Critical mass

I can’t be the only one who’s noticed that Louisville keeps making the national and international news lately for its chefs, restaurants and foodie scene. Maybe I’m just noticing more because we cut the cable umbilical at home a couple of months ago, but I don’t really think so – a lot of these recent articles and mentions are in other media besides television. In the last six weeks alone, it’s as if the national culinary media were astronomers discovering Planet Louisville for the first time, orbiting along deliciously at the other end of their telescopes.

This summer kicked off with the release of Edward Lee’s book, “Smoke and Pickles.” Chef Lee had recently opened MilkWood at Actors Theatre of Louisville, and the book release came in the aftermath of Derby. Next came the first of several viewing parties: Seviche was featured on “Ice Cream Nation” on The Cooking Channel for its avocado ice cream creation, whipped up by Chef Anthony Lamas and his pastry chef, Steve Rappa.

In August, JCTC Culinary Arts instructor Chef Damaris Phillips was thrown the ultimate viewing party for the final episode of “Food Network Star,” in which she crushed her competition and won the opportunity to host her own show. Fans and friends celebrated with a huge bash at Molly Malone’s.

The very next night, another viewing party was held at Garage Bar for the Louisville edition of “Bizarre Foods America” with Andrew Zimmern. Included in this episode: 610 Magnolia, Garage Bar, Rye, Proof on Main, Matt Jamie of Bourbon Barrel Foods brewing his boutique Bluegrass Soy Sauce, and Flavorman, the cool beverage development facility (complete with its own mad scientists in lab coats wrangling test tubes) on the western edge of downtown.

On Aug. 13 and 14, Food Network filmed an episode of “Restaurant: Impossible” at the Coach Lamp Restaurant & Pub on Vine Street. That episode will air in early November. In an example of the “as long as you spell my name right” school of press evaluation, the place was sold out for the reveal service.

On the 15th, yet another viewing party was held at Gerstle’s Place in St. Matthews for an episode of The Cooking Channel’s “Eat Street” featuring Grind Gourmet Burger Truck, the brainchild of Jesse and Liz Huot. Grind is one of the most slickly branded, most beloved Louisville food trucks – and Huot had been in the news a couple weeks previously for defending food-truck sanitation practices in light of a poorly researched piece by WAVE-3’s Eric Flack. (Speaking of critical mass, according to the Louisville Metro Health Department, Louisville now sports 48 food trucks – and 20 of those permits have been applied for this year.)

The same day as the Grind viewing party, Southern Living magazine published its most recent list of “100 Places to Eat Now,” including 610 Magnolia, Proof on Main, MilkWood and Seviche. At the beginning of the following week, The Guardian (a leading UK newspaper) published two pieces about our local scene in their U.S. road-trip series: “Top Ten Bars” (by WFPL’s Erin Keane) and “Top Ten Restaurants, Diners and Coffee Shops in Louisville, KY” (by local writer/blogger Michelle Jones). Keane listed Jack’s Lounge, Holy Grale, Silver Dollar, Mag Bar, Nachbar, Big Bar, St. Charles Exchange, Against the Grain, Bourbons Bistro, and Garage Bar as top drinking destinations. Jones’ list featured Hillbilly Tea, Silver Dollar, Garage Bar, Please & Thank You, Grind Gourmet Burger Truck, Feast BBQ, Mussel & Burger Bar, El Mundo, Game, and MilkWood. I don’t know how she held it to just 10 spots.

This summer’s coverage of our local establishments should only be surprising if you’re not paying attention. It’s easy to take Louisville’s mighty surplus of excellent bars and eateries for granted, but do yourself a favor and don’t. You’ll notice several of these restaurants appear on more than one of these lists or are mentioned in more than one article. Make sure you make it to those places, because there is a reason they are repeatedly mentioned.

On the other hand, for every restaurant or bar mentioned in the wider press this summer, Louisville has four or five others just as worthy of your attention and patronage. Do your homework. Get out of your comfort zone. Take advantage of the bounty. And keep your hair and nails done – you never know when you’re gonna be on TV around here.

Marsha Lynch has worked at many Louisville independent restaurants including Limestone, Jack Fry’s, Jarfi’s, L&N Wine Bar and Bistro, and CafĂ© Lou Lou.