Photo: Hailey BollingerIt’s official: I now have Fort Thomas envy. I’ve heard that it’s a pleasant community to live in, especially for those raising children. But now that Colonel De Stewart has opened a marvelous little restaurant near the headquarters of his Gourmet Herbs & Spices chain of shops, I’m really wishing my home was over there, too. I would become one of their regulars.
Colonel’s Kitchen offers breakfast and lunch six days a week, with brunch specials on Sunday. While it’s not any kind of fancy, both the layout and décor make it feel homey and welcoming. Chalkboards tell you what’s to eat and the cooking is done behind a long counter, supplemented by ovens and prep space in a back room. A team of chefs/cooks also work on baked goods and extra dishes for their catering business that often fills the restaurant in the evenings with private events.
We happened to have lunch there on a Wednesday when the staff was making a variety of focaccia breads to sell at the Fort Thomas Farmers Market, held each Wednesday during the summer.
With creative takes on breakfast fare such as pancakes, French toast and egg dishes to sandwiches, salads, soups and biscuit concoctions, the place delivers what Stewart calls “fast-casual from scratch.” At the helm of a crew of cooks you’ll find Matt Buschle, former owner of Virgil’s in Bellevue, which closed in 2015. Most of the other employees had been working at Colonel De Gourmet Herbs & Spices when a storefront became available two doors down from the Fort Thomas location. “They’re the ones that talked us into doing this venture,” Stewart says of the decision he made with his wife to open the restaurant and catering business.
“They’re three of the best cooks that I’ve ever met,” he continues, praising his staff. “And Matt is a food artist who amazes me every day with what he comes up with.”
Photo: Hailey BollingerColonel’s Kitchen is a one-room operation with a high ceiling, a good design to accommodate the large chalkboards on the left wall as you enter. The section called “Plates” includes the breakfast treats, such as The Colonel (eggs, cheesy grits, biscuit and a choice of breakfast meat), Jam-Packed (housemade fennel-apple-butter French toast) and a vegetarian frittata with tomato jam and Swiss cheese. Everything is priced attractively considering the quality and generous portions, with breakfast plates ranging from $7.50-$9.
My friend Susan selected The Colonel with scrambled eggs and bacon — all good, she said, but her favorite thing on the plate was local apple butter from the Fort Thomas Farmers Market. I had a couple bites of the cheesy grits and don’t see how apple butter could top that, but to each her own.
Next to the cash register is a smaller chalkboard that lists the day’s sides; almost everything comes with one. They’re all housemade and change frequently. On our visit you could get cheesy grits, cucumber or potato salad, a fruit cup, or any one of several roasted veggies. (Stewart said all the vegetables are roasted, never fried; in fact, nothing they make is fried.) Both Susan and our other friend, Patty, chose roasted Brussels sprouts as a side, and pronounced them perfectly cooked — not mushy and not tough.
Patty and I both selected from the four sandwiches offered that day, all served on a toasted, house-baked bun, although sliced bread was an option, too. Hers was called Turkey in the Straw: roasted turkey, greens, Swiss cheese and ancho mayo ($8). My sandwich was called Not Your Mama’s Veggie Burger, made from roasted falafel and red pepper and topped with arugula and harissa cream ($7). Veggie burgers can be mushy and bland, but this one not only was flavorful but also had a nice crusty crunch to complement the creamy center.
Photo: Hailey BollingerAs a side, I got a helping of one of the three salads on that day’s menu. The mixture of shaved fennel, sliced apple, a little blue cheese and citrus vinaigrette made a delicious salad. Patty also got a cup of curry cauliflower bisque ($4), which had a thinner consistency than you’d expect from bisque, with chunks of potato and a lively curry spice.
We had soft drinks and iced tea and I noticed a container of eco-friendly paper straws at the drinks station.
“We try to watch our footprint,” Stewart told me later. The offer biodegradable carry-out cartons, source local whenever they can and produce as little plastic waste as possible.
I liked the décor, which featured a wall of what appeared to be photos of Stewart’s family and friends. Other whimsical artwork was sprinkled here and there along with country-themed knick-knacks appropriate for a casual, home-cooking establishment.
Despite the obvious prowess of the cooking team with baked goods, dessert choices were minimal. They had a cheesecake, but Buschle told me it had been sitting there for days because they just don’t get too many requests for dessert. Then he mentioned that a colleague had baked banana bread pudding that morning, so we split an order of that.
We were surprised when a server brought what looked like a muffin on a small plate. It was bread, all right, but I couldn’t see how anyone would call it pudding. I went to the counter and asked Buschle if he had some kind of sauce or garnish to soften up the bread. He whipped up sweetened, flavored cream, which was the touch the dish needed, taking the dessert from strange to delectable.
On our way out the door, Buschle thanked me for pointing out the lapse. “That never should have gone out without sauce,” he said.
That parting remark encapsulated the spirit of a staff that takes its food very seriously and themselves not too much at all.
Hours: 7 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Tuesday-Friday; 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Sunday. Colonel De’s Kitchen, 22 N. Fort Thomas Ave., Fort Thomas, Ky., 859-215-0200; colonelde.com.