There are few places, particularly in Northern Kentucky, where you can go and be transported to a 1940s/'50s Hollywood movie set complete with palm fronds, cabaret stage, ballroom and plush fan-backed booths perfect for hot kisses between Marilyn Monroe and Tony Curtis. Think the hilarious tango scene in Some Like It Hot and you'll know what kind of place I'm talking about.
While Mokka (18 E. Fifth St., Newport, 859-581-3700) is offset from the rest of The Syndicate and the ballroom available for weddings and private parties, it still retains The Syndicate flair. With retro half-circle diner booths in Good & Plenty colors, you can sit facing the restaurant and one of the many art deco mirrors and eat the most amazing French toast in town with class.
While the Sunday menu is merely a sampling of the much fuller weekday menu, it still contains Mokka favorites: Frittatas, the famous Mokka French Toast and other breakfast items that are served until 2 p.m., plus creative and tasty sandwiches ranging from The Islander with hot ham and Caribbean jerk mayo to the Smoked Salmon BLT.
My dining partner, who happens to really dig 1940s Hollywood and everything about it, was in such a state of ecstasy at Mokka that he ordered goetta — something he only does once a year, he confessed. Mokka's Goetta Avalanche ($7) is an unusual combination of goetta, eggs, cheese, European greens and French dressing on an open-faced English muffin. While my partner wasn't crazy about the pairing of goetta with French dressing, he was happy with the consistency of the goetta, except for the fact that it was a bit "undercooked."
Meanwhile, I shamelessly dove into the Mokka French Toast (cheap ecstasy at a mere $4 a la carte). This original batter of corn flakes, topped with cr#232;me brülée pastry cream (no burnt cream here, just flour-based egg custard) is sweetened ever so softly.
No French toast I've ever had can compare to it. While the bananas that top it are completely unnecessary, the dense, velvety cr#232;me patisserie is. Heavenly.
Because Frittatas are half the menu ($7), I ordered one. I was able to easily substitute mushrooms for tomatoes, and the delicate open-faced omelet was loaded with super-fresh vegetables. Mokka doesn't skimp like some places do.
I have to say that the best part of lunch was after we paid and toured the darkened Syndicate. We wound our way past the neon pink, white and black swirl of the 1930 Art deco bar and into the grand ballroom where we sat on the plush, tall, fan-backed booth and kissed in the dark. Then we slow-danced on the dark dance floor, next to a table still covered with cake debris from last night's wedding. Pretty romantic, I have to say, for a place that was once a gangster theme club. The best part was that we were completely alone, and the place was as empty and dark as a movie set.
It was one of those rare moments when you get to be a tourist in your own city.