Many of Louisville’s West End neighborhoods are defined as food deserts, places where low-income neighbors don’t have easy access to supermarkets. But Carlos Galan is trying to do something about that.
Galan, who came to Louisville from Florida five years ago with his wife, Kim, saw potential in the West End, and he is taking practical steps to bring food to the Market Street neighborhood where Russell meets Portland.
He and partner Joe Noren opened a butcher shop two years ago at 29th and Market streets, offering affordably priced fresh, quality meats and sandwiches, and canned goods to a neighborhood that had none
Two months ago, he added a sit-down restaurant nearby. Galan’s Meat Market & Grille offers Cuban, Puerto Rican, and down-home fare in a former bank building at 23rd and Market.
We headed west to try it out for Saturday lunch, and I’m glad we did, although I’d like go go back on a Sunday, when there’s an expansive $15.99 buffet, or on a weekday, when Cuban and Puerto Rican specials are on the menu.
The dining room is attractive in bright white and matte black, with art depicting Caribbean scenes and a stylized Cuban flag. Shiny butcher-block-look tables are branded with Galan’s logo and set with stacking metal chairs. One table, available by reservation, offers guests fancy seating in the old bank vault.
Galan’s is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner Mondays through Saturdays, and brunch on Sundays. Its menu is diverse, appetizing, and as affordable as you would want an oasis in a food desert to be. Breakfasts top out in price at $7.99 for steak and eggs; you’ll get change back from $10 for everything on the lunch menu except the full-oound Goliath burger for $12.99.
You can go Latin with Cuban sandwiches ($6.99-$7.99) or a Puerto Rican burrito ($6.99), or appetizers like empanadas or chicharrones ($4.99 each), or stay on the mainland with a burger ($8.49), pizzas and calzones ($6.99-$18.99), or get breakfast all day.
Lunch ($7.99) and dinner ($9.99) specials are picadillo on Monday, ropa vieja or vaca frita on Tuesday, oxtails on Wednesday, carne con papa on Thursday, and arroz con pollo on Friday.
We started with mariquitas con mojo ($5.99), a taste-bud-tingling appetizer. Long, paper-thin strips of plantain were fried shattering crisp, dusted with salt, and drenched with sauteed onion strips in thick, golden mojo sauce, a tangy mix of garlic, olive oil, and citrus.
A medianoche (“midnight”) sandwich ($6.99, pictured at the top of the page), a traditional Cuban late-night snack, is a sibling to the familiar Cuban sandwich but built on soft, golden egg bread. It was loaded with a slab of roasted pork, a slice of ham, a pile of grilled onion strips, a half-dozen pickle chips, a smear of ballpark mustard and a bit of pickle relish. The pork was tender and flavorful, and the flavors combined in memorable harmony.
A side dish of Cuban-style congri ($3) was a bowl of rice and black beans cooked together so the rice turns warm brown with bean broth. Every grain was separate, with finely diced red pepper, onion, green pepper and celery to contribute color and flavor.
Galan’s pizzas are good Louisville-style pies, built on a freshly made thin, breadlike base, made with just the right amount of spicy, house-made tomato sauce and melty mozzarella. Toppings are fresh and hand-cut. We enjoyed a 14-inch pie with julienned onion and green peppers for a thrifty $7.99.
With a small cup of strong, intensely sweet Cuban coffee ($2), lunch for two came to $27.72, plus a 25 percent tip.
Of course we couldn’t leave the West End without driving five blocks onward to the butcher shop, Galan’s Meat Market & Deli (2801 W. Market St., 614-8514, galansmeatmarket.com or facebook.com/nobodybeatsourmeat).
It’s a bright, sparkling clean building with shiny butcher cases and shelves of canned goods and staples. Deli sandwiches and quality premium beef and pork and free-range, hormone- and antibiotic-free chicken are available for startlingly low prices, from $5 sandwich specials to the $10 Big Papa sandwich, a full pound of sliced corned beef on toast. Look around, check the freezers and ask, and you may find such rarities as red hots, rib tips, buffalo fish, oxtails, even liver pudding.
We were lured outside, though, by the delicious aromas wafting from a big black smoker grill, where a guy with professional looking moves wrangled racks of ribs, roast beef, and whole smoked chickens.
A whole smoked chicken ($6), was great. The free-range bird was butterflied, dry-rubbed with black pepper and garlic and wrapped in foil for the grill. The meat was falling off the bone and tasted so good that it was hard to stop eating it.
Galan’s Meat Market & Grille
2300 W. Market St.
Robin Garr’s rating: 83 points.
Noise level: When the room is fairly full, as it was for our Saturday lunch, there’s a steady buzz, but it’s not too loud to chat comfortably with your table mate. (Average sound level was 78dB, toward the higher end of normal conversation.)
Accessibility: The entrance and seating are accessible to wheelchair users, and the restrooms are equipped with accessibility hardware.
Galan’s Meat Market & Deli is at 2801 W. Market St., 614-8514, galansmeatmarket.com or facebook.com/nobodybeatsourmeat.