Pergola (Review)

Fort Thomas spot combines atmosphere, casual fare and high-end dishes

As you round the bend on North Fort Thomas Avenue in the sleepy burg of Fort Thomas, Pergola Restaurant & Bakery looks like an oasis of sorts. The large outdoor patio calls to you with its umbrellas and Florida-style bar. It’s hard for anyone to pass up — as evidence by the number of discarded bicycles with strollers we recently saw near the entrance and the tables filled with families, couples and female sport teams sharing buckets of beer.

Prior to our outing at Pergola, I visited their Web site and found titillating phrases like “unique cuisine with a seasonally revolving menu” and “we strive to have relationships with local farmers who provide us with organic fresh fruits and vegetables to compliment our exciting food creations.”

Unfortunately, the Web site doesn’t exactly reflect the nature of the restaurant, which is a little schizophrenic, and I came with expectations I probably should have checked at the door. The restaurant’s split personality might best be seen in the setting itself. The outside patio reminded me of something you’d encounter on a Florida beach, very casual with servers in T-shirts and shorts and laminated one-page menus. The building the patio is attached to, however, is very German-looking on the exterior and the interior décor has a French bistro kind of feel.

The menu is family-friendly, with pizza and a kids menu, but other offerings sound more high-end, such as the Grilled Portobello Napoleon ($9) appetizer with heirloom tomatoes, herbed goat cheese and shallot straws and entrée choices like Prosciutto Chicken ($14) stuffed with fresh mozzarella, wrapped in prosciutto with pesto mashed potatoes and balsamic reduction, and the Cadillac Lamb ($17) roasted rack of lamb with cinnamon pear butter, oven roasted sweet potatoes and sautéed bok choy.

As our appetizers arrived, I fought the urge to have a sit-down with the owners in order to persuade them to focus on the affordable, casual part of their philosophy instead of the organic-haute mantra. Case in point: The Golden Corn and Chickpea Croquette ($7) appetizer I ordered was touted as being served over arugula with an heirloom tomato relish. It was actually served over spinach, which made me suspicious of the tomato relish’s heirloom status. But my bigger concern with the tomatoes was why a restaurant that talked the talk wasn’t walking the walk: Tomatoes in this area aren’t going to pop for another month.

In and of itself the croquette (from the French croquer, “to crunch”) was quite good. It was deep-fried and yet not in the least bit oily, which I was doubly pleased by since our server steered me away from the Eggplant Straws ($6), which she characterized as a little oily for her. While I missed the arugula, the tomato relish was fresh and the Parmesan crisp garnish was so tasty it should be added to the menu as a dish on its own. Husband didn’t fare as well with his appetizer choice: the BBQ Seared Ahi Tuna ($9), which was served with slices of watermelon and avocado and a mojito vinaigrette. His exact word was “pedestrian.” He felt sure it wasn’t sushi grade, and it was overcooked.

Our entrée selections were good, solid dishes if your expectations are for a casual, family-friendly dining experience. Our server was very sweet and accommodating about Husband’s food allergies. When he ordered the 6-ounce, bacon-wrapped Filet Mignon ($17) she substituted yucca fries for the bourbon boursin mashed potatoes and steam broccoli for the grilled asparagus. Husband wasn’t crazy about the yucca fries, but that just left more for me to steal off his plate. The steak, unfortunately, was overcooked. What was ordered as medium was served as medium-well.

We joked with the server about the name of my dish: the Pan Roasted Mahi ($14). Where was the other mahi? The fish was served over a bed of poblano-infused rice and topped with a peach-cherry chutney. The rice had just a little heat and the chutney made a good tart/sweet topping for the subtle flavor of a firm white fish.

Because the restaurant emphasizes the bakery side of its operation, we couldn’t leave without dessert. Our server hadn’t steered us wrong with her advice yet, so I followed it again and had a slice of the chocolate pie ($5). The plate was prettily decorated with a strawberry slice, blueberries and drizzled chocolate. The pie was homemade, not sculpted like desserts from a pastry chef. This was a baker through and through, and for my money, that’s who you want baking your pie. Mine consisted of four layers, a pecan nut crust, a layer of a sour cream-type of filling, a chocolate pudding-like layer and a whipped cream layer.

Pergola’s seems to be comfortable in the neighborhood, and in time I think the restaurant will grow more comfortable with itself.

Go: 15 N. Fort Thomas Ave., Fort Thomas
Call: 859-442-5555
Bakery Hours: 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday - Friday; 8 a.m. - 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Restaurant Hours: Lunch 11 a.m. - 2 p.m. Monday - Saturday; Brunch 11 a.m. - 2 p.m. Sunday; Dinner starts at 5 p.m. Monday - Saturday and ends when it ends (usually around midnight).
Entree Prices: $14 - $17
Payment: All major credit cards
Red Meat Alternatives: Salads, chicken, seafood, pizza
Accessibility: Accessible, interior steps

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