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!

Pompilio's: The Air Has Left the Tire

Pompilio's600 Washington Avenue • Newport, KY 41071 • (859) 581-3065

His Take

Strangely enough, we picked our most recent restaurant by reading the reviews...wait for it...on our own blog. Yes, that’s right. We were feeling indecisive about what we wanted and came across Pompilio’s while browsing our site. We had been at their tent for Taste of Cincinnati with positive results, so we decided to give the real thing a try.

Pompilio’s is located in Newport, just a few blocks from the Levee, and from the outside looks like a local, family run restaurant. By that I mean it does not have a huge presence, but has a reasonable amount of parking and people coming and going from the restaurant. Inside the decor was surprisingly more chain-like than local. I usually expect that family-run restaurants won’t pay as much attention to the atmosphere as a chain, but Pompilio’s was bright and in terrific shape—a positive start to our visit.

The wait was nonexistent even on a Friday night, and we were hungry, so the speedy seating was a bonus. The service felt pretty hit or miss. Most of the serving staff looked like they were enjoying themselves (as much as one working in food services can), but then there was our waitress, who clearly was pissed off at life or something. No smiles, no genuine “how is your evening going?”, just “Do you know what you want?”. Yes. A new server. That may sound harsh, but this server clearly broke the good thing that Pompilio’s had going.

But let’s get to the food. Our meals started out with the bread, which might as well have been store bought; the butter clearly was. It was plentiful, but tasteless, colorless, and odorless—kind of like carbon monoxide poisoning, though no terrible consequences beyond disappointment.

Next were the salads. Lettuce, cucumber, and tomato have never looked so boring. Good thing they include them in the price of the meal.

For my main dish I tried one of the night’s specials, which was a swordfish served over fettucini with artichokes, mushrooms, and a lemon butter sauce. The swordfish was cooked well, though looked like it took a bath in the oil before hitting the plate. The rest of the dish lacked any real noticeable seasoning aside from the shallow pool of butter and oil sitting in the dish. I can appreciate that butter and oil add flavor, but there’s a difference between adding flavor and adding something to be the flavor. This was pretty much just butter and swordfish for dinner. The noodles were actually pretty good, but it was hard to appreciate them when they look like they need to towel off before being eaten.

I feel bad writing such a negative review, but we felt very let down by Pompilio’s. I suspect the lasagna or basic Italian dishes would be better, but stay away from anything creative or risk some real disappointment. Maybe one day we’ll go back to try something simpler. But I wouldn’t hold your breath waiting for the review.

Pompilio's on Urbanspoon
Her Take

After enjoying their three-cheese tortellini at Taste of Cincinnati, I had high hopes for Pompilio’s. Having looked around on their menu and website, I thought they had a good variety of typical and more interesting Italian dishes, and I happily noted that they sold both bread and sauces—a good sign of both being really good! As we approached the restaurant (our second venture to northern Kentucky food in 2 weekends!), it looked cute and fairly nice from the outside. It was certainly cute from the inside as well, but we quickly realized it was more of a family-type place than a nice restaurant. No matter, we were hungry.

I was psyched for the lasagna on the menu. According to the description, there was only meat in the sauce, not the lasagna itself, and the sauce could be easily changed. Unfortunately, the waitress dashed my hopes. She was a bit older than waitresses tend to be, the type I’m used to seeing more in diners than restaurants, and I’m not sure I saw her smile the entire meal. In any case, when I asked whether the lasagna was vegetarian, she got confused, as if she had never heard the word before. I rephrased, “is there any meat in it, other than the sauce?” She replied that the sauce had meat in it. I tried to explain again, that I wanted a plain tomato sauce, without meat, and then she told me there would still be a little meat in the lasagna. She had to think about it really hard though. I’m still not sure I believe her, but I went the safe route and got something else. Still disappointed about the lasagna, I ordered the tilapia.

The bread came out right around when we ordered, and that was major disappointment #2. The bread was plain and entirely unexciting, clearly sliced on a bread machine and therefore in skinny slices, and had virtually no taste. It was served with plain, packaged butter. We moved our categorization more quickly from restaurant to diner-style.

The salads that came with the meal were equally eh. Iceberg lettuce seldom impresses me, even when served with two cucumber slices and a cherry tomato.

Remembering my good experience from Taste, I still had hopes for the main meal. My tilapia came seared, with olives, roasted peppers, spinach, garlic, and bowtie pasta. The menu omitted the stick of butter from the list of ingredients. The fish wasn’t bad, but there was a *bit* more oil than expected. The noodles were fine, but again, they were drowning in a pool on the bottom of the bowl. Don’t get me wrong—I enjoyed my meal. I just enjoyed it with the thought that I was eating in more of a diner than an Italian restaurant.

I’m not sure I would go to Pompilio’s again. If I went again, I would be more likely to order something in the “traditional Italian” mold, because those dishes are going to still be what I expect when served diner style. Having adjusted my expectations, I also will not go in expecting a high quality meal, but comfort food. And for that, it hits the spot.


Kel Klump said...

I usually like this place and never expect great service. I stick with their Rigatoni a la Teresa and one of their pasta dishes. The Rigatoni is really good with a hard boiled egg, sausage and meatball if you like meat. Their meatless sauce is good as well. I like it for a last minute. I usually skip the salad, and opt for beer or water since they charge you per drink. We typically stock up on the GC independents Gift certificates when we dine here so it makes the meal a little cheaper.

Julie said...

Everyone in Cincinnati loves Pompilio's, but I'm not sure why. Rain Man was filmed 20 years ago, and I think they're still coasting on that. The food is bland and the service spotty. If you want good traditional Italian, try Trattoria Roma downtown.

valereee said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Amber said...

My favorite Italian in town is Scotti's. I am not sure if it is North/South style but damn is it good.

I was scarred by Trattoria Roma one night when I almost missed the opening of a show at the Aronoff because the service was so bad. I want to go back...maybe in a few more months.

Anonymous said...

Pompillio's is great. One could expect a little more from a server, but that is why we choose how much we tip. However, I do have to criticize your review, as you both ordered *FISH* in a place known for spaghetti, lasanga and ravioli... I think to give a fair review, you should return and order more traditional italian items.

valereee said...

I'm still trying to figure out how you'd change the sauce on lasagna. In order to do a meatless lasagna, you'd have to layer a meatless individual serving then bake it for 25 minutes.