Allyn's Cafe is a Cincinnati gem I had never heard of before. I've never seen a single add for it. You just have to be cool enough to be "in the know."
I heard of it by word of mouth, when I was invited to the Columbia-Tusculum locale for a work lunch. I found the atmosphere inside to be casual, eclectic and charming. The music playing overhead was trendy but not too distracting, and the hostess and server were upbeat and friendly.
The place was hopping, but we didn't have to wait for a table.
Though the big draw for this spice-loving pescetarian is the New Orleans-style seafood, the menu at Allyn's boasts a wide variety of meals and appetizers, including a great selection of entrees for vegans and vegetarians. (But don't worry, carnivores, you're in for a treat too.)
We started lunch with tortilla chips and guac for a quick appetizer. Simple, but delicious. If the fresh, perfectly seasoned guacamole was any indicator, I figured whatever I ordered would likely be delicious.
I went with the breaded catfish with dirty rice. I was soon shocked to find it was literally the best catfish I've been able to find in Cincinnati. The breading on the fish isn't too heavy, the seasoning is perfect, and the grease factor is pretty much non-existent.
When I say this is the best catfish you can get in town, I'm not exaggerating.
More than Cajun
Allyn's has been voted Cincinnati's Best Cajun restaurant, but if you aren't as obsessed with bayou fare as I am, or if you're just in the mood for something else, you have plenty of other menu options to choose from.
Other than traditional Cajun cuisine, there are burgers, quesadillas, sandwiches, salads and an entire section of the menu dedicated to vegetarian and vegan dishes. These include the jackfruit barbecue sandwich, the housemade veggie burger, the Beyond Meat spicy sausage and more.
The bar is also a noteworthy attraction, with shiny mahogany wood, copper ceilings, beautiful backlit shelves full of your favorite liquors, and a long, winding snake footrest that is a statement piece in and of itself.
Their wine options are plentiful, and their craft beer game is even stronger. They always feature local beers on 12 taps and rotate these options on the daily.
Variety is the spice of life, and it's also the ongoing theme at Allyn's, so you'll find delicious and unique brews from regional, national and local brewers. You'll also find fifty types of bottled and canned beers to choose from.
Don't forget to save room for some decadent dessert. There's bread pudding with bourbon sauce, chocolate mousse cake and even vegan cheesecake, just to name a few.
You'll go again (and again)
I've been to Allyn's two other times since that first work lunch. Once on a romantic date, and again for a family meal. The place is perfect for either/or. There is also space available to rent for larger parties or events.
I was a bit disappointed when I tried to order the housemade veggie burger while dining with my family, only to discover it wasn't available that evening. We were there for an early dinner (shortly after 5 p.m.), so it struck me as odd that it was already sold out. Maybe it's just that good. Or maybe it was an inventory mistake.
Either way, I hope to try it soon because I'm sure it's delicious.
I went with the fish of the day instead, which was blackened tilapia. I can't tell you what the veggie burger is like, but that blackened tilapia was, again, some of the best Cajun seafood I've ever devoured in Cincinnati.
By stealing bites from each of my family members' dishes (for research purposes, of course), I managed to sample sides of cornbread, Cajun fries, mac and cheese, hush puppies and vegan gumbo. All the side options at Allyn's are just as tasty and perfectly seasoned as the entrees. Special shoutout to the creamy mac and cheese, which most definitely tasted homemade.
Allyn's will be a regular spot for me now. I'll spread the word and buy gift cards for those I find deserving of good times and good food.
And you'll want to do the same.
Meet the owner
Fun fact I didn't discover until after I fell in love with Allyn's food and general good vibes? The owner, Allyn Raifstanger, is an Integrated Nutrition Health Coach.
I haven't tried his services, but looking into the information available on the cafe's website, you'll see that he offers health consultations as well as a guided six-month wellness program, which includes things like cooking demonstrations, grocery store field trips, farmers markets field trips and around-the-clock support.
His passion for health and wellness is made abundantly clear in the way he runs his business, because the food at Allyn's always tastes fresh, never overly seasoned or greasy.
I highly recommend a visit. Check out Allyn's Cafe for lunch, brunch, dinner, parties and catered events. You'll be glad you did.
Plan a visit to Allyn's Cafe in Columbia-Tusculum. Hours of operation are Sunday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. (bar open until 10 p.m.), and Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. (bar open until 11 p.m.).
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