Category Archives: LEO’s Eats

Great Guac, great Mole, and more at Guaca Mole

Some guacamole walked into a bar, and the bartender said, “Hey! There’s a restaurant named after you.” “What? There’s a restaurant named Wilbur?”

Well, no. And my career as a stand-up comedian should probably end right there. After all, guacamole is nothing to joke about, or at least not much. And if you think guacamole is just some boring green stuff that you use as a dip at cheap Mexican restaurants, you might want to re-think that, too.
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Instant Restaurant Row in Cardinal Towne

Vegan "ribs" at Green Leaf
Vegan "ribs" at Green Leaf . LEO photo by Ron Jasin
People talk about “restaurant rows” all the time in this food-crazed town. We’ve been marking them with highlighters on the city map for the last 25 years or so, since Bardstown Road started to solidify as the city’s first such culinary concatenation with the arrival of the Bristol, Jack Fry’s and their neighbors in the late 1970s.

It didn’t take Frankfort Avenue long to get into the act, when the Irish Rover, El Mundo and Heine’s followed Deitrich’s and the original incarnation of Lynn’s onto the streetscape. And then came St. Matthews, and NuLu;, and before long they’re all probably going to start running together into one mass restaurant zone.

And now, out on the bustling northwestern corner of the U of L campus, we may have the city’s first purpose-built restaurant row. If you don’t get out to this area often and still have in your mind the image of the old barn-like venue that long housed Masterson’s, get set to recalibrate: The entire southern end of the block along Cardinal Boulevard (née Avery) between Third and Fourth streets is now filled in by a hulking Cardinal red building that includes fancy apartment housing for 540 students … and, at ground level, a spanking-new urban block of spiffy storefronts that’s chockablock with quick-service eateries. Now, that’s a restaurant row!

Clearly geared to student interests, this row focuses on simple dining, fast and cheap. Not that there’s anything the matter with this. You might stereotype it as geared to student tastes, too. You’ve got subs (Qdoba), burgers (Home Run), vegetarian (Green Leaf), wings and such (Cluckers), coffee (Quills), Vietnamese-Chinese (Saigon One), pizza (Papalino’s), more sandwiches (Jimmy John’s) and, for dessert, a delicious bowl of ice cream (Comfy Cow).

You’ll find no upscale bistros here, no pricey white-tablecloth dining; but it’s a good mix of attractive alternatives, and applause to Louisville’s Grisanti Group (with its ties to local dining through the old Ferd Grisanti’s) for offering a number of local operators space among the chains. Not to mention such other attractions as J. Gumbo’s, Bazo’s, Bearno’s, Santa Fe Grill, La Tapatia, and the iconic Wagner’s Pharmacy, among many more in the campus-Papa John’s Stadium-Churchill Downs zone.

The Cardinal Towne strip proved more than ample for us the other day, though, as I felt the siren song of good quick and cheap eats calling my name from every doorway we passed at lunch time. We finally settled on a three-course progressive dinner that began with perhaps the quirkiest of the bunch, Green Leaf Natural Vegetarian Bistro.

The shtick here is that everything is vegetarian and much of it vegan; and posters and flat-screen videos in this shiny, green room hammer on the health and general goodness of a meat-free lifestyle. The menu straight-facedly offers dishes like caramel ginger chicken, steak burgers, BBQ pork and, mm, mm good, ribs, but it’s all ersatz, of course, using soy-protein analogues in place of meat. This vegetarian alternative outraged Louisville Cardinal critic Nathan Douglas, who savaged the place in a review earlier this year, demanding to know why “… one would put themselves through eating imitation meat, which at Green Leaf, has the consistency and taste of wet paper towels.”

I like the kid’s style – he might have a future as a restaurant critic – and if he got a little too harsh, he wasn’t really far off in his overall assessment. While I didn’t hate the meat analogues – the “ribs” had a chewy meaty texture and good salty flavor, and the “chicken” bits were soft but tasted as much like chicken as, say, rattlesnake or bunny rabbit does.

I wasn’t overwhelmed with the preparation, though. Both our dishes, house special citrus “rib” ($6.50) and roasted salted “chicken” ($6.75) came in seemingly identical combos with broccoli, pea pods, onion strips, zucchini, green pepper and a few wizened bits of button mushroom and soy sauce in “stir-fries” done on a grill top with rice on the side. I’ve had better Chinese food with more smiling service at storefront chopsticks houses all over town, and much better vegetarian at Roots, Heart & Soy, Zen Garden and just about every Southeast Asian eatery in town.

I doubt I’ll be back, but at least it was a decent deal, $17.18 for two with a tall glass of bubble tea ($2.95), and the change out of a $20 for the tip jar.

Green Leaf Natural Vegetarian Bistro
309 Cardinal Blvd.
637-5887
greenleafbistroky.com
75 points

Hoping to bounce back from a less than satisfactory experience, we continued lunch at a sure bet, Papalino’s NY Pizzeria, whose Cardinal Towne branch offers the downscale mood of an off-campus pizza pub. Giant slices, one with spinach, goat cheese and roasted tomatoes, and the other with roma tomatoes on chipotle cheddar, made us happy and got us out for about 10 bucks plus tip. (I rated the original Papalino’s 88 points upon opening on Baxter Avenue in 2010.)

Papalino’s NY Pizzeria
337 W. Cardinal Blvd.
365-1505
papalinospizza.com

Of course we couldn’t leave without a quick dessert at Comfy Cow, whose Cardinal Town branch sticks with the mini-chain’s antique ice-cream parlor look and ice cream that we’d scream for. “Arnold Palmer,” a lemonade-iced tea sorbet with a whiff of ginger, was strangely good. Caramel mocha was just plain good. Two “kiddie scoops,” $5, which probably works out to about 1 cent per calorie.

The Comfy Cow
339 W. Cardinal Blvd.
409-5090
thecomfycow.com

La Coop brings bistro to town

Since the loss of Deitrich’s and the short-lived Le Beaujolais at the Douglass Loop, the lack of a good French bistro in this town has been a major whining point for foodies. Sure, we have the awesome Le Relais, but it’s a fancy, upscale restaurant, hardly a bistro by any standard.

So what is a bistro? It’s hard to define simply in English, but let’s call it the Parisian model of a friendly, family-owned neighborhood restaurant that offers a simple bill of fare and tasty libations at wallet-friendly prices, with no pomp or circumstance.
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Echoes of Bakersfield at The Silver Dollar

Back in the day, when I was young and stupid, I would often make the long drive down California’s agricultural Central Valley, burning up the Golden State Highway to visit a girlfriend at UCLA.

When I hit the dusty town of Bakersfield, surrounded by oil rigs and potato fields, I knew I was within 100 miles and a couple of fast-driving hours over the Santa Monica Mountains to my destination. Sometimes I would reward myself with a pit stop and a cold beer at some dark and noisy honky-tonk, where the dominant sound was invariably loud country music.
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Road trip to Rick’s White Light pays off in good eats

I settled in, craving a po’boy, and asked the gent behind the counter what seemed like a simple question: “This month doesn’t have an ‘R’ in it. How are the oysters?” The raspy-voiced guy in the ball cap shot me a grin. “Are you kidding? You’re thinking about Gulf oysters. These are from Chesapeake Bay, and they’re good all year ’round.”
Continue reading Road trip to Rick’s White Light pays off in good eats

We chew on the year in eats

It’s been a decent year in Louisville dining, as most years are in this burg where we love our food and drink. A few regrettable losses have been balanced by a squadron of appetizing new arrivals. New and old, Louisville’s restaurants seem to be holding their own in the face of ongoing economic hard times.

Let’s take a quick, hungry look at some of my favorite restaurant arrivals of the past year:

GASTROPUBBERY

What in the heck is a gastropub? Bank Street Brewhouse previewed the genre with its 2009 arrival in New Albany (415 Bank St., 812-725-9585). The top new spot of 2010: The Blind Pig in Butchertown (1078 E. Washington St., 618-0600), which lured The New York Times to town to check out its snout-to-tail homage to pork. Village Anchor Pub & Roost (11507 Park Road, 708-1850), Anchorage’s memorable new gastropub, packs them in by dishing out “comfort food with a twist.” Eiderdown (983 Goss Ave., 290-2390) fits the niche with German-Southern cuisine and well-chosen libations. Dish on Market (434 W. Market St., 315-0669) earns a spot in this category, too, particularly after lunch, when its menu changes to an array of small plates.

PIZZA

Did someone say pizza? New pizzerias have been popping up all over. Chef Allen Rosenberg’s Papalino’s NY Pizzeria (947 Baxter Ave., 749-8525) puts together a mighty fine New York-style pie with creative flair. Other recent arrivals include Naked Pizza (135 Breckenridge Lane, 410-2211), where they make it healthy; DiOrio’s Pizza & Pub (310 Wallace Ave., 618-3424); and Danny Mac’s, now sharing space with Amvets Post 9 (1567 S. Shelby St., 635-7994). Watch out for Coals Artisan Pizza and its Brooklyn-style coal oven, coming to the Vogue complex.

NEW FAVES

There’s no theme here. Some of these spots are ethnic. I like ethnic. Others are down-home, and I like that, too. (Listed alphabetically.)

• DiFabio’s Casapela (2311 Frankfort Ave., 891-0411)

• El Rumbon Cuban Trailer (210-9087)

• Hillbilly Tea (120 S. First St., 587-7350)

• Istanbul Palace (2840 Goose Creek Road, 425-6060)

• Joe Davola’s (901 Barret Ave., 690-5377)

• La Colombiana (808 Lyndon Lane, Suite 105, 742-1179)

• Little India Café (3099 Breckenridge Lane, Suite 101, 479-3353)

• Michele’s on Goss (946 Goss Ave., 409-5909)

• Mozz Mozzarella Bar & Enoteca (445 E. Market St., 690-6699)

• Mr. Pollo Restaurant (3606 1/2 Klondike Lane, 618-2280)

• Peking City Bistro (12412 Shelbyville Road, 253-6777)

• Wild Ginger Sushi Bistro (1700 Bardstown Road, 384-9252)

• Zen Tea House (2246 Frankfort Ave., 618-0878)

WATCH OUT FOR . . .

Perhaps the biggest new deal is Majid Ghawami’s Majid’s, a major reworking of the Chenoweth Square space that hasn’t found a solid tenant since Rick’s moved out. Ghawami, who will keep one foot in Volare and the other here, turning over Saffron’s to a new proprietor, promises a mix of American small plates and the cuisine of the Persian Empire. The bar’s open now; the dining room is coming soon.

We’ve also got our eyes on the aforementioned Coals Pizza, Hammerheads (821 Swan St., 365-1112) and, later this year, the Comfy Cow’s arrival in the steam-cleaned and power-washed Genny’s. Watch out for Gary’s on Spring, Harvest on Market and NA Exchange in New Albany in the new year.