Who, in his or her right mind, would give up pizza for Lent? Booze, swearing — heck, I'd even forego chocolate before giving up the ultimate comfort food. Yet, every year, my husband dutifully sacrifices our weeknight supper staple for the Lenten season — which ultimately means I lose out as well.
So imagine my concern when we were assigned one of Cincinnati's dining spots better known for its delicious pizzas, smack dab in the middle of Lent. For more than a decade, Indigo Gourmet Casual Café has been a favorite of Tristaters on both sides of the river, particularly for its chewy, gourmet pizzas. Fortunately, pizzas make up only about a dozen or so of the 75-plus menu choices — and the few we sampled were equally delicious.
The high-profile location and outdoor patio of Indigo's Hyde Park spot make it a preferred alfresco dining choice for Cincinnati's East Siders. But for this visit, we traveled to its sister location in Fort Mitchell, just off Dixie Highway. The Fort Mitchell spot has a more relaxed feel than its Hyde Park sibling. Guests approach the historic-looking house from a brick walkway surrounded by shade trees: It feels like visiting a friend's house for supper.
There's outdoor dining, too, on a small, brick patio facing a Fort Mitchell neighborhood. There's also a larger bar, seating more than a dozen people. That makes the wait for a table much easier than in Hyde Park, where only three to four folks can linger at the bar.
We arrived early on a Sunday evening and were seated among other couples, families with young children, and a few tables of young twentysomethings. After a quick once-over of the menu, it's easy to see why the crowd is so diverse. The sheer number of food choices makes Indigo attractive to nearly every segment of the dining public.
Depsite the large number of menu items, folks shouldn't be overwhelmed. The menu simply uses a variety of ingredients in a variety of combinations to come up with meal choices in five categories: sandwiches, pastas, salads, pizzas and calzones. Diners can choose one of two routes: pick one of the combinations already outlined or "create-your-own" by choosing from the endless list of ingredients.
Appetizer choices are simpler, as the menu offers only five with an occasional seasonal special. We passed on our server's recommendation of the Indigo Idahos ($7.25), a pizza-style version of cheddar and bacon topped potatoes served with sour cream, although the heaping plate delivered to a nearby table looked great. Instead, my husband ordered the Cantina Dip ($6.35), a cheesy, con queso-style dip with spicy ground beef and black beans, served with tortilla chips. Though the dish had too much beef for my taste, my husband thought the combination had just enough spice and was a hearty starter.
For a salad, we split one of the evening's special selections: a Tomato Mozzarella and Balsamic Salad ($6.96). Always one of my favorite dishes, Indigo's version was nicely done with huge, beefsteak tomato slices, buffalo mozzarella and fresh chopped basil, drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. My husband did not hesitate to state that this dish was better than the one I prepare at our summer cookouts. (Thanks.)
Some of the regular salad selections are imaginative combinations. The Hyde Parker ($8.35), for example, consists of portobello mushrooms, sundried cranberries, feta and Creole Dijon dressing. Toppings for "create-your-own" combos range from the ordinary carrots, broccoli and onions, to gourmet options like smoked mozzarella, shiitake mushrooms and peppered turkey.
And then there are the pizzas. Gourmet varieties are tempting, such as Cuban Black Bean Pizza ($7.98 for 8-inch; $15.96 for 12-inch) with beans, salsa, cheddar, peppers and mozzarella with sour cream, or Sicilian Tapanade ($8.75/ $17.50) covered in deli meats and banana peppers and smothered in mozzarella. Added toppings ($.98 - $3.98 each) include the typical (mushrooms, extra mozzarella) to the unique (asparagus, walnuts, low fat Swiss.) Of course, we dutifully passed.
I found the calzone to be an acceptable alternative, giving me a taste of Indigo's delicious crust, filled with tasty stuffings. Pre-made choices are just as unique, including a Kentucky Hot Brown Calzone ($8.75) and "Down Home" Chicken Calzone ($7.98) that sounded like a hearty chicken potpie. I made my own vegetarian style with mushrooms, ricotta, broccoli and green onions. The ingredients were fresh (the broccoli was not at all soggy or frozen as I feared it might be) and the crust was chewy and flavorful. Since the dish was far more than I could eat at one sitting, the leftovers made a great snack later in the evening.
We were starting to get the picture of adding toppings and making choices by the time we got to the pasta dishes. Sauces are another option, and Indigo offers several — including Alfredo, tomato with fresh herbs, Cajun Cream and a Smoky Bacon cream — served over penne, linguine or spinach fettuccine. Overwhelmed by the choices, I suspect, my husband opted for a simple half-order of linguine Alfredo ($5.75), and was extremely pleased with the rich, buttery, creamy sauce. I used pieces of my calzone crust to soak up the delicious sauce when he wasn't looking.
We carried our dessert home (apple cheesecake, one of several selections from the Bonbonerie), too full to eat another morsel, and too tired to contemplate another choice. ©
Indigo Gourmet Casual Cafe
Go: 2053 Dixie Highway, Fort Mitchell, Ky.
Hours: Monday-Thursday 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Friday-Saturday 11 a.m.-midnight;
Sunday 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.
Payment: All major credit cards
Vegetarian Friendliness: Black bean burger, several veggie sandwiches, plus any salad
pasta, pizza or calzone can be customized with a variety of meatless toppings
Other: Carryout available at both locations.