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Our Story

Where It All Began

Primavista opened in December of 1989. Frank and Joan Lenkerd worked extremely hard in their respective hotels as food and beverage managers.

They rarely saw each other due to the long hours they worked. They both dreamed of owning their own restaurant someday, and they discussed it in depth. Theirs would be a warm and cozy place, where the staff would love their jobs, and take excellent care of the guests who would soon become regulars.

By the early 90’s, their dream came true. They purchased Primavista, and Frank and Joan worked side by side for decades.

Shortly after opening, Chef Chris Prince, now a managing partner, took over the kitchen. He and his staff have been delivering consistently excellent Italian dishes ever since.

These days you won’t see Frank and Joan as much. You will see their son, John Lenkerd, a managing partner, and general manager Cristie Reynolds running the restaurant with a team of professionals that love their jobs.

Primavista is still a warm and cozy place that has an amazing view, with some of the best service and food in town. Please join us for your next date night, celebration, private party, or just a relaxing night out!

In the Spotlight

I Fell in Love with Primavista!

Well, I finally did it. I fell in love with Primavista 🍝🏙️

Keith Pandolfi

Cincinnati Enquirer

In theory, at least, Primavista always sounded right up my alley. An iconic Italian restaurant – a little dated, but still beloved – with a menu that read like a greatest hits collection of some of my favorite classic Italian dishes.

And while I’ve been meaning to pay a visit ever since I moved back to Cincinnati three years ago, it was only last week that I finally made a 6 p.m. reservation on a Wednesday night. Since Primavista is often called one of the most romantic restaurants in the Midwest, with its picture-perfect views of the Queen City from the vantage point of East Price Hill, I asked my wife, Amy, if she would come along as my date.

Reader, she said yes.

Primavista opened in 1989 and has been owned by the same couple − Frank and Joan Lenkert − and more improbably, headed by the same chef − Chris Prince − for over a quarter century.

I’d read glowing accounts of Prince, who now shares ownership of the restaurant with the Lenkerts. He went to the Culinary Institute of America, graduated, took a job at Primavista and never left. When a chef of Prince’s caliber decides to stay put, you know he must be a happy chef. And happy chefs usually lead to equally happy customers.

A place with a soul of its own

I was confused when we walked through the main doors of the condo complex Queens Tower into what looked like a standard lobby. “Where is it?” I wondered, but Amy – who, in marrying me, also took on the role as supervisor of my confused and flighty brain – found the medieval-looking door that leads to the restaurant right away.

That door is like a portal into what I can best describe as a late 1990s Tuscan-style dining room. There are Tuscan-style stucco and rustic stone walls. There are large urns and heavy ornate furniture. There are amber lights and decorative magnum wine bottles. It’s what Olive Garden has always desperately wanted to be. But this place has an inimitable soul of its own.

Our hostess took us to a two-top right along a wall of plate glass windows. At first, I felt kinda special, assuming we’d won the jackpot for the best table in the house. But after a quick glance around the dining room, I realized every table at Primavista is the best table in the house, all of them offering fantastic views of the city, no matter where you sit.  Look outside and you’ll see the trainyards behind Union Terminal, the industrial edges of Mill Creek and the cars and Ohio River boats entering and leaving a city that, on a clear night, can sometimes look like Oz.

More Annies, please

Our server, Annie, carried herself with a quiet confidence and warmth that made me wish every restaurant in Cincinnati had an Annie of its own. It’s not just that she wanted us to enjoy our dinner, it’s that she seemed like she actually cared about us as human beings, too.

Annie brought out a basket of warm bread with tiny pats of roasted garlic and bread plates for us to pour a glug of olive oil, the culinary welcoming committee of every Italian restaurant worth its salt.

For drinks, Amy went with the Prima Mule with a heavy pour of bourbon and I had a glass of fruity, almost citrussy Mount Riley sauvignon blanc from New Zealand. The wine list here is impressive but approachable, heavy on the Tuscan reds with a well-curated list from California, Argentina, France and Spain.

Soon after our drinks arrived, Frank’s son (and Joan’s stepson) John Lenkerd, stopped by to say hello. After more than a decade of working in New York restaurants, John came back to Cincinnati to help out his parents during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic and is now continuing the family tradition by working here full time.

I should note that John knew I was coming. I had called him earlier that day to set up a photo shoot and mentioned I might be stopping in for dinner. Unfortunately, Frank and Joan were on vacation and chef Prince was sick at home, so I didn’t get to meet them, too.

John told me that Joan was nervous about my timing for the visit. An awning out front had recently been mowed down by a delivery truck. “Tell him we’re fixing it!” she conveyed to John. She also insisted he let me know that the carpets at the restaurant, which appeared to be just fine, if not a little dated, were going to be replaced soon. I’m always happy when owners are tuned into when their restaurants are in need of a refresh, but Joan needn’t have worried. I was already falling in love with the place.

The restorative powers of pasta e fagiole 

My only fear about Primavista was that I would be underwhelmed by the food, that I would realize quickly that it was more about the views and the vibe than the food itself. But I needn’t have worried about that, either.

I guess you could call Primavista an old-school Italian restaurant, but not in the checkered tablecloth, Billy Joel “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” sort of way. Primavista has more of a retro fine dining vibe. The tablecloths are white, not checkered. Yes, you can get a killer spaghetti and meatballs (as Amy discovered when she ordered it), but it’s known more for refined classics such as veal saltimboca, cioppino and shrimp Antoinette. There are mussels in white wine sauce, shrimp and gnocchi in a saffron cream sauce and center-cut filet mignons. (There are also plenty of vegetarian and vegan options.)

If the roasted garlic and bread were a good first impression, the pasta e fagiole – a classic Italian dish composed of the diminutive pasta shape of your choosing (in this case, ditale), white beans, escarole and bacon – was a clear indicator that my first date with Primavista was going to lead to a long-term relationship.

Amy has never minced words when it comes to her dislike of pasta e fagiole (she once referred to it as bean water) but even she called this version, with its depth of pork-y flavor, “a warm hug.” Me? I think it was about the best version of the dish I’ve ever tasted.

My disdain for calamari might rival Amy’s feelings toward pasta e fagiole. (I’ve had a lot of bad calamari in my day.) But I was won over by chef Prince’s take, so lightly fried that the batter almost tasted healthy and seasoned with the perfect amount of salt and a heavy shake of pepper.

For my main course, I went with the veal saltimboca, a dish I rarely order since veal has a tendency to turn out dry and flavorless if it’s not done right. Still, the thought of this classic dish, which is topped with prosciutto and flavored with a heavy toss of sage, sounded too good to pass up.

It was right on the money: the meat tender, the prosciutto cooked just enough that it didn’t shrivel up and die, the fontina cheese providing just the right amount of saltiness. Even the bright and glistening green beans served alongside the veal were made with care, cooked perfectly with just the right amount of crunch.

‘This makes me so happy’

Annie strongly recommended the bread pudding for dessert, but I decided to go with the tiramisu, which was gussied up with a drizzle of zabaglione sauce (a mixture of egg yolks, sugar and Marsala wine) and a big triangle of dark chocolate nestled on top. Fancy, yes. But as I took my first bite, the humble tiramisu itself seemed to whisper, “Hey, paisan, it’s still me.”

That same warm familiarity presented itself with my first sip of the cafe mazzoli I ordered alongside the tiramisu.

It was just an espresso drink with a roasted almond amaretto and a little frothed milk, but the almond flavor mixed with the bitter espresso reminded me of some of my favorite nights at the Highland Coffee House or the old Kaldi’s, in Over-the-Rhine, where I often savored a similar drink while reading (or at least pretending to read) Herman Hesse in the former or listening to the Ron Enyard jazz quartet set up in the back of the latter.

“This makes me so happy,” I told Annie when she checked in with us.

That happiness is something I want to experience again as soon as possible. Because Primavista is familiar even if you’ve never been here before, because the food is as memorable as the views, and because Primavista is, indeed, right up my alley.