Worth the Trip

 Worth the Trip

Colonial Cottage in Erlanger, Kentucky, specializes in food that tastes like homeJuli Hale Nestled among the fast food restaurants and retail stores, Colonial Cottage in Erlanger, Kentucky, offers a respite for those wanting to slow down and eat a home-cooked meal they don’t have to cook themselves.

Its oil lamp-style lighting fixtures and folksy décor provide a backdrop for the slower pace one expects when they visit a cottage, but it is the food that makes visitors become regulars and compels Ohioans to cross the river to Kentucky.

Unlike chain restaurants with a down-home, country theme, Colonial Cottage, which first opened in 1933, serves up the real thing. Most of the recipes are decades old, handed down from the restaurant’s two previous owners.

Patrons can fill up on freshly made comfort food like goetta and eggs, breaded pork chops, country ham, catfish and the fried chicken, which is routinely ranked among the best in the state by food magazines and blogs. Not a small feat in the home of Colonel Sanders!

“Simple home-cooked food is my signature. But you have to be attentive to other dining trends and habits,” says owner Matt Grimes who purchased the restaurant in 1999. “We keep the most popular dishes and give most popular dishes competition for menu space. Every year we create something noteworthy. I have to do something exemplary to capture the attention and keep myself fresh.”

So, while patrons can depend on the favorites to be on the menu season after season, Grimes reviews the menu quarterly and adds new items regularly including lighter fare and gluten-free options. He looks at trending food topics when deciding on which new meals to include but strives to stay true to the spirit of the menu. That can mean updating a classic—like adding inches of meringue to the already famous cream pies, which are available whole or by the slice—or developing a brand-new recipe.

“I wanted our pies to have head-turning quotient, so we now have 6 inches of meringue. My chef thought I was crazy, but when our cream pies go through the room, you’re going to turn your head,” he says.

The latest to make the cut are goetta nachos, which were selected to represent Kentucky in The 50 States of Nachos by Food Network. (The Blue Cheese Potato Chip Nachos at Cap City Fine Diner and Bar earned the honor for Ohio.)

This wasn’t the restaurant’s first taste of fame. The depression-era country kitchen earned national attention back in 2005 when it was featured on the Travel Channel’s Taste of America, which still brings in visitors from across the country. Additionally, the restaurant is featured in the book Counter Culture: The American Coffee Shop Waitress. Locally, it is featured in Behringer-Crawford Museum’s “Gourmet Dixie” exhibit.

“We are real home-cooking replacement. We do very little that you can’t do for yourself at home. We’re nothing fancy but we convince people what real food is supposed to be,” says Grimes. “We’re not just about food. We are also about people. You have to pass a bunch of restaurants to get here. It’s my job to make sure you think it’s worth it to stop here.”