(Kayrouz Cafe, Voice-Tribune, Aug. 16, 2006)
As far back as most of us can remember, the name “Kayrouz” has been synonymous with quality family dining in Louisville. J.P. Kayrouz Restaurant on St. Matthews Avenue, operated by Joseph Paul Kayrouz and his wife Norma, was one of the city’s most popular family restaurants for more than a quarter of a century, and J.P.’s father ran Kayrouz Cafe at Preston and Fehr streets downtown as far back as the 1920s.
So there was great wailing and hungry gnashing of teeth when J.P. Kayrouz closed in June 2003 and its building was demolished, giving way to the new Wilson & Muir Bank & Trust Co. building.
But everyone who misses the Kayrouz commitment to quality cooking and attentive service may now rejoice: J.P.’s son, Christopher, has brought the family name back to the local dining scene in a small but charming little spot in St. Matthews, just a few blocks from his father’s longtime dining destination.
The little building had housed a series of “concept” restaurants, tested here before moving out to new locations, including the original Tony Boombozz, Thatsa Wrapp, the first Bazo’s and the short-lived Benny B’s sandwich shop. Now thoroughly and attractively renovated by Mr. Kayrouz, it appears the latest occupant is here to stay.
They’ve taken out the fast-food serving counter to create a more upscale environment and provide a little more room for dining, although it’s still a tight fit, with room to pack in just eight large, heavy tables and sturdy wooden chairs. A row of windows across the front of the building makes for a sunny lunchtime environment. Tables are provided with good quality flatware, colorful Fiestaware-style dishes and soft cream-colored napkins to underscore the fine-dining theme.
Fans of J.P. Kayrouz will be delighted to find many old Kayrouz standards on the menu, which features a good selection of soups, salads, sandwiches and lighter fare as well as a few more substantial main dishes. In the Kayrouz tradition, it’s affordable fare, with soups $3.50 for a cup, $4.50 a bowl; appetizers from $6.25 (for creamy, garlicky hummus) to $7.95 (for a chicken quesadilla); salads from $4.50 (for a café salad with iceberg lettuce and mixed greens) to $7.85 (for an avocado and mango dinner salad).
A selection of eight sandwiches range from $7.75 (for a vegetarian Reuben sandwich with a portobello mushroom in place of the usual corned beef) to $8.95 (for a “nova” chicken breast sandwich topped with avocado, bacon and brie). You don’t have to be a vegetarian to be smitten by the vegetable sandwich (a stack of artichoke hearts, roast red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, pesto, mozzarella and spinach, $7.95); meat-eaters, on the other hand, might find it hard to resist the Karmin pork loin sandwich topped with grilled apple, provolone, bacon and apple butter ($8.75).
Four variations on the burger theme start at $7.95 and top out at $9.95 for a “crabby Joe” burger garnished with with lump crab and sun-dried tomatoes. A half-dozen “old favorite” dinner dishes are $7 (for a BLAT, a BLT plus avocado) to $12.95 (for Boston scrod).
Beer and wine are served, with a short but affordable wine list that starts at $5 for a glass, $18 for a bottle.
I’ve been in a few times and have yet to be disappointed. On a recent visit we started with a hearty and steaming cup of clam chowder, an odd choice as soup of the day on a searing July afternoon but worth holing up in air-conditioning to enjoy. Served in a hefty blue ceramic coffee mug, it was thick and creamy and very well made, loaded with lots of clam and bits of potato and celery and onion.
The “Benny and bacon” sandwich ($7.25) for some inscrutable reason is not named as Benedictine, although that’s what it is; and it’s a fine rendition, too, topped with thick rashers of crisp, smoky bacon and served on rye toast. Accompanying slaw was perfect, thin-shredded and cold, with the proper amount of creamy dressing.
A fried scrod sandwich ($12.75) seemed pricey at first glance, but proved its worth in size (a huge fillet that hung way over the bread on all sides) and quality, flaky and fresh, sizzling from the fryer and nicely crusted with a crisp breading that seemed to have just a haunting touch of something aromatic like cinnamon. My wife declared her side dish of tabouleh just fine, with dark-green parsley and savory bulgur wheat in proportion.
Service was fine if a bit orotund – surely this guy has aspirations for the theater – and the tab for a filling meal for two, with iced tea and a soft drink, came to an entirely reasonable $29.52 plus $6.48 tip.
127 Wiltshire Ave.