Take your taste buds on a journey from the marigold-lined pathways of Château Guiraud in France to the Alps-framed Castelfeder winery in northern Italy — all while dining at LouVino in Over-the-Rhine. The concept restaurant opened in late August on Main Street and offers 60 wines by the glass as well as small plates inspired by Southern cuisine.
After seeing an opportunity to introduce more wine into Kentucky’s saturated landscape of beer and bourbon, Chad and Lauren Coulter left their jobs as pharmacists to pursue a paint-and-sip business. Then, in 2014, they decided to move on and join the Louisville restaurant industry by opening LouVino. They have four locations today with a fifth debuting in downtown Indianapolis early next year.
The fermented-grape beverage is a focal point not just on their extensive menu, but also in the OTR location’s decor. Once you walk in, you’re surrounded on either side by floor-to-ceiling partitions made of wine crates. The hostess station is set up with a similar structure behind it. Then at the bar — bookended between bottles of liquor, wine and glassware that twinkles in back-lit shelves — are four silver machines. Their task is to preserve wine (using argon) after it’s been opened, allowing patrons to try high-end libations in small portions rather than having to purchase the entire bottle.
“The average lifespan of a red wine is three days, maybe four. In these machines, (it) can last 45 to 60 days,“ says Chad. “It allows you to offer some pretty rare or expensive things without the worry of it going bad.”
You’ll see some familiar names on the wine list, too, as flights are named after Ohio and Kentucky celebrities like Carmen Electra and John Legend. They are served in three 2-ounce pours and can be paired with cheese for an additional $2. Individual glasses are 6 ounces and range in price from $8 to $29. If, like me, you have limited experience with wine, they make it easy by organizing their selection by type — white, red, rosé etc. — and their characteristics, whether that be bold, savory or vibrant. They also have cocktails, mocktails and beer.
If you’re unsure what would pair well with your meal, there are three certified sommeliers on staff to assist you. All of this works toward LouVino’s goal of making wine fun and approachable for patrons, what Chad refers jokingly to as “breaking the pretentious threshold.”
While their wine selection is impressive, their elevated comfort food deserves a spotlight of its own, too. There are two menus: classics and seasonal. The former features dishes that are permanently available while the latter is a rotating menu dictated by the chef.
At the OTR location, these are imagined by executive chef Sarah Rockwell, a Cincinnati native. They source local ingredients as much as possible, frequently visiting spots like the Covington Farmers Market and Findlay Market.
Tavis Rockwell, Sarah’s husband, is LouVino’s culinary director, and he says the classics menu features ideas he always wanted to tackle on small plates. They stayed in demand across all of the LouVino locations.
“When we decided to branch out, I said, ‘Well why don’t we make the menu two pages and we’ll keep the stuff that everybody loves on the classics side. And then every store does their own thing,’ ” he says.
When I visited LouVino, it was a little past dinnertime and my boyfriend and I were seated by the front overlooking the rest of the restaurant. The interior is very industrial chic with luxurious finishes: think exposed brick and velvet upholstery.
Some especially eye-catching details are a purple booth that spans the length of the back wall in a warped C-shape and the swanky gray and white tile at the foot of the bar. There are also two beautifully decorated private dining areas for 14 or 40 people.
We settled in and ordered drinks. I had the Italianate red wine flight ($15) and cheese samples, which came in dainty slivers. As someone who has barely dabbled in wine not made by Yellow Tail (I know, please shame me…), I would say I have a beginner’s palate. It was interesting to try the different beverages and see how the cheese brought out their individual notes. My boyfriend, a dedicated fan of Old Fashioneds, got LouVino’s version of the cocktail and thoroughly enjoyed it.
For food we shared the Brussels sprouts salad ($10) which came in a cilantro lime vinaigrette, the steak and hoe cakes ($14), the beef sliders ($12) and the loaded baked potato tots ($9). While they’re called small plates, you get very generous portions. Two per person would be more than enough to leave you satisfied.
Though everything was delicious, I must stress the grave mistake you would be making if you passed up the potato tots. You get eight fried balls that are crunchy on the outside and the consistency of cheesy mashed potatoes on the inside.
The beef sliders were another favorite of mine. The meat itself was juicy and cooked with just enough pink left in the middle. A generous portion of green peppers, onions and bacon was placed on top of the patty, adding depth of flavor and a touch of something fresh.
The OTR location serves brunch on Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. You can expect savory classics like eggs benedict ($12.50) as well as inventive options like pancake tacos ($10.50). Classic mimosas are $2 (need I say more?), though there are spin-offs like the beermosa, a rotating craft beer, sparkling wine and orange juice; and the SBL mimosa, which has a strawberry-basil purée, lemonade and lemonade sparkling wine.
LouVino is a place where you can get in and out under $20 or ball out for an extravagant meal of tapas and libations. And if you’re someone who enjoys that pang of happiness when you see the waiter bring out your food, you’ll love having their small plates and fun wine flights delivered again and again throughout your visit.
LouVino, 1142 Main St., Over-the-Rhine, louvino.com; Hours: 5-10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 5-11 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5-11 p.m. Saturday; 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday.