Diner: Friendly Tavern

Covington's Margo & Jimmy's has a flavorful menu in unpretenious surroundings

There are some places I just don't want to tell others about. Sometimes there are places that I (rather selfishly) hope become only moderately successful after opening so they can retain their friendly, glad-to-see-you demeanor. Some places — like Covington's Margo & Jimmy's Restaurant & Tavern — I would like to keep just for myself.

But, alas, that wouldn't be fair. Then others wouldn't get to experience the joy of finding a restaurant that offers the unlikely combination of a diverse, casual-contemporary menu, with the feel of a friendly, neighborhood tavern.

My good friend and I visited Margo & Jimmy's on a Thursday evening. The six-month-old establishment, tucked into a historic building along Pike Street, has an open, contemporary feel, especially around dinner time when the storefront windows let in the evening light in the front dining room, straight up to the high, airy ceilings.

We arrived early enough (around 6 p.m.) to be seated immediately. Our server recommended several starters, including the Fried Cala-mari ($6.95) and Salmon Poppers ($5.95). We chose the calamari, passed on the poppers, and added the Blue Cheese Onion Tart ($4.50).

The wine list is not extensive, but it offers a variety of good wines, some by the glass.

When our appetizers arrived, we were overwhelmed by the pleasant smell of spices and tomatoes of the marinara sauce with the fried calamari, "Jimmy's famous, homemade marinara." (That's Jimmy Rosati, formerly of The Boot and Coach & Four. He and friend Margo Grubbs opened their namesake here in February.) We also used this wonderful sauce generously with the fried rings, so it didn't last as long as the calamari. The Blue Cheese Onion Tart was also an excellent choice. The flaky pastry crust was tasty and held together well, considering the dense filling of sweet, caramelized onions and creamy blue cheese. Another diner near us ordered this appetizer with a salad for his entire meal.

Our house salads were impressive, with a nice mix of various greens, sweet grape tomatoes, red onion and carrots. Dressing was actually a difficult choice: raspberry and cashew nut, fresh herbs and lemon vinaigrette, low-fat sour cream and dill, as well as a few traditional favorites, all homemade. I've tried to duplicate at home the tomatillo cilantro vinaigrette, without success. It had an intense flavor that not only complemented the salad, but was a nice dip for the fresh bread.

My vegetarian Penne Pasta ($10.95) was a garlic-lover's paradise — al dente penne, topped with broccoli, toasted pine nuts, sun-dried tomatoes in a light, white wine, olive oil and garlic sauce that was much more flavorful than typical olive oil sauces. My guest was as pleased with her choice: Chicken Livers ($9.95), equally as flavorful (and garlicky), sautéed in a similar wine, garlic and olive oil sauce and served over a bed of angel hair.

Entrées offer flavors ranging from Caribbean to Rosati's Italian roots. Next time, I'll indulge in the King Caribbean Chicken ($13.95) — chicken breasts with shrimp stuffing, served on a bed of rice with an orange Triple Sec sauce. Or maybe the Shrimp Scampi ($14.95) served over angel hair.

Although we had heard of Jimmy's famous Bread Pudding ($4.25), our server talked us into a piece of the evening's featured dessert: Butterscotch Cream Pie (4.25). Oh my God: The creamy custard brought oohs and ahhs. The graham cracker crust had a touch of cinnamon, blended with the buttery sweet flavors of the custard. It was to die for. I even ordered a piece to take home "to my husband." In fact, when Rosati came to our table, we lobbied hard to add this dessert to the regular menu.

Margo & Jimmy's is an example of today's "neighborhood tavern," a place where folks can enjoy their entire dining experience, sampling healthy and flavorful choices, in friendly, unpretentious surroundings. But don't tell too many people. Let's just keep it between us. ©Margo & Jimmy'sGo: 404 Pike St., Covington

Call: 859-581-3730

Hours: Lunch: Tuesday-Friday 11 a.m.-4 p.m.; Dinner: Tuesday-Thursday 4-10 p.m., Friday, 4 p.m.-Midnight; Saturday 5 p.m.-Midnight, Sunday 4-9 p.m.

Prices: Reasonable to Moderate

Payment: Major credit cards accepted

Vegetarian Friendliness: Many options, including several salads, penne pasta, eggplant parmesan, vegetable stir fry.

Other: Carry-out, patio dining, valet parking available.

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