Big Bubba’s smokin’

Illustration by Gina Moeller

LEO’s Eat ‘n’ Blog with Louisville HotBytes
(Scotty’s BBQ, Heady’z, Gelato Gilberto, Westport General Store)

Yes, we’re talking barbecue again, all right? Get used to it. Properly smoked meat is one of nature’s most perfect foods. Get yourself outside of a rack of juicy, smoky ribs, and you really don’t need much of anything else.

Way out on the far east end of town, a gent who calls himself Big Bubba has been dispensing excellent ribs, with no extra charge for homespun commentary, since back in the day when there wasn’t much else around this tract-mansion-riddled region but corn and potato fields. Eat ‘N’ Blog correspondent DAN FARLEY says it just doesn’t get much better than this:

Let me say this right off the top: If you like barbecued ribs better than I do, you’re one sick puppy. I love them; I can’t do without them; I believe I can tell you where to get the best ribs in the Louisville area: Scotty’s, located at the end of a little strip mall on Shelbyville Road across from Copperfield, is the place.

Photo by Robin Garr: Scotty’s, way out in the East End, might just have the best ribs in town. Owner Roy Scott says the secret to great ribs is to not get in a hurry. “It takes me 4-1/2 hours,” he says.

Roy Scott, the proprietor, has been there for 20 years or so, and he figures he’s sold some 17,000 slabs of ribs. “There wasn’t much of anything out here when I started,” he said of the now-bustling suburban area.

Scott, who advertises his product as “Big Bubba’s Bub-ba-que” and his location as “Red Neck, Ky.,” said he was taught to barbecue by his predecessor out here, the late H.P. “Hal” Stainback, who sold ribs out of a small trailer he kept parked at the intersection of Shelbyville Road and the Jefferson Freeway, which was later renamed the Gene Snyder Freeway after the former congressman from LG&E.

Stainback, who had originally come to town to develop the Watterson City complex and later built the downtown San Antonio Inn, told a Courier-Journal reporter in 1986 that he learned to cook from “a black man many, many years ago in Somerville, Tenn. His name was Horace Grutcher, and he taught me to barbecue when I was 9 or so. Fella hit him in the head with a brick and killed him back in the late ’30s.”

Stainback said his cooking method can’t be hurried: “You got to have time. You put it in a pit and cook it real slow with hickory. Some people think you can barbecue ribs in 30 minutes to an hour, but it takes me 4 1/2 hours.”

As for that Big Bubba moniker, he said: “It could have been Billie Bob’s or something like that, but you’ve got to have a name … I’m 295 and 6-4, and that’s a pretty Big Bubba, isn’t it?”

Big Bubba also made his own secret sauce, which Scott says he purchased along with the barbecue recipe for $5,000. “The contract was written on a brown paper bag,” he said.

It has taken a while for Scotty’s, a nice neighborhood bar, to catch on. Scott said when he first started as “Sky’s Pizza, Subs and Suds,” he took in about $60 a week. He says he’s doing much better now.

A friend and I went to Scotty’s during Derby week (it wasn’t my first trip there) and pretty much tried to buy everything on the menu – ribs, fried chicken and fish. The ribs, a full slab brought out on a platter, were sensational. The chicken was great as well. The fish was forgettable, but then, that’s not really what we were there for. The food came to $53.87, but you can get by for a lot less. A good share of our tab had something to do with the five beers we went through. A rib dinner – about 1.1 pounds, according to the menu – is $11.95 and comes with bread and a choice of any two sides (slaw, beans, corn on the cob or french fries). The beans, thick and full of pulled pork, are a big winner as well.

Scotty’s fried chicken boasts a special breading that Scott gets from Owings Mills, Md., a place I know well for a crab house there. Don’t get me started.

Anyway, Scotty’s ribs – and his chicken – are the best. The size of his barbecue pit limits the number of slabs he can produce per day, so don’t forget to call ahead to be sure they are available. He also cooks them to carry out and will cater. If you call in an order, he’ll hold your ribs for one hour. After that you may be out of luck, and that would be a crying shame.

One other thing: I’m in a wheelchair, and it can be difficult for me to get to Scotty’s. The place itself is accessible, but there is only one curb ramp in the strip center, way down at the top end by Papa John’s, and there are obstacles along the walkway to overcome. Landlord Orbin Green needs to get off his duff and at least add another curb cut at the other end.

14049 Shelbyville Road

Photo by Robin Garr: The former Cheba Hut is now Heady’z in the Highland’z, but the stoner shtick and tasty subs are still the draw.

Don’t bogart that sub …

Having grown up in the same generation as former President Bill Clinton, I’m not going to embarrass myself by claiming I never inhaled. But then, I’m not running for anything. All this is by way of saying that I know enough to get the jokes on the menu at Heady’z in the Highland’z, even if they do seem a little bit self-consciously ’60s. They call it a food, er, “joint” and specialize in, um, “toasted” subs. (Think Quizno’s with a whiff of weed, but this place is entirely legal. As I’ve observed before, in this neighborhood, an establishment that cracks this overtly wise about controlled substances would probably be the last place that you could actually score some.)

The name, if not the sassy attitude, changed recently when the friendly folks who run this locally owned and operated eatery parted ways with the Arizona-based Cheba Hut chain, saying they prefer the autonomy of independent operation and pledging to kick quality up a notch by going over entirely to local vendors for everything from Lotsa Pasta sub rolls to the fresh produce and ingredients that go into their estimable sandwiches.

Sub sandwiches are the specialty, and you can choose from about 20 variations, several of them vegetarian, and most bearing wink-and-nudge names that carry on the theme, from the Maui Wowie (barbecued chicken, pineapple and cheese) to the Dimebag (chicken teriyaki, onions and peppers) to the Purple Haze (eggplant marinara). If you’re really hard to satisfy, you can order up the combo of your choice from any arrangement of up to two meats, two cheeses, four veggies and three sauces. Ask nicely, and maybe they’ll even let you name your concoction.

In a nice touch that allows you to scale the price of your dinner according to its size, Heady’z sells subs by the seashore, no, belay that … they sell subs by the inch, all models at one low price, ranging from $3.59 for a modest 5-incher to $5.49 for an 8-inch model, $7.59 for a foot-long and $9.99 for something called a Zeppelin (not Led) that’s presumably enough to feed a crowd. You can also get soups ($2.50 for a cup, $3.99 for a ration in a toasted bread bowl), salads ($4.75 small, $6.79 large), meat or vegetarian paninis, toasted not pressed, for $4.89, or have them “twist up” any sub or panini in a wrap for $4.79. Fountain and bottled soft drinks are available, as well as a good selection of bottled beers, including a few artisan brews – Rogue Brewing’s Dead Guy Ale seems to be a favorite.

We enjoyed a Marley sub (faintly spiced jerk chicken with crisp banana peppers and a lava stream of molten cheddar and pepper-jack cheese, with lettuce and tomato and a generous squeeze of optional hot sauce) and a decent Carpenter salad (spinach and romaine lettuce with sprouts, green peppers and grated cheese) with fresh-brewed iced tea, and got out of there for $12 plus a little something for the tip jar.

The long, narrow venue is a bit spartan but bright and fun, decorated with enough photos and posters of music legends and objets d’art made from old broken guitars to create the impression of a very low-budget Hard Rock Café. To be, er, blunt, this place is a keeper and a fine cure for the munchies.

Heady’z in the Highland’z
947 Baxter Ave.

Gelato Gilberto
Photo by Robin Garr: Kristin and Justin Gilbert learned to make gelato at Carpigiani’s Gelato University in Italy. Now they’ve opened Gelato Gilberto in The Summit.

I scream some more

As with barbecue, a person can’t have too much ice cream, particularly in the summer when it’s sultry. We recently reported with great joy about the restoration of Clarksville’s Widow’s Walk with new owners Bryan Fraley and Joseph Alford in charge; and I’ve pretty much earned a gold plaque on the wall at Café Glace in Crescent Hill in honor of all the fine gelato I’ve downed there.

Now the East End suburbs have their own gelato option; and somewhat surprisingly, considering the franchise-saturated venue, a discreet “Keep Louisville Weird” sticker on the rear door of this new spot in The Summit reveals that Gelato Gilberto is locally owned and operated.

Owners Kristin and Justin Gilbert declare it the city’s “most authentic” gelateria, with pistachio-color walls based on the precise hue of a classic Vespa motor scooter, not to mention top-10 Italian music on the sound system. Mr. Gilbert left an executive post with Papa John’s to strike out on his own in the world of gelato, and they spent several months in Italy, learning the language and seeing the sights and, not coincidentally, learning to make ice cream at Carpigiani’s Gelato University in Bologna, a course provided by a major Italian maker of ice-cream machines for entrepreneurs who use its products.

I’ve spent enough time in Italy myself to know the real deal when I taste it, and Gelato Gilberto is right on target, with intensely creamy and rich delights made fresh daily in about 15 enticing flavors, served properly in the traditional long metal pans, many of them artfully decorated with fresh fruit, nuts, even a broken whole coconut shell. Coconut was delicate, not cloying, and chocolate with orange walked a perfect tightrope between mellow dark chocolate and zippy citrus. Plain chocolate was fine, too, and other seductive items like amarena (whole black cherries on simple sweet cream gelato), pale green pistachio with imported Sicilian pistachios and frutti di bosco (mixed fresh berries) all made me want to hurry back for more. There’s even a soy-based option for the lactose-intolerant, and offbeat flavors like Gummi Bear and Creamsicle for those who find such a thing appealing.

Gelato Gilberto
The Summit, 4005 Brownsboro Road

While we’re out in the East End, let’s head on over to Oldham County, where NED WEATHERBY files this favorite-dish report from tiny Westport on the river:

Country saltimbocca

A recent trip off the beaten path revealed a true gem. Westport General Store is about as unexpected a discovery in this tiny, historic little village upstream from Louisville as would be, say, the Sydney Opera House.

When you spot this old store with its comfortable veranda, you might expect to find a couple of old-timers inside, playing checkers next to the wood-fired stove. But this is no ordinary general store (although it does sell a few small grocery necessities such as eggs and soda). We’re talking serious Southern bistro cuisine, with atmosphere, menu and culinary flair that’s much more upscale than ham hocks and grits.

Consider Westport’s Chicken Saltimbocca with Kentucky Roots: It’s hardly a dish you’d expect at a local greasy spoon diner. The chicken breast is marinated with a savory combination of herbs that complement the earthiness of provolone cheese and a thin, crisply grilled slice of ham that adorn the generous serving of chicken. This medley is heaped on top of a subtly seasoned mound of Cajun-style “dirty rice.” Further enhancing the flavor are the first-rate seasonal vegetables, fresh and professionally sautéed, not overcooked or drowned in butter. This is a truly memorable dish.

Westport General Store
7008 KY Hwy. 524
Westport, Ky.


When they asked me if I wanted a Taste of Frankfort Avenue, I said, “You bet your asphalt.” But there’s no need to chow down on pavement when this popular annual event goes down on Sunday, June 25, from 4-7 p.m. at the Clifton Center, just off Frankfort Avenue, actually, at the corner of Clifton and Payne. More than two dozen of this restaurant row’s eateries will be there with food samples, and there’ll be a raffle and silent auction to make things more interesting. Tickets are $35 a person, and proceeds benefit the non-profit Clifton Center. For details, call 896-8480.

This may be the canniest food concept that’s come along since Farmer Joe Huber had the idea of getting city folks to come over and pay him for the privilege of picking his strawberries: Now you can go in to the Brown Hotel’s English Grill and, for a reasonable fee, help Chef Joe Castro cook your dinner. OK, so they call it a summer cooking class, and it sounds like a blast for any “foodie,” but still. The classes are all on Saturday mornings – “Pasta, Pizza and More” on June 24 ($50), Summer’s Bounty (cooking with fresh produce, $60) on July 22, and Buried Treasures (root veggies, $60) on Aug. 19 – and you get to eat the lunch. Class space is limited and reservations are advised. Call 583-1234.