As the only working chef in the US who is also a Master Sommelier, Steve Geddes is an anomaly. Achieving the honor of Master Sommelier is impressive enough as there are fewer than 200 of them worldwide, but Steve decided that where he really wanted to be was in the kitchen. He moved to Cincinnati last year and is now head chef at Local 127, a restaurant that opened in the fall of ’09.
As well as being so accomplished, Steve is also a genuinely nice guy. Knowing that he was a Master Sommelier, we asked for some advice on wine pairings. Not only was he was happy to offer guidance on wines and answer questions about the menu , but he also talked with us at length about becoming a chef, suppliers, rare breed Ossabaw pigs and even sent out some samples of their amazing copa and lardo. Later, when he saw us peeking into the kitchen he said ‘come on in, that’s why we took off the doors’. Like I said, a genuinely nice guy, and passionate about sourcing, sustainability and the local food economy. Where possible, the food on the menu comes from within a 127 mile radius and Steve tries to support local suppliers as well as farmers by, for example, procuring his spices from the Colonel in Findlay Market rather than purchasing them from a wholesaler.
The menu has a ‘cured and pickled’ section with seven house made options to choose from. We went with the chef’s choice, a selection of four of the seven. Clockwise from the top they were smoked chicken with pickled radishes and a Madeira sauce, a velvety smoothy chicken liver pate with Riesling gelée and pickled pears, smoked golden trout from Idaho but house smoked and a pork terrine with picked beans. They were served with thin crispy toasts. My favorite was the lightly dressed and very moist trout, but I thought both the pate and terrine were excellent too. Only the smoked chicken failed to excite, mostly because the sauce was a little overpowering.
We decided to share some small plates rather than ordering a main dish. First out was potato skins with crispy pork, cheddar and chives topped with a surprisingly light but very cheesy foam (they would be a really good bar snack). Next was sublime house made gnocchi- large, pillowy-soft, pan seared dumplings with buttery sauteed mushrooms, vibrant pesto and salty parmesan which gave the dish a wonderful range of flavors. Both the pan searing and the puffed rice added an appealing contrast in texture. While potato soup sounds like more of a winter dish, this chilled version was refreshing, soothing and surprisingly flavorful. The bowl, sans soup, arrived at the table with a small mound of potato salad and a swirled pattern of green garlic dressing. The soup came separately and was poured from a mason jar by the server. The fourth small plate, a herb risotto with smoked chicken, preserved lemon and puffed rice was another winning dish. The smoked chicken was better utilized here and the dish was light and spring-like, but satisfying. The preserved lemon gave a fragrant citrus aroma.
Full as we were it was still hard to resist the lures of the local cheese plate, especially as we had some red wine left. All of the cheeses (Tomme, Barren Co. Blue and Kentucky Rose) came from Kenny’s Farmhouse Cheese in Kentucky and were all new to me. The Tomme was rich and creamy, the Barren Co. Blue was a Stilton-esque tangy ripe blue and the Kentucky Rose was a light, buttery blue. They were served with honeycomb, thin apple slices, pecans and raisins.
Overall, it was an exceptional meal. Service was generally very good and my only real criticism of Local 127 is that the decor seems mismatched with its farm to table mission. The menu has a rustic feel both in content and design and the aforementioned mason jar service furthers that impression, but the decor, most of which is inherited, is too polished and has something of a slick ’80s hotel feel. A more eclectic decor, similar to FARM Bloomington would have been a better fit with the ethos of the kitchen. Inconsistent aesthetics aside, Local 127 is definitely worth visiting if you are in Cincinnati. I will be looking for excuses for another trip soon.
Also noteworthy was the attached bar named Tonic on Fourth which has an interesting cocktail and punch menu. They make a lot of their own ingredients such as bitters, grenadine and ginger liqueur. There is also a limited selection of food available in the bar.