Cincinnati's Holiday Food Traditions Range From Homey To Luxe: What's Your Favorite?

Dec 23, 2019

Cincinnati is looking decked out for the holidays. From the tree at Fountain Square to twinkle lights, well, everywhere—the Queen City is ready to welcome Santa, the new year, or just to add a little light to the darkest days of the year.

It's also a time when the average American gains seven pounds. Between holiday cookies, office parties and family celebrations, it's easy to overindulge.

And if you're going to overindulge, you better make sure it's worth it. So let me give you a few Cincinnati traditions to indulge in, ensuring your seven-pound weight gain is well-earned.

Doscher’s Candy Canes

Credit Pixabay

Created in 1871 by Claus Doscher, Doscher’s candy canes (made with peppermint oil, not artificial flavors) are about as old school as you can get. While the Doscher family sold the business to Greg and Ronna Clark in 2003, the candy canes and pieces are still handmade locally, along with the nougat-like French Chew. You can visit their store to pick up your candy canes, candy cane pieces, gourmet holiday French chew minis, and holiday candy buttons at their retail store in an 1835 farm house in Newtown, or online at doscherscandies.com.

Lunch At Boca (pictured above)

Boca only serves lunch during the holidays and leans heavily on previous tenant The Maisonette's French influence for its lunch menu. It features favorite dishes from the dinner menu as well as special lunch items, including an entrée-size portion of scallops and brussels sprouts; oeufs mayonnaise with mustards imported from France specifically for this dish by Chef David Falk; the Boca burger (with ethereally crispy frites); and their much-loved beef Wellington. Take a look at the escargot de "Marcia," a traditional escargot Bourgogne with garlic butter, parsley and breadcrumbs which also happens to be Chef Falk's mother's favorite dish and exclusive to the holiday lunch menu.

Also available during lunch are sister restaurant Sotto's donuts, rolled in holiday spices and served with pistachio, caramel and cranberry sauces. Boca's lunch for many has become a tradition, whether it's for an office lunch or a special lunch with friends or family during the holiday season. 

Virginia Bakery Schnecken

Credit Julie Niesen / WVXU

During much of the middle of the 20th century, Cincinnati neighborhoods were dotted with bakeries where residents would get bread and sweets for the week. Wyoming Bakery, Bonomoni Bakery and St. Lawrence Bakery are a few of these traditional bakeries that remain, but the most famous was Virginia Bakery.

Virginia Bakery was located on Ludlow in the Gaslight District of Clifton and was owned by the Thie family. William Thie owned a commercial bakery in downtown Cincinnati, and his oldest son, Bill, opened Virginia Bakery in 1927. It operated for over 75 years, with their most popular item being schnecken. 

Schnecken, if you're not familiar, means "snails" in German, and refers to the shape of the pastry, which is dough filled with cinnamon, sugar and raisins and rolled, then cut and baked in a loaf made of three "snails."  The huge amount of butter and sugar caramelize during baking, making a gooey cake that has become a Cincinnati tradition. When Virginia Bakery closed in 2005, Cincinnatians were in an uproar—where would they get their schnecken?

Not to fear: Busken Bakery, another family-owned, local bakery (coincidentally opening the year after Virginia Bakery, in 1928) purchased the Virginia Bakery recipe, and every holiday season bakes 240 schneckens at a time to sell at their bakeries and at grocery stores around the city, in a Virginia Bakery box, tied with a ribbon.

Servatii's German Christmas Cookies

Cincinnati's German heritage involves a lot of baked goods. Servatii keeps up the tradition of German grandmas of times gone by with their assortment of German Christmas cookies. My grandma was one of those aforementioned German bakers, and while I have all of her recipes, I'm not a baker, so if I want her cookies – I go to Servatii's. There, they sell anise-tinged springerle cookies, which are pressed with either a specially carved rolling pin or into a springerle mold. They have almond kipfel cookies (sometimes called wedding cookies), coated in powdered sugar, German spice cookies (speckulatius), pfeffernusse (spice cookies with anise) as well as stollen, a fruit and almond filled cake.  

What is your favorite Cincinnati holiday food? Let me know on Twitter @winemedineme or on 91.7 WVXU’s Facebook page. And have a very happy holiday season – I can’t wait to eat with you in the New Year!