The chef-owner of Bouquet Restaurant and Wine Bar in Covington is opening a new concept in Flaherty & Collins’ $50 million mixed-use RiverHaus development.
Chef Stephen Williams and his wife, Jessica, are opening Spoon: Kitchen & Market as a sister concept to Bouquet. They hope to open by early summer.
Stephen Williams told me that Spoon will be part fast-casual restaurant and part grocery.
What kind of bouquet is Bouquet, the Covington restaurant, most like? Not a dozen red roses imported from South America. Not a florist’s collection of hot house flowers. Most closely, it’s like a carefully plucked bunch of flowers from the garden and field, all in bloom at the same time, put together in pretty combination. (It’s also like the bouquet of a fine wine, which I think is the actual inspiration for the name.)
Stephen Williams, who started Bouquet in 2007, is one of the local chefs most committed to buying from local farms and producers. His menu in the summer is full of local bounty to which he applies an artistic sensibility. For him, it’s about seeing what there is and making something lovely out of it.
The diner can choose either a four-course tasting menu, with all courses decided by the chef, or order more conventionally from the regular menu. To continue my metaphor, which I’m rather enjoying, the dishes on the regular menu are built around a beautiful hydrangea or peony, while the tasting menu is more like quirky bouquets of cosmos and wild grasses.
WELCOME TO THE B LINE
Northern Kentucky bars, restaurants and distilleries get their own tourism designation to connect to the Urban Bourbon Trail
Long before there was a Las Vegas, even before there was nationwide Prohibition of alcohol that led to the rise of the gangsters and businessmen who would eventually put Las Vegas on the map, Newport, Kentucky was the original Sin City. Even as early as the Civil War, this river town was known for gambling, dog racing, and prostitution. Prohibition only strengthened this reputation as businessmen took advantage of America’s thirst by building empires which included everything from brothels to high end nightclubs. Throughout the ’50s and ’60s, residents and governments fought to push these businesses out. There is a notorious story about a candidate for Sheriff running on a reform platform who was drugged and photographed with a local prostitute in an attempt to make him appear corrupt. Ultimately the FBI found the drugs in his system and he was exonerated and elected anyway, beginning the decline of Sin City. Adult movie theaters and strip clubs were shut down, and in 1973 Frank “Screw” Andrews, a once prominent gangster, was allegedly thrown from his sixth-story hospital room, signaling the beginning of the end of Newport’s Sin City reputation. Restoration to historic homes began in the late 1980s and then businesses like the Newport Aquarium started to move in during the 1990s. Today you can’t even tell the area was once the Las Vegas of the Ohio Valley, which has allowed a Renaissance that has led to the creation of The B Line.
The B Line is a collection of bars, restaurants, and distilleries at the northernmost point of Kentucky leading into the Kentucky Bourbon Trail launched February of 2018. It is different from Louisville’s Urban Bourbon Trail in that it’s more than just bars and restaurants, though the concept was very much modeled in its image. I recently spent a weekend exploring some of the stops on the new B Line, and what I found were people who are excited to give this area a new reputation as a bourbon tourism destination.
My first stop was Boone County Distilling. Situated in an industrial park near Interstate 71, it’s not the kind of location where you would expect to find a bourbon distillery until you realize that modern bourbon distilleries were often built far outside of towns and cities because of sanitation concerns, and the cities then built up around them.
Fred Minnick was there signing books and pouring bourbon samples from private barrels he had selected at the distillery. I joined the last tour group of the day, the majority of which was people from Indiana and Ohio, including one Indiana man who had driven there for Boone County’s new make spirit called Tanner’s Curse (he bought the last one).
Michael, our tour guide, was highly knowledgeable about the bourbon industry as well as local history. We learned about the original Boone County Distillery, originally the Petersburg Distillery which opened in 1833 nearby and would become the largest distillery in Kentucky by 1880, only to be shuttered by 1910. This new version of the distillery was opened in 2015 with the help of Larry Ebersold, Greg Metze’s predecessor at MGPI.
Current bottlings of Boone County 1833 Bourbon are barrels Ebersold distilled during his tenure which were purchased en masse with the founding of the distillery. The plan has been to bottle and sell those barrels until the distillery has its own spirit to bottle, which will likely be some time in 2019.
The next stop I made on my journey was Mainstrasse Covington, another area undergoing a renaissance in Northern Kentucky. Newport’s neighbor to the West is separated by the Licking River, a main artery leading to the Ohio. Just ten years ago there was not much going on in Covington other than the yearly Oktoberfest celebration. These days Mainstrasse is bustling on a Saturday night.
I sat at the bar in Bouquet, a farm-to-table stop on the B-Line, to have dinner. Bartender Austin Garrison made me his signature Smoked Old Fashioned with Elijah CraigSmall Batch and Bourbon Barrel FoodsBourbon Smoked Salt. Originally a wine bar, now there are 120 bourbons and Glencairns in which to serve them, a sign of a strong bourbon bar. There are plans in the works to do a bar barrel pick of OKI at nearby New Riff (more on that to come). Garrison was highly knowledgeable about bourbon and was passionate about sharing his experience with the steady flow of customers on a Saturday night. I enjoyed an appetizer of house-made pickles and a dinner of beet salad before heading to my next stop.
I crossed the street to visit Bourbon Haus 1841, which has been open for less than a year but already has more than 200 bourbons on the shelf. There’s a cozy bar and lots of comfy couches and chairs for groups, including a small back room with five club chairs adorned with album covers and other classic-rock-themed art. Classic and hippie rock play throughout the space, including on the intimate patio along the front and side of the 1841 brick building. After studying the pages-long bourbon menu, I ordered a half pour of Old Grand-Dad 114, which is served to me in a Glencairn. The ebb and flow of people on a Saturday night reminds me of what my friend Liza Weisstuch often says – “Bar” is the universal word for “welcome home.”
Sunday morning begins with a visit to Newberry Brothers Coffee Shop and Prohibition Bourbon Bar in Newport. “We front as the coffee shop with the bourbon bar in the back,” says owner Kim Newberry. It’s an oddball among coffee shops – it’s only open in the morning on the 3rd Sunday of every month. The rest of the time it is open Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights from 5 p.m. until 11 p.m. or 1 a.m. Coffee is roasted on-site and pastries are made from scratch by the Newberrys, who live upstairs. The bar is somewhat hidden – you have to go to the back of the shop, through a small hallway, past the restrooms, and then suddenly you’re in the Prohibition Bar. There’s even a speakeasy room behind the bar for small groups of no more than 6 people to do events and private tastings. This is the most striking of all the hidden gems on the B-Line so far with more than 1500 whiskeys and multiple events and tastings, including fundraisers, throughout the year. It’s also right across the street from a restaurant where parts of Rain Man were filmed back in the late 1980s.
Down the street we stopped at New Riff Distillery, the first bourbon distillery on the way into Kentucky from the North, situated right off Interstate 471 and a short drive from I-71. Owner Ken Lewis originally owned the Party Source liquor store next door but sold it to his employees so he could build this distillery.
Covington has such an abundance of adorable, quirky, unique dining experiences. As many of them have gone smoke-free, The Better Half and I are making a point to visit more of them. One night, we noticed that Bouquet had openings for the time we wanted to eat– all the better– so we made a quick OpenTable reservation and headed to Covington.
The Mainstrasse area of Covington is particularly beautiful, with old-world, European-style charm and just a hint of quirkiness. There are tattoo parlors near bridal stores, motorcycle bars aroudn the corner from wine bars. Bouquet is, of course, the wine bar. The interior of Bouquet is like someone’s very nice, well-appointed living room, with lots of warm colors and a large wood bar. On the right, you can see their many accolades from Wine Enthusiast Magazine, and the bar was comfortably busy. We got a table near the bar.
Since Jean-Robert At Pigall’s closed we have been struggling to find somewhere to go every month for a relaxing and inspiring lunch or dinner. We were originally going to go to Boca, however we just weren’t up to it. I switched our reservation to Bouquet not expecting much. I don’t know why I didn’t expect much.
This is going to sound douchey, but I don’t care. When you have eaten somewhere like JR@P you become accustomed to expecting things and when you can’t find them anymore it’s very sad. Is this a eulogy of JR@P? No, this is my utter surprise at a little place called Bouquet.
When you walk it you are greeted to white tablecloths (so simply elegant) and an obviously french looking decor and atmosphere. Our server seated us by the front of the restaurant by the bar. I noted they had a nice selection of bottled beer, I saw some labels I’ve never seen before.
It is a cold night in a long unbrokenstring of cold nights. We pull our coats tighter and lean into each other as we deliberately sidestep the icy vestiges of recent winter storms. Snowflakes swirl in the air overhead and glimmer through the lights that illuminate the mid-19th-century quaintness of MainStrasse. Veins of frost reach across the front windows of Bouquet Restaurant & Wine Bar and Otto’s, next door. Charming, like a snow globe village, we decide, lingering for a moment before ducking into Bouquet.
A cozy, quaint addition to MainStrasse Village, this wine bar is a must for lovers of the vine. Bouquet features a superb wine selection (hence its name), a knowledgeable staff and a small but well thought-out menu.
Located on a hip and happening block of Covington’s Main Street, the Bouquet Restaurant and Wine Bar is a pleasant surprise. In fact, in the incestuous world of Greater Cincinnati dining, Bouquet is a thriving branch covered with shiny leaves: It sits opposite Dee Felice and right next door to local favorite Otto’s.