Category Archives: Commentary

Robin Garr’s musings about food and restaurant matters that don’t fit neatly into the “review” category.

It’s not your grandma’s church supper when Chef Lamas is in the house

By Robin Garr

Chef Anthony Lamas wrapped a towel around the handle of a screeching hot black iron skillet, swung around and showed off a dozen beautifully seared fresh-caught dry scallops the size of baseballs to an eager crowd.

“This is how you do it,” he said with a smile. “Dry scallops, never stored in liquid. Season them, slap them in a dry skillet as hot as you can get it, and don’t turn them until they come loose.” Continue reading It’s not your grandma’s church supper when Chef Lamas is in the house

Inflation poses tough pricing choices for chefs and owners

By Robin Garr

Dan McMahon sat with a Sharpie and an extra copy of his restaurant’s trifold menu and pondered a difficult decision.

McMahon, general manager of Danny Mac’s Pizza in the Mellwood Art Center, knew he would have to raise prices. With grocery prices rising fast, gasoline prices topping $4 a gallon locally, and inflation the United States hitting the highest levels seen in decades, that was a done deal.

“We just went through all of our invoices and found out that lots of our business supplies went up about 20 percent in the last month,” he said. “All food and packing supplies went up. Twenty percent can put you out of business fast if you don’t change your prices.” Continue reading Inflation poses tough pricing choices for chefs and owners

Some like it hot: Our favorite fiery fare

By Robin Garr

The hottest, fieriest, most palate-scorching dish I ever ate at a local restaurant was not Indian, nor any other cuisine traditionally associated with culinary fire.. Nope. It was a down-home entree – a simple grilled cheese sandwich – served up at the currently closed New Albany branch of Toast on Market.

Yeah, it was a chipotle grilled cheese sandwich, but still. As I wrote in my 2014 review, I didn’t quite expect flames to come shooting out my mouth while my endorphins took off in a wild and crazy rush around my brain. Wooee! That sandwich is HOT!” Continue reading Some like it hot: Our favorite fiery fare

Struggling restaurants fight for federal fund boost

By Robin Garr

The pandemic hasn’t been kind to small businesses, and that certainly includes local restaurants and food-service ventures. Just ask Chase Barmore, who had spent more than nine years building his Lifebar smoothie bar concept.

Barmore’s healthy, hand-crafted all-organic smoothies had earned Life Bar deserved popularity through sales in three regional Rainbow Blossom stores, and business was looking better … until Covid came. Continue reading Struggling restaurants fight for federal fund boost

Lessons from history for this restaurant economy

By Robin Garr

If you’ve been fretting about high gasoline prices and skyrocketing grocery costs lately, you are certainly not alone.

And if you own a restaurant or work in one, already wrestling with well-publicized supply chain and staffing issues driven by the pandemic, you’re looking down the barrel of scary times ahead as inflation and a possible economic recession join the mix. Continue reading Lessons from history for this restaurant economy

Hyderabad House brings the biryani

By Robin Garr

Biryani: India’s mouth-watering rice dish, a meal in itself, stands tall against other national rice-based competitors such as Spain’s paella, Italy’s risotto, Nigeria’s jollof rice, Indonesia’s nasi goreng, Louisiana’s jambalaya, or Persia’s pilaf.

What is biryani, anyway? It’s a hearty rice dish layered with lamb, chicken, fish, or vegetables, scented with saffron and aromatic Indian spices, sauced with a thick gravy, and roasted in a covered pot until the flavors join in a resounding gustatory chorus. Continue reading Hyderabad House brings the biryani

The fish just keep on coming

Louisville is well into Lenten fish season now. Hungry supplicants are reportedly lining up at Friday church fish fries and local fish eateries too. And I’m not embarrassed to say that my fish fry report last month went locally viral enough to fill up my email and direct messages for a while.

Most of your comments were kind and grateful. A few were kind and constructively critical, politely telling me what more I could have done. I can live with that, as long as kindness is part of the equation.

So here’s the story: I didn’t do wrong in my report of Louisville-area church fish fries and a handful of personal favorite restaurants where fried fish is a year-round speciality.

But, some of you say, I could have done more. Continue reading The fish just keep on coming

Happy Lent, and thanks for all the fish

By Robin Garr

Easter is late this year, and working backwards, that means that Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday are a little behind schedule, too. Fat Tuesday is coming up on March 1, and Ash Wednesday, beginning the penitential season of Lent, arrives next week, on March 2.

In other words, if you’ve been craving fried fish a little more than usual lately, there may be a reason for that: In a more typical year, Lenten fish-fry season would already be well under way. Continue reading Happy Lent, and thanks for all the fish

Burger vs Burger: It’s a win-win at Shady Lane Cafe

By Robin Garr

Ahh, Shady Lane Cafe! This lovable little East End diner-style cafe has been a popular lunch (and weekend dinner) spot since Bill Smith and Susi Wood opened it around 2004. It earned deserved popularity for its iconic Brownsboro burger and much more.

All good things eventually move on, though, and in August 2019 Bill, short-order chef and poet, and his wife Susi, amiable host and professional singer, turned the business over to another couple – Carol Reeves and Satbir “Shan” Singh – in August 2019.

The new owners have maintained the same high level of quality and popularity. When I dropped in to pick up a takeout lunch on a recent Saturday, every table in the little space was filled with apparently happy diners, and the line to the counter extended all the way back to the door. Continue reading Burger vs Burger: It’s a win-win at Shady Lane Cafe

The Language of Food: This book helps us interpret the menu and more

By Robin Garr

“Can you figure out how much your dinner will cost by counting the words on the menu? Food, and how we describe it, can tell us a lot about what it’s going to cost us when we go out to eat tonight.”

The Louisville Free Public Library’s e-book blurb about Stanford University professor and MacArthur Fellow Dan Jurafsky’s 2014 book, The Language of Food: A Linguist Reads the Menu, got my attention fast. I knew a book that dives into culinary linguistics and statistics too would be a great read for a word nerd and food geek like me. Continue reading The Language of Food: This book helps us interpret the menu and more