Sunday, December 13, 2009

Bellevue Bistro

Bellevue Bistro
313 Fairfield Avenue
Bellevue, KY

Steve and I decided to get our walk on early one morning and ended up in the pleasant little Ohio River city of Bellevue. The city gets somewhat overshadowed by next door neighbor Newport, which is a shame because the funky little town has a lot going for it. There is an excellent (and affordably priced) day spa on the main drag, some groovy boutique shops and antique stores, a tea house, a homemade candy shop, a cake/cupcake shop, a Birkenstock-wearing veterinarian (hi Dr. Middleton!) and a nice selection of independent restaurants.

By the time we'd walked from our East Row home to Fairfield Avenue we'd worked up an appetite, and decided to visit the Bellevue Bistro for some breakfast. What we didn't realize until we were seated was that they only offer breakfast on weekends, and we were there mid-week. Oh well, not to worry - we decided that 10 a.m. wasn't too early to have lunch.

Bellevue Bistro

There is always something unique to look at in the sunny dining room, thanks to the talents of local photographers and artists. Artwork changes monthly and is reasonably priced. It is also fun to hunt for the Millennium Falcons that dot the cheery space - don't forget to check the ceiling fan!

The brightly lit dining room

The bistro lists several vegetarian sandwiches on their lunch menu. They include:
1.The Bistro Grill - fresh mozzarella, basil leaves and tomatoes grilled with house vinaigrette on ciabatta ($6.50)
2. Veggie Wrap - cheese, grilled vegetables, black beans and brown rice wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla, grilled and served with a sweet chili sauce and sour cream ($7.95)
3. Portobello Sandwich - red onions, fresh mozzarella, and red bell pepper, grilled with house vinaigrette on ciabatta ($7.25)
4. Veggie Burger - grilled and served with boursin cheese, tomato and sprouts on whole wheat ($6.95)

I opted for the veggie wrap and it was very tasty indeed. While there we discovered that they offer dinner service four nights per week (Wed-Sat) and so we stopped back a few weeks later to give it a try.

Veggie Wrap with a side of potato chips

Both of the vegetarian options on the dinner menu feature pasta: vegetable lasagna and Tuscan pasta. On the evening we visited my dinner decision was made for me because they were out of the lasagna. The menu doesn't give a clue to what ingredients are in each selection, and side dishes are not listed with the entrees. When we asked, our server had to go back to the kitchen to find out. At the time we thought it wasn't a very good sign that our waitress couldn't answer a simple question, but in retrospect, it's entirely possible that the kitchen was playing it by ear with whatever they had on hand.

Side salad

I say this because even after Steve was given a choice of potato - he chose mashed - his order arrived with roasted potatoes and apologies. I was told that the pasta came with a delicate wine sauce but moments before the pasta arrived the server came rushing over to inform me that the kitchen had opted for marinara instead. When the dish arrived it appeared that the sauce had been omitted altogether. Whew, talk about dry! It was also served on a steak fajita plate instead of a bowl or dish, which made for curious and careful eating, as various bits kept falling over the shallow sides and onto the table.

Tuscan pasta with roasted vegetables

The dish wasn't a complete waste however, because roasting intensifies the flavor and sweetness of root vegetables, and these could have easily stood alone. It's a shame they didn't. The shells simply cluttered it up.

Aside from the potato error, Steve had better luck with his pork fillet, which he found delightfully sweet due to the addition of roasted apples. The cut was a little more fatty than he would have liked, but overall not too bad.

Pacific rim pork loin with roasted potatoes and garlic asparagus

No meal is complete without dessert, and according to our server theirs are house made. We were told that the blackberry cobbler is a family recipe, so we decided to give it a try. It was a little doughier than I like, but the balance of tart and sweet was right on the money.

Blackberry cobbler with ice cream

While our meals were a little bit hit or miss, our experience was completely marred by the unprofessional behavior of two members of staff, who stood at the counter and really slagged off another co-worker with a peppering of expletives that could make a sailor blush. C'mon people, save the drama for the break room!

Bellevue Bistro on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Krispy Kreme

Krispy Kreme
2001 E. Dorothy Lane
Kettering, Ohio

Sure you can buy Krispy Kreme doughnuts at many area groceries, but unless you've had one right off the production line you haven’t tasted the magic. Seriously – there is a world of difference between the boxed variety on the supermarket shelves and the newly made bundles of bliss rolling out of the oven at the area’s closest franchise in Kettering.

Throw the calorie counter out the window, we're headed for Krispy Kreme!

I’m not much of a doughnut person myself, but one night a friend persuaded me to visit the little doughnut shop with her when we were coming back from Dayton, and she was absolutely giddy when she saw the round red neon "HOT NOW." Whenever this sign is lit, it means they are making their signature Original Glazed doughnuts. I was astonished at how busy the place was, but it only took one bite for me to understand the attraction. All their doughnuts are dangerously addictive, but none so much as a hot Original Glazed right off the line.

Have you ever taken a big fluffy piece of cotton candy, wadded it up into a ball, popped it in your gob and let it melt away to nothing? If you have, you've got some idea of what it's like biting into a hot Krispy Kreme Original Glazed doughnut. It simply dissolves on the tongue like a snowflake.

Magnetic pull too strong...cannot resist!

All their doughnuts are vegetarian - the only animal by-products used are eggs and dairy products like butter, milk, whey and yogurt. But before you go gleefully riding the sugar rush through an entire dozen, remember that they start at 200 calories each. Dude, buzz kill!

It's quiet at midday but just wait til they switch on the sign

In the meantime, other varieties roll out, like these crullers.

Since that first visit I've made a point of stopping by Krispy Kreme whenever I am in the Dayton area, but alas the little Original Glazed sugary wonders aren't always in production - the best time for them to be HOT NOW is early morning and late at night. According to the store manager, since the Cincinnati-area locations closed the number of U.C. students making the pilgrimage north for a late-night Krispy Kreme fix is substantial. I'm not surprised.

Krispy Kreme on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Recipe: Roasted Cauliflower

Roasted Cauliflower
Serves 4

Simple, rustic, and irresistible; this is a perfect autumn side dish.

1 head cauliflower, cut into small chunks
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
lemon juice (1/2 to 1 lemon, depending on size of cauliflower)
olive oil
coarse salt and cracked black pepper


1. Preheat oven to 400F. While oven is heating, cut cauliflower into bite-sized pieces and arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet

2. Scatter garlic all around cauliflower, squeeze lemon juice over each piece and drizzle with olive oil, then season with salt and cracked black pepper.

Tip: If you do not have a juicer, the easiest way to juice the lemon is to roll it on the counter for about 10 seconds to break down the pulp, then slice in half and hold the fruit cut side up when you squeeze so that the seeds and pulp stay inside.

3. Roast for 25-30 minutes or until the florets are lightly browned, and enjoy!

For added dimension try sprinkling with shredded parmesan just before serving.

Click for printable recipe.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Recipe: Vegetarian Gravy

Thanksgiving is right around the corner, so I thought I'd share my favorite vegetarian gravy recipe, which goes really well with Tofurkey and/or Quorn's Turk'y Roast. The recipe isn't limited to the holidays though - I make it year round as an accompaniment to one of Steve's favorite meals: sausage and mash. Many of the vegetarian gravy recipes I've tried have an unappealing fake taste, but the following recipe packs a hearty, full-bodied flavor similar to those made with meat drippings.

Vegetarian Gravy
Serves 4
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
3/4 Cup chopped mushroom
1 clove garlic, minced
2 Tbs butter
2 1/2 Cup vegetable broth (I use McKay's Chicken Style Instant Broth)
2 Tbs soy sauce (or Bragg's Liquid Amino)
4-5 Tbs flour
salt and pepper to taste



1. Melt butter in a large skillet or Dutch oven and add onion.

2. Sauté onion over medium-high heat, stirring frequently until the onion is softened and browned, about 15 minutes.

3. When onions are browned and beginning to crisp, add mushrooms and garlic and sauté two minutes, stirring constantly.

4. Reduce heat to medium and add vegetable broth and soy sauce. Give everything a good stir, then add flour, one tablespoon at a time, stirring between each addition until flour is completely dissolved. Adjust seasoning and continue stirring for 8-10 minutes or until gravy reaches the desired thickness.

Serve over mashed potato...

...and the vegetarian sausage of your choice.

Note: Although McKay's makes a beef-style instant broth as well, I think it has a peculiar taste which doesn't work with this recipe. McKay's chicken-style broth is salty. If using it you will not need to add any salt or pepper, and it's best to use unsalted butter to keep the saltiness in check.

Click for printable recipe.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Recipe: Panko Pasta

Panko Pasta
Serves 4

This hearty dish incorporates pungent garlic, tart capers and spicy red pepper flakes with panko (Japanese-style) breadcrumbs for a crunchy twist on tortellini pasta. Don't substitute regular breadcrumbs for the panko, as I've attempted this recipe in the past with finely crushed breadcrumbs and there is just no comparison. I use spinach panko from Whole Foods, which runs $3.99 for a five ounce tub.

1 package tortellini
2 Tbs olive oil
2 Tbs butter
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbs capers, drained
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
3 Tbs panko breadcrumbs
1/2 Cup diced tomatoes
Parmesan cheese to taste



1. Mince garlic and combine with capers and red pepper flakes. Set aside.

2. Boil pasta according to package directions. Drain and return to pot. Drizzle with olive oil and cover to keep warm.

3. While pasta is boiling, shred the Parmesan cheese.

4. Melt butter over med-low heat.

5. Add garlic-caper mixture and saute for one minute. You can also add the tomatoes during this step if you like them warmed. If not, add at the end.

6. Turn off heat and stir in panko.

7. Add garlic-panko mixture to pasta, and fold in tomatoes.

8. Sprinkle with shredded Parmesan and enjoy!

Note: My husband isn't a big fan of tomatoes, so I went easy on them, but feel free to add up to one cup diced if you wish.

Click for printable recipe.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Five Guys Burgers and Fries

Five Guys Burgers and Fries
2887 Dixie Highway
Crestview Hills, KY
tel: 859-331-1269

When this award-winning Washington D.C.-based chain opened in Clifton earlier in the year we stopped by to try it but the queues were out the door and we didn't feel like waiting. We've tried to get into the restaurant several times since but it always seems to be hopping. Ditto the Crestview Hills location, and our criteria for Five Guys has been this: "if there are no empty tables visible, we aren't even going in the door."

Five Guys Burgers and Fries

Luckily we finally got around to visiting at the tail end of the lunch rush, and although the place was still busy, it wasn't so crazy that there was no seating to be had. To be on the safe side however, we laid claim to a table before joining the queue at the counter. Immediately noticable are the bulging bags of potatoes stacked neatly nearby. These are not for decoration; the potatoes will wind up as someone's french fries later on.

Bags of potatoes line the way

The concept is similar to fast food. Orders are taken at a counter and picked up several minutes later at a second counter, with a menu limited to several types of burgers, hot dogs, fries and soft drinks. The difference between Five Guys and your average Burger King or McDonalds is in the execution. The open kitchen insures that diners can watch their selection being made, all toppings are free, and the fries are cut fresh and fried in small batches.

Watch your sandwich being made

The fries are where this chain really excels. They may be more time consuming to prepare than those of their fast food counterparts, but are delicious and certainly worth the effort and the wait.

The assembly line is efficient but those fresh fries take time

The restaurant's veggie sandwich is different from what you might expect. Instead of a frozen Gardenburger or Boca patty, the sandwich consists of a bun and as many of the free toppings as you wish, all for $2.69. Vegetarians will be happy to know that the Five Guys policy is to keep the grilling stations for vegetables and meats separate, so those grilled onions and mushrooms are worry-free. If a bun filled with veggies doesn't appeal, the restaurant also offers the tried and true grilled cheese.

Orders are bagged, regardless of dine-in or carry-out

Something to keep in mind with the fries: employees throw in an extra scoop when bagging them up, so a "regular" order (the smallest they offer) is easily enough for two people. Wish we had known that beforehand, as Steve and I both ordered fries and it was way too much.

Unpack your bag of goodies

Vegetarians can't go wrong with the veggie sandwich. It's a flavorsome but very messy affair, and the pile of napkins stuffed into the bag were saturated by the time I was finished eating. Oddly, my hands smelled of the meal for the rest of the day, even after repeated washings.

Tastes better than it looks!

It is refreshing that more fast food restaurants are starting to cater to the vegetarian diner, and kudos to Five Guys for making it affordable. They aren't going to top Subway for vegetarian-friendly, healthy fare, but as an occasional caloric splurge it's pretty darned tasty.

Five Guys Burgers and Fries on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


301 Riverboat Row
Newport, KY

True story #1: A few days after Steve and I had finished moving into our home in Newport's East Row it snowed. And snowed. And snowed. Over two feet of snow paralyzed the region in late December 2004; businesses and schools closed, flights were cancelled and the declaration of a snow emergency meant all non-essential personnel had to stay off the roads.

The local news mentioned that bus service hadn't been cancelled, so we decided to put on our wellies and walk down to the riverfront to catch the shuttle. Trudging through the neighborhood was more difficult than we had reckoned, and by the time we reached the Port of Entry at Third Street we had icicles hanging from our hats and were desperate for warmth. As we stood shivering at the bus stop we noticed that a floating restaurant on the Ohio River appeared to be open for business, so we slipped our way down the gangplank to Hooters.

Now anyone who has ever been to Hooters knows that the servers wear very skimpy uniforms of orange hotpants and white tank tops. Year round. So it's freezing outside and we walk into the restaurant covered in ice and are greeted by perky girls in next to nothing. They would huddle in big coats at the bar, but each time one of them visited our table the coat was off. We felt so sorry for them that we left a hefty tip for their trouble.

A neon rendition of the Hooters uniform

True story #2: One of our friends in England does a lot of business in Detroit, and on his very first stateside trip he went to Hooters on the recommendation of some Americans with whom he was working. He swears he had no idea what the restaurant was like - which is believable since it was his first trip and the restaurant's reputation hadn't yet reached the U.K. - but ten years later he is still trying to live down the penned heart and lipstick kiss that his server put on the receipt that he turned in with his expense report.

Back in 2004 there wasn't much for the vegetarian diner at Hooters, so we went back Sunday before the Bengals-Bears game to give them another try. Five years later and nothing much has changed. The servers still wear orange hotpants and there's still precious little for non-meat eaters. Basically we're stuck with a couple of appetizers and side dishes. The atmosphere is a sports fan's dream, with 21 flat screen TVs airing the games, but since the food is typical sports bar fare, I'll just let the photos do the talking.


The entrance is via the gangplank on the left

A view of the floating restaurant from the Purple People Bridge

Hooters girls in action

Filled with football fans on game day. Who Dey!

The fried pickle appetizer is spicy and addictive

Cheese quesadilla with pico de gallo and curly fries

Steve ordered the "gourmet" hot dog. Not sure what is gourmet about it.

The key lime pie had a weird chemical taste. Don't bother with it.

No lipstick kisses for us - guess we don't rate as high as our friend Pete

Mr Veggie Option's viewpoint
The idea that Veggie Option should do a write up on Hooters has been a running gag in our household ever since my wife first started this blog. We've walked by the one on the riverfront on many an occasion, and each time I have pointed it out, winked jokingly and pulled her towards it.

However, this past weekend the NFL threw up a pairing of Cincinnati vs Chicago at Paul Brown Stadium and, even though neither of us are big football fans, it seemed like a fun idea to share the fans' P.M.T. (pre-match-tension) at a convenient bar. I once again suggested Hooters, and Veggie Option finally decided it was time to finally give it the once over for the purposes of a post.

So we headed off for an afternoon of Bengals, Bears, beer, banter, barfood and boo......

... ooops, nearly forgot my place there.

I have always joked with friends back in England that Hooters certainly has a couple of things going for it. If truth be told, it hasn't really risen much above that cliché. If you were to take away the diverse collection of suitably-endowed servers in their tight white tops and skimpies it would actually result in a decidedly less-than-average sports bar. The surroundings are worn & grubby, the seating feels cramped and uncomfortable, the food is decidedly so-so and the atmosphere lacks a certain something. It's akin to an untidy bachelor's pad made public.

Hooters' website suggested that they offered a Grilled Cheese Sandwich but we were already sat down and drinking our first beer before we discovered that this simple vegetarian staple was no longer offered and the online information was out of date. I always get irritated when businesses - especially corporate restaurant chains - fail to maintain websites, thus undermining the very usefulness of their own marketing tool.

Instead, V.O. was forced to adopt her 'fall back' position; a selection of items from the appetizer fayre. Once again, the combination of all these added up to far more than the cost of my far more substantial meat-based entree - a disgraceful solution to a problem that really shouldn't exist in the first place.

I think restaurants that fail to offer a respectful vegetarian choice or two on their entree menu miss a very big trick indeed. Possibly without even realizing it. Like many other 'city folk' we often have groups of people come and visit us, some from overseas, and every time a new set of friends are here we obviously take them out for lunch or dinner at a variety of local places. Now, given the fact that my wife wants to enjoy the meal as much as the rest of us, where do you think we are likely to take these friends; the diner with the selection of scrummy vegetarian options, or the place that can't even be bothered to whip up a simple grilled cheese sandwich?

We have removed SO MANY restaurants from our personal revisit list because of their inability to understand a simple business concept, that of properly providing for everybody who might walk in. Places like Hooters - for all its other 'charms' - is never, ever going to get our 'group booking' because it fails to cater for everyone that might be in that group.

Not only that, they gain a negative reputation from blogs such as this one. Given the fact that the restaurant trade is having an extremely tough time of it lately you would like to think that places would adapt themselves to a changing marketplace in order to assure a better chance of survival. Instead chains like Hooters actively remove vegetarian choices from the menus, evidently forgetting that men can be vegetarians too?!

Hooters on Urbanspoon