Covington’s Madison Avenue Showcases Dining and Drinking Delights

CityBeat dining critic Pama Mitchell explores the neighborhood’s culinary charm.

click to enlarge Ripple Wine Bar - PHOTO: HAILEY BOLLINGER
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Ripple Wine Bar

Relentless winter weather coupled with the Omicron surge didn’t keep me from dining out during these past few months, but I did find myself frequenting the same two or three nearby restaurants. Restless, I finally decided in late January that it was time to widen my horizons and explore new neighborhoods.

My first inspiration came after friends from Indiana and Kentucky suggested we meet at Coppin’s Restaurant & Bar in Hotel Covington (638 Madison Ave., hotelcovington.com). I hadn’t eaten there since before the onslaught of COVID-19 and agreed to make it a Saturday night destination. We lingered for a couple of hours in a half-empty dining room — the bar and lounge areas were much livelier — and had a lot of fun the evening the Cincinnati Bengals advanced to the AFC Championship game.

We walked Madison Avenue and the nearby streets and noticed that Hotel Covington wasn’t the only interesting place to hang out in the area. A week or so later, I went back for a closer look at what the neighborhood has to offer for hungry, or thirsty, folks.
click to enlarge Coppin's Restaurant & Bar at Hotel Covington - PHOTO: HAILEY BOLLIGER
Photo: Hailey Bolliger
Coppin's Restaurant & Bar at Hotel Covington

When it opened in 2016, the hotel jump-started a renaissance in the heart of Covington’s business district. This year, the hotel’s ownership announced an expansion into an adjacent building. Coppin’s, the hotel’s restaurant and lounge named after the department store that occupied the address a century ago, offers an expansive gathering place for breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner.

Although the stunning courtyard wasn’t an option on a winter night, it’s one of the nicest spaces there. Throughout the year, the lounge area boasts comfy easy chairs and sofas along with traditional tables and bar stools. Coppin’s is adjacent to the hotel lobby and a unique gift shop that carries an array of local and regional products, including craft bourbons and a few creations by Donna Salyers’ Fabulous Furs.

Across Madison Avenue is the original Agave & Rye (635 Madison Ave., agaveandrye.com), a taqueria open since 2018. My goodness, what a success story that operation has become in a short time, with 10 locations in five states and counting.
click to enlarge Agave & Rye tacos - PHOTO: HAILEY BOLLINGER
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Agave & Rye tacos

Their Rookwood branch is much larger, has more parking and probably does many  times the business as this Covington location, but I prefer the cozy feel over here. The trademark bold décor works best for me in this one-room, corner spot. It’s a great place to relax while eating giant tacos, many of them served with a soft tortilla wrapped around a crispy one.

And for those looking for drinking establishments, the Madison Avenue corridor has plenty to offer, including Braxton Brewing Company’s flagship location (27 W. Seventh St., braxtonbrewing.com). As a nod to the ongoing COVID-19 concerns, they have installed several igloos on the rooftop where up to eight people can enjoy the heated space, booked in two-hour increments.

The taproom menu features an array of the brewery’s offerings, from easy-drinking lagers and shandies to hearty porters and a one-of-a-kind collaboration with a famous Cincinnati company: Graeter’s Black Raspberry Chocolate Chip Milk Stout.

click to enlarge Braxton Brewing Co. - PHOTO: PATTY SALAS
Photo: Patty Salas
Braxton Brewing Co.

On Pike Street, just a hop, skip and jump from Braxton, is a new location for Bircus Brewing (39 W. Pike St., bircus.com), which bills itself as “a circus inspired microbrewery with wood-fired pizza.” But look into that during the evenings, as North South Baking Company (northsouthbaking.com) sells a variety of pastries from the Bircus storefront on many mornings.

This is Kentucky, so you won’t have to walk far if you’re in a bourbon mood. The bars at Coppin’s and Agave & Rye are well stocked with Kentucky’s signature spirit, but you can also head a block north on Madison to the neighborhood’s preeminent cocktail lounge, The Hannaford (619 Madison Ave., thehannaford.com). Housed in yet another 100-year-old building, this slick watering hole is named after the building’s architect, Samuel Hannaford, world-renowned for his design of Cincinnati’s Music Hall and City Hall.

The Hannaford’s list of bourbon pours is impressive, but for me, the fun of the place rests with its clever takes on classic cocktails. The current list includes sours, a Tom Collins, an old fashioned, margaritas, fizzes and so on, but almost all of them do something a little different from the standard recipes without taking me completely out of the tried-and-true. For instance, the “Ginberry Fizz” adds blackberry, orange and sparkling wine to the basic gin and lime.

click to enlarge Ripple Wine Bar - PHOTO: HAILEY BOLLINGER
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Ripple Wine Bar

My favorite spot in the neighborhood, though, is Ripple Wine Bar (4 W. Pike St., ripplewinebar.com), which opened less than a year before the pandemic struck. I fell instantly in love with this narrow space that has a bar seating about 20 as well as a small dining room upstairs. Unless you arrive as soon as they open at 4 p.m. (any day but Sunday), you’ll need to make a reservation, even for the bar seats.

The wine selection, knowledge and care with which the wines are served have few peers in our region. If you’re hungry, a tiny kitchen somehow produces a plethora of tasty dishes, from beef wellington popovers and stuffed poblano peppers to shrimp and grits and pan-seared scallops.

Ripple Wine Bar recently achieved notable accolades from the Kentucky Restaurant Association, which gave its 2022 Outstanding Restaurateur award to owner Matt Haws and the 2022 Outstanding Manager award to Gabriella DiVincenzo — pretty impressive, considering they outshone all the fine establishments in the larger Kentucky cities of Louisville and Lexington.

We sat at the bar and had a great time with DiVincenzo as our cheerful guide through the wine list. After an hour or so, I noticed that while the cooking was accomplished by three men in a makeshift kitchen, the entire service and bartending staff was female, prompting one server to say, “Every night is girls’ night here.”

Whatever night you happen to make it to this neighborhood, you’ve got plenty of intriguing options.

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