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Blend (Review)

Family-owned Covington cafe serves up paninis and community spirit

By Garin Pirnia · August 20th, 2014 · Diner
eats_blend_jf1Blend - Photo: Jesse Fox
In the past couple of years, the storefront at 14 E. Fifth St. in Covington has been a pizza place (Pizza Bomba), a gourmet sandwich shop (Wolf & Co. Bistro) and, now, a daytime café flanked by a strip club and a laundromat — not exactly a location that screams gourmet paninis and iced lattes. But owners Bobby Kimball, the former executive chef at Embassy Suites RiverCenter, and wife Stephanie are making the cloistered location work for them, using the shop as a means to bring Covingtonians together. 

Blend opened in March and serves coffee drinks and sandwiches during the morning and afternoon, but in the fall they’ll be open until 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. On a recent weekday lunch-hour, the place was practically empty, except for three patrons. The eatery holds about 30 seats, with seven wooden tables, an armchair and a couch. The sunny lunchroom is filled with local artwork and photographs of The Cov and other subjects hanging above eggplant-hued wainscoting on gray walls. Fresh flowers from the farmers market sit inside painted Hartzler milk jugs, and coffee beans surround candles in glass votives on the tables. 

With a magazine rack, a couch, books, a mini-chess set and board games for customers, the lounge area permeates coziness. The coffee shop casts such a laid-back ambiance that on this particular visit, two women sat at a table painting their fingernails while drinking iced lattes. The act struck me as odd, and the smell of formaldehyde irritated me while I ate my veggie panini. Besides that aberration, the food and service were good. 

Blend offers a few different sandwiches, paninis, breakfast sandwiches (like their Blend Egga-Muffin), homemade muffins and popovers, smoothies, sides and drinks.

Breakfast is served all day, $5.50 for each sandwich, but the best way to try a lot for an affordable price is the $10 lunch deal: a sandwich or panini, a side like hummus or soup (vegetarian French onion or soup du jour) and a choice of Harney & Sons brewed iced tea, homemade lemonade or coffee. (À la carte sandwiches and paninis are $7.)

Options include a turkey club (with house-smoked meat), grilled cheese and a cheesesteak panini. Locally made bread comes from Virgil’s Cafe in Bellevue. And every day Blend creates different made-from-scratch specials, such as a fried green tomato sandwich or tacos — they try to keep it interesting. 

I went with the veggie panini (zucchini, spinach, tomatoes, carrots, squash, onions and mushrooms marinated in balsamic vinegar and pressed between thin slices of bread), a quinoa salad (red quinoa placed atop a bed of spinach; shaved zucchini, squash and cucumbers were rolled on the side) and an iced tea. 

The panini, which came with a smattering of potato chips and white cheddar popcorn, was crisp and appetizing but could’ve used more veggies. The quinoa looked pretty, but the citrus vinaigrette drizzle was so subtle I could barely taste it. It was served inside a plastic container, which made getting it to-go easier, but I would’ve preferred it in more environmentally friendly packaging. 

My lunch companion also got the lunch special, but he ordered the ham and cheese panini (layered with ham, Swiss cheese and sweet onion marmalade). Supposedly, it came with dijonnaise, but my guest complained it needed more mustard. He got a side of the soup du jour, a piping hot squash and chicken soup, which he thought was Blend’s best dish. 

Everything is made to order, so it took a while to get the food. If you’re in a hurry, dining-in isn’t the best option, but they do carry out and bike delivery within the confines of downtown Covington. The food is a big part of their business, but the coffee is also important, and they source their beans from Seven Hills Coffee in Blue Ash. They have the standard selection of coffee drinks: regular coffee ($1.75), iced lattes (starting at $3.30) and various other hot drinks — no cold brew, though. 

Blend is a nice place to pop in and grab a cup of joe and a breakfast sandwich on the way to work, or to have a leisurely lunch instead of visiting Keystone for mac and cheese or Molly Malone’s for lunchtime fish and chips. It’s more expensive than eating at a sandwich shop like Subway, but eating at Blend also aides the growth of The Cov, which is witnessing a resurrection of new and improved dining options.

Blend and 11 other Covington businesses have been granted a local-artist-designed storefront sign through the Covington CoSign project. The sign will be unveiled at the end of September at the Art Off Pike event, helping make Blend more visible to customers. 

Go: 14 E. Fifth St., Covington, Ky.; 

Call: 859-431-2563; 

Internet: facebook.com/blendcoffeefoodlife

Hours: 7 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Friday; 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday.



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