If I had to choose America’s greatest contribution to world cuisine, my vote would be meatloaf. Cheap, filling, and easy to make out of things on hand, there is something uniquely comforting and American about this dish. And although every family can have its own version, there is a pretty narrow band of possibilities before meatloaf ceases to be meatloaf. You can add celery (or not). You have options with cornflakes or breadcrumbs. And the ketchup glaze is not totally mandatory. But the range of options is not limitless. Get too fancy and it stops feeling like the real thing. If I wanted to pick a motto for Greyhound Tavern, that would be it: It doesn’t get too fancy, and it always feels like the real thing. You will also be pleased to know that they have a first-rate meatloaf. Rich and peppery, they finish the slices in the pan so it’s a little crisp on the edges, with a firm texture, a tart ketchup glaze, and a creamy gravy on mashed potatoes. If you like homestyle cooking, this is pretty close to perfection.
The restaurant has a rich history and owes its longevity to delivering consistently on crowd-pleasing food like this. Opened in 1921, it was known as the Dixie Tea Room, before changing its name to reference an early owner’s brother who trained greyhounds in Florida. Once upon a time, the streetcar line ended right next to Greyhound Tavern, offloading throngs of customers. Today, Dixie Highway is a bustling, four-lane road, but you can still take a load off inside or on the patio out back.
For 34 years, Greyhound Tavern was owned by Butch and Mary Ann Wainscott, who ran it with members of their family. In 2020, they sold the restaurant to the restaurant group One Holland. Luckily, this is not some out-of-town conglomerate; the owner, Gary Holland, is a longtime Tavern customer and a Northern Kentucky native. In an article in the Northern Kentucky Tribune, he struck just the right note of humility that one needs when inheriting an institution. “Following the Wainscotts in business is going to be a challenge,” he said, “but my team and I are up to it. I promised Butch and Mary Ann that I’m not going to mess this up.”
And, as far as I can tell, he hasn’t. Greyhound Tavern sticks with the classics and makes sure they’re all up to snuff. The fried chicken is pretty famous here. It takes a little extra time, but it’s worth it. Served piping hot, you will inevitably burn your fingers a little instead of waiting for it to cool down. The battering is lovely and thin, not the huge, oil-soaked chunky crust you find in fast food places. There’s just the right amount of salt and spice, and it’s still good the next day—the cold refrigerator test is my usual standard for really good fried chicken, and this one meets it.
The restaurant generally serves pretty straightforward food, but there is one classic dish that’s unique. As far as I can tell, they have the most massive onion rings in the universe. (“This is the size of a bagel!” my son exclaimed when they came out.) The menu says the onions are “specially selected.” The size is not just a curiosity, though. When onion rings are thin, you mainly just taste the fried batter and not the onion. Here, they are juicy, substantial, and sweet, leading to an ordinary dish that has become something genuinely amazing. You need about one to fill you up.
In the classics, that sense of balance is always there, from the mixture of smoky and sweet and spicy in the pimento cheese to the delicious bourbon slush, with its faint bite of ginger and tart citrus. Another lowkey highlight is the hot slaw. Served with huge chunks of pork jowl, a kind of super-size lardon, the cabbage is shredded fine and raw, and covered with a mixture of vinegar and the fat from the pork. The dish is filled with flavor, and balances freshness and richness, sour and sweet. The only side dish that was a slight disappointment was the cooked-to-mush green beans, but mixed with mashed potatoes and gravy, even these could be rescued. Still, when I pick fresh green beans out of the garden, I always regret the way this delicious vegetable is usually served.
The only missteps are when the restaurant goes too far outside its comfort zone. I was intrigued, for example, by the goetta eggrolls, something I’d never seen before. Unfortunately, the Thai sweet chili sauce (almost certainly from a bottle) drowned out the flavor of the meat, and the result wasn’t satisfying either as an eggroll or as goetta. A few other adventurous offerings are similarly disappointing. There was a pecan crusted chicken with a caramel Maker’s Mark sauce. This sounded fun, but it was syrupy sweet, and served on top of a sweet potato mash. I kept wanting some spice to balance the dish out, because otherwise it was just the single cloying note. If you are scanning the menu and you see an old homestyle favorite (say, fried chicken livers), then see something more unusual further down the page, my advice is to stick with the favorite.
Service here is friendly and accommodating, and little touches make you feel special, from the chilled glass for the beer to the beautiful live plants on the patio. Once upon a time, I imagine, there was a good restaurant serving down-home food like this in every neighborhood. In a landscape increasingly dominated by chains, though, we should treasure the tradition and comfort found in places like Greyhound Tavern. Long may it thrive.
Greyhound Tavern, 2500 Dixie Hwy., Ft. Mitchell, (859) 331-3767