Dick’s Standard Service has stood on the corner of Fifth and Main streets in Covington since the 1930s. Dick “Butch” Ostendorf, who retired in 2015 and sold the property, started working at the shop when he was young and his father went off to fight in World War II. They fixed up cars and rented U-Hauls for more than half a century. I talked to a few people who grew up in Northern Kentucky and whose families took their cars there. As soon as I mentioned the place, a deep affection for it and for the man who ran it for 60 years lit up on their faces.
Dick’s Standard Service is now The Standard restaurant, owned by restaurateurs Paul Weckman and Emily Wolff, who are building quite the little empire in Covington’s MainStrasse area. This restaurant joins their other establishments Otto’s, Frida 602, and Larry’s—all just a short walk away.
I mention Butch and the legacy of the place because much of what makes the vibe at The Standard so pleasant is the sense of respect for this legacy. When he finally sold the property, Butch mentioned that the roof leaked badly and jokingly said, “I wouldn’t wish it on nobody.” Most people from outside the neighborhood, who didn’t know its history or perhaps didn’t care, would have probably left very little of the building behind. In the process, Covington would have come a bit closer to succumbing to the blight of sameness that has infected huge swaths of America.
Instead, though, we have a lovely, unique spot that honors the history of the location—and, in the process has become, perhaps by accident, a perfect destination for the pandemic era. By retaining the identity of the old space in the footprint of the former garage, the vast majority of the seating is now outside, with plenty of space between the tables. The huge garage doors open on sunny days to make everything feel grand and airy.
Butch’s handprint is in the concrete steps leading into the place, pictures of the past are inside, and the recipe for the excellent bourbon slushie actually comes from Ostendorf’s late wife, Marge. In short, no one who ever loved the old garage will wonder what happened to it—it is still very much here.
Maintaining this identity, of course, also requires some sacrifices. I kept looking around and wondering Where in the world does the kitchen fit? Well, it’s back there somewhere, but it must be pretty small. The menu, appropriately, is pared down, and is the kind of selection you might find at a good food truck. There are six small plates, if you include the fries, and five mains. The food is simple but satisfying, with an interesting Pan-Asian street food vibe (even the fries come with a hoisin ketchup). They are the kind of dishes you can push out of a small space even when there are lots of diners—quickly assembled sandwiches and salads, grilled meat, fried chicken tenders, and the like.
Mostly, it works; occasionally it’s inspired. My favorite dish at The Standard is the watermelon salad. I’ve never before had the combination of cherry tomatoes, watermelon, and cantaloupe, and the results are vibrant and surprising. Sour and sweet, with a hint of spice from Tajín and pickled ginger and a touch of mint, it makes for a perfect summer dish, a kind of wonderful deconstructed gazpacho.
Outside of this dish, I think the meaty offerings—the two kinds of satay (but particularly the lemongrass chicken) and the fried honey sriracha tenders, with an excellent housemade bread-and-butter pickle—are the highlights. The KY Banh Mi is good, but the house-smoked pork is so fatty and flavorful that it drowns out some of the traditional banh mi flavors. Another Vietnamese-inspired dish, the chilled noodle salad with basil, mint, and a tangy vinaigrette, is yummy as well. I had it with the flank steak, which was beautifully cooked, and the flavors were nicely balanced, although I found the texture of the noodles a little odd. They seemed like ramen noodles that had been broken up into tiny pieces, almost like rice; I felt like the more traditional Vietnamese rice noodle, thinner in width, might work better.
All the mixed drinks—and there almost as many as there are food items—are made with the directness and skill that is a hallmark of this place. Nothing too fancy, but just right. My favorite is the one that harmonizes with the menu’s Asian fusion: the Hot Rod, which has the flavor of kimchi captured in a drink. There is a gochujang (salty, fermented Korean chile paste) simple syrup and a rim of Korean pepper—and the result is wonderful and unique.
The only dish that feels incongruous to me is the Village Veggie Roti, which is a shame, because it’s the only vegetarian main. The Indian flavors don’t gel with the east-Asian flavors on the rest of the menu, and the items in the wrap didn’t feel like they had gotten enough love. I mainly tasted sourness and plain cooked chickpeas dressed with yogurt and curry powder. The flatbread also felt dense and a little rubbery. I didn’t feel the same level of comfort and mastery in this dish as the others on the menu, but it is a rare miss.
The Standard was packed every night I was there. It already feels like it’s been there forever—which, in a way, it has. I think Butch would be pleased.
The Standard, 434 Main St., Covington, (859) 360-0731