Cafe Reviews

O.H.S.O. Eatery and nanoBrewery Can't Get Beyond So-So

From the second the sign went up, Arcadia's newest casual dining/bar experience, O.H.S.O. (don't bother asking what those letters stand for; no one seems to know), managed to grab the city's attention faster than you could even say "nanobrewery."

Beer lovers, foodies, and Arcadia locals were eager to check out the renovated 1970s building that previously housed the past-its-prime-and-then-some German restaurant Black Forest Haus. The hip sign with the elusive name, the inviting patio, talk of a South American/Italian/American menu with Chef Nate Hibbard (formerly of Kai and D'Vine Bistro) at the helm, and owner Jon Lane's charisma and confidence added to the anticipation. No one even seemed to care that O.H.S.O. Eatery and nanoBrewery was jumping the gun on the "brewery" part of the name.

Opening weekend came and the place was packed. I was there along with everyone else.

Lane and partner Pat Walsh did an amazing job on the space. It's beautiful with glossy cement floors, well-thought-out (and well-lettered) chalkboards that list an extensive beer selection, lacquered chipboard tables, cozy booths, a sleek, industrial-looking bar, and garage doors that open to the alluring patio. Somehow, they pulled off modern in a non-pretentious way — exactly what one would expect from a new Arcadia brewhouse. A great place to stop for a drink, especially since the beer menu caters to the craft beer lover.

Too bad the food and the service didn't match the surroundings.

An all-over-the place menu, bland, sloppy dishes, and a slow, uneducated, and overstressed staff made for a rather unpleasant experience.

But it was opening weekend and the place had a lot of potential. Things could only get better. Right?

Since O.H.S.O.'s big mid-November opening, I've been back multiple times. Brunch, lunch, dinner, late-night — I've tried it all. The service has improved some, the space is still great, the beer list is amazing, the patio is perfect for an afternoon drink, and the spicy bloody Mary garnished with homemade beef jerky is one of the best around. But I still find myself making excuses for the food.

Maybe they were just having an off-night.

I just don't think I ordered the right thing. Next time, I'll get that other thing and I'm sure it will be better.

I know it's been several months, but maybe they just need more time.

Maybe I need to stick to beer.

Here's a big part of the problem: O.H.S.O. is all over the map — literally. There's a little bit of everything — Asian, Italian, BBQ, and South American dishes are intermingling with plates of your typical pub fare. It seems O.H.S.O. is trying too hard, yet playing it safe. Everything sounds irresistible, but much of what actually comes out of the kitchen needs help — and flavor.

On too many of my visits, the flatbreads came up short on flavor and crispness. The O.H.S.O. Rita's three-cheese blend overpowered the microgreens, and the "dash of pesto" was undetectable. The flatbread itself wasn't sturdy enough to stand up to the task of holding up all that cheese, and it tasted like it had a touch of freezer burn. The pomodoro sauce lacked spice and reminded my dining companions and me of our school cafeteria days. The Pisa was a little better, but mostly because the pepperoni added a little kick of flavor to the otherwise bland flatbread.

The tuna arepas (open-faced South American sandwiches) sounded exotic but turned out to be nothing more than tiny tacos. The nicely seared yellowfin tuna tasted fresh, and the bright green avocado puree was decent, but aside from one lone berry, the blueberry salsa was MIA, and the dish as a whole lacked flavor.

After 10 p.m., things got even worse.

The late-night menu is sparse, with five options — gnocchi, nachos, cheese or pepperoni flatbread, and soft pretzels. The gnocchi and cheese was a bowl of cheesy mush that could have benefited from a friendly piece of bread. The tender gnocchi didn't stand a chance in the heavy green chile cheese sauce, and to make matters worse, there was an additional layer of cheese piled on top of the already too-greasy dish.

The nachos arrived at our table cold, soggy, greasy, and covered in far too much cotija cheese. There literally was no chance of scooping any toppings with a crisp chip. I'm not sure whether they actually sautéed the chips with the toppings or the dish had sat for so long that the chips soaked up everything. At least they had a nice flavor and a spicy kick, which was something missing from the previous dishes we had tried.

Brunch was an ugly disaster. Breakfast Bruschetta was a poorly executed plate of mushy bread, guacamole, runny eggs, and dry and under-seasoned pork cubes, topped off with a warm cucumber/pickle relish and cotija cheese. The Brewhouse Breakfast Stew had a nice, mellow flavor but was entirely too messy to navigate hungover at 10 a.m. (although the complimentary AZ beer helped). The churrasco steak was dull and overcooked, and the chorizo on the flatbread needed a good dose of spice. O.H.S.O. did manage to squeak out a pretty good plate of French toast. The lovely grilled slices of bread topped with fresh berries were a welcome sight compared to the rest of the morning's messy dishes.

Things definitely aren't all bad at O.H.S.O. When they stick to basic "pub grub," they do a really nice job. The Brewer's Choice Meat & Cheese plate was piled high with elk sausage, salami, cheese, pâté, crispy cheese crackers, pickles, olives — even a little pile of caramel corn.

The Burger + Cheese was one of the better burgers I've had in a long time. The thick juicy patty was cooked just right, and the house-baked bun didn't fail under the weight of the bacon, Gouda, thick-sliced tomato, lettuce, and buttery pickles. A side of French fries was cooked to a near perfect crisp, with just the right amount of salt.

The brisket sandwich, a "staff favorite" according to the menu, was also a good pick. The tender brisket was soaked in a tangy barbecue sauce, piled high on a fresh sweet roll, and topped with crunchy fried onions. It was like an adult version of the sloppy Joe sandwiches my mom made when I was a kid — except this sloppy Joe was really, really good. The only problem was trying to eat it — your best bet is to grab a fork and knife and dig in.

The grilled cheese was an average grilled cheese. Golden toasted bread with rich, melty cheese and thick tomato slices paired nicely with smoky tomato soup. My only complaint was the $9 price tag. It was a good sandwich, but definitely not $9 good. For $9, you had better put an amazing grilled cheese on my plate.

And for dessert, you have to try a slice of sinfully rich caramel apple pie. The flaky crust is packed with tart apples and tons of sweet buttery caramel sauce. It's so good that you can't even be mad at the place for importing it from Pie Snob's bakery down the street.

O.H.S.O. may just be another case of "scene over cuisine," but it's too early to give up hope. Maybe management will make some menu adjustments in the near future. Even if things stay the same, you'll still probably find me enjoying a cool IPA and a burger on the patio.

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Shannon Armour
Contact: Shannon Armour