Kim Covino of Winchester said she and her husband, Jim Covino, had long wanted to open a restaurant where families like theirs could gather, and friends and co-workers could meet for a burger and a beer. When the building they had been eyeing in the center of town became available last year, their dream started taking shape. The Black Horse Tavern opened on Aug. 9.
Inside the entryway is a photo of the restaurant’s namesake, which sat at Black Horse Terrace and Main Street from 1724 until its demolition in 1892. The owners’ attention to detail extends from the extra-thick seat cushions to the lighted divider, providing separation without isolation, between the 16-seat bar and 70-seat dining room.
“I picked everything out myself, down to the color of the screws and hinges. Slowly but surely, everything fell into place,’’ said Kim Covino, a local realtor. The contemporary tavern décor is complemented by a floor-to-ceiling stone fireplace, a copper ceiling pressed to look like tin, exposed brick, and expansive windows overlooking Waterfield Road and Thompson Street.
“It’s been a crazy year,’’ she added. “I’m very happy it’s all come together.’’
Covino said she has been encouraged by the interest in the restaurant “since the moment we opened.’’
Our four-person party waited for 40 minutes before being seated on a recent Sunday night, even after taking advantage of call-ahead seating. While the wait helped us work up an appetite, it also allowed us to notice the large portions, and we limited ourselves to two appetizers.
The margarita shrimp ($11) contained four jumbos that had been grilled and tossed in a tequila orange glaze, which was so deliciously tangy that we sopped up the remainder with bread. The accompanying pineapple salsa provided a tart contrast to the sweet sauce.
The tavern tenders ($9) were not your usual chicken fingers, which too often lack taste beyond the breading. Rather, these five large, panko-crusted pieces were lightly fried, yet still extra moist and crispy. As with the restaurant’s salad dressings, the dipping sauces — spicy honey mustard, ginger soy, blue cheese, and buttermilk ranch — are homemade.
The majority of the recipes come from Kim’s mother — Linda Comb of Manchester-by-the Sea, one of three main chefs — but the steak-house marinade on the tavern sirloin tips ($14) is solely the creation of Jim Covino. The 12-ounce portion of hand-cut choice beef was char-grilled precisely to order, and the accompanying french fries, which require a five-hour process of soaking, blanching, cooling, and frying, were worth a return trip alone.
The beer-brined pork chop ($17), steeped in a custom-blended amber brew with molasses and brown sugar, was surprisingly juicy for its thickness. The bone-in chop was served with apple sauce, steamed broccoli, and deliciously creamy mashed potatoes seasoned with Jim Covino’s secret blend of fresh herbs.
The char-grilled tavern chicken ($13) was tender, skinless breast filets marinated in lemon, garlic, and herbs and served with broccoli and fluffy rice pilaf. The accompanying tahini sauce, which harks back to Covino’s Armenian roots, was a blend of yogurt, tahini paste, lemon, and spices.
The baked haddock ($17) was a fresh, 8-ounce fillet topped with a beurre blanc sauce and lemon-panko crumble that gave it a pleasing yet light crunch. The fish, which is brought in daily from Gloucester, was served with the herb mashed potatoes and al dente asparagus.
The four-choice dessert menu fluctuates daily. We enjoyed an unusually airy carrot cake ($7) and decadently creamy gingerbread ice cream ($7), made by Kimball Farm, with a delicate gingerbread cookie baked in-house.
Because of the labor-intensive prep work required to serve 200 dinners each night, the restaurant hasn’t yet opened for lunch beyond the weekends. Kim Covino is pleased, however, that so many families consistently visit in the early evening, with youngsters enjoying their menu of chicken tenders, chicken Caesar salad, steak tips, grilled cheese, burgers, and homemade macaroni and cheese ($4 to $7).
For adults, the Black Horse Tavern offers specialty drinks such as the Black Horse Margarita, 25 varieties of draft and bottled beer, and more than 20 wines.
“I can’t wait until this winter when people can relax beside the fireplace,’’ Covino said. “That’s what I always envisioned, a warm and welcoming feeling.’’