COVINGTON, Ky. -- With the entrée of Lisse Steakhuis into the dining scene in Covington, Kentucky, diners can now experience a bit of Holland in picturesque MainStrasse.
The restaurant is located in the building previously occupied by Chez Nora on the corner of Sixth and Main streets.
Hans Philippo, a native of Lisse in South Holland, partnered with his golfing buddy Jeff Wolnitzek to purchase the building in December 2014. They will retain their partnership in the property even as Philippo moves ahead with sole ownership of the restaurant and bar.
The $2 million building renovation took more than a year, leading up to the restaurant’s soft opening on July 19. The building is practically brand-new, featuring clean, contemporary décor and state-of-the-art technology.
“My goal is to do it right,” Philippo said.
The use of steakhuis (steakhouse) in the name is somewhat curious, considering the Dutch are not traditionally big meat eaters.
“Well, I’m in the U.S., and I like steaks,” Philippo said with a smile.
Lisse Steakhuis serves mostly New American cuisine but with a soft Dutch accent. Diners can explore traditional Dutch dishes like hutspot, which is a vegetable dish of boiled mashed potatoes, carrots and onions. Hutspot is served with one of the top sellers, the Dutch filet, a 6-ounce filet grilled on a plancha (a heavy flat-top griddle).
Bitterballen is another Dutch favorite. These crispy fried balls of meat and gelatinized gravy rolled in breadcrumbs can best be described as little umami (savory) bombs. Tim Weiss, the chef and general manager, said bitterballen takes several days to make, starting with house-made stock. Lisse Steakhuis is a from-scratch kitchen, churning out items like ice cream, root chips and even bread.
Philippo is determined to offer the best ingredients. He’s building 30 greenhouses in Williamstown to supply produce, herbs and even flowers for the restaurant. The completion of all 30 greenhouses is still about a year away, but he already has started growing flowers in five of them.
“You’ll start seeing more fresh-cut flowers here within a month or so,” he said. (Lisse in Holland is known as the tulip capital of the world.)
Philippo also has a farm in Grant County that supplies grass-fed beef to the restaurant. “We’re working with some 90 Angus cows now, but we’ll need more,” he said.
As a young immigrant to the United States in 1978, Philippo first worked for his father-in-law in the flower bulb trade. They imported tulip and daffodil bulbs from Holland, selling them throughout the Midwest.
Today, Philippo is a successful entrepreneur who continues to drive multiple ventures. Since 1986, he has owned Holland Roofing Co., which the company website describes as one of the top 10 roofing companies in the country. He also owns the Cincinnati Dutch Lions, an amateur soccer club.
Weiss is a Cincinnati native who moved to Michigan when he was 10 years old.
“There was a tornado that went through the West Side in 1974, and it wiped out our house,” he said. “My dad took us up to our summer home in Michigan, and we never left.”
For 11 years, Weiss taught skiing in Killington, Vermont, but his night job in area restaurants turned him on to cooking. In summer, Weiss worked at the Cove, a waterfront restaurant in Leland, Michigan. He ultimately left the ski industry and moved to Las Vegas, where he landed a job with the Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group, assisting Joe Essa (now the president of Wolfgang Puck Worldwide) with day-to-day operations.
Lisse Steakhuis spans over three floors, seating a total of 300. Philippo expects to eventually increase seating capacity to 450.
The first floor is geared toward casual fine dining and shares the same menu as the second floor, which is designed for more traditional fine dining.
“You can also book the two private rooms on the second floor… with full audio visual package,” Weiss said. The private rooms each seat 50 and 30.
The third floor has a relaxed vibe, offering an abbreviated menu of mostly appetizers. It opens up to rooftop seating with a splendid view of the Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati skylines. There’s also a reservation-only cigar lounge tucked away on the third floor. The lounge even has – literally – a red phone that allows customers to order food or drinks without leaving the room.
For those wondering, Lisse Steakhuis is not affiliated with Holland Restaurant Group, which runs a portfolio of restaurants like Skyline Chili and LaRosa's. Things have gotten confusing because of the word “Holland” in the name; in fact, Philippo said he used to get their mail.
Lisse’s official grand opening is planned for Aug. 24. Until then, Philippo will continue to add Dutch-themed artwork to the restaurant, such as a life-sized sculpture of Rembrandt.
With a twinkle in his eye, Philippo said, “I have no desire to retire whatsoever. I’ll keep doing this until they carry me out.”
Where: 530 Main St., Covington
Official grand opening: Aug. 24 (The restaurant is currently open for business.)
Hours: 4-10 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday
Information: 859-360-7008; www.lisse.restaurant
Grace Yek writes about food for WCPO Digital. She is a certified chef-de-cuisine with the American Culinary Federation, and a former chemical engineer. Questions or comments? Connect with her on Twitter: @Grace_Yek.