Spending a couple nights in the Kentucky suburbs of Cincinnati, we wanted to find a place to have breakfast before we hit the road for our trip to the Great Smoky Mountains. We asked a young lady at our hotel where a good place for a good ol' down home breakfast could be found. She didn't even hesitate when she said, "Oh, you need to go to the Colonial Cottage." She gave us quick directions and we set out to find the place.
It turns out that the Colonial Cottage has a somewhat historic past. In the midst of the Great Depression, Erlanger - a small town about 10 miles south and west of downtown Cincinnati - was the center of tobacco trading with farmers bringing crops to a large warehouse there. Carla Rich saw an opportunity to serve food to the farmers who visited the city, as well as the local residents, many of whom worked in the tobacco warehouse. She opened the Colonial Cottage in 1933.
The original Colonial Cottage was a small structure along the road known as the Dixie Highway. Carla Rich served up delicious home-style breakfasts, lunch and dinner to travels heading to and coming from the South. There is a story that Elvis Presley supposedly dined in the restaurant when he was on his way back to his home in Tennessee after getting discharged from the U.S. Army.
Carla Rich ran the restaurant for 37 years before deciding it was time to sell the place. Verne and Bonnie Epperson lived in Dry Ridge, KY, about 25 miles south of Erlanger, and they had dined at the Colonial Cottage a few times. When they heard the place was for sale, the couple bought the place from Carla Rich.
The Epperson's continued Carla Rich's tradition of serving great comfort food at a reasonable price. As the demand grew, the Epperson's knew that they were bursting at the seams. In 1987, they built a new building about a block away from the original restaurant. The new location had double the amount of seating as the original building and business began to boom.
After 29 years, Verne and Bonnie Epperson hung up their aprons and sold the Colonial Cottage to Matt and Noelle Grimes, a young couple whose love of Kentucky history and Kentucky cooking ran deep. Noelle Grimes grew up in the area and knew about the historical and culinary significance of the Colonial Cottage. The Grimes' added a catering department, they re-configured the floor plan of the restaurant, and added a banquet room for gatherings. In 2006, the Grimes made the Colonial Cottage one of the first smoke-free restaurants in Kentucky, something that many people said would cause the restaurant's demise in a tobacco growing state. But they found that their business actually got better after the ban. About the only thing they didn't change was the philosophy of great home-style cooking with a good value that Carla Rich started over 80 years ago.
We pulled into Colonial Cottage around 8:30 a.m. It's located on Dixie Highway in front of a Kroger grocery store. (see map) We parked off to the side on sort of a hill that felt a little strange to get out of the car on a slope.
The inside of the restaurant was pleasant, well-lit and comfortable. We were guided to a corner booth by a hostess and given a couple of menus. The menu encompassed the whole variety of food served at the Colonial Cottage from southern-style entrees - fried chicken (which the Colonial Cottage is famous for), country fried steak, baked ham, and pan-fried chicken livers - to down-home specialties such as open faced beef or turkey sandwiches, center-cut pork chops and, of course, a Hot Brown, a Kentucky staple consisting of sliced ham and turkey, with tomatoes and bacon served on toast then covered with melted cheese sauce. They also feature burgers, sandwiches, soups and salads at the Colonial Cottage, and I understand their house-made cream pies are to die for.
But we were there for the breakfast and the breakfast page was the last one on the menu. One of the things that caught my eye was something called Goetta that they served at the Colonial Cottage. Pronounced "get-uh", Goetta is a German dish that is found primarily around the Cincinnati area. It was brought to the Cincinnati area by German settlers in the 1800's and consists of a mixture of ground pork and ground beef (people in and around Cincinnati will bicker at the exact ratio of beef to pork) with pin oats, herbs, spices and sometimes onions. It was originally a peasant dish designed to make meat go a long way in the old country. They sell tons - literally - of Goetta annually at the Colonial Cottage. Pictured above is Matt Grimes holding a plate of Goetta. (Picture courtesy Northern Kentucky Tribune.)
No, I didn't try it, but it sounded interesting.
Frankly, I wasn't all that hungry from eating too late the night before so I was thinking about just getting a couple of eggs and some bacon and toast. Then I saw that they had French toast at the bottom of the menu. And they had half-orders of the French toast. Oh! And for a dollar more, they'd add fresh blueberries to the French toast! That's what I signed up for, along with a side of grits.
Cindy got something called the Bluegrass Special, named after the Bluegrass state of Kentucky, no doubt. It consisted two eggs any way (she got scrambled egg whites), hash browns topped with cheese, bacon (four strips!) and a couple of pancakes. Wow! That was a lot of food. She immediately gave me two pieces of her bacon.
The French toast consisted of four halves of battered and grilled bread topped with a generous amount of blueberries. The French toast was fluffy and had a good flavor. I was happy with what I got.
The grits, however, were a little too runny for my liking. I'm far from a grits connoisseur, but I know what I like and the gold standard for grits - for me - continues to be the restaurant in the Hilton DeSoto Hotel when we stayed there on our trip to Savannah, GA a few years ago. Those had a great taste with a firm body. The grits at the Colonial Cottage were not on that level.
Cindy was having trouble with even making a dent in her breakfast. She had a lot of egg whites on her plate - she wondered if they gave her three or even four scrambled egg-whites. The pile of real potato hash browns was huge and they put a lot of cheese on top, and the pancakes were bigger than dollar-sized pancakes you'd find at other restaurants. "I don't know what I was thinking," she said as she picked and nibbled at different items on her plate. "This is a lot of food." I took a couple bites of her pancakes to try them out. They were fine, not great, but fine.
While the food at the Colonial Cottage was basically good, I couldn't argue that the value of the meal was excellent. We got a lot of food for just under $17 bucks before taxes and tip. My wife wasn't able to finish all she had on her plate and looking back we probably could have split her breakfast and been happy at the end. The service at the Colonial Cottage was efficient and friendly, the environment was comfortable and the food was, well, good breakfast food. For being in business for over 80 years now, the Colonial Cafe is a good destination for home-style cooking - day or night - in the Northern Kentucky suburbs of Cincinnati.