Finding one restaurant that can please my generally vegetarian tastes and my husband's hearty appetite is a rarity. Luckily, our quest for such a place took us to Blue Ash to a restaurant that satisfied us both: Through the Garden.
Don't expect to find Through the Garden in front of a mall or along a major retail strip. You'll have to hunt for it: through an industrial park and over the railroad tracks. But unlike the national chains or mall restaurants that try to appeal to everyone with a large variety and end up lacking quality, Through the Garden appeals to many tastes with fresh, homemade meals, friendly service and a homey, comfortable feel.
Open since December 1996, Through the Garden has thrived on word-of-mouth recommendations and a hungry lunch crowd from nearby businesses. Local owners/chefs John Kraemer and Bill Groth have created a comfortable establishment that maintains its regulars and continues to attract newcomers for both lunch and dinner, six days a week.
We visited the self-described American Bistro one recent weekday evening to find a dining room half-full with customers and a friendly staff. Our server greeted us with the list of the evening's specials, emphasizing that they would be made fresh. Without even glancing at the rest of the menu, I was tempted to order the Louisiana Barbecued Chicken ($14.99), a fresh chicken breast grilled with homemade barbecue sauce and served with black beans, rice and fresh vegetables because the description was so appealing. I opted instead to take a minute to review the other options to be certain I hadn't missed anything even more appetizing.
We asked our server about the Baked Goat Cheese ($5.99) appetizer, described as a blend of imported cheeses, baked in a tomato sauce and served with crisp garlic bread for dipping. She suggested that if we didn't like goat cheese we would be better off looking over other options, but in her opinion, it was a great starter. Taken by her honesty (even though we were uncertain if we liked goat cheese or not), we asked for an order and were pleasantly surprised. We used the hot, buttery garlic bread to dip into the rich goat cheese and chunky tomato sauce. Although a rich appetizer, it was very tasty. Combined with the fresh baked corn bread brought to every table, we were nearly full before we started.
Before our entrées, we sampled from the soup and salad selections. My Chicken Tortilla Soup ($1.75 cup/$2.50 bowl) could have made me happy just on its own. The thick broth-y soup was very flavorful -- chock full of corn, veggies and chicken, a touch of cumin, and topped with crisp strips of tortilla chips and sour cream. One of the best Tortilla Soups I've had. My husband's house salad also was notable: fresh iceberg lettuce and other crisp veggies, topped with a tasty homemade vinaigrette dressing.
Although I had been attracted to the evening's specials, I ordered my entrée from the regular menu: an Ultimate Stir Fry. Through the Garden calls their stir fries a specialty, making them to order: Szechwan, Jamaican, Cajun or Natural (olive oil, salt and a splash of wine) and with chicken ($11.50), beef ($11.99), shrimp ($12.99), or vegetarian style ($8.50). I opted for just the veggies, Cajun style, and ended up with far more than I could finish. Served atop a wild rice blend, the veggies were crisp and fresh: broccoli, celery, carrots, zucchini, and bean sprouts, tossed in a spicy Cajun sauce. It's the type of dinner I could eat every night if someone would prepare it for me.
My husband loved his Jamaican Mixed Grill Pasta ($13.99), a penne pasta topped with Chicken, shrimp, chorizo sausage and vegetables in a unique sweet, smoky and very tasty Caribbean glaze. He finished every bite (except for the few I managed to steal).
The homemade desserts were hard to pass up. We ordered the Amaretto Cheesecake ($3.25) and the homemade apple pie ($3.25), a la mode (an additional $.99). Our server was almost apologetic when she explained that my warmed apple pie might take a few moments: "We don't use a microwave, just the oven." Perfect, I thought. Both were worth the wait.
Through the Garden is a fresh, convenient solution to the "what's for dinner?" dilemma when dealing with many tastes. Well worth the drive and navigation through Blue Ash, Through the Garden offers a delicious, fresh menu in a comfortable, friendly atmosphere. ©
Through the Garden
Go: 10738 Kenwood Road, Blue Ash
Hours: MondayThursday 11 a.m.10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 11 a.m.11 p.m.; closed on Sunday.
Prices: Reasonable to moderate
Payment: Major credit cards
Vegetarian Friendliness: If you can't find something here, you're not looking!
Other Information: Carry out available. Live Jazz on Saturday evenings.