Comfort at the crossroads
Two restaurants maintain a 60-year tradition at Harrison and Epworth avenues

BY POLLY CAMPBELL
The Cincinnati Enquirer

In 1937, after the waters of the great flood had receded into the Ohio River, the Window Garden first opened its doors on Harrison Avenue in Westwood.

What makes the restaurant's 60th anniversary especially remarkable is that when the Window Garden opened, Habig's next door already was 4 years old.

The Window Garden
Where: 3077 Harrison Ave., Westwood.
Founded: 1937.
Serves: Sauerbraten, roast turkey, filet of fish, seafood primavera.
Phone: 481-2743.

Habig's
Where: 3081 Harrison Ave., Westwood.
Founded: 1933.
Serves: Sauerbraten, fried chicken, grape pie.
Phone: 481-9796.

Maury's Tiny Cove
Where: 3908 Harrison Ave., Cheviot.
Founded: 1949.
Serves: Steak.
Phone: 662-2683

Stone's Family Restaurant
Where: 3605 Harrison Ave., Cheviot.
Founded: 1962.
Serves: Breakfast, lunch and dinner. Pot roast, meat loaf.
Phone: 661-6849.

Ada's Beech Flats
Where: 3230 Harrison Ave., Cheviot and Westwood (it sits on the corporation line).
Founded: 1981.
Serves: Steak, seafood, pies.
Phone: 481-1111.

Steak N' Pasta
Where: 3613 Harrison Ave., Cheviot.
Founded: 1996.
Serves: Steak, contemporary pasta.
Call: 481-9013.

All these years, the two restaurants have been friendly competitors, vying for Westwood's eating-out dollars.

But they're not the only old-timers on Harrison Avenue.

Nine blocks away, Maury's Tiny Cove has been serving meat, potatoes and martinis in cozy paneled rooms since 1949.

In between, Stone's Family Restaurant, where you can get goetta and eggs, pot roast and meat loaf, is 35 years old.

Even the mere 16-year-old Ada's Beech Flats, which straddles the Cheviot-Westwood line, is housed in two buildings that were constructed when Abraham Lincoln was president.

Suspicion of the new

What accounts for the restaurants' longevity? Put it this way: There's nothing like them on the east side.

''Westwood is a stable community where people have a reverence for tradition and a feeling that the way things were are the way they ought to be,'' says David Pavlik, who has owned the Window Garden for 25 years.

''People here patronize a place because it's always been here. There's even some degree of suspicion of new things.''

Paul and Ben Yamaguchi are familiar with that mind-set: They bought Maury's Tiny Cove in 1994 from the Bibent family, who had owned and operated the restaurant since 1949.

''We knew we couldn't go too far with changes, and only added a few things,'' Ben Yamaguchi says.

But even traditions need updating.

This week, the Window Garden presented its 60th anniversary menu.

It still includes sauerbraten with red cabbage and fried fish and roast pork with stuffing. You can still get hot bacon slaw and baked sweet potatoes and vegetable specials like celery in almond cream sauce.

But there's also seafood pasta with roasted garlic, individual beef Wellington and a dinner salad with field greens, gorgonzola cheese and pine nuts.

Same old is good old

Sarah Felix, who started the Window Garden as a tea room in order to send her son to college, probably would not have recognized the gorgonzola or pine nuts.

Mr. Pavlik is not the first Harrison Avenue restaurant owner to offer contemporary food.

A few blocks down, where the Gay 90s used to serve jack salmon, the year-old Steak N' Pasta has a salad on the menu of spring lettuces with portabella mushrooms and goat cheese and they're doing well, says owner Michael Mastruserio.

But if you want a restaurant where the owner answers the phone and the waitress is the same one who was there the first time you came as a kid, where side dishes come in little white bowls, and where they served comfort food before it was called comfort food, then the corner of Epworth and Harrison is where you head.

Habig's menu is more traditional than the Window Garden's.

The restaurant also has the distinction of being owned by the same family for three generations.

Founded by Henry Habig Sr. and his wife Sophie, then run by their son Henry Jr., Habig's is in the hands of four of Henry Jr.'s sons. Duane and Chris work the front of the house, Mark and Jay man the kitchen.

The family serves the grape pie their grandmother used to bake. (It's the best reason to go there.) It's made with Concord grapes, which are only available in the fall.

Habig's hires extra help to process the grapes to be frozen for the rest of the year.

The resulting pie is bright purple with a naturally thickened filling and powdered sugar-dusted crust. The tastes conjures up the image of an arbor in September.

Habig's other traditional items include mock turtle soup, hot bacon slaw and sauerbraten.

Don't order all three at one meal; each has the same dominant tangy flavor.

Customers shared

The Window Garden's menu has more range than Habig's, but offers a similar experience.

''Some people think we're actually the same restaurant,'' Mr. Pavlik says.

He and the Habig brothers describe the relationship between the two establishments as ''friendly competition.''

If the Window Garden runs out of napkins, they know they can borrow some next door. ''There's competition, but interdependence, too, like a shopping center,'' Mr. Pavlik says.

Inevitably, the restaurants share customers, a large majority of whom are senior citizens. On a Sunday night, the restaurants are empty by 7.

''The majority of our customers are retired people who eat out two, three, four times a week,'' Duane Habig says. ''Many are people who've come here for 30 years. Young people are usually with their parents or grandparents.''

Harrison Avenue restaurateurs agree that a consistent offering of value helps explain the west-side restaurants' long streak of success.

Their customers aren't looking just for low price; they want a lot of food for the price.

When you eat on Harrison, expect lots of side dishes, salads, soups and warm breads.

Reviews are done anonymously at Enquirer expense. Ratings take into consideration quality of food, service, presentation and atmosphere, balanced against price.

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