While not exactly classified as ‘fast food’ these establishments do offer the very best in one of those childhood comfort foods quickly. That is a terrific option when one needs a gentle pick-me-up for whatever reasons. Plus, they both offer outside, sidewalk cafe style seating options that are very relaxing when the weather cools down after a long, hot summer spell.
First up, Keystone Bar & Grill just across the Ohio River in Covington, KY and soon to be opening just down the street in the Hyde Park area of Cincinnati. Oh, I do hope they bring with them the half price Mac & Cheese offerings, named after different bands/singers,on Monday evenings and the outdoor seating option. They also offer half price quesdilla selections on Tuesday, but I do love, love, love macaroni and cheese and Keystone has so many varieties, including some fabulous specials, that I just don’t get tired of going back again and again. My favorite was the Goetta and Egg mac & cheese special that included goetta crumbles mixed into the sauce and the whole thing was topped with a fried egg! Talk about comforting, breakfast and dinner in one meal. I truly wish they would offer that one on the regular menu. The half price option is only available for dine in, not take home, but they do allow you to order more than one crock of creamy, bubbling goodness and take home the leftovers.
During this particular visit, I ordered my usual choices, Pink Floyd and Buffalo Springfield, and shared some of Debbie’s Keystone Chips, homemade, very thinly sliced and freshly fried potato chips. The chips come with a side of barbeque sauce for those wanting a little more flavor, but I prefer them plain. Many diners crumble up some chips to add a little crunchy saltiness to their mac & cheese crocks and the restaurant offers chips included in some concoctions, though those tend to become very soggy, very quickly so, if you prefer the crunch, ask for them on the side! Debbie is the perfect companion to share Keystone Chips with as she prefers the lighter colored chips and I love the darker brown, crunchier ones.
I like ordering the Buffalo Springfield bowl better when I order a second crock at the same time because I can only handle so much spicy hotness when I have something else to cool my mouth down with along side it. As one might imagine, the Buffalo in this recipe comes from the inclusion of the infamous Buffalo hot chicken pieces added in, kind of like having your hot wings without the messiness of having to pick them up. And they are hot! After three or four bites I end up with hiccups, telling me it is time to switch over to the non-hot option for a while to give my system time to adjust. Along with the chiken pieces and hot sauce, the dish is covered with the requisite bleu cheese crumbles, but no celery sticks to really cool it down. The melted bleu cheese just increases the creaminess of this dish perfectly.
My second ‘go-to’ crock is called Pink Floyd. I suspect this is because of the pinkish hue the carmelized red onions and bacon pieces lend to the overall appearance of the sauce. It is warm, comforting, tasty and has bacon! That makes it well worth a try. If none of the regular options appeal to you, just make up your own combination dish using as many or as few options as you wish from the following list: chili, mozzarella, chips, carmelized onion, bacon, blue cheese, tomato, basil, chicken, steak, spinach, jalapeno, mushrooms, black beans, roasted red peppers and sun dried tomatoes. Add in buffalo or barbeque sauce for a different taste sensation.
Childhood comfort food – Part Deux
The second place to find quick, comfort food variety is also across the river at Tom+Chee located at Newport on the Levee in Newport, KY. Tom+Chee started as a tent food option on Fountain Square in downtown Cincinnat and has grown to now include 2 dine in places as well, one in downtown Cincinnati and this location at the Levee. The premise and the name are based on the ultimate childhood meal, tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich, albeit increasing the options from the traditional options to a more adventurous palate.
As the blackboard menu indicates, the options change on a regular basis, though some of the favorite stand-bys, i.e. tomato soup and American grilled cheese, are always available. Diners can select from a soup or salad to start, add in the sandwich of your choice and then, the pièce de résistance, the newest offering of a grilled donut dessert! As I was joined by two friends in their Levee patio area for this evening meal, I have a number of food tasting experiences to share from the huge blackboard menu.
First up, diner 1 ordered a chunky tomato and basil soup to accompany a Caprese Salad combo with a Flying Pig sandwich: roasted turkey, bacon, pickles and gouda on sourdough. The soup was a very kicked up version of a spicy tomato soup, with chunks of actual tomato… whoever heard of that when we were kids? The salad was very pretty, but it is fresh tomato season in this area, so it was disappointing to find those flat tasting generic store bought slices that lacked both color and flavor. That was the only disappointment of this meal however.
Diner 2 opted for a grilled cheese sandwich and dessert, ordering a full size Flying Pig sandwich. Truly, what is not better than adding bacon to anything, especially grilled cheese? The dessert selected from the grilled donut menu was the Bananarama, with smoked gouda cheese and banana slices grilled between two halves of a Krispy Kreme donut. Soft, warm, mushy, sweet goodness with a buttery grilled crust! Yes, it was that good.
Saving the best for last, my own choice was to try one of the daily specials. I figure the specials at any restaurant are the sort of inspriation of the day created on the spur of the moment by someone who loves food and just wants to try out a new, different idea or concoction simply because it sounded good to them, that speaks to my ideals of food being a creative outlet for me, personally. Thus I opted for the Smoky Mac, sans barbeque sauce: bacon, mac & cheese, gouda, red onion on sourdough. Yes, it sounds much like my selection at the previous establishment, but was truly a whole new taste concoction. Macaroni and cheese in a sandwich? Yes, it works by making the cheesy goodness thicker, plumper, more satisfying. For dessert, how could I go wrong with the Blueberry Blue? Oh wow, how can I even begin to describe this sandwich? The donut, a plain, sugary Krispy Kreme raised glazed donut is sliced in half, then the outer sides are filled with a blueberry compote,blue cheese and lemon marscopone filling. Then the inner sides of the donut is grilled to buttery perfection, resulting in a crisp shell filled with ooey gooey goodness. The addition of the lemon and blue cheese helped to stem what would have been overwhelming sweetness and I loved it through the very last bite, though I did have to eat it with a knife and fork.
The current specials at Tom+Chee includes half price donut and cheese desserts for half price on Wednesdays and, with the as cheap or cheaper than fast food pricing on the soups and sandwiches, makes this a fantastic, low cost dining option. Try something unexpected today!