dough is made at a central location and not in each restaurant. The menu did say that if you order the cookies at the beginning of your meal, they come out fresh as soon as you’re done. Unfortunately, one order of cookies was a half-dozen, which we decided was more than we needed. Instead, we decided we needed a giant piece of chocolate cake. “Giant” is actually a bit smaller than Cheesecake Factory-sized, but still hard work for two. (We rose to the challenge.) It was layers of cake alternating with mousse, and a fudgy outside with Oreo crumbs on the bottom. The cake layers were okay, but it was made up for by the mousse layers which were great. All in all, a good, rich dessert. Even though the manager said most of the desserts were made off-site. As another creative spin on a standby dessert, they advertise a make-your-own sundae bar in a bathtub. The bathtub is there, but it has glass over it, so the toppings are actually on top of the tub. Nonetheless, a fun idea.

I won’t be rushing back to Max & Erma’s, but it’s certainly a good place for little kids, big groups, or a predictable meal with friends. Or when you’re in a parking lot, hungry, with a last minute change of plans.

Max & Erma's on Urbanspoon


Anonymous said...

Max and Erma's is fairly mediocre anymore and I've quit going there. As your review mentioned, it's hard to tell them from any of the other chains out there.

Put that in the context of being a customer since they had two stores in Columbus and were a hot place to go, it's disappointing. They were known for their quality burgers, but I loved their sesame chicken wings, onion rings, and french onion soup.

Veggie Option said...

Whoop Dee Do about sums it up for me too. My husband and I ate at M&E's inside CVG and it was awful. Bad service, bad food, bad choice of vegetarian options. Your review nailed them. Good job!

WestEnder said...

You'll never get a burger cooked less than medium-well unless the restaurant grinds its own meat. Most restaurants buy meat already ground, so they're not going to risk undercooking the meat because a customer might get sick.

Michal said...

As a non-vegetarian, I think their food is fine. But really, my main reason to go there is the cookies. The cake is good too, but I've never strayed from my favorite... next time, skip the cake and go for the chocolate chip goodness. Worst that can happen is that you'll take a few home.