Give and Take
3 weeks ago
Reliable southwestern cuisine can be hard to come by up north, but Allyn’s has been a favorite of mine since I first visited there a little over a year ago. Now, to clarify, we’re not talking about authentic Mexican cooking here, so commentators, it’s safe to close your jaw. We’re just talking about southwest seasoning, great flavor, and consistency. That’s what you’ll find at Allyn’s.
For those of you unfamiliar with it, Allyn’s is the single-level medium sized building that sits on the corner of Rt 50 (Columbia Parkway) and Hoge, right near Columbia-Tusculum, and has a large, funky, yellow and purple sign with its name. It advertises itself as “Cajun, Mexican” but they have a pretty decent variety on the menu. Their known locally for having the best eclectic mix of food you can find. For example, their website brags about winning:
Best Beer List . . . Best Cafe, Best Mexican, Best Quesadillas, Best Patio, Best Booth at Taste of Cincinnati, Best Crawfish Boil, Best Enchiladas . . . Best Turkey Chili, Best Place to find local musicians, Best Place to debut (Songwriter Night), Best Beer and Wine List, Best Margarita's, Best Eclectic Cuisine, Best Small Wine Shop, Best gator (as in alligator) . . .
Plus, they have a large beer and wine store inside the restaurant giving you more than 500 non-mixed drinks to choose from.
But let’s talk about the actual food. My favorite dish there is called the Pollo Asado Genghis Khan—a mix of chicken, black beans, peppers, and onions served inside a tortilla with rice and refried beans. The ingredients are pretty typical Mexican fare, but put them together with their house Mexican seasoning, salsa, and sauce, and the dish is hot and delicious with plenty of food to eat.
I must confess I might not have ever tried anything else at Allyn’s, but why mess with a good thing? The restaurant is also a pretty decent size with a variety of table settings (booths, high chairs, bar, back room, patio) and large, flat screen TV’s all over the place for entertainment. The service can be very hit or miss, but the food is solid and it’s definitely a great very casual place to go with a big group. I’ve been there multiple times with my old softball team after a game and the servers always seem to keep up with drinks and food. This is definitely a place worth checking out.
I had never been to Allyn’s, and I was most excited to go because the Direct TV guy had been installing for hours, and at 9:00 at night, I was HUNGRY! The entrance is actually through the patio, where there were lots of people sitting and eating, and then through a small wine store associated with the restaurant. I quickly noticed that the hostess (and waitstaff) were dressed extremely casually. It was fitting for the restaurant though. My first impression of the restaurant itself was that it was really dark inside, which explains the lack of pictures. The décor looks like an attempted neighborhood bar, sort of like Cheers, in a way. It is almost as much a bar as a restaurant, but that may have also been because of where we were seated, just behind the bar. This proved to be both good (for watching football while eating) and bad (for listening to drunk people at the bar watching football while eating).
We quickly ordered something for starters, and we surprised ourselves by getting something healthy. Usually when we come in starving, the appetizer will be something at least one of us regrets later, but this time we each ordered a house salad, mine with balsamic vinaigrette on the side. It came the way I expected (which, sadly, is sometimes notable), but was not particularly exciting. A house salad seldom is, unfortunately.
For my meal, I ordered a tofu and black bean burrito. It came with chips, salsa, and some vegetarian refried beans, all next to a ginormous burrito with sauce on top. This was no pick-it-up burrito, but definitely a fork-and-knife burrito. It had all the necessary elements inside, except that it conformed to one of my main complaints about giant burritos: the stuff isn’t mixed together. Sadly, what that means is that I got bites that were exclusively beans and cheese (yum), but also bites that were exclusively tofu (booooooring). I can’t believe restaurants don’t mix the ingredients together before wrapping them up. I would be really excited to find a place that did that. In any case, my less generic complaint is that the tofu was not exciting. While I know that tofu as a food group is, in fact, boring, I also know that it’s possible to spice it up. Literally. Tofu will take on any flavor added to it, so cooking the tofu with some spices before tossing it into a tortilla would help the boring bites be a lot more interesting.
Complaints aside, I really enjoyed my meal. There were what seemed like zillions of vegetarian choices, and they weren’t mostly the just-bread-and-cheese mix that a lot of Tex-Mex places offer. The spices were interesting (Cajun), at least in the bites where they were. There was more than enough food, and it was definitely not overpriced. I could have done without the drunken sports fans at the bar, but I suppose that’s my fault for going out exhausted on a football night. I’m looking forward to a chance to go back!