Category Archives: $ Budget (under $20)

Our critic joins the ladies who lunch at Meridian Cafe

Meridian Cafe

(Voice-Tribune, Dec. 14, 2006)

First, let’s get one thing straightened out, Meridian is demonstrably a “ladies who lunch” place. It’s open only for lunch, and the last time I was over there, I think I was one of only three males in a house packed with women. The other two were the chef and one of the servers. But if you think “ladies who lunch” is in any way negative, you need to get over here for a thorough re-calibration.

Under new ownership and management by Heather Yaron and Chef Mike Ross, who had cooked here several years ago and now returns, this charming little spot has gone from strength to strength. An excellent lunch the other day got my “A” grade, even if I did feel a little as if I had wandered into a sorority house for a minute there.
Continue reading Our critic joins the ladies who lunch at Meridian Cafe

Craving Crustaceans

“I have yet to meet a pile of shrimp that I was not immediately on good terms with and could not devour promptly,” says Eat ‘N’ Blog correspondent KIM MASSEY. “My deep affection for these little parcels of protein is well matched with my passion for ethnic foods. It’s a fortunate thing, then, that Louisville’s ethnic restaurant community offers so many opportunities to indulge these cravings.”
Needless to say, Kim was quick to volunteer for the challenge of finding some of the region’s most delightful ethnic shrimp dishes. This is her crustacean-loving report:

Let’s start with a duo of appetizers that come dangerously close to displacing shrimp and grits as my favorite way to begin a meal.
The Banh Xeo ($5.60) at Vietnam Kitchen is an inspired creation. An eggy crepe that falls somewhere between a pancake and an omelet, Banh Xeo is pan-fried to a decidedly crispy exterior, then folded over stir-fried shrimp and bean sprouts in a simple but complementary combination of tastes and textures. The salty-sweet acidity of the soy-based sauce provides a perfect foil for the rich crepe. It’s one of those appetizers that you would gladly order in entrée-sized portion, if only you could! (One possibility: Order two.)

Vietnam Kitchen
5339 Mitscher Ave.
363-5154

The Camarones de Alio ($6.99) served at Havana Rumba offer a sumptuous prelude to any meal. A half-dozen plump, tail-on shrimp are sautéed in a simple sauce of olive oil and butter with a smidgen of red pepper and lashings of minced garlic, served sizzling in their clay-pot cooking vessel. This is culinary minimalism at its finest. It’s served with warm, crusty French bread, perfect for mopping up the delightful sauce after the sweet and tender shrimp are down the hatch.

Havana Rumba
4115 Oechsli Ave.
897-1959

That’s just the beginning of the diverse and delicious shrimp dishes available at the city’s ethnic eateries. Consider the shrimp tips ($13) at Queen of Sheba. This splendid dish combines shrimp, onions, tomatoes and green peppers, lightly sautéed in butter with Ethiopian spices. It is served with Kik Wot – a mound of creamy stewed split lentils that would make a satisfying vegetarian dish in itself. Both shrimp and lentils are piled atop injera, the spongy, pancake-like Ethiopian flatbread, which adds a hearty element to an otherwise light entrée. This delightfully complex dish will leave you clamoring to sample more of this wonderful cuisine.

Queen of Sheba Ethiopian
3315 Bardstown Road
459-6301

Another shrimp dish, less subtle but just as satisfying, is the Camarones al Chipotle ($11.50) served at Fiesta Mexicana. A dozen plump shrimp are liberally smothered in a rich, dark sauce of tomatoes and chipotle peppers, with a sprinkling of just-melted Chihuahua cheese. Its smoky heat packs quite a punch, which can be pleasantly tempered with a dollop of sour cream. Served with a side of savory Mexican rice and salad, it’s a hearty, warming dish, a welcome respite to a cold winter evening.

Fiesta Mexicana
5414 Bardstown Road
762-0840

When my crustaceous cravings unite with a desire for the familiar, I beat a hasty retreat to India Palace – a regular port of refuge for a sometimes homesick Brit. It can be so difficult to choose just one dish from the many impressive shrimp options that I frequently give up the struggle and select a contrasting duo. The volcanic, spicy, tangy, Shrimp Vindaloo ($11.95) creates a delightful reverse trajectory of creeping warmth from the back of the throat to the tip of the tongue. It partners perfectly with the mild and aromatic Shrimp Saag ($11.95), a delicate light curry that combines spices, herbs, spinach and a dash of cream. Add a side of Pilau rice, a warm fluffy round of naan flatbread, and there you have it: a culinary hug from a much loved friend!

India Palace
9424 Shelbyville Road
394-0490

Taking my ‘cue in LaGrange

Big R's
Big R’s, out in the middle of La Grange in Oldham County, has all the signs of a serious barbecue joint. And the pigmeat backs it up. Photo by Robin Garr.

Meanwhile, I blazed a trail out to Oldham County recently to check out Big R’s, a fine new barbecue joint. It’s located in an attractive country house right in the middle of town, surrounded by all the signals that real barbecue is sold here: a big, black smoker, lots of hickory logs and a statue of an anthropomorphic pig out front.

It’s a smallish place but clean and neat, with freshly painted walls the color of lemon ice and tasteful red-checked curtains; maybe a half-dozen tables inside and a few more on the porch. The menu is basic and functional, too: Baby-backs range from $9 for a half-slab with no sides to $18 for a full slab with two sides. Other smoked meats – pulled pork, pulled chicken and beef brisket – are mostly $5.25 for a sandwich with one side, $6 with two sides.

We chowed down on ribs and a brisket sandwich and four sides between us and were generally pleased. Let’s put it this way: Big R is a master of smoking meat, a champion BBQ artiste who “slow-smokes” pork butts and briskets over hickory for 15 hours and ribs for five; but his tastes in sauces and rubs differs from my “less is more” philosophy: He likes to use a little more.

The ribs, indeed, were as good as I ever ate: They’re very meaty, with surprisingly little fat or gristle, smoked just right so the hickory flavor is like a condiment but doesn’t conceal the natural flavors of the meat. I wish he had throttled back on the dry rub and shiny glaze, though. The aromatic spices in the rub (I think I smelled cumin) and the sweet-sticky glaze didn’t really enhance the excellent pigmeat.

The same was true of the brisket: The smoky beef was tender and delicious, but they shredded it and served it in a thick, sweet sauce like a Sloppy Joe. Why do that to good brisket? I wish they’d just offer a no-sauce option.

The sides were quite good. Baked beans were just about perfect – small and pink in a savory-salty sauce. Potato salad was devilishly good, chunks of tender potato and crisp celery in a thick sour-cream sauce with a hint of herbs, maybe dill. Wide green beans were wide beans, long-simmered country-style, decent enough, though a little bit of ham hock would have taken them to bean heaven. My wife liked her mac ‘n’ cheese despite its alarming Velveeta color.

Too full for dessert, we got away from a generous meal for a very attractive $20.14 for two, plus a $4 tip. In spite of my barbecue maven’s nitpicks, it was darn good ‘cue, some of the best around, and the ribs and pork might have made my Hall of Fame if they had just left them alone.

Big R’s Barbeque Shack
109 E. Washington Court
La Grange, Ky.
222-0058

Indulge your pork cravings at Pig City

Pig City
Pig City BBQ: Certain songs with food allusions may or may be what they seem, but there’s nothing ambiguous about Pig City BBQ. It’s about the pigmeat, brothers and sisters. Photo by Paige Moore-Heavin

LEO’s Eat ‘n’ Blog with Louisville HotBytes
(Pig City BBQ, Fresco Southwest Grill & Pizza)

Food was never very far from the thoughts of Mississippi blues great Armenter Chatmon, better known to the world as Bo Carter. At least we assume he was thinking about food when he dreamed up blues ballads like “Banana in Your Fruit Basket” and “Your Biscuits Are Big Enough for Me.”

OK, so maybe those references are just a little ambiguous. Maybe he was thinking about food, and maybe he wasn’t. But there’s no doubt that Bo had his dinner plate in mind when he warbled the tune I love best, “Pigmeat is What I Crave.”

I’m right with him there: Meat, fish, fowl or soy protein, it’s hard to beat pork for sheer deliciousity.

Naturally when I heard about a new barbecue joint out in the East End called Pig City, I knew where I had to be. Continue reading Indulge your pork cravings at Pig City

Frosting the Hoosier pumpkin

Huber's
Server Dacqueri Mahar shows off Huber’s finest, the country platter dish of fried chicken and ham. Photos by Sara Havens

LEO’s Eat ‘n’ Blog with Louisville HotBytes
(Stumler’s, Joe Huber’s)

When the frost is on the punkin and the fodder’s in the shock,
And you hear the kyouck and gobble of the struttin’ turkey-cock …
And the rooster’s hallylooyer as he tiptoes on the fence …
O, it’s then the time a feller is a-feelin’ at his best.

Ahh, autumn, time of harvest and nippy nights, hearty cider and cozy fireplaces. Autumn doesn’t get any better than it does in rural Indiana, and it’s no surprise that the poet who penned those words in 1883, Indiana’s own James Whitcomb Riley, was a Hoosier through and through.

Riley, who’s been a hero of mine ever since I learned that he started out as a newspaper reporter and was once fired from the Anderson Democrat for being a little too creative with his prose, knew a good thing when he saw it, and so do we.

The leaves are getting serious about turning colors now, and any random pumpkin is likely to wake up in the morning sporting a touch of frost. Let’s celebrate Riley’s memory with a leaf-peeping, eating and drinking expedition to the tourist farms of Starlight, Ind. Continue reading Frosting the Hoosier pumpkin

Chili today, hot tamale

Flabby's chili
Flabby’s chili is a simple, classic preparation – coarsely ground beef in chunks with tender red beans and just enough short strands of spaghetti to make it Louisville-style. Photos by Robin Garr

LEO’s Eat ‘n’ Blog with Louisville HotBytes
(Five noteworthy bowls of red; Karma Café)

Tomatoes or no tomatoes? Beans or no beans? Chopped meat or ground meat? Chile powder or dried chilies or fresh? And by the way, is it “chile” or is it “chili”? Gimme a break! This is almost like listening to the Kentucky legislature arguing about whether evolution or intelligent design should be taught in our schools.

Much of the chili debate centers around the argument that chili is a historic dish with a long tradition that started in the Texas-Mexico border country and was spread across the heartland by cowboys on the open range, and that it must be a pure, unadulterated combination of beef and chile peppers, nothing more, without adulterants or fillers no matter how delicious those additives might be.
Continue reading Chili today, hot tamale