There are four new and noteworthy places to fuel up this month, whether your fuel of choice is caffeine, sugar or joie de vivre.
French Crust Café and Holtman’s Donuts are two much-anticipated newly opened Vine Street destinations downtown and are definitely worth a special trip.
French Crust Café (915 Vine St., Downtown, facebook.com/frenchcrustcafe) is a cozy, distinctly French eatery by two famous local Frenchmen: Chef Jean-Robert de Cavel and his friend, pastry chef and chocolatier Jean-Philippe Solnom. (Solnom was one of the original pastry chefs at Greenup Café, an early Jean-Robert venture in Covington, Ky.) The French Crust Café space formerly housed restaurants Mayberry and then Burnell’s — both noble efforts that tried hard to succeed in an easily overlooked location. It’s good that French Crust Café has high-visibility talent attached to it — maybe that’s what this little spot needs.
We focused on the savory instead of the sweet during our visit. I had the Croque Monsieur, a battered and grilled ham and Swiss cheese sandwich topped with a fried egg; simple, yes, but surprisingly easy to screw up by using crumbling bread, tough or bland chip-chopped ham or tasteless cheese. Not at French Crust Café. It was perfect, with the flavor of Paris in every bite. The hollandaise on my friend’s eggs Benedict rated several delighted “yums,” and the Pain Perdu, made from a fresh croissant, was lighter than you’d expect — airy and delicious. We didn’t bother to order cappuccinos; the simple, brewed coffee was très bien.
Just two blocks from Jean-Robert’s Table, French Crust Café is open from 7 a.m.-4 p.m.
Monday-Friday for coffee and pastries; breakfast is served 8 a.m.-10:30 a.m. with lunch from 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
Eating donuts with wild abandon is not something I can do. If I’m going to commit a caloric crime, the reward had better be worth it. At Holtman’s Donuts (1332 C-2 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, holtmansdonutshop.com), it is.
This is the third location for the family-owned operation and there was a lot of buzz surrounding the shop before it opened. When I had a chance to try one of their glazed donuts on Fountain Square last year, I wasn’t wowed. But, mind you, I had early Krispy Kreme experiences, prior to the brand’s mass-production, when Krispy Kremes were like the sugary kisses of baby angels — hard to compete with that memory of perfection, but at Holtman’s, they come close.
The bakery is clean and welcoming, with a good view of smiling bakers behind spotless glass windows, and the scent of yeasty, sugary goodness wafting through the air. I tried the seasonal pumpkin cake donut with cream cheese frosting and it went straight into my “Best Bites of 2013” file. The pumpkin flavor was mild and delicate, not overwhelmed by cinnamon and nutmeg, and the frosting was rich rather than sweet. This pastry was worth every calorie.
The chocolate frosted cream-filled Long John was too sweet for my taste, but I did like the apple fritter — it’s almost knife-and-fork worthy. The cheese crown pastry has a higher cinnamon-to-cheese ratio than Graeter’s — my ideal and longtime favorite — but is still nicely done, with flaky pastry and just-right icing. Holtman’s, which definitely merits their (sugar) buzz, is open 7 a.m.- 9 p.m. Monday-Saturday.
If you need a caffeine fix instead of a sugar one, there are a couple notable new coffee shops across the river in Covington, Ky., and Newport, Ky.
Left Bank Coffeehouse (701 Greenup St., Covington, Ky., leftbankcoffeehouse.com) is adorable. Run by Jackie Sloane, who teaches mosaic tile across the street at the Baker Hunt Art and Cultural Center, the shop spotlights her work as well as some darn good cups of Deeper Roots coffee, soups from Myra’s Dionysus and pastries from Savor. Left Bank Coffeehouse is open 7 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday and 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday-Sunday.
If you need a pit stop while thrifting at the St. Vinnie’s on Monmouth Street in Newport, Ky., Carabello Coffee (107 E. Ninth St., Newport, Ky., carabellocoffee.com) is right across the street. Their coffee is roasted on-site. They also carry locally made popsicles and pastries by Haven Bakery. I shared the Apple Pie Baby with my Chihuahua and you could say we both wagged our tails. Coffee beans are available by the pound, as well as Chemex filters and carafes for your home pour-over needs. Carabello Coffee is open 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday-Friday and 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Saturday.
CONTACT ANNE MITCHELL: firstname.lastname@example.org