Who doesn’t like to spend a summer Saturday morning browsing a farmers’ market, loading up on fresh veggies, enjoying a breakfast burrito or a barbecue sandwich, listening to music and running into friends? That’s what I love about Harvest Restaurant: It’s like a big farmers’ market that’s open all year, with air-conditioning and table service!
So it’s no surprise that Ivor Chodkowski, a longtime leader in Louisville’s field-to-table movement and proprietor of farmers’ market favorite Field Day Farms, was the mind behind six-year-old Harvest, a local destination that celebrates farm-fresh local food and the farmers who grow it.
Decor speaks of the farm, too, with rough-hewn wood tables and room dividers; side chairs are comfortable blond wood, and oversize portraits of local farmers adorn the walls. A large wall map of the region bears circles and arrows connecting each farmer with the location of his or her property. Tables along the walls have small farmhouse-style lamps for cozy illumination. Tables are set with good white napkins, assorted old-style flatware, and fancy stemless wine glasses.
A bar along one side of the room is equipped with a massive list of 150 bourbons and another 50 whiskeys and ryes from around the world, plus cocktails and well-chosen selections of beer and wine too. We enjoyed a light, hoppy Founder’s All Day IPA ($4) and a “Berry Patch” cocktail ($10), a smooth and seductive blend of Rain vodka with strawberry-rhubarb and lime juices and basil syrup
I’ve admired Harvest since the very start, but I have to say that the arrival late in 2015 of Executive Chef Patrick Roney from his post as chef de cuisine at The Oakroom has taken Harvest to the next level. After a near-flawless dinner the other night, I’m not shy about declaring the food at Harvest on par with the city’s top tables.
Nine starters on Roney’s menu range in price from $10 (for Ivor’s black-eyed pea hummus) to $17 (for a Capriole goat cheese board).
Ten main courses, divided into pasta, pasture, and creeks-and-lakes sections, are priced mostly in the $20s, with the Harvest burger holding the low end of the bill of fare at $17. A smoked Marksbury Farm pork chop tops the listed prices at $29, but market price on an 8-ounce Black Hawk Farms rib eye turned out to be $50.
I don’t like black-eyed peas and I’m meh about hummus, yet Ivor’s black-eyed pea hummus ($10) somehow combined those two things into a textured, rich and earthy dip so good that I wanted to lick the dish and wished there had been a lot more. It was plated on a long, narrow board with a dish of thin-sliced, crispy garlic toast fashioned from Blue Dog seeded baguette, and assorted pickled veggies including carrots, green beans, kohlrabi julienne, hot-sweet curry-scented pickle rounds and more.
Heirloom tomato and charred cucumber salad ($12) was a delight. Generous portions of perfectly fresh heirloom tomatoes in shades of yellow, orange, purple and red were plated with watercress and dill leaves, crescents of faintly smoky, quick-grilled cucumber, curry-scented onion pickle and a slab of Kenny’s Tomme de Nena cheese and encircled with a tangy orange gastrique.
Early tomato gazpacho ($12) achieved a remarkably creamy texture from pureed heirloom tomatoes. I can’t remember having better gazpacho in Spain than this bright, flavorful mix, topped with dollops of aromatic chive oil and micro-greens, iced with frosty chunks of cucumber-basil sorbet.
Potato gnocchi with mushroom ragout ($23) was a startling meatless entree, a creative blend of field-grown salad topped with a variety of mushroom pieces that could almost pass for chicken and pork, tender rectangular house-made gnocchi, a mound of gently earthy Grana Padano cheese, and an intense dark mushroom broth poured into the bowl at tableside.
The smoked Marksbury Farm pork loin chop pictured at the top of the page ($29) was a very fine piece of locavore pig meat, dense but tender, lean save for a strip of edge fat. It had been gently smoked until its flavor rested in the zone between pork and ham, plated on a mix of several varieties of Ivor’s farm-grown beans held together with bean puree and finely chopped kale and kale stems. It was topped with a foamy coffee- and bourbon-scented red-eye gravy, a frothy presentation that was trendy a few years ago and perhaps came along from the Oakroom with the chef. It was a bit on the salty side and so were the gnocchi, but not enough so to warrant a complaint.
Desserts were insanely good. A double scoop of rich, creamy yet tangy house-made lemon ice cream studded with frozen blackberries ($5) was opulent, not cloying, with subtly flavored blackberry bits that carried hints of sugar.
Homemade angel food cake ($9) bore an unusual payload of chocolate bits, plated on a dark, intense bourbon hot fudge sauce with a ball of rich vanilla bean chantilly topped by four Muth’s chocolate-covered espresso beans.
Dinner for two came up to $125.14, and a $30 tip for our cordial, professional server, Robin.