You’ve got to be a special kind of crazy to open a restaurant, right? I’m not talking about buying a McFood franchise — that’s just a calculation based on traffic, overhead and profit margins. I’m sure it takes hard work, but it doesn’t look to me like it involves the kind of Don Quixote spirit I see in some of the little places — the ones that are off the mainstream radar.
For instance, take the recent snow day when everybody got a day off school for pretty much a couple inches of slush and some change. I walked my dog past Piper’s on the edge of Mainstrasse (520 W. Sixth St., Covington, 859-291-7287, piperscafe.biz), and saw the owner — also cook, menu developer, host, probably dishwasher, too — perched on a stool, waiting for customers. That man has to have faith. He has to have a deeper, more abiding faith than a preacher handling a deadly snake. He has to believe in himself and in his food and in his dream with so much passion that to him, that crappy grey day is barely a blip on the radar. The sun will come soon, hungry people will wander down to Goebel Park to hear the Pied Piper story, they’ll cross the street with their ravenous children and fill their bellies with his Hamelin Burgers or Bat Masterson Prairie Dogs, and go away so happy that they’ll tell all their friends. And their friends will stop for a breakfast sandwich during the monthly antique mart or a frozen treat on a warm summer night. And the crappy grey day of patient waiting won’t matter any more.
So let’s root for the little guy, okay? Here are a few more underappreciated gems that could use your love.
WhackBurger (715 Madison Ave., Covington, 859-360-3361, whackburger.com) — This is another Covington spot, right across the street from the Madison Theater, that’s easy to overlook.
They opened just about a year ago to little fanfare, but people who stop in are amply rewarded. Giant burgers and gonzo graphics hide the fact that there are actually some healthy choices offered. Try a beef, turkey or black bean veggie burger on a white or whole wheat bun and choose from multitudes of fresh toppings. And it’s definitely not overpriced. On Tuesdays, burgers are two for $10.
Myra’s Dionysus (121 Calhoun St., Clifton Heights, 513-961-1578, myrasrestaurant.com) and Floyd’s (127 Calhoun St., Clifton Heights, 513-221-2434, floydscincy.com) — These are the most underappreciated independent restaurants near the UC Campus and they’re treasures. For more than 30 years, they’ve been pleasing an eclectic crowd on Calhoun Street. Now that the chain restaurants are reaching the saturation point, can these two little indie neighbors — practically side by side — stay alive? Myra’s menu has gyros for carnivores, but a deep bench of soups, salads and main dishes for vegetarians and vegans, plus decadent desserts. Floyd’s has a full Lebanese menu and healthy carry-out options such as rotisserie chicken and a new green salad for spring, with spinach, asparagus and broccoli dressed with simple lemon juice, apple vinegar and olive oil.
Burnell’s (915 Vine St., Downtown, 513-345-7163, burnellscincy.com) — This itsy, bitsy downtown diner is easy to miss, tucked into a narrow space on Vine near Court Street. Chef/owner Nathan Jolley, a veteran of amazing eateries like the Precinct and Murphin Ridge Inn, has cut back his operating hours and is struggling to stay open but it’s not for lack of a creative menu of small and shared plates, with dishes like roasted Scottish salmon with wine braised beets, or cumin and garlic braised pork shoulder. And parents, make note: Jolley welcomes your little ones, and since his place is BYOB, it makes for a really nice affordable night out. Treat yourselves. Editor's Note: Jolley announced Wednesday the Burnell's is closing its doors, effective immediately. See the restaurant's Facebook page for ongoing updates about Jolley's future culinary ventures.
Happy Days Café (3642 Warsaw Ave., Price Hill, 513-921-3297) — OK, the name is corny. Really corny. But you’re not eating the name, right? Picture yourself waiting for breakfast, starving. Your plate arrives. The entire right hemisphere is filled with an enormous ham and cheese omelet and the entire left hemisphere is piled high with crispy home fries. You just forgave the corny name, right? Because this great little Mom & Pop diner deserves your love. Right across the street from the Price Hill Kroger, in the shadow of St. Lawrence Church.
Admittedly, this is a short list, and there are more than these six little spots that merit your dining dollars. Lots more! But if you’re looking for suggestions and want to break out of your routines, take the leap of faith and go independent. These entrepreneurs will love you for it.
CONTACT ANNE MITCHELL: firstname.lastname@example.org