Polly Campbell

Polly Campbell

Cincinnati’s longtime restaurant reviewer and food writer talks about the very best meals she’s ever enjoyed.

Interview by Bryn Mooth / Photo by Michael Wilson

Born: 1955, Los Angeles
Lives in: Pleasant Ridge
Marital status: Married to Neil Sharrow
Career: Raised in Bloomington, IN; studied at Kansas University in Lawrence, KS (worked a part-time restaurant job), and graduated from Indiana University. After a stint in book publishing in New York, moved to Cincinnati. Freelance food writer for CityBeat before landing her current gig writing about restaurants, local food, and cooking for the Cincinnati Enquirer.

What’s your favorite food memory from childhood?
I had five brothers and sisters, and my mom was a good cook. One year she made me for my birthday a leg of lamb and this fancy cake out of The New York Times Cook Book. It was so fancy, and I felt so sophisticated and special because she had worked so hard on it. That’s the meal I judge every other meal by.

Do you recall your first restaurant review?
The first meal I ever reviewed was at Maisonette. I’d had such a love affair with the idea of fancy
French food, and Maisonette was so good at that. It had the same quality as that birthday meal:
There was something unique and real.

Is there a dining trend you’re glad we’re over?
There haven’t been a ton of really revolutionary ideas here in Cincinnati; we don’t jump on trends,
but we embrace things after they’ve worked out elsewhere—and we do those things in a way that’s more authentic and friendly and true to Cincinnati.

How has our local food scene changed since you started covering it?
The interest in the local food movement is huge. More people know about food today, and people
truly are trying to eat healthier. It’s not just in Cincinnati; it’s everywhere. It’s partly a growing interest in local food and partly a growing interest in living in cities, so food and restaurants are just what people do for fun. And people have started to appreciate or even fetishize local Cincinnati things like goetta. There’s a certain earnestness about local food here that I really like.

What’s your ‘desert island’ meal?
I think it’d be a big salad, like a Niçoise salad. I love that kind of eating—it’s a classic dish, so the flavors are perfect together. But it’s completely improvise-able and so full of fresh vegetables.


Bryn’s long career in publishing took a left turn sometime around 2010, when she discovered the joy of food writing. Since then, she’s found professional nirvana as the editor of Edible Ohio Valley, author of The Findlay Market Cookbook, and occasional instructor at The Cooking School at Jungle Jim’s. Find her seasonal recipes at writes4food.com.