Category Archives: Commentary

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

El Toro wins critic’s “Olé!”

El Toro

(El Toro and Salsarita’s, Voice-Tribune, June 7, 2006)

El Toro, the brave bull, sounds like it ought to be the name for a place that specializes in beef, and now that I think of it, the beef dishes at El Toro restaurant are, well, bueno. But it’s the mariscos – the seafood and fish – that really rattle my marimbas at this popular new East End eatery.

My Mexican-American foodie friend Javier put me on El Toro’s trail the other day with an excited E-mail message. “I am from Mexico … I think honestly that El Toro is the best [Mexican] restaurant in the city of Louisville right now. The service was excellent and the food was prepared very well. It is still somewhat Tex-Mex which bothers me but somehow they manage to make you forget that fact.”

This was high praise, coming from a guy who’s done time in the restaurant business himself. So I hastened to check it out, and came away convinced. If not the No. 1 Mexican restaurant in the metro – competition for that title is keen – it certainly exceeds expectations, and earns my recommendation for food, service and environment.
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Proof does lunch, and it’s good but pricey

LEO’s Eat ‘n’ Blog with Louisville HotBytes
(Proof on Main, Big Dave’s Outpost, Gasthaus, Erika’s)

Illustration by Gina Moeller

I’ve been just as impressed as everyone else by Proof on Main since this upscale eatery with its strong New York City connections opened at the beginning of March. As I wrote on after early dinners there, “I can’t rate it head and shoulders above Louisville’s top restaurants, but it’s certainly nudging its way into the city’s top tier, and it earns a place just into my four-star range based on food, style and service.”

Proof added lunch service this week, a move I had eagerly awaited, and it didn’t take me long to pop in to check it out. What we found was very good, if a little short of perfection, and – in slight contrast with Proof’s reputation for a comparatively affordable dinner bill of fare for a top-tier eatery, it may have been the most expensive lunch I ever ate. Our foursome – including a sophisticated 10-year-old – shared two appetizers, four lunch entrees, four desserts and only a single glass of a very modest Pinot Grigio, and ended up paying more than $120, with an appropriate tip bringing the tab up to a heart-stopping 150 bucks. For lunch!

Was it worth it? That’s a close call.
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Nios at 917: small plates, big taste

LEO’s Eat ‘n’ Blog with Louisville HotBytes
(Nios, Mayan Gypsy, Jeff Ruby’s preview)

Photo by Robin Garr: Nio’s at 917.

If these old walls could talk, what stories they might tell. This stunning, century-old red-brick building, with its big semicircular fanlights over glass-paned front doors, was originally the Gem theater, where actors trod the boards in a small but imposing barrel-vaulted room that now houses a dining room and the open kitchen at Nios at 917.

Did they play Shakespeare? Or vaudeville, or burley-cue? It’s hard to say. Before the 1950s, it was Shibboleth Hall, a Masonic lodge, and in recent years it has housed a succession of eateries and bars. The still-lamented Jupiter Grill was here, followed by a short-lived incarnation as a fish-taco spot, then @mosphere, a trendy establishment that ran into licensing problems that turned on the thorny issue of whether it was an eatery or a saloon.

Nios should have no difficulty with this regulatory question. Although it boasts a splendid bar with a lofty wine rack so tall that it needs library-style rolling ladders to reach the top shelves, it’s a restaurant indeed, and one that’s already showing potential to compete with the city’s top tables.
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Fish story

LEO’s Eat ‘n’ Blog with Louisville HotBytes
(Islamorada Fish Co., Widow’s Walk, Limestone brunch and more)

Islamorada Fish Co.
Photo by Robin Garr: The Islamorada Fish Company holds forth inside the gigantic Bass Pro Shop in Clarksville. It’s named after a popular eatery in the Florida Keys.

It’s a long and winding trail, assuming you take the scenic route. Hike along a babbling brook, watching fish darting just beneath the surface (don’t throw in any coins, please … it’s not good for the fish).

Illustration by Gina Moeller

Hang a left near the waterfall, where a looming glass wall frames an aquarium significantly larger than the biggest that the Louisville Zoo has to offer. Climb the stone mountain – oh, all right, the three flights of stairs – marveling as you pass antelopes, mountain goats, even a family of black bears, oh my.

When you see a giant blue lamprey dangling from the ceiling, you’re there; and so what if the animals are stuffed and the lamprey shiny plastic and the scene straight out of Disney. There’s nothing in this town that can top Islamorada Fish Company for sheer exuberance. Call it “hunter-and-fisher gothic,” if you will; snobs might judge it tacky, but I find it hard to behold this vista without breaking into a goofy grin.
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Battle of the Big Dogs

LEO’s Eat ‘n’ Blog with Louisville HotBytes
(Lonnie’s, Zap’s, Wings-N-Things, Al Watan, Marrakech and more)

Illustration by Gina Moeller

Derby and Mother’s Day are behind us, proms and graduations are winding up, and we assume that most of us have had our fill of celebratory gatherings and white-tablecloth dining for a while.

Let’s give our battered wallets a break this week, as the Eat ‘N’ Blog crew fans out over the city to check out some affordable and savory snack foods: hot dogs, chicken wings and the more exotic realm of shish kebab.

Correspondent PAIGE A. MOORE takes us to the weenie-dog races as she stages a standup shootout between two of the city’s top purveyors of Chicago-style hot dogs.
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Brendan’s: Pub grub goes upscale


Voice-Tribune, May 10, 2006

It’s hard to believe that so many years have gone by so fast since I was a boy reporter for the old Voice-Jeffersonian back in the early 1970s. My beat included St. Matthews City Council, and this was no easy chore, as then-Mayor Bernard Bowling Sr. didn’t like the newspaper, an attitude that we reciprocated in full.

Bernie couldn’t keep us out of council meetings (although he would have liked to), but he ordered city officials and staff not to talk to “The Rag,” as he indelicately called us. This made reporting profoundly difficult, especially for a 20-something reporter without much investigative experience. But I had a secret, and 30-some years later, I guess it’s safe to let it out: A few of the city council members, kind gentlemen in their 70s who just weren’t as comfortable as their boss about the idea of being blatantly rude, would let me tag along when they went over to Maier’s Tavern to unwind with a few beers after meetings.
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