Derby time!

This article first appeared in The Voice-Tribune, Louisville’s suburban weekly newspaper. LouisvilleHotBytes publishes monthly restaurant reviews and wine-tasting reports in The Voice, which is available on East End news stands and by subscription.

Every year around this time, I face one of the most difficult chores a food critic encounters: Explaining to scores of hopeful Derby visitors that they are probably not going to be able to walk into the city’s top restaurants on Kentucky Oaks or Derby evening and secure a table without a reservation. In fact, the chances are that it’s already too late to get a reservation for most of the city’s popular eateries during Louisville’s biggest party of the year.

“I’ve been booked since Derby night last year,” Melillo’s manager Ashley Chesman said with a laugh. “Sometimes it’s best to make the reservation WAY in advance.”

Here are a few dining survival tips for getting the most out of this and future Derbies, based on my own experience and advice from the food-savvy participants on the LouisvilleHotBytes online forum:
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About those smokin’ Arawaks

Illustration by Gina Moeller

LEO’s Eat’n’Blog, April 26, 2006

When Columbus first visited American shores (which weren’t then called “American,” but that’s a whole ‘nother story), he encountered the Arawak Indians (who weren’t really Indian, but let’s call a halt to all these digressions), and was reportedly amazed to find them doing two unusual things with fire. First, they stuck lighted cylinders of rolled, dried leaves in their mouths, inhaling the smoke. Second, they put chunks of raw meat on a rack of wooden sticks over hot coals and left the meat to roast ever so slowly until it became smoky and delicious.

The first practice didn’t turn out to be all that good an idea, although it was literally addictive. But the second concept has yielded one of nature’s most noble foods. The Arawaks called it “barbacoa.” We call it “barbecue,” and now that I think about it, it’s mighty addictive, too.
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Dining out at the ball game, dining out at the park

Opening Day at Slugger Field

Take me out to the ball game,
Take me out to the park.
Buy me some peanuts
($3) and Cracker Jack ($2.50) …

Hold on just a minute! We’re only three lines into the song, we’ve already spent more than five bucks, and all we’ve had is salty and sweet snacks?

You’ve got that right, Bubba … concession pricing at Louisville Slugger Field may not be quite up into major-league territory (but then, neither are the Triple-A International League Louisville Bats), but an evening at the ball park isn’t a cheap dinner. By the time you pack in a bag of peanuts and a box of Cracker Jack, not to mention a 1/3-pound burger ($4), an all-beef hot dog ($3) or the irresistible joys of a fried bologna sandwich ($2.75), not to mention a soft drink ($2) or a 20-ounce plastic cup of cold beer ($4.25), you’re looking at a tab for dinner that wouldn’t be out of place in some of the lower-end Bardstown Road bistros. And frankly, your dinner won’t be nearly as good.
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Food, wine star at Avalon

Avalon’s patio is one of the hottest spots in Louisville.
LEO Photo by Brian Bohannon

LEO’s Eat’n’Blog, April 19, 2006

By Robin Garr

Writer STEVE COOMES takes a turn in LEO’s pulpit today, choosing the chapter of Avalon from the book of Good Eats. This popular Bardstown Road bistro, he says, offers one of the most approachable dining rooms on the strip, an understated venue that lays back so the bill of fare can strut its stuff without distraction on an unadorned stage. Here’s his report:

Avalon’s split-level space bears a simple black, tan and pale-yellow color theme, straightforward tables and chairs, soft lighting and wide, uninterrupted sight lines … perfect for people-watching. The second level’s soaring ceiling is indirectly lighted, with an abstract metal sculpture adding a touch of elegance to an otherwise understated space.
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Saffron’s Buffet serves it up

Illustration by Gina Moeller

LEO’s Eat’n’Blog, April 12, 2006

If you’ve got a hankering for some hearty home cooking, and plenty of it, you can hardly do better than to hit the buffet at Saffron’s Buffet, where for a paltry 8 bucks you can load up on heart-warming goodies like Mom used to make. Who wouldn’t like to get on the outside of a portion of aush reshteh, for instance? Or maybe a bowl of koofteh and a little chicken tacheen with barberry rice.

What? You say your Mom never made anything remotely like that? Next I guess you’ll tell us that she wasn’t even Iranian.

But you don’t have to be Iranian to learn to love the aromatic and not-so-exotic Southwestern Asian goodies that Majid Ghavami and crew dish up at Saffron’s Buffet.
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LouisvilleHotBytes in LEO

LEOA brand new look for LEO’s dining reports
Notice something different in your weekly LEO? Wednesday, April 12, we launched LEO’s Eat ‘n’ Blog with LouisvilleHotBytes, a new look in the local alternative weekly’s dining, food and drink reporting that’s a team effort in more ways than one.

The boundary between print media and the Internet begins to blur as we undertake this venture, with Louisville journalist Robin Garr in charge of a team of food-savvy writers – including familiar faces from both LEO and LouisvilleHotBytes – who’ll provide bold, incisive and unabashedly opinionated “blog-style” commentary, in print and online, about good things to eat and drink in the Metro and where to find them.
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Louisville's top spot for talk and reviews from the food and restaurant scene