Honey’s in Northside is one of the highest rated restaurants in Cincinnati, and the first time my wife and I went there, not long after it opened, it was fantastic (Duck!). Since that first visit we have been back a handful of times, and it has always been fine, but has never lived up to that first meal. This first foree in to the Honey’s brunch experience was, unfortunately, similar to our more recent meals.

Mother-in-law, wife and I went this past weekend and all got different meals: my mother-in-law got the french toast (one of Honey’s brunch staples), my wife got the shrimp and grits and I got breakfast quesadillas topped with flank steak. I sampled every dish, so here we go…

The french toast at Honey’s is good, but not spectacular. Here is why: the use the wrong bread for greatness. I used to run a bakery that made dozens of different types of bread, including the hearth-style farm (slightly sour, not as sour as a sourdough) bread that Honey’s uses. But for a number of reasons, which I will describe in a French Toast recipe blog coming soon, Challah makes for the best french toast. If you want to try it before I get a recipe up, at least make sure the Challah is a few days old.

I had never had shrimp and grits before, so I was interested in trying this when my wife made the order. I did not really no what to expect, but I did learn a bit after the fact in reading Wine Me Dine Me’s blog. I am blanking on the restaurant she tried it at, but I think she made out better than did my wife. Again, Honey’s shrimp and grits were nothing spectacular, and personally, I would put them beneath the french toast. The shrimp were great, jumbo-sized, and about as fresh as you can find in Cincinnati, but the grits were decidedly boring. It wasn’t sweet or spicy, or really anything. It was very similar to eating unseasoned couscous.

My breakfast quesadilla with flank steak was even more frustrating than the french toast and the shrimp and grits because it could have been really good, but fell far short, not because of recipe, but because of technique. That is unacceptable at a restaurant as highly regarded as is Honey’s. The quesadilla, on its own, was quite good. It was a simple mix of egg, black bean, cheese, and a conservative use of traditional Mexican flavorings. Parts of the tortilla were undercooked, but all and all it was fine. The flank steak is where things went downhill for me. First, it was clearly marinated, but all that remained after cooking was a very minor hint of sweet peppers that did not add anything productive to the dish. Second, the steak was topped with what they called a ranchero ‘sauce’, with the term ‘sauce’ used liberally. It was more a collection of pickled sweet peppers chopped roughly. Again, the sauce was okay, even though it was not at all what I was expecting, but did not add much to the dish. Finally, and this is the cardinal sin of steak cooking, I asked for the flank medium rare and it came out medium well. Cooking a steak that much almost destroys all that is great about eating steak. The flank was dry, somewhat tough and did not pop with flavor. My steak and I were going through the motions.

I have just read back over this, and I think I am being a bit harsh. I, of course, would recommend to anyone who has never been to Honey’s to give it a shot. It is in a great neighborhood, the atmosphere of the restaurant is quirky and hectic (they also have a nice, little outdoor seating area for when it gets warm), and the folks there are a solid mix of nice and eccentric. I suppose I was so harsh because I think Honey’s can and should be excellent, as it was on that first wondrous trip (I rate that meal at a 93–it was remarkably good), and I fear it is becoming another run of the mill good restaurant.

My brunch rating…66

My overall rating…77