My recent visit to the Greyhound Tavern in Fort Mitchell reminded me of a Chinese New Year I once experienced in New York.
It's a long story, but bear with me. When I lived in New York after college, I did my laundry in a Chinese Laundromat several blocks from my apartment. Hauling clothes to the Laundromat was a major, backbreaking hassle, so I would always let dirty clothes pile up until the last possible moment.
One Saturday I woke up early and loaded my laundry bags. When I got to the Laundromat, it was mobbed. People were squabbling over machines, laundry was piled everywhere and chaos was in the air. It turned out to be the weekend before the Chinese New Year, which I learned necessitates a complete housecleaning in which all household articles — clothes, towels, rugs, draperies, you name it — are washed to sweep away traces of bad luck.
Despite the crowd, I stuck it out. It took hours. I ran out of quarters.
I got outmaneuvered in the dryer line by a wizened Chinese grandmother. I felt completely disconnected; there I was, preoccupied with a basic goal of getting some clean socks to wear, while people all around me were immersed in a ritual of deep cultural and familial significance.
All this was running through my mind at the Greyhound Tavern on a recent Friday night. The place was absolutely jumping: The parking lot was jammed, there were people lined up shoulder to shoulder in the entrance and every table was occupied. I felt like I was trying to get into a hot restaurant in Los Angeles instead of a tavern in Fort Mitchell, Ky. I'd heard this place was good, but could it be that good?
One word: Lent. Being more of a heathen than a churchgoing type, I had no idea that we were in a period of religious abstention. There I was, just trying to get a little fried chicken, and I got caught up in a culinary/religious pilgrimage of grand proportions as the meat-avoiding faithful of Northern Kentucky flocked to the Greyhound Tavern for the restaurant's renowned fish dinners.
I'm happy to report, though, that it was well worth the jostling and the wait for our table. The food was good, the service friendly and efficient and the ambiance cozy and welcoming.
We started with the World Famous Onion Rings ($3.95, half portion). Very different from the grease-soaked rubber bands that one typically gets, these enormous rings were encased in a crunchy, homemade batter. I found them a bit plain, however, and much improved by a few shakes of salt. The Goetta-Kraut Cakes ($6.50), a blend of goetta, sauerkraut and onion, were moist and packed with flavor — kind of like a working-class, oniony, German version of crab cakes.
For my entrée, I had Fried Chicken ($13.95). A half chicken cut into pieces and cooked to order, it was moist, tender, delicious and definitely deserving of the hype that the Greyhound Tavern's fried chicken gets. From a long list of sides, I picked the tasty baked apple slices and a less successful asparagus casserole that was somewhat bitter and overcooked.
My companion, an expat Brit with a highly tuned appreciation for fish and chips, had the Fried Cod Sandwich ($7.95). He quickly pronounced it outstanding — fresh, moist and perfectly cooked. With Lent in full swing, the fish was flying out of the kitchen. The manager later told me they sold more than 500 Fried Cod sandwiches that night. That's a lot of fish-eating faithful.
Other menu items include a range of sandwiches, salads, seafood, steaks and specialties like Kentucky Hot Brown and Roast Beef.
There's a small dessert list, including a Peach Cobbler ($4.25), served hot with ice cream. This was dense, loaded with peach slices and definitely tasted homemade. Other desserts are tasty as well, but only the Peach Cobbler is made in-house.
Service was good overall. Our server was friendly and knowledgeable and I liked that she was not shy about naming her favorites. Our entrées did take a bit too long to come out, but given how busy the restaurant was, it could have been much worse.
I also enjoyed the crowd: Older couples dining together, young people on dates, families with infants and grandparents — it was a generational mix that you rarely see in the same venue. Ambiance is folksy and comfortable. The front two wood-paneled rooms are original, built when the Dixie Tea Room, which originally occupied the building, opened in 1921, serving ice cream and sandwiches during Prohibition.
The Greyhound Tavern has endured decades for a good reason: It serves dependable, non-flashy food to grateful patrons, many of whom are longtime regulars. If you haven't been, go to experience this bit of living culinary history. Just be ready for those crowds if you go during Lent. ©
Go: 2500 Dixie Hwy., Fort Mitchell
Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-11:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday.
Payment: Major credit cards
Red Meat Alternatives: Chicken, seafood, pasta, salads