“The matzah ball soup, it’s funny, I run it every day. I sold 25 (bowls) at lunch today (a Tuesday),” said Jeromy Lieb, owner/operator of Sacred Beast in Over-the-Rhine.
“In the beginning that wasn’t the case. People would say: ‘What’s matzah ball soup?’ Now we have a lot of people ordering it,” he said.
Obviously, if people are asking what is matzah ball soup, one can assume those questioners are not Jewish. So, the soup has wide appeal, appeal that goes well beyond the Jewish community.
Is Lieb’s version of this Jewish classic different? “I only know my soup,” he says, “but it’s good for a reason. I make a double chicken broth; with that broth I make another broth (also chicken). So, the broth, it’s very rich; there’s depth to it. It’s fortified, it’s strong, it’s beautiful, and it’s clear. The matzah ball, it’s just matzah meal, eggs, chicken fat, garlic and onion powder, and baking soda. We make the matzah balls (about the size of a handball), cook them in the broth, pull them out, season the broth, and then when somebody orders (a bowl) we ladle eight ounces of broth over the matzah ball and serve it. It’ll change your life.”
We tried the soup, and it is delicious. The broth is wonderfully rich with the depth of flavor Lieb described. In the broth are carrots and parsnips, along with fresh dill. The combination makes for a meal, especially if one eats the whole matzah ball. And most diners do eat the ball and all the soup, Lieb said. He added that the soup has developed a following that has nothing to do with being Jewish. People of all stripes love it, and Lieb could not be happier that they do.
Sacred Beast is a contemporary diner, according to Lieb, and that designation calls for pleasing a different dining public than the typical diner crowd.
“We’re a modern diner, and we have a lot of vegetarians and vegans who eat here, and we feel that is important (for the restaurant to recognize and serve them),” he said. “So, we have dishes on the menu that recognizes that, and gives our diners some options. We can’t be everything to everybody, but we can do things like our quinoa power bowl, which sells like I can’t believe.”
What is the quinoa power bowl? We tried it, with grilled salmon as a protein topper, and it’s a great option for a pescatarian, which is sometimes used to describe those who abstain from eating all meat and animal flesh with the exception of fish. Hold the fish and it’s totally vegetarian. Or add chicken and it’s yet another iteration of an entrée designed to please all manner of eaters. The point is, the power bowl is delicious in its basic salad content. In my case, Lieb added the salmon to it and gave me a hearty, wholesome meal that fitted my tastes. Great flavors, and ideal for Jewish diners wanting to eat kosher style.
“The quinoa bowl sells like crazy. I sell more than I ever thought I would sell. And it’s vegetarian – or not – depending on what you want,” he said. “It’s a great dish, too, quinoa, lettuce, pickled fresnos peppers, roasted beets, radishes, cucumbers and I make a tomatillo vinaigrette for it.”
Talk to Lieb for a New York minute and one cannot help but be impressed by his enthusiasm for what he’s doing. His mantra is “Simple Food. Taken Seriously.” Reinforcing all this, he told me about his new “Korean” fried chicken.
“We get the chicken from Gerber Farms, it’s local, and they have amazing chicken,” Lieb siad. “We brine it; make a batter out of Korean chili powder, salt, baking powder, rice flour; and then I use vodka. The reason I use vodka is because it evaporates at a lower temperature than water does, so when I fry (the chicken) it gets crispier.”
The chicken is fried in soy oil, which has a higher heat threshold and better properties for the general dining public. In other words, it’s better for we eaters.
Lieb’s enthusiasm spread to two other topics worth noting. One is his Sunday brunch, featured from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. “The brunch is big. You have the whole menu, plus. And we still do breakfast anytime (every minute the restaurant is open). The lemon ricotta pancakes are the best pancakes – light, fluffy, creamy and just delicious. We serve them with maple syrup and butter, but you don’t need either of those – they are sooo good on their own.”
The other note is that his eatery is the only place on Vine Street these days with fish on the menu, he says, led in popularity by the Atlantic salmon entrée. “We get three to four sides of salmon a day, which is about 24 portions a day. And we sell out most days.”
Lieb went on to talk corned beef hash, corned beef sandwiches on Jewish rye, bread pudding and more, all with his infectious gusto – all awaiting Jewish diners-out.
See you at Sacred Beast!
1437 Vine St.
Cincinnati, Ohio, 45202