Diner: Going Home Again

Donna's Diner offers an eclectic menu of comfort food

Located at the epicenter of Covington's restaurant scene, across from Scalea's, Donna's Diner occupies an underserved segment in Cincinnati's restaurant scene — the small, neighborhood restaurant/watering hole, dishing out good food at good prices.

Run by a local company, the Queen City Restaurant Group, which also owns Teller's, Scalea's, Watson Bros. Bistro and Brewery and Bella, Donna's offers hearty, comfort food in a casual yet chic setting. Ben Castle, general manager at both Donna's and Scalea's, says the focus at Donna's is on home-style cooking. Named in memory of the owner's mother, the restaurant has an eclectic menu that's a fond throwback to long-ago boyhood meals in Kansas.

We started out with two appetizers, the Hot Spinach and Artichoke Dip, served with tortilla chips ($6), and the Chicken and Cheese Quesadilla ($7), stuffed with Sriracha sour cream (Sriracha is a spicy Vietnamese hot sauce), onion and jalapeno and topped with barbecue sauce, tomato salsa and guacamole. The Spinach and Artichoke Dip was tasty and fresh — way better than most. I didn't care for the Quesadilla as much. The menu description conjured up an amply stuffed item, but there wasn't really much inside. The filling was ground up and a bit rubbery, with a bitter aftertaste, and the strongly flavored barbecue sauce was overwhelming.

Donna's Daily Dishes are the heart of the menu.

At only $11, served with two side dishes, these home-style favorites are a bargain. My companion ordered the Friday special, Uncle Mo's Breaded Catfish. The catfish was tender and tasty but a bit greasy. I ordered the Blackened Chicken Pasta ($12), with linguine, tomato and scallions in an Alfredo cream sauce. Although the chicken pieces were moist with a nice blackened flavor, the sauce was more tomato and olive oil than Alfredo cream. I enjoyed it nonetheless.

The side dishes were interesting, varied and inexpensive. The Sour Cream and Onion Mashed Potatoes ($2) were light and fluffy, and the Sautéed Mushrooms ($1.50) were tasty. However, the highlight was Sweet Potatoes with Spiced Pecans ($2): This chunky puree of sweet potatoes garnished with pecans disappeared quickly.

Desserts were excellent. Although already pretty full, we pushed on to order the Apple Pie a la Mode ($6) and the Banana Cream Pie ($5) — both made on the premises and served as individual mini-pies. The Apple Pie was full of tasty, very fresh apples, in a light cinnamon accented sauce, served warm with a dollop of vanilla ice cream. The Banana Cream Pie was even better. In all my adult years, I have never had a Banana Cream Pie that matched my mom's. She would make her own crust then layer freshly cut bananas in, topped with a custard and homemade whipped cream. Mom, I'll try to break it to you gently: You now have serious competition. Donna's Banana Cream Pie is world-class, and I am betting that the Chocolate Cream Pie ($5) is just as good.

Also on the menu are burgers and sandwiches, ranging from $4-7. The brunch menu looks very appetizing. (How about stuffed strawberry French toast, Belgian waffles, country fried steak, a breakfast burrito, as well as eggs and omelets with more than 20 toppings, including chorizo and avocado?).

Part of Donna's appeal is that it is as much a neighborhood bar as a restaurant. Decorations inside are quirky, with vintage Cincinnati photographs matched up with eBay and flea market finds. A game room upstairs is decked out with pool tables, dartboards and a vintage shuffleboard table.

As you can imagine, reviewing restaurants I get to eat out a lot, but Donna's Diner has really stuck with me. I find myself talking it up a lot to friends, and am already planning my next visit. I'll go on a Monday so I can order the daily special of Chicken and Dumplings — saving room, of course, for that Banana Cream Pie that so reminds me of my mom's.

Who says you can't go home again?

Donna's Diner
Go: 315 Greenup St., Covington

Call: 859-581-5444

Hours: 11 a.m.-midnight Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Friday, 10 a.m.-1 a.m. Saturday-Sunday. Brunch available 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday-Sunday

Prices: Reasonable to Moderate

Payment: Major credit cards

Red Meat Alternatives: Numerous entrées, salads and sandwiches

Accessibility: Poor — front door has steps without ramp

Grade: A-

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