For decades, Rush Inn was well known for its house-made, Louisville-style chili, packed with plenty of beans, chunks of ground beef and spaghetti. It was something of a Clifton staple. But when new ownership took over the time-honored business at 1801 Mellwood Ave. this past summer, renaming the historic spot Mellwood Tavern and giving it a well-deserved facelift, no one knew for sure what food would come from the tiny kitchen.
Even co-owner Scott Crowder wasn’t 100 percent sure — until recently, that is. Crowder, who used to fry chicken for Chick Inn and later worked the kitchen at Dark Star Tavern, unveiled the new vittles at Mellwood this past week, and they are well worth checking out, especially if a late-night bite is something you seek.
First of all, yes, there is chili. It is not, however, the spaghetti-laced stuff your mom (and Jeff Guernsey, who owned Rush Inn) used to make; it’s Crowder’s own concoction, featuring a wide variety of ingredients, from corn to — get this — sliced up miniature party sausages.
Crowder said he fries the little smokies first, and as a result, his meaty chili ends up as an experience akin to eating a chili dog out of a bowl. There are a lot of textures going on in that chili, as well as a lot of flavors.
Other staples include the Tavern Tots, which are house-made, oversized tater tots that are fried crispy on the outside and then served topped with shredded cheddar and banana peppers. Or perhaps the gyro and fries is more your speed, featuring a pita sandwich with sliced lamb and beef blend, house-made tzatziki sauce, chopped red onions, feta and baby spinach. I got to take a peek at one as it left the kitchen — it is beastly, and promises to be delicious and hearty.
There’s also a hummus and pita plate, cream cheese poppers, mozzarella sticks and wings, either barbecue or traditional buffalo style — and everything is $10 or less.
My plan when I went in most recently was to get an order of wings, eat about half of them to whet my appetite, then get a gyro. Like so many of the best laid plans, I never made it to phase two — the buffalo wings were just too tasty.
In fact, another patron ordered the wings at the same time I did, and both orders came out simultaneously from the kitchen, which is smaller than most hotel bathrooms.
“What do you think of the wings?” the man asked me after I’d eaten my first two.
I nodded, and said, “They’re great.”
“My favorite thing here,” the man said, diving back in for another one.
Crowder does know how to fry chicken — the wings are medium- to large-sized, fried until the skin is crispy, and then shaken in the traditional blend of butter and Frank’s hot sauce, but with a bit of sweet chili sauce thrown in as well. They’re fairly basic, but that’s sort of the point; and I never got around to the gyro because once I started eating the wings, I couldn’t stop.
In case you’re wondering, the buffalo sauce has only moderate heat — it won’t scald anyone’s palate but will register with enough spice that can be labeled “medium.” Also, be sure to get the blue cheese, which is aggressive and pungent — not like the stuff some restaurants serve that comes across as ranch lying about being blue cheese.
Starting this week, specials will hit the menu as well. On Monday, it’s a cheeseburger and french fries for $10, and that comes with a cold can of Hudy Delight. On Tuesday, it’s blue plate special day, and the first one will feature meatloaf, greens and fried potatoes. Then comes Whiskey Wednesday, featuring $7 Angel’s Envy and Woodford.
Crowder said the blue plate will rotate with Southern-style favorites in the vein of meatloaf — comfort dishes like chicken and dumplings and beef stroganoff.
“Basically, stuff I learned to cook from my mom,” he said.
Meanwhile, he’s working on a new wing sauce that will employ hot sauce blended with chipotle pepper and pineapple reduction. One can only guess the wings will continue to evolve.
And one can also hope the blue plate will one day feature his famous fried chicken, which was always a hit at Dark Star Tavern.
“Fried chicken is my thing,” Crowder said with a smile.
Mellwood Tavern also will begin offering live music every Friday starting at 10 p.m., with Soul River Brown taking the stage this Friday, Nov. 18. The tavern is open 3 p.m.-4 a.m., Monday through Saturday.