Category Archives: Ethnic & Eclectic

We belly up to the Indian buffet

Shalimar
Serving fine Indian fare for more than a dozen years, Shalimar is Louisville’s longest-lived Indian eatery. Photo by Robin Garr

(Voice-Tribune, Jan. 11, 2007)

I’ve loved Indian food ever since I first discovered it as a youngster during a long-ago trip to London, where I was instantly smitten by the curry houses around Victoria Station.

I came home with a lifelong love for this exciting, aromatic and sometimes fiery fare, but it took years before it would be easy to enjoy it in Louisville. Through the ’80s and into the ’90s, it seemed, our city simply wasn’t ready for such exotic cuisine, and a sad series of short-lived family-run Indian restaurants came and went.

Eventually, though, a few Indian spots showed staying power, and for the past few years we’ve enjoyed a choice of at least three good options – Kashmir in the Highlands, Shalimar on Hurstbourne near I-64, and India Palace, which moved last year from the Buechel area to Shelbyville Road near Hurstbourne.
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How can we miss Impellizzeri’s when it hasn’t gone away?

Impellizzeri's pizza
There’s nothing quite like an Impellizzeri’s pie. If the closing of the Highlands location made you cry, dry your eyes and head for the ‘burbs. Photo by Robin Garr.

LEO’s Eat ‘n’ Blog with Louisville HotBytes
(Tony Impellizzeri’s, Taste of Jamaica, Mayan Café and more)

Pizza may trace its culinary roots to Naples in Italy, but since this delicious immigrant-food treat exploded out of its ethnic enclaves in the Northeast to become a national phenomenon back when the first Baby Boomers were growing up, it’s become as all-American as, well, chow mein or frankfurters.

Over the generations in Louisville, a handful of Italian family names have become household words inextricably associated with the noble pie: Calandrino’s in Louisville, and more recently, Tony Boombozz; in Lexington, Joe Bologna’s. Some of the city’s big-name Italian eateries, including the off-again, on-again Lentini’s and the late, still-lamented Casa Grisanti, can trace their heritage, at least in part, to the humble pizza.

But one familiar Louisville pizza family name may carry more weight than all the rest, and we’re not just talking about its massive pies: For a full generation, one pizza maker remained the place to go for a filling ration: Impellizzeri’s.
Continue reading How can we miss Impellizzeri’s when it hasn’t gone away?

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

Gumbo A Go-Go Goes to J-town

Gumbo A Go-Go

(Gumbo A Go-Go, Voice-Tribune, Oct. 12, 2006)

There’s plenty of sadness to go around amid the vast devastation that Hurricane Katrina left along the Gulf Coast last year, but for those of us who love good food, good drink and good times, the loss of the city of New Orleans as we once knew it has to be one of Katrina’s most enduring blows.

Sure, the City That Care Forgot will come back, and indeed it’s already doing so. But will it ever be the same? Who knows?

Meanwhile, though, the good news is that wherever people love the bold and colorful Creole and Cajun cuisines of New Orleans and Acadiana, chances are that someone nearby will be cooking the stuff and doing it well.

That’s certainly the case in Louisville, where Gumbo A Go-Go – a relatively recent arrival that opened last year in small quarters in Clifton – has now opened a suburban branch in Jeffersontown.
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Fast food follies

Corn dog nuggets
How does A&W get those little dogs to roll around in corn? Photos by Robin Garr

LEO’s Eat ‘n’ Blog with Louisville HotBytes
(A&W’s corn dog nuggets, White Castle’s chicken rings; also Primo and more)

The life of a food critic is not all white tablecloths and fawning service and foie gras for breakfast. Take it from me, folks, sometimes I do these things so you won’t have to.

Occasionally it becomes necessary to follow a food trend wherever it takes us, even when it takes us down a road that I would just as soon avoid.

Let us consider, then, the corn dog nugget.

As I reported in our State Fair feature in August, I feel a once-a-year craving for corn dogs that can only be satisfied with one, annual dog-on-a-stick. OK, maybe two.

But what if these crunchy, fatty delights were available year-round, as close as a familiar fast-food spot?
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