Polenta Pave at Jack Fry's: Thin layers of tomato, roasted eggplant and sun-dried tomato jam stacked on slabs of smooth yellow-corn polenta and topped with an oval of creamy, rich burrata cheese. Photo from a 2014 review.

Fancy dining? How much can you afford?

By Robin Garr

The $200 dinner for two is no longer a treat that we must travel to larger cities to enjoy.

Indeed, if you wish to treat your partner or friend to a fancy evening out in Louisville – particularly with drinks, dessert, and an appetizer or two – you’d better make sure that your credit-card limit can handle a three-figure toll.

The New York Times put it simply in a report on the soaring dinner tab in August 2022: “At restaurants around the country, staff shortages, supply-chain logjams, the Ukraine war and other forces have driven up the price of nearly everything.”

That was just over a year-and-a-half ago, and you don’t need to buy many groceries to know that food prices keep going up. Restaurant executive chefs have to buy food, too, not to mention all those other increasing financial challenges that eateries face.

When we’re craving a relaxing dinner out, what’s a hungry diner to do? Let’s set aside for the moment our wealthy neighbors who feel free to indulge that whim, or our not-so-fortunate friend who may need government assistance or the local food pantry to get by. For most of us, that fancy dining experience is a rare treat but one that we’re willing to take on once in a while.

So where do we go when we’ve decided that cost is no object, or not much of one, anyway, for that special date night? I’ve got my own picks, and just for fun, I summoned a social media horde to check my opinions and tell me more about their favorite restaurants for a celebratory high-end dinner or special night out.

A total of almost 200 responses yielded 126 recommendations spread across 28 local eateries, not counting a couple of jokers who couldn’t resist saying they’d spend the bucks to buy 10 meals at a favorite watering hole.

Curiously, although a half-dozen steak houses – the traditional high-end destination – garnered a few nominations, none made the top ten. Let’s take a look at the restaurants that received the most support in this random, non-scientific study.

Far and away the top vote-getter was Jack Fry’s (1007 Bardstown Road, 452-9244), with 21 mentions. It was no surprise to see this Highlands classic in the top spot. It has been a fine-dining destination since the 1970s and a popular local watering hole for decades before that. “It’s so full of history. It feels like a step back in time to walk into the restaurant,” said one friend of Fry’s, adding that they are lured by impeccable service and consistently fine fare. Fry’s filet, warm Brie salad, shrimp and grits, and a Basil Hayden manhattan offer unfailing delight, another fan said.

Mixed seafood linguini frutti-di-mare at Volare mustered an army of seafood, all fine – clams, mussels, a bit of salmon, a square of sea bass, scallops and shrimp – over house-made linguine. (From a 2017 review.)
Mixed seafood linguini frutti-di-mare at Volare mustered an army of seafood, all fine – clams, mussels, a bit of salmon, a square of sea bass, scallops and shrimp – over house-made linguine. (From a 2017 review.)

Second favorite was Clifton landmark Volare Italian Ristorante (2300 Frankfort Ave., 894-4446), with 17 mentions, where Chef Joshua Moore presides over a classy Italian restaurant that exemplifies comfortable fine dining, with a focus on locally grown meat and produce and an impressive seafood program featuring line-caught, sustainable fish.

Third up, with 10 mentions, was Seviche (1538 Bardstown Road, 473-8560), another of my personal favorites, where Chef Anthony Lamas presides over a creative pan-Latin menu also elevated by a top-rank sustainable seafood and fish program. Don’t miss the namesake seviche, but you can’t go wrong with anything on the menu … or from the bar.

Filling out the top ten were these local favorites:

Fat Lamb (2011 Grinstead Drive, 235-1903; 8 nominations): Chef Dallas McGarity is a nominee for the James Beard Foundation Best Chef Southeast this year, and it shows in this popular Highlands spot’s creative American cuisine and comfortable setting.

Anoosh Bistro (4864 Brownsboro Center, 690-6585; 7 mentions). Longtime local star chef and all-around good guy Anoosh Shariat has built a devoted following over many years in Louisville, and this comfortable East End venue shows why.

610 Magnolia (610 W. Magnolia Ave., 636-0783; 7 votes). Chef Edward Lee’s creative cookery has won him a national following, and his other local spot, the new Nami, also made this list.

bar Vetti (727 E. Market St., 883-3331; 6 nominations). Moved from the classic turquoise 800 Building to Nulu during the pandemic, this eclectic Italian-influenced spot lists among its highlights “Regional Italian pizzas, fresh pastas, seasonal small plates, dope wines.”

La Chasse (1359 Bardstown Road, 822-3963; 6 nominations). Wood-fired European-style cuisine with a distinct French accent lures diners to this established Highlands favorite.

Meesh Meesh (636 E. Market St.,589-5224; 6 votes). I introduced by review of Chef Noam Bilitzer’s new Mediterranean restaurant last autumn with this simple praise: “I’m going to come right out and say it: Meesh Meesh is one of the best new restaurants to come along in Louisville lately.” Lots of people seem to agree.

211 Clover (211 Clover Lane, 896-9570; 6 mentions). Tucked away in a tasteful little shopping center on a side street in St. Matthews, 211 Clover is easily overlooked. Don’t do that. Stylish and comfortable, it never fails to satisfy for lunch or dinner.

Finally, listed alphabetically, another 18 local favorites received enthusiastic affirmation from fans but garnered five or fewer mentions in this completely non-scientific survey: Brooklyn and the Butcher, Chik’n & Mi, Connor’s Steak & Seafood, Del Frisco’s, Grassa Gramma, Harvey’s, Le Moo, Le Relais, Mayan Cafe, Mesh, Nami, Pat’s Steakhouse, Repeal Oak-Fired Steakhouse, River House, Ruth’s Chris, Steak and Bourbon, The 1894 Lodge (New Washington, Ind.), and Vincenzo’s.

Next time you’re feeling flush and in the mood for a treat, give any of these local jewels a try!