One of the big stories on the north shore in the last two years has been the opening of The Greyhound, a gastropub in downtown Covington. I’m not even sure what is the bigger story: that a gastropub could spring up in little Covington? or that the Salazzos of Del Porto fame would spread their deliciousness to a new location. Both storylines were the most exciting thing going here for all that time, though everything in that time frame took a back seat to you-know-what. And that is perhaps the sole explanation for the nearly 18 month overrun in opening this much-anticipated spot.
Besides all of the above, locals (at least this one) are happy to see something great in the space that was once a Trailways station. Originally unearthed by two young guys nearly five years ago, this large and peculiar space came to life with the clever name Autonomy, playing on its adjacency to a longtime Goodyear tire store. Autonomy was an exciting new development downtown. It was a glamorous and hip bakery bringing French Truck coffee north to accompany its delicious breads and pastries crafted by two owners who worked side by side in Napa Valley. They had big ambitions which were thwarted by what seemed from the outside to be a lack of business sense. Sadly, they never made it past their honeymoon period, and this was a big loss to those of us excited by this level of sophistication here.
After the closure, the building sat idle for a long time, though it was highly sought-after due to its location and visibility. Its primary drawback was its weirdness. The space wraps around a tiny nail shop on the corner, and goes deep, with large garage doors on back and side walls. The entrance is shallow to accommodate part of the Goodyear shop. The floors are uneven, etc.
Absolutely none of these peculiarities were even a hiccup to Torre Solazzo (or so it seems by looking at it now.) I’m told she designed the space herself. It is gorgeous, with muted tones and a vintage vibe, though there is nothing rough or unfinished here. As a light junkie I had hoped they would use glass garage doors but the space is totally enclosed with wainscot paneling. The result is handsome though a little dark, but the dining room is spacious. I prefer the bar area, which has two tops of marble and church pew-type seating along the wall. A large pizza oven separates the bar and dining room, and a real bar occupies the space where the pastries were for Autonomy. This is all so well done, so seamlessly blended, that Torre Solazzo could do this in her “spare time.”
I don’t understand the term gastropub as it applies here. The term came to life in London when two guys in the 1990s expanded on the food in their pub. It was all British food, things like Ploughman’s lunch and kidney pie, cottage pie (shepherd’s pie here) and other cliche items like bangers (sausage) and mash (potatoes). It expanded further to include hamburgers and such things as one might find in a sports bar.
The menu at The Greyhound is really all over the map. Littleneck clams alongside schnitzel, there is pizza, a doner kebab, a Reuben, bacalao croquettes, a skirt steak as well as a bologna and cheese sandwich. And more. Plenty more, equally as incongruous. This impresses me as definitely a starter menu. It will be interesting to see how it evolves.
We started with bacalao croquettes, and the Butcher’s Plate for appetizers. And if there is pizza… We expected great things from this pizza because the Happy Hour at del Porto includes a pizzette of the day and it is the best pizza around here. This time we went traditional American and got pepperoni, which was smallish, but there was such intense flavor in the pepperoni and the sauce, big would have been overkill. Not as good as the Del Porto pizzette, probably because of the learning curve with this oven, but this was a good pizza. Beware of adding extra pepper flakes.
The bacalao croquettes came as four little fried things with a piquant dipping sauce. There was not much to this, definitely not worth the work. We got it more out of curiosity because Tom has always loudly railed against bacalao, and because New Orleanians grew up on “cod fish balls.”
The Butcher Plate was the most gastropub item here. It harkens back to the Ploughmen’s Lunch, a sort of deconstructed sandwich with an assortment of things like meats and cheeses and mustards, though pate is much too hifalutin for a workman’s lunch. The pate on this was the best thing, but there was some chicken liver pate, bacon chunks, crackers, toast, and pickled things. Meh.
Tom got the Doner Kebab and a side of onion rings, and I got Fish & Chips. My daughter always reminds me that I don’t really like Fish & Chips, but merely the idea of it. Here was the real deal. Beer battered Cod with thick fries (chips as served in the UK) with a side of Malt vinegar. Thankfully, there were no mashed peas. This is the most “authentic” version of this dish I have ever had in the States, so if you want to experience it as it really is (minus the peas), try it here. The Cod was encased in a very thick and crunchy batter, almost a shell. It was greaseless and well done, and the flavor of the fish was center-stage. The chips were also the most authentic I’ve seen, unusually thick for what we think of as fries.
Another thing that fascinated me on the menu was the doner kebab. This food item has a high standard to match for me. It is impossible to compare anything to the soot-crusted doner from the warren of streets in Turkey, where the meat is roasted in a literal hole in the wall, charcoal in grates on the sides of the walls. I am obsessed with a chain in Los Angeles called Spitz, the brainchild of three Jewish guys from USC, who have assembled the most delectable piles of doner meats and pickled things with a slew of condiments that create a taste sensation in the mouth that is unrivaled in my experience.
Back to reality, the doner kebab at The Greyhound also needs work. It comes on a pancake-like pita that is enormous, featuring a pile of hybrid meat from a lamb and beef doner with chili paste and garlic sauce. The pickled vegetable assortment was red cabbage, cucumber, and tomato. I knew on sight that this doner kebab would disappoint, but it was tasty enough for me to keep eating it long past any reasonable stopping point.
Also on the table was a large serving of onion rings. These were crispy and greaseless, but were so thin that it was sometimes hard to find the onion in them. Only a couple of these and I was done, which is saying something. There are few things more tempting to me than a pile of hot, crispy, greaseless, and salty onion rings. Mysteriously, these were not tempting. Needs work.
Because we had been talking about root beer floats on the Food Show, the presence of a root beer float on the dessert menu forced us to get one, overriding our usual ate-too-much-for-dessert program. There are two of these floats, one called the Adult, which features caramel ice cream as a base with Guinness poured over it. Our basic float featured vanilla, though there was a miscommunication somewhere. The ice cream in our glass was definitely caramel, but who could complain about that? It was a presentation just like a wine pour, the server doing the honors made it somehow more fun as we all watched the fizz.
This was a fun little lark for me, since I am not a dessert person and not a sweet root beer person. I was done after a few bites, but Tom was delighted with this syruppy treat.
We had a second smaller batch of food from The Greyhound merely a week later, a Reuben and the pork schnitzel.
Tom loved his Reuben. It has all the usual things on it: loaded with sauerkraut and generously dressed with its requisite condiment, the paper-thin pastrami piled into toasted Rye bread, it was everything a Reuben-fan could want.
The pork schnitzel was exactly what I expected. A thin slab of pork paneed, it was not soggy and greaseless like this can be, but instead was tender with a crispy breadcrumb coating. The accompanying warm German potato salad reconfirmed my opinion that this is not something for me to get.
A large reason for the delayed opening here and the odd hours was the difficulty finding staff. The place was hopping with competent, helpful and friendly servers eager to attend to our every need.
The Greyhound is a great new addition to the dining scene on the north shore. The place is beautiful, the menu peculiar, the food good enough. These are first impressions of a brand new restaurant. Without even a hamburger on the menu, I just can’t call it a gastropub. But I expect that to change along with a lot of other things here, as these experienced restaurateurs figure out what works and what doesn’t. And they will.