Ah, the Norwood staple of Quatman Cafe, referred to most of the time as Quatman’s. It has the ambience of a hole in the wall type of bar/diner, it’s definitely simplistic in its trappings but the aesthetics are more than made up for by the local color. It’s one of those places where you’re just as likely to get in a conversation about sports as you would be to, say, hear a story about some old codger’s war scars. It is interesting and one of the few places left in Cincinnati that hasn’t tried to be something it’s not.
I remember the first time that I ever went there was with my dad back in late 1995, it was one of the few times that I can remember actually being excited to hang out with my dad as a teenager. As youth is wont to do we sometimes would find ourselves resenting our parents for having control over the freedom we knew was just around the corner at 18, though if I had known what I know now I would have taken things a little slower and been pleased that someone else controlled my destiny. But, with age comes wisdom and back then I was young, dumb and, well, you know the rest. I recall that day being weirdly different though as it was really the first time I had money as it was also the year I had my first job so I asked my dad to take me to EB Games at the mall and I would buy him lunch, this was also kind of a banner day for me in being able to do that. He told me he was going to take us somewhere good and that I would really like it, even though at that time all I really liked was Wendy’s. He took me to Kenwood Mall and I bought myself the Warcraft Battle Chest, you have no idea how excited I was about this as being a fantasy nerd was a passion of mine in my youth; surprising, I know. We then traveled on down Montgomery road to Quatman’s, being in my teenage years I was apprehensive about going in as it looked like a crummy, sort of run down place. When I walked in my apprehension was not relieved, keep in mind that this was before the smoking ban so it was a bit hard to believe, but at the same time I remember thinking that this was the exact type of place my dad would love; smoky, small menu with simple things on it, Hudepohl on draft, yup this was pretty much my dad’s version of the mansion in the sky. I, on the other hand, was less than impressed as I couldn’t drink yet and I wasn’t a smoker back then so none of this brought me any kind of comfort, all I wanted to do was leave and play my video game. My dad, however, walks in the place like the cock of the walk, seemingly everyone knows him and the bartender is already pouring him a Hudy and picking up a conversation they ended the last time he was in there like he had never left and no beats had been skipped. My dad handed me a menu, a flimsy, handwritten piece of paper with about 9 options on it; ham and cheese, cheeseburger, hamburger, fish (Friday only) and not much else. Their specials were even more laughable to me because every other day was a cheeseburger special. I didn’t particularly want to eat there because at that point I wasn’t as much of a food seeker as I am now; shit, I wasn’t one at all, my idea of a good burger was BK and a good place to go was Denny’s. I ordered the burger tentatively because I really didn’t know what to expect, how could this dingy, smokey room produce anything other than the wailings of sad old men that would be dead before I even hit my prime? Yes, as a teenager I was a bit of a dick (and no comments are necessary about how things haven’t changed, I’m well aware).
They brought out the burger on a paper plate with some fries, I don’t know if they were ore ida or what but they certainly didn’t seem to be anything special. The burger was big and greasy and looked like something maybe my dad would make at home in the skillet, in other words my young eyes and mind were still not impressed. I ate up the fries because they were there and I was hungry and I also have the tendency to eat all side dishes before my sandwich. I get to the burger and take a bite and was completely blown away, it was absolutely delicious. This was the first time I can recall really being impressed by something at a restaurant and it kind of set alight the flame in me to try to discover new places and not just stick to fast food and shitty chain diners (sorry Denny’s). The meat was fresh and definitely hand packed and cooked to about medium (they don’t cook it any other way there, this ain’t J. Alexander’s), the cheese was some kind of deli sliced American but was absolutely delicious and I’m assuming the bun was probably Klosterman’s or something like that, a local store bought kinda thing. I still vividly remember devouring that burger and not paying attention to anything around me, it was an absolute thrill.
I looked up after inhaling this meaty goodness and saw my dad looking at me, he asked if I liked it and I told him I absolutely loved it, I had never had anything like it before. I looked around and saw my dad talking to all these friends of his I didn’t know he had, and realizing how cool of a guy he was. Yeah, he took the belt to me a few times, yes he woke me up early to come work for him, yeah he told a lot of stories and bullshitted me and my friends and stuff; but when it came down to it he was an incredibly interesting man (how interesting I would come to found out in later years) and one that, in that odd moment, I realized I deeply admired. Oh cheeseburgers, is there anything you cannot do?
So, get off your ass and make it out to Quatman’s, maybe you’ll find out things about the company you keep and, even if you don’t then you’ll still have one delicious burger!
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