For the better part of three decades, the Kroger grocery store at 2200 Brownsboro Road in Clifton has been known as “Dirty” Kroger. In the past, some used to even refer to it as “Kroghetto.”
And while a few folks in the neighborhood get offended by the name, it has nevertheless stuck. Heck, Dirty Kroger even has its own Facebook page where patrons of the store can check in and sound off.
“If they were to level the building and build a brand new state-of-the-art building,” wrote Andrew Iredale last year, “it would still be referred to as Dirty Kroger; that’s just the way it is.”
Or will it? After a remodel late last year that saw the Kroger in Clifton add a cheese shop, an expanded deli section, an expanded butcher and seafood counter, a build-your-own pizza station, an expansion of its hot foods such as fried chicken, a bigger produce section, a new wine and liquor store, a sushi bar and even an olive bar, well, now it’s up for debate whether the Dirty Kroger label will live on.
Truth is, it really isn’t dirty anymore, and hasn’t been for a while now. And it still will be the place people in the ’hood go when it snows to overindulge on bread and milk — just without the legendary imagined filth. I shop there regularly but hadn’t spent much time checking out the new amenities, so I decided to give it a whirl and see if this Dirty Kroger designation might be laid to rest for good.
As I mentioned already, the place has been cleaned up nicely. But is the food selection any good? Well, yeah, it kind of is. A couple of weeks back, I sampled some Irish cheddar cheese in the cheese shop, and a very friendly employee convinced me to buy a block (it was on sale). I’m now on my third block of the stuff.
And when I went back for my full investigation, the same employee was there and eager to help me find something else I liked. She talked me first into a small wedge of merlot cheddar (on sale), even as I asked her to help me find the smoked gouda dip by request from my girlfriend Cynthia. And the enthusiastic young woman darn near had me sold on buying some smoked ribs, which were smoked outside the store and on sale for $10.99.
Ah, but we had already decided on a picnic-style feast, so I grabbed a few hot wings, some fried chicken, chicken tenders, mashed potatoes, and macaroni and cheese (unfortunately, they were out of green beans). I also picked up a bit of mustard potato salad, and then hit the olive bar. There I got snack-size samples of Lombardo peppers and garlic and Ascolana olives with Peruvian chiles. And for final good measure, I added a Chef Sampler A from the sushi bar. All in all, I spent about $40.
I started with the sushi, which included four pieces of a fairly simple tuna, avocado and cucumber roll, six pieces of an unnamed roll that included tuna, avocado and cucumber inside, topped with a wasabi sauce, a semi-spicy chili sauce, roe, and small chunks of tuna and avocado. The sampler also came with two pieces of nigiri salmon and two pieces of nigiri tuna.
Now, in a sushi bar, this would cost in excess of $20, but at Kroger it was $11.99. Prepared on site by contract with a company called Advanced Fresh Concepts, the sushi was actually pretty good. The nigiri wasn’t as fresh or lively tasting as you’d get in a sushi bar, possibly because it had sat for a couple of hours, but the rolls were quite enjoyable. Honestly, my biggest complaint was that it was nearly impossible to keep the sauce from the specialty roll from spilling onto the nigiri.
But the presentation was appetizing, and the sushi comes packaged in a ready-to-serve plastic container. Well worth the money, especially if you’re on a time crunch or simply don’t feel like going out.
The chicken gets a check mark as well. Cynthia and I each had a fried breast that was meaty, perfectly cooked, fresh-tasting and coated with a crispy crust that was seasoned just enough. Rather impressive for just $2.69 each. Cynthia’s 10-year-old son Nikolai gave the tenders a “9” (presumably on a 10 scale), and while the hot wings weren’t exactly hot, they had a pleasant, tangy flavor and were quality poultry. I didn’t expect anything mouth-melting in the first place.
The mashed potatoes were actually more of the whipped variety and lacked seasoning — luckily, salt and pepper are easy adds, but I’d still rather have the Bob Evans brand. However, the baked mac and cheese was a hit with everyone, especially Nikolai, who passed on seconds of the chicken and opted for more of the mac. It was creamy yet firm and clearly made with real cheese. A nice score.
The potato salad was also quite good — easy on the mustard powder, with firm potato chunks, bits of egg and onions. I think it could have used a tad more paprika and possibly more pepper, but again, these are easy adds after the fact if so desired. Another thumbs up.
One of my favorite parts of this two-day feast was the Lombardo peppers and garlic blend. It was just spicy enough, with the big cloves taking on a consistency reminiscent of a cross between an artichoke heart and a Brazil nut. There was a light spice from the peppers, and even the garlic flavor wasn’t overpowering; I could eat this as a snack any time. The Ascolana olives with Peruvian chiles were a bit spicier, mixing the distinctive chile heat with a classic, clean green olive flavor. Perfect to add kick to a salad.
The smoked gouda dip was the ideal closer. Basically, it’s just thick shreds of gouda with a light smoke, turned into a dip with some mayo and onion. The aroma alone was enough to win me over, but when the smoke starts to provide the illusion of bacon on the palate to balance the deep gouda flavor, you realize you’ve won. And halfway through, I discovered a half-dollar-sized chunk of gouda that had somehow sneaked through the shredder — it was like discovering buried treasure.
Meanwhile, the deli now has a huge selection of Boar’s Head meats and cheeses, and you can get custom-cut steaks at the butcher shop. Bread? Lots of it. Citrus-glazed salmon? Yep, it’s right next to the Derby City Chicken Salad, Edamame Caviar and the Trail Slaw. You can now even buy draft beer by the growler in the liquor store.
So, all this said, will it still be called “Dirty Kroger”? Well, probably. But I’m going to do my best to start calling it the “Clifton Kroger.” I think after 30-plus years and this impressive new makeover, it’s time for a fresh start.