Sam Mischenko is the Butcher, Baker . . . and Chef (one of two) at the Lonely Pine Steakhouse in Pleasant Ridge. The restaurant is small and eclectic, one open room containing maybe eight tables, a small bar and a waiting area for people on deck. But if you go and there is a wait, you can also hang out at the bar next door to prime the pump.
An in-house butcher?
Sam says it is not very common to have an in-house butcher in a restaurant, but the owners are determined to make this restaurant something exceptional for their customers. If you talk to a butcher you’ll realize they have a deep respect for animals, which is precisely why they buy from farms where animals have happy lives. Their animals are fed natural diets, cared for by farmers who love animals and are slaughtered as humanely as possible. Every attempt is made to use all parts of the animals, to be efficient, and show respect for them.
In addition to understanding how to properly cut and curate the cuts of meat, Sam creates some of the restaurant’s signature entrées and the desserts here, as well as menu items at other bars by the same owners.
He comes by it honest.
Sam started cooking before he knew it was cool to cook. He remembers cooking lessons with his Grandma Mischenko when he could barely reach the counter. “We would make simple things, like mashed potatoes, but I remember the joy it brought me to be food-creative and to work with my hands, and of course with my grandma. I still make some of the best damn mashed potatoes ever!” says Sam.
He also learned the art of cooking from his dad who specialized in grilling and baking. Sam says, “one of the best foods ever is dad’s sourdough night-and-day cinnamon rolls. He calls it that because he prepares the dough at night and bakes it in the morning. Now that is a smell that will get you out of bed in the morning!”
Just for fun:
Q: Where do you buy your steak and other meat?
A: We get our meat locally as much as possible. We focus on quality and suppliers who embrace sustainable practices. It is not JUST about the product, but it is often about the people behind the meat who really make the difference.
Q: Can you name a few?
A: We get our steak from Sakura Farms & Ohio Wagyu, where the animals are bred with angus cows for a proprietary breed. The result is a very marbled for higher fat content, even sometimes higher than prime cuts of beef. Also places like Freedom Run Farm, who raise a heritage breed of lamb. In doing so are they are helping to preserve an important agricultural product that could easily be lost to the demands of industrial agriculture. Valerie Samutin (the executive director) has done a lot for local lamb product and getting it back onto menus.
Q: So, it is not just about steak?
A: Steak is definitely our mainstay, but we branch out depending on quality selections available at the time. For instance, we are doing a lot with water buffalo right now. You should try it!
Q: Are you a carnivore?
A: Well, I’m not ALL steak and whiskey, but I do like a good steak. I also like a good chicken or fish. Good food, freshly prepared is always a treat.
Q: How would those close to you describe you?
A: I am passionate – loving – stubborn.
Q: Tell me about the passionate part.
A: I am passionate about this industry. It is a creative effort followed by timely execution and it can very rewarding . . . and very exhausting. This industry can lead to burnout, which is why we limit our serving hours and strive for life-work balance.
Q: What are some of your favorite things about our city?
A: I love the creative offerings in Cincinnati. The museums, especially the art museum. We are fortunate to have such a rich, artistic culture.
Q: What is your favorite restaurant in Cincinnati?
A: This one – I think we really shine, especially in a Jeff Ruby city. I would put our quality up against anyone.
Q: Who is the most interesting person you’ve met here in your community?
A: Justin Dean. He has a lot of projects in the area: Madhouse Vinegars, Sakura Farms, Chef’s Collaborative, Woodland Pork to name a few. He is a chef and a fascinating person.
Q: If you could travel anywhere in the world right now where would it be, and why?
A: Barcelona – because my wife and I went there in October 2017, and fell in love with a magical place.
Q: What is your favorite movie?
A: Anything by Mel Brooks, he is my favorite director.
Q: What advice would you give a crowd of people?
A: Love one another. And do something wonderful!
Q: What is something on your bucket list?
A: Travel to South America – it’s been a long-time fascination for me.
Q: What is your favorite music?
A: Trombone Shorty – he is kind of a New Orleans entertainer, much like James Brown. He is a trumpet and trombone player – check him out!
Q: What building, or business makes you the most nostalgic about Cincinnati?
A: Union terminal.
Q: What person, alive or passed would you like to have lunch with?
A: Dizzy Gillespie.
Q: Where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years?
A: Still a chef; maybe (hopefully) a father. Furthering my career by embracing more of the creative research and development in sustainable, high quality food products.
Q: What is something interesting that most people don’t know about you?
A: I played trumpet in the Xavier University Jazz Ensemble.
Q: What 3 words or phrases come to mind when you think of the word HOME?
A: Warmth, Compassion, Light.
Q: What do you do for you?
A: I like to go hiking, camping, walk in the woods. Yellowsprings is really great! Once you go you will want to go again.
Sam and his wife Maggie are preparing to move into Grandma Mischenko’s old house in Anderson.
Maybe he will make mashed potatoes!