By Robin Garr
Today: Cloudy, gradually becoming overcast, with a high near 34. Gusty and variable winds, with rain, sleet, and snow showers through the period.
That’s the kind of dismal forecast that just shouts “Louisville Winter!” Blustery weather like thismakes me crave warm, consoling comfort food … and a warm, consoling comfort restaurant to enjoy it in.
But what does a restaurant like that look like? On a frigid December day when even your eyebrows feel frosty, opening the door into a warm, cozy restaurant is like hitting the jackpot. As soon as you walk in you feel a lovely warmth that makes you forget you can’t feel your toes.
The room may be romantically dim, and yet it is lighted up like a Christmas tree, and everything smells so good that it supercharges your appetite. The buzz of a happy crowd fills your ears, but it’s such a happy sound that you don’t object. Pull up a comfortable chair and discover a menu jam-packed with things you love. Calories? Carbs? Who cares? This is a comfort feast that will warm you from the inside out.
I’ve got my thoughts, and I won’t be shy about sharing them today. As a reality check and source of additional information, I turned to the social media hive mind. “Listen up,” I posted. “Imagine a cold, blustery winter night. What local eatery do you choose for warmth and comfort? What makes a restaurant a refuge from winter’s blasts?”
Did I get answers? You bet I did. Let’s look at a few of those comfort criteria, and talk about some favorite local eateries that offer warming solace to the shivering traveler.
A warming hearth
Right off the top, a roaring fireplace says “Come in and get warm.” Just about every local eatery that boasts a warming fire came in for favorable mention, many earning multiple nominations. The old Butchertown farmhouse that once housed L&N Wine Bar, later Bistro 1860, and now Chik’n & Mi. I remember many a happy meal on a frigid day at a table nestled right up to L&N’s toasty fire, and I’m glad that possibility still exists under the current ownership.
Sadly, the welcoming fireplace that lured the frozen to the old Baxter Station was lost to the renovation that turned this establishment into Ciao, an otherwise estimable but fireplace-deprived Italian-style eatery. Still, plenty of warming fires beckon the winter-weary around town: Mesh, Brasserie Provence, Molly Malone’s, and Village Anchor all earned praise from social-media friends.
What’s more, you don’t absolutely need a fireplace to enjoy the warmth of primal fire. To test this seemingly contradictory notion, settle down in the neighborhood of the roaring wood-burning stoves in the open kitchens at Noosh Nosh, Coal’s Pizza, or Red Hog, just to name a few.
Even in the absence of a roaring fireplace, some local destinations seem to attract winter love simply because of the warmth of their welcome, their mood, and their food. Far and away the most frequently mentioned winter destination was Irish Rover, whose historic Frankfort Avenue quarters does not include a working fireplace. :The atmosphere is so happy, and that gives me warm and cozy vibes,” a Facebook friend testified. :And of course, the delicious comfort food.”
Indeed, name an Irish pub and you’ll immediately feel a consoling warmth. Another friend celebrated most of the local options in a single breath: “Irish Rover or The Raven or Molly Malone’s, Flanagan’s, O’Shea’s … they really have it down!”
It doesn’t have to be Irish. Other pardon-the-expression warm thoughts surrounded area pubs and eateries.
Check’s Cafe? The bean soup answers all the questions, one friend suggested. “Don’t forget the chili,” said another. Buck’s, my favorite in any weather, added another. “In winter, it is even more welcoming. Warm golden glow and white flowers. Staff makes me feel like I belong!”
It’s true that lighting can make a huge difference. At North of Bourbon on a chilly December night last year, the twinkling lights overhead and warm glow behind the rows of bourbon on the back bar seemed to generate a warmth that filled the room.
Still mourning the loss of Gasthaus, a friend memorably celebrated its winter attractions: “The Gasthaus … was best enjoyed on a cold winter night in my opinion. The lighting, the abundance of German decor, the cozy nooks that the built in ‘cottages’ created, the gluhwein, potato soup, schnitzel, spaetzle, kraut, of course warm apple strudel for dessert, all made it a delightful hyggekrog.”
Warmth from within
Finally, there’s no more enduring warmth than the inner glow that accompanies the consumption of comfort food. The carnivorous comforts of Brazeiros Louisville – Brazilian Steakhouse drew one friend’s nomination. Others mentioned the warm, welcoming decor and elevated Italian fare at Volare. And many – including me – celebrate the filling heat and spicy warmth of hearty Asian soups. There’s pho at Eatz Vietnamese, District 6, Namnam Cafe, and more, Thai soups at Simply Thai, All Thai’d Up, Banh Thai & M, Time for Thai, and others, or hearty noodle or rice dishes at Lee’s, Koreana, and Nami among the city’s many Korean spots.
Much of another Louisville winter lies ahead. But when that numbing chill settles in, you know what to do.