Monday, December 31, 2007

The Cock & Bull English Pub

Cock & Bull English Pub
601 Main Street
Covington, KY

Okay. Let’s get this out in the open right off the bat. I like beer. A lot. From locally produced microbrews and craft brews to exotic imports, I’ll try them all at least once – oftentimes more than once if truth be told. It’s not like I intentionally go out of my way to pickle my liver but new beers keep cropping up and hey, someone’s got to try them, right? With my Scotch-Irish and German roots, it’s almost a birthright really, and when you throw in a British husband, well, that’s just the shamrock on the head of a Guinness.

As far as beer goes, the Cock & Bull has an impressive selection. They keep around 25 Irish, English, German lagers, ales, stouts, bitters and American craft brews on tap, and boast another 70 bottled types (one of which is PBR -I’ll let that slide without further comment). Their selection is actually quite a bit better than many of the pubs I’ve been to in England, but this is because the majority of British pubs nowadays are brewery-controlled and serve only what the brewery allows. On our most recent visit to Blighty in September we were staggered by the dwindling number of Free Houses (pubs that are not brewery-controlled and can serve various brands) left in the country.

But selection isn’t everything, and English public houses have learned that good food is just as important as the kegs in the cellar. Even more importantly for vegetarians, English pubs have taken on board their needs and concerns and created some fantastic vegetarian options, none of which appear on the menu of the faux-English pub in Covington’s MainStrasse.

The Cock & Bull does offer a Garden Burger, which fulfills the vegetarian option requirement, and it’s not bad - but nothing really special either. It comes with pub chips (similar to home made potato chips), French fries or a side salad. It’s the only vegetarian entrée on the menu, although if you request it minus the ground beef, the Queen’s Nachos appetizer is large enough to qualify. Just don’t expect them to knock anything off the price, because they don't. Strike one.

The nachos they use in the appetizer weren't up to the task either. Every one I picked up cracked or crumbled to dust. It was exasperating trying to scoop up olives, tomatoes or jalapenos with them, and the sour cream was impossible. Even something as simple as dunking them in salsa was useless, because they fell to pieces. I gave up and left over half of it to go to waste. Strike two.

The pub didn’t strike out completely though, saved in the ninth inning by their fine draught assortment and hip (but excruciatingly loud) musical selections. I can understand cranking it up loud enough to make the pint glasses vibrate in the evenings, but we were there in the early afternoon. Who knows, maybe it helps keep the staff awake.

As an English pub, The Cock & Bull certainly isn’t the real deal, and as a viable option for vegetarians, it’s so-so. As your typical MainStrasse boozer, however, it’s better than average. Just eat elsewhere before getting your drink on.
Cock & Bull English Pub on Urbanspoon

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Banker's Club

The Banker’s Club
511 Walnut St, #3000
Fifth Third Center

Honestly, I am in two minds about reviewing the Banker’s Club. On one hand it’s a private club and I was only able to dine there courtesy of a business luncheon invitation, but on the other hand I think vegetarians ought to be aware of the menu shortcomings, lest they find themselves in the same predicament as me.

It’s an exclusive restaurant – the kind of place where the city’s movers and shakers meet for power lunches in an elegant setting. And it’s posh in a Midwestern sort of way – all starched white tablecloths, hovering servers and flower-shaped butter pats. Sadly, the current menu is not at all vegetarian friendly.

That isn’t to say that it’s never vegetarian friendly, because on a previous visit the Club's daily lunch buffet offered a vegetarian entrée - but on my most recent visit it didn't . Amazingly, the a la carte menu didn't offer even a single vegetarian item. From the soups to the salads, from sandwiches to entrées, there wasn’t a single thing that was not meat-based.

I really hate being dropped into this sort of situation, and perhaps it is my own fault for not phoning ahead to ask, but I honestly didn’t think there would be NOTHING. I figured that in a pinch I could cobble together some sides, or there would be a salad entrée option that would be ok, but there was nothing. Zero.Zilch. Nada. It threw me for a loop.

It was frustrating, and when I inquired about a vegetarian option, the server rolled her eyes, pulled an exasperated face and made a big production out of having to ask the chef to prepare something "special." When asked about the possibility of the black bean soup being vegetarian she gave me a look as if to say, "Are you kidding me?!" I felt as though I was being chastised for not being familiar with the Banker’s Club menu. It was humiliating.

Surprising too, since the Banker’s Club has been trying to shed their stodgy, good-ole boy image by courting a younger clientele, as evidenced by the Young Professionals events they’ve recently hosted to lure new members. Nonetheless, all the free drinks in the world cannot make up for rude servers and menus that refuse to acknowledge those with dietary restrictions.

Although the menu and buffet were lacking, the chef was kind enough to prepare a pasta alfredo with slivered corgettes especially for me. It was nice, and it ticked the box of being vegetarian - even if I was made to feel like a pariah for requesting it.

If you are vegetarian and have the opportunity to dine at this exclusive club, by all means give it a try, but phone ahead first to avoid embarrassment.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Hathaway's Coffee Shop

Hathaway’s Coffee Shop
Carew Tower
441 Vine Street
M-F 6:30 a.m.-4 p.m., Sat. 8 a.m.-3 p.m.

Stepping into Hathaway’s is like stepping back in time: the waitresses still sport polyester mauve uniforms, there are steel-banded dinette tables, vinyl booths and a couple of U-shaped counters, and the food is classic diner.

Diners are usually a bit of a worry for vegetarians because they rely heavily on traditional American comfort foods like burgers ’n’ fries or meatloaf with mashed potatoes and gravy, and nearly everything is slapped together on a short-order grill. It’s that co-mingling of foods that defines the diner experience and bedevils the vegetarian who doesn’t want their grilled cheese sandwich combining juices with a sizzling burger or steak.

This tends to give vegetarians a bad name - we are seen as picky, fussy, complaining miscreants whenever we request that the grilled cheese be cooked separately from the burgers, or when we want to know whether or not lard is used in the deep-fryer. For this reason I am wary of visiting any place advertising “home-style cooking” or “diner food” because I know I’m going to have to ask questions, and I know the waitress’s eyes are going to narrow just a little when I do.

As with most coffee shop diners, Hathaway’s lunch menu relies heavily on burgers, fish and fries, but they do offer a couple of vegetarian options and cook them with the vegetarian in mind. Of course there is the ubiquitous grilled cheese sandwich, but Hathaway’s also offers a Garden Burger (grilled separately, natch) with lettuce and sliced tomato, an egg salad sandwich and a peanut butter & jelly sandwich on your choice of white, wheat or rye. It ain’t much, but in the diner world it’s better than nothing. And it’s cheap - you can easily get out of there for under ten bucks. Sandwiches are served with potato chips, except the Garden Burger, which comes with a fruit cup and a side of absolutely delicious coleslaw. Truth be told, I could probably eat my weight in that slaw – so light, so fresh, and so very, very tasty. Such a pity that they only give you a tablespoonful with your meal.

Another delicious specialty Hathaway’s serves is their Yogurt Salad. It’s concocted of cottage cheese, creamy yogurt, fruit, coconut, walnuts and raisins in an apricot dressing, served with a hot muffin. For something so healthy, it tastes quite decadent. Speaking of decadent, if you’ve saved room for dessert they offer a nice selection of home made pies, and their soda fountain menu sports malts, milkshakes, yogurt shakes and sundaes, all in typical diner fashion: designed to expand your waistline without breaking your wallet.

If you are an early riser, make a point of visiting Hathaway’s for breakfast, because that is when they truly shine. People come from far and wide to partake of their old-fashioned, small tread waffles, which are nothing like their bloated Belgian cousins served at IHOP, Denny’s and other diner-esque restaurants. There’s also French toast, pancakes, fruit platters and cheese omelets to tempt the veggie palate.

American diners are becoming a thing of the past, and even mainstays like Hathaway’s aren’t immune from makeovers. I was told today that Hathaway’s has been bought out and will be closing for a remodel after the first of the year. When I expressed dismay at the thought of Hathaway’s décor being revamped - it's so firmly entrenched in the early ’80’s that it’s surprising not to see Patrick Nagel prints adorning the walls - I was informed that the new owners were going for “a real retro look” and would be updating the menu.

If you’ve never been to this quaint little throwback in the Carew Tower and are hankering for a taste of the past, Hathaway’s is the place to go. Just try to get in there before they close the door on 1984.
Hathaway's on Urbanspoon