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

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Pub at Crestview Hills

The Pub at Crestview Hills
2853 Dixie Highway
Crestview Hills, KY

On a recent outing we decided to visit The Pub at Crestview Hills, one in a small chain of British-themed restaurants managed by The Tavern Restaurant Group, which also operates DeSha's, Polo Grille and Nicholson's in addition to The Pub at Rookwood Mews, and Pub locations in Louisville and Lexington.

The Pub at Crestview Hills

Yes, that IS a British red telephone box in the entryway

The restaurant certainly looks like a British pub from the outside, although once inside it feels more theme-y than authentic with it's Pink Floyd posters, kilted servers and gigantic Union Jack ceiling mural. But hey, that's expected considering it's situated in an outdoor shopping mall in middle America rather than England's green and pleasant land. Be aware also that there is no indoor smoking ban in Kentucky as there is in the U.K. (and Ohio), and people can - and do - smoke in The Pub.

Kickin' it Olde Worlde

According to our server, The Pub's menu has undergone a recent transformation, albeit a change that apparently doesn't extend to their drinks list, where my husband's choice of Carlsberg was still listed as a draught option but isn't. Too bad. I opted for a Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale, served up in a 10 oz. snifter. YUM.

Among the usual appetizers (spinach-artichoke dip, fried mushrooms, pizza) are a sprinkling of more authentic British fare, of which the goat cheese dip and curry chips are vegetarian. I must say that I am over the moon that they serve curry chips. This is a favorite of ours whenever we go back to Blighty, and I've been known to whip up a mean batch at home on occasion. The dish is similar to American-style gravy fries, but with a curried kick. The Pub's version comes with the sauce on the side rather than poured over and tastes suspiciously like instant curry sauce a la Bisto or McDonnells, but it is still a joy to find on a menu this side of the pond.

Unlike pubs in the U.K., which as a rule offer numerous vegetarian options, The Pub has only one - a portobello goat cheese sandwich topped with roasted red peppers on focaccia bread and served with sweet potato chips and a fried pickle. It is very, very least the few bites I had of it, anyway.

Grilled portobello sandwich on focaccia bread with sweet potato fries

I say "few bites" because just after my sandwich and Steve's order of fish'n'chips arrived, we started smelling something weird, like a cleaning solvent or chemical compound. We had managed only a couple of bites before the harsh smell overpowered us and we began to feel dizzy. I thought maybe there had been a chemical spillage in the kitchen, but when we located our server were told that an employee was using a polyurethane varnish on the patio. By the time they closed off the patio from the main dining room the damage was done.

Fish 'n' Chips

The manager apologized for the blunder and comped our meal, which was good of her to do even though it didn't clear the air - the lingering fumes were too much for us. We ended up leaving our meals virtually untouched and walked out with eyes watering and noses burning.

Without a doubt it was a poor decision to use a pungent varnish during the day. Usually that sort of cleaning is done after hours, once patrons have left the establishment. I guess it's a good thing that The Pub at Crestview Hills isn't located in the U.K. because more than likely they would have been slapped with a fine and possibly even closure by British Health & Safety.

It's a shame that someone's gaff ruined not only our meal but our likelihood of a return visit, curry fries or no.

Pub at Crestview Hills on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 16, 2009

On hiatus

Apologies for the lack of posts. I had surgery last week (nothing too serious, thankfully) and won't be able to get out and about for awhile.

Regular service should resume soon. Thanks for your patience.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Quaker Steak & Lube

Quaker Steak & Lube
590 Chamber Drive

Adam Richman, the congenial host of Man vs. Food, suckered us in again. For those unfamiliar with his Travel Channel show, Richman travels the country in search of iconic eateries and attempts food challenges along the way. He’s done the 72 oz. steak challenge in Amarillo, The 11-pound, 30” Carnivore pizza in Atlanta, and in Pittsburgh it was the Quaker Steak & Lube hot wings challenge. Although neither of us was interested in the restaurant’s hot wings challenge, we thought the décor looked fun.

Fast forward several months to a rainy weekend. Steve and I were out in Milford and happened to see a Quaker Steak & Lube in passing. We hadn’t realized that the restaurant featured on Man vs. Food was a chain because usually the food challenges are in independently owned restaurants, but we were intrigued enough to stop in and give it a spin.

Fill up on "Best wings USA" - unless of course you are vegetarian

The front door handle

The chain originated in Sharon, PA in 1974 when two friends came up with the idea of preserving the culture of old gas stations by setting up a restaurant inside an abandoned one. The idea took off and the chain now boasts 38 locations throughout Ohio and Pennsylvania.

There's a lot to look at

Wheelie good decor

The auto racing theme is well executed here, but there isn’t a single vegetarian entrée on the vast menu. Instead, meat-free choices are relegated to a few side dishes (baked potato, steamed broccoli, mac & cheese), a side salad called “The Garage” and a couple of deep-fried appetizers.

The lobby of Quaker Steak & Lube

Lots of visual interest in the dining room

This racing stuff is lost on me, but it's nice to look at

In the spirit of investigation, I opted for the side salad and the Four-Wheeler appy consisting of mozzarella sticks, onion rings, soft pretzels and fried pickles. Even a die-hard grease monkey would have to admit that there’s a lot of fried food on the plate. The thick and crunchy onion rings were qualifiers but the other three limped along the shoulder on the rim and are best avoided, particularly the abysmal pretzels. Unless, that is, you happen to enjoy chewing rubber rather than peeling it.

The Quaker Steak bar

The Garage side salad

A clever use for radio antenna

Steve didn't have any better luck with his choice of Mustang Chicken sandwich, which he said didn't have much flavor, despite the BBQ sauce, smoked bacon and garlic-buttered buns. He was also disappointed in the fries, which were cold on the first lap and had to be sent back.

The Mustang chicken sandwich

On the day we visited, Quaker Steak & Lube was bustling with families and fans catching a Bengals game. Everyone seemed quite content with their choices and were enjoying themselves, and I think it's a fine place to go for drinks or to watch a game, but due to the lack of a bona fide meat-free option, I’m not going to be waving the checkered flag their way.

Forget chocolates or mints after dinner - here you get Twizzlers and hand towels

Quaker Steak & Lube on Urbanspoon