Chef Dan Wright has worked in some of the nation's culinary meccas "” Gordon in Chicago and Boxer in Los Angeles. Now, sitting at the smooth wooden slab of a bar in his new Over-the-Rhine restaurant/wine bar Abigail Street, he looks like he's found a kitchen to call home.

"I like the closeness of everything here [in Cincinnati]"¢ there's a good amount of restaurants. I think a lot of it is coming from chefs relocating here. There's a lot of talented people. You have Jose Salazar at the Palace, Jean Robert from France," he says, while wearing a heavy gray "I heart Ohi' t-shirt. The heart is in the shape of the Buckeye state.

Senate to Start

When Wright and his wife Lana visited Cincinnati for the first time several years ago, they decided it was the perfect spot to open their own restaurant. That eventually became Senate, the "gourmet street food" joint, known for its tricked-out hot dogs and must-try mussels (covered in a saffron sauce of tomatoes, garlic and onion).

"Lana has always run the front of the house and I'm in the kitchen. We started out as really good friends and then eventually started dating," Wright says. "She's also a really good cook. She can grill better than most chefs I know"¢ cooking is a huge thing, and finding someone that can really cook put her over the edge."

It was Senate's dishes that led to Wright's recent winning of Food and Wine magazine's title of "The People's Best New Chef" of 2012 for the Great Lakes Region.

"I wanted to make food that I wanted to eat, not what my chef buddies wanted to eat," he says of Senate.

"But it's about a lot more than just putting toppings on a hot dog. We wouldn't be getting the accolades we are if it were"¢ it's about more "” the beer, the cocktails, the other geeky chef stuff."

Mostly Weird Creations

Wright grew up playing football and wrestling, and was raised by a single mother. As the older brother, he says he remembers doing most of the cooking, testing a myriad of experimental dishes on his family. "I forced them to eat all kinds of stuff, mostly these weird Asian creations with soy sauce."

He decided, he laughs, to attend culinary school at Johnson & Wales University (in Providence, R.I.). "There was nothing else I was really good at. I was a dumb jock, so I thought what else can I do?"

Clearly, his customers applaud the choice.

At the end of 2011, the Wrights scored another foodie feat when they opened their second restaurant/wine bar, Abigail Street, which serves a smorgasbord of dishes with a Mediterranean influence. In addition to what Wright considers the "must-try" dishes (the grilled octopus, ricotta gnocchi or fattoush with yellow peppers), there's also an extensive list of wine on tap.

But the good food and wine isn't what Abigail Street is really all about, Wright says.

"It's more about the dining experience than the actual eating. It's a place where you can have little dishes and wine on tap.

"It's not a rushed meal, it's meant to draw out the dining experience." - 

Abigail Street
1214 Vine St.
Cincinnati, OH 45202
(513) 421-4040
Mediterrean small plates, wine on tap.
1212 Vine St.
Cincinnati, OH 45202
(513) 421-2020
Tricked-out hot dogs, duck fat fries, fresh market oysters.