Dee Felice Café
Sixth & Main St.
Located in Covington’s historic Main Strasse Village, Dee Felice Café is housed in an 18th century building that was a pharmacy at one time. The restaurant’s namesake, long time jazz musician Dee Felice, opened the restaurant in 1984 to combine “excellent Cajun style cooking and old-fashioned New Orleans décor with the best live jazz in Northern Kentucky/Greater Cincinnati,” according to the web site.
The claret and pale gray color scheme may have been all the rage the year Felice opened his restaurant -in fact, those were the same colors of my ’84 high school prom - but the restaurant is in serious need of a face lift.
Cosmetic only – the gorgeously ornate tin ceiling (pictured at right) is breathtaking, but they could seriously lose the framed Harlequin posters and I doubt anyone would miss them. They may have been considered “old-fashioned New Orleans” in 1984, but these days they border on creepy. The restaurant has some nice touches though. The soft glow of flickering candles sets the mood, and it is one of the few places I know of that still sports starched napkins.
The first time I visited Dee Felice was with friends. We had already eaten at Otto’s up the street and were lured in by the fabulous swing jazz drifting out the front door. We squeezed ourselves in at the overcrowded bar and experienced one of the strongest Bloody Mary’s ever. Now, I’ve been known to make a pretty mean Bloody Mary myself, but holy crap it was a good thing we had a designated driver that night. I was pie-eyed after just one!
The tables are laid out in a dinner theatre style; most diners have a good view of the musicians playing on the long, narrow stage behind the bar. It’s impossible to tell where the stage begins and the bar ends – liquor bottles line the edge of the stage at the band’s feet. It may seem an odd set-up, but it works. Depending on which night you visit, you may encounter a jazz pianist, a really tight trio (piano, drums and stand up bass) or a cookin’ swing band with brass. One thing is certain – the entertainment is excellent.
Dee Felice lists a Portabello Étouffée on their menu, but doesn’t specify whether or not it is vegetarian. Étouffée is made with a blonde roux of butter and flour, cooked to a pale brown. The difference between it and a typical Creole or Cajun roux is that the latter is made with oil (or fat) & flour and turns dark brown. Both consist of onion, cayenne pepper, green pepper, celery, garlic and salt. Traditional étouffées usually have either crawfish or shellfish, so when our waiter informed me that the Portabello étouffée was indeed vegetarian, I knew I had to have it.
I felt the chef was a little heavy-handed with the salt, but it was still very tasty. The fiery sauce infiltrated the vegetables, rice and thick black strips of mushroom - spicy enough to slightly singe my lips and tongue. I like dishes that open my sinuses, and this one didn’t disappoint. My only disappointment was that I had ordered the half-sized portion instead of the full entree, and once I tucked into the dish I really wish I had ordered the larger size.
Because I was still hungry at the end of the meal I decided to eat one of the complimentary rosemary dinner rolls, which was a great choice. They were so good that once I’d had a bite I couldn’t stop. They reminded me of my Mom’s home-made biscuits, powdery on the outside, thick and fluffy inside. Yum. They didn’t even need butter. Our waiter said they were baked locally, but I couldn’t wheedle out of him what the name of the bakery was. Never mind, I’ll try to replicate them at home.
Speaking of the wait staff, Grant was fabulous; attentive without hovering, quick witted and friendly, he is obviously a seasoned veteran of the restaurant who knew the menu inside and out. His recommendations were excellent and he knew the tomato bisque soup du jour had chicken stock in it without having to go ask the kitchen – and this was before he knew I was vegetarian. That alone deserves a gold star. My husband and father-in-law both opted for the soup as their starter, and when they ordered Grant made a joke about the “correct” pronunciation of the word “tomato.” The Brits begged to disagree, stating that it was not “tuh-may-toe” but “tuh-mah-toe.” Grant then quipped, “Well let’s call the whole thing off,” which made us all roar with laughter. If you go, ask to be seated in his area. He’s a real gem.
While there aren’t any vegetarian entrées listed on Dee Felice’s menu, (the portabello étouffée isn’t listed as such although it is vegetarian) they do note that some of the meat and seafood pasta dishes can be made vegetarian.
They also have a few salad entrees that can be made meatless. If you have a salad, by the way, be aware that their house dressing (a spicy Dijon) is incredibly thick, with a consistency similar to mayonnaise or possibly even creamy peanut butter. While flavorful, I am simply not a fan of heavy, gloppy dressings so I probably wouldn't opt for it again. All in all, there really isn’t a great deal of choice for vegetarians, but as long as they keep the étouffée on the menu I’ll keep coming back, creepy clown posters or not.