Category Archives: Bistros

Critic yells ‘beer me’ as suds go upscale

Mussel soup
Bistro New Albany and New Albanian Brewing Co. teamed up for an “Extreme Belgian” dinner that paired Belgian beers with various dishes, such as this succulent mussel soup. Photos by Robin Garr.

LEO’s Eat ‘n’ Blog with Louisville HotBytes
(Extreme Belgian at Bistro New Albany; CarlyRae’s)

If you don’t think there’s any class distinction between wine and beer, you might consider whether you’ve even seen a drunk slouch into a bar and yell, “Wine me!” Beer, let’s face it, owns a downscale, blue-collar image that contrasts with wine’s perceived position as the drink the beautiful people sip.

But need this be so? In an age when artisanal brewpubs and microbreweries abound and the term “quality American beer” is no longer an oxymoron, it’s arguable that beer – fine, crafted beer made in a wide variety of styles – deserves as much connoisseurish attention as wine enthusiasts are accustomed to lavishing on their grape juice.
Continue reading Critic yells ‘beer me’ as suds go upscale

Mimi’s: Popular chain lands on Hurstbourne

Mimi's
Mimi’s occupies the renovated former quarters of Don Pablo’s on Hurstbourne. Photo by Robin Garr

(Voice-Tribune, March 8, 2007)

When it comes to dining out, I’m usually inclined to look for a well-run locally owned and operated eatery, where the chances are that the person who has to meet the payroll is the same individual who cooks your dinner or greets you at the door.

In the practical reality of today’s corporate world, however, franchise and chain restaurants abound; in the suburbs, it’s fair to say that chain eateries significantly outnumber the locals. Drive the length of Hurstbourne, for instance, and once you’re past Tony Boombozz, the elegant Limestone and the Bristol, you’ve pretty much exhausted your independent-owner options.

But let’s face it: Bean counters and quarterly balance sheets to the contrary notwithstanding, the chains must be doing something right, as these eateries generally pack in crowds of seemingly happy customers. Continue reading Mimi’s: Popular chain lands on Hurstbourne

Westport General Store cuts the cheese, but it’s no Cracker Barrel

Westport General Store
Westport General Store: about 30 minutes from Louisville, is down-home, innovative and urbane. Photos by Robin Garr.

LEO’s Eat ‘n’ Blog with Louisville HotBytes

A rustic country store in a tiny rural village, it boasts a breezy veranda, an oversize wheel of fine cheddar cheese, and a down-home bill of fare that includes such goodies as stone-ground grits and country-fried pork chops and even, occasionally, fried bologna.

Why, it sounds just like Cracker Barrel.

Not!
Continue reading Westport General Store cuts the cheese, but it’s no Cracker Barrel

Big-city dining at bucolic Holly Hill

Holly Hill
Holly Hill Inn in Midway, Ky., is located in a beautiful brick structure that dates back more than 150 years. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Photo by Kim Massey.

LEO’s Eat ‘n’ Blog with Louisville HotBytes
(Holly Hill Inn, Gourmet to Go’s rye bread, Oceanside Seafood)

Call me an unreconstructed urbanite, but I tend to assume that if you desire sophisticated fare in an upscale environment, you’ll want to stay close to the city.

Sure, there are exceptions, with jewels like Limestone and Ferd Grisanti in the chain-rich suburbs, and worthy dining destinations even in the outer ring of suburbs, from RockWall above New Albany to Norma Jean’s Trackside and Westport General Store out in Oldham County, just to name a few.

But who’d have thought that one of Kentucky’s most sophisticated eateries – so good that it attracts national media attention – resides in tiny Midway, a good hour’s drive east of downtown Louisville, so far out into the Bluegrass that you’ve got to drive past Waddy and Peytona to get there?

It’s true. Featured in such publications as Bon Appetit, Food & Wine and Southern Living and invited to show their stuff at James Beard House in New York City in June 2004, the husband-and-wife team of owner-restaurateurs Chris and Ouita Michel have put Midway not only on Kentucky’s culinary map but the nation’s with their Holly Hill Inn. Continue reading Big-city dining at bucolic Holly Hill

Brunch at the Prospect Bristol

Bristol - Prospect

(Bristol – Prospect, Voice-Tribune, Nov. 9, 2006)

Louisville old-timers fondly recognize the Bristol Bar & Grille as the great-grandpappy of just about all the popular eateries that now virtually line Bardstown Road and Frankfort Avenues.

When the original Bristol opened at 1321 Bardstown Road in 1977, the idea of an upscale urban bistro seemed a little strange, but the idea quickly caught on, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Over the years, the Bristol became well-known for its casual gourmet-style signature dishes, from the Bristol Burger (served on an English muffin, what a concept), to the beloved Green Chile Won Tons. But when I look back over all the years that I’ve been a fan and happy customer, one Bristol tradition stands out: Sunday brunch!

A few branches around town have joined the original location, sharing similar menus but each with its own mood. The downtown branch (614 W. Main St.), fits in beautifully with its 19th century storefront surroundings, and the Hurstbourne Bristol (300 N. Hurstbourne Pkwy.) seems just as compatible a fit with the suburbs.

And now there’s a Prospect Bristol, opened this past summer in shopping-center space that had housed a Max’n’Erma’s. Continue reading Brunch at the Prospect Bristol

Chains – Was Mr. Marx right?

P.F. Chang's
Long waits were common when P.F. Chang’s opened in Louisville last year. Photo by Robin Garr

LEO’s Eat ‘n’ Blog with Louisville HotBytes
(P.F. Chang’s, Cheesecake Factory)

“Unite,” Karl Marx urged the workers of the world. “You have nothing to lose but your chains.” And speaking of chains, my experiences with dining at the franchised variety too often remind me of another Marx – Groucho – who famously said, “I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn’t it.”

Please note that I’m not simply bashing all chains, sight unseen. I’ve had splendid meals at quite a few, and published glowing reviews. But whether you’re looking at a restaurant chain like Cheddar’s or a newspaper chain like Gannett, simple logic argues that when corporate bean counters rule spending, corner-cutting and diminished quality are likely to follow. Chains simply operate under different constraints than an independent local business run by an owner-chef whose passion drives him or her to excel regardless of costs.

This seems to work, most of the time. Consider the popularity of the Louisville Originals restaurants and similar locally owned eateries: You’ll find few chains knocking the locals out of any critic’s list of Top 10 places to dine.

And yet … some chains clearly do something right, because hungry crowds fairly knock down their doors. Take the suburban culinary meccas P.F. Chang’s and Cheesecake Factory. The three-hour waits of the early days may have diminished a little since they opened last autumn, but eager diners still line up hungrily at dinner time.

What is their secret? Continue reading Chains – Was Mr. Marx right?