Covington’s Craft Taqueria Agave & Rye Offers Chicken, Steak, Carnitas and Even Kangaroo
Agave & Rye faces both Hotel Covington and The Madison Event Center and is just around the corner from the Braxton Brewing Company. With its full bar and kitchen open until 2 a.m. seven nights a week, this glossy taqueria has been an instant hit for patrons of those neighboring establishments and pulls in families and young couples earlier in the evening as well.
Interestingly, though, owner Yavonne Sarber said she doesn’t consider Agave & Rye to be a Mexican restaurant. “The taco is a vessel for our food,” she said, and the food — taco fillings — ranges across many cuisine influences.
Mexican or not, except for a few small side dishes and a couple of desserts, the menu consists entirely of tacos ($3-$5). They’re organized as “Graze” for meat-based fillings, “Swim” for fish-filled tortillas and “Grow” for veggie versions. Graze is the largest category, with eight different options that include a taco based on kangaroo meat — we didn’t try that one — as well as chicken, pork, beef and duck confit. Altogether we selected from 15 taco options, including a monthly feature with “cheese-filled mini beef meatballs, mac and cheese, white cheddar and vodka sauce.” We skipped that one, too.
One unusual feature of the menu is that each taco comes in a crispy corn shell and a soft flour tortilla. The filling goes inside the crispy taco and the flour tortilla surrounds the whole shebang. Sarber told me later that because they intended to serve hefty portions of the food inside the tacos, they went with this double wrapping.
Since I’ve always thought the gold standard of good tacos should be a soft corn shell — sometimes two, if the fillings are heavy — I couldn’t see how this was going to work. Strangely enough, my friends and I all gave this innovation a thumbs-up. I’ve always liked a crispy corn tortilla but they’re pretty impossible to eat as a taco unless there’s almost no filling. With Agave & Rye tacos, you get that yummy corn crunch with every bite while the firmer flour tortilla holds it all together.
For our meal, the three of us selected six tacos, two sides and a cocktail each. The restaurant was almost full and the bar service a little slow, although the manager apologized repeatedly for the delay in serving our drinks: a house cocktail based on tequila and St-Germain, a tall coffee drink on ice with mezcal and the house margarita.
The food came out much faster. A taco called The Bee’s Knees would have been better if the chicken in it hadn’t been too dry, but we all loved The Alderman — ancho grilled steak with Mexican street corn salad and a good salsa. The Swanky One came in a fried wonton shell — the only non-tortilla wrapped taco — with a filling of ahi tuna poke, serrano aioli and guacamole. It tasted good, but the shell fell apart when you picked it up. One of the veggie tacos, The Bang Bang, hit the right notes with crispy cauliflower, spicy carrots and a creamy cheese sauce.
We enjoyed the food and drinks, but what I liked best was the décor and vibe of the place. Sarber and her husband, Wade, the chef, gutted the diner that had previously been in this location and selected a color scheme played out in murals, paintings, chandeliers and other light fixtures and a custom bar. The music on the sound system was upbeat, familiar and not too loud, and the space between various types of tables made for a cozy but not crowded feel.
Agave & Rye, 633 Madison Ave., Covington, 859-360-1060, agaveandrye.com.
(Pama Mitchell)| Photos by Hailey Bollinger