Findlay Market has served as a springboard for a number of area chefs, including Mayberry's Josh Campbell, Katrina "Aunt Flora" Mincy; the Bouchard family; and the Palmieri family. This evening, we visited Jeff and Nick Palmieri's Europa restaurant, located in Covington's MainStrasse Village.
Europa has been open about nine months, serving authentic paninis and crepes; fresh, homemade gelato; huge slices of cakes and desserts; and assorted deli items. Tonight, we'd be surprised to discover that they also have a very extensive dinner menu, updated bi-weekly.
Mainstrasse Village was absolutely bustling on the Friday night we arrived. There were at least a half dozen eateries I'd heard of, had been to or wanted to try in the immediate area. Lots of sidewalk seating gave the area a European feel. Stepping through the door at Europa was a lot like stepping into an Italian gelateria in Rome. Fresh, swirling mounds of gelato beckoned behind a refrigerated glass case.
After the owners told us about the dinner menu, we were led past the gelato and deli counter into an empty back room of about 10 tables. How was it that no one knew of this place? The waiter handed us menus he'd just updated with fresh paper inserts only a few minutes before. He explained that, being the week of St. Patrick's Day, their menu reflected a number of Irish-themed items in addition to their usual Italian fare. Entrees like the Shepherd's Pie, "Danny's Boy" Roasted Leg of Lamb matched the theme. But it was the Irish Corned Beef and Cabbage that particularly caught my eye.
We started off with the Bruschetta appetizer, and this wasn't your usual toasted bread with tomatoes on top version you typically find in many restaurants. Europa's included three toasted slices of bread topped with three different types of homemade pesto. They were incredibly good. There was a roasted red pepper pesto; a more traditional basil-based pesto and a third herbed pesto whose origins we could not identify.
I followed up the Bruschetta with a bowl of roasted ham and asparagus soup. The clear, watery broth led me to believe there would be little to no flavor, but I was sorely mistaken. The soup was infused with the salty essence of the ham, complimented smartly with asparagus pieces.
The waiter brought out a basket of warm, fresh bread, which was wonderful. In fact, lots of fresh-baked bread was highlighted throughout the meal, from the basket, to the Bruschetta, to the soda bread that came with my meal.
My girlfriend ordered the vegan Mark Anthony Salad as her entree. Her salad was enormous: it looked like it could easily feed both of us. Asparagus, eggplant, artichokes, roasted red peppers, tomatoes and an olive tapenade were beautifully arranged on a bed of Romaine lettuce and drizzled with a balsamic vinaigrette.
My Irish corned beef and cabbage came with two slices of soda bread encrusted with raisins. The young culinary student who'd prepared my dish stopped by the table to check on us. He was proud of the dish he'd prepared and he should have been: it tasted wonderful. Deceptively simple in preparation, the strips of corned beef had a nice saltiness that balanced the cabbage flavor perfectly. The cheesy, mashed potato cake was a tasty, welcome addition.
Europa's owner would periodically emerge from a door in the rear of the dining room to chat briefly with us, at one time carrying with him a tray stacked high with fresh-baked loaves of ciabatta bread destined to become panini sandwiches at the deli counter up front. We wanted to follow after him and nibble on the bread.
After stuffing ourselves with a pleasing meal and securing our to-go box, we returned to the glass cases up front and tried two of Europa's freshly-made gelato offerings, the blueberry and the snickerdoodle gelato. Both were tasty in their own right; bringing back memories of Italian trips past.
Europa offers a great, revolving dinner option in addition to their many lunchtime panini offerings. If you go, know that your dinner menu will undoubtedly be different from the one we tried. We hope word gets out about this place, because here's another Findlay Market-based restaurateur whose success story should be celebrated.
Price: Moderately Expensive ($11 - $16 per person)