We live in the age of the chef-driven restaurant. Across the nation and around the city, chefs have become outside personalities, featured on stage, screen and TV. Louisville has been no exception to this principle, with our top chefs turning up on Food Network, competing in chefly combat and scrambling after awards, honors and, of course, sweet, profitable publicity for Louisville’s eateries and for the city.
It’s no surprise that quite a few chefs, including more than a handful of locals, have jumped into this fray with chef knives drawn, and their bold efforts seem to pay off in fame and, we hope for their sakes, fortune.
It’s easy for a young chef to see all this action and jump onto a public-relations treadmill, hiring flacks to beat the publicity drums and make the tough cold calls that some think need to be placed in order to be heard above all the other chefs clamoring for attention.
And maybe it works. But in this competitive setting, I can’t help but delight in one of the city’s top restaurants, a spot a bit off the usual Restaurant Rows, that has quietly been gaining a top-rank reputation without obvious displays of public-relations affection or any other hype that I can detect.
This is Marketplace at Theater Square, where Chef Dallas McGarity earns the loyalty of his staff and peers – and the dining public, too – by working hard and quietly. He hasn’t been on Top Chef or Iron Chef, but he has raised thousands of dollars for charities; and if he has any hired PR flacks (which I doubt), they are the quietest and most subtle people I’ve ever seen in a business not known for either silence or restraint.
Yet he has been invited back to New York’s James Beard House repeatedly to cook in the reflected honor of his peers representing Volare and again to represent Marketplace.
Combine all this with a spacious, beautiful renovation of the old Kentucky Theater, indoors and on the protected patio, and there’s an awful lot to like here. We stopped in with our pals Pat and Don the other night before a Hitchcock movie at the nearby Palace Theater (another beautiful renovation on Louisville’s old Movie Row) and had a good time and a great meal.
The menu is simple but varied, with about a dozen apps and salads topping out at $14 (for a meal-size barbecued lamb flatbread) and another dozen mains appropriately priced from $17 (for a black bean cake with grits, greens and corn) to $33 (for a filet mignon with bourbon ginger demiglace).
I sipped an intriguing Prosecco-based, orange-scented cocktail ($10) as we started our meal with crusty artisan baguette and butter, then moved on to two excellent apps: Four fine golden rounds of fried green tomato ($9) on greens and corn, kicked up with a spicy Sriracha aioli; and a bowl of pan-roasted brussels sprouts ($9) bathed in a tart-sweet Bourbon hoisin sauce with dried cherries. A spinach salad ($8) with local Sheltowee Farm mushrooms, bacon and gorgonzola was fine.
Fresh-made ricotta gnocchi in a mushroom truffle cream ($19) was rich as Croesus but much more appetizing; and the lamb meatballs appetizer ($12) with Greek-style tzatziki, greens and corn made a filling light entree.
I wish there’d been room for dessert, but cups of strong espresso made a fine finish to a memorable meal. Dinner for two, with the cocktail, rang up a reasonable $77.38 for two, plus a $20 tip.
651 S. Fourth St.
Robin Garr’s rating: 92 points