By Robin Garr
The Louisville dining scene sure has changed since I was a kid! Or has it? There’s hardly a better way to spark a conversation among food-loving locals than to start talking about dining out the way it used to be.
It’s no coincidence that one of my recent columns that attracted the most comments was “Memories! The Closed Louisville Restaurants That We Miss The Most” (LouisvilleHotBytes, Oct. 22, 2022). Remember? Talking about old favorites like Hasenour’s, Casa Grisanti, Allo Spiedo, and all the other beloved eateries that many of us (cough cough) are old enough to remember with nostalgia.
How much have things really changed since I first got into writing restaurant reviews as a reporter at the old Louisville Times way back in 1984? I’d say “a lot. But I’d also say, “not as much as you think.” The details would make a good story for another day, and I’m sure I’ll get to it.
Today, though, let’s hop on the wayback machine for a trip even farther back in restaurant time: Have you ever wondered how much our local dining scene has changed since our parents or grandparents were kids? Nah, me either. But my curiosity got sparked the other day when I wandered down a social media rabbit hole into the Louisville Thru The Years, a public Facebook group.
There to my wondering eyes appeared a full-page ad from the Oct. 13, 1963 Courier-Journal, 50 years ago this fall. Headlined “Enjoy a Family Adventure, Your Guide to Good Eating. October is National Restaurant Month,” the ad features a grid of 20 small ads for restaurants designed to lure the hungry reader, and their family too.
It was quite a list: A collection of ads that included a few places I’ve heard of, a couple that lasted into recent years, and a fair number that I don’t recall ever having heard of!
A lot was also notable for its absence. “Mexican” meant chili with spaghetti in those days. “Chinese” meant chop suey and fried rice, mostly. Indian, Thai, Korean, Japanese? You had to travel to New York City or Chicago for that.
What’s more, the few world-food outposts made many of our parents wary. You wouldn’t know what to order at Hoe Kow or Oriental House, and that would be embarrassing. You might get indigestion at The Chile Bowl or the Old Walnut Street Chile Parlor, where you could have a canned tamale dropped atop your chile-on-spaghetti for an extra quarter. Pizza was still relatively recent and a little strange, although you could get a large sausage pie for $1.35 at Joe Z’s Pizza in Buechel, which seemed like a pretty good deal.
So just for fun, let’s take a look at some of the memorable eateries that the CJ ad listed.
Gruber’s Restaurant billed itself as the “house of sauerbraten and wiener schnitzel,” with “complete American and European menu and bar service.” It was located at 2461 Bardstown Road in what now appears to be part of the McDonald’s parking lot. The host Bill Gruber, I’m told, had been maite d’ at the Brown Hotel and was known to serenade guests on their birthdays in a booming, operatic voice.
Kaelin’s, on the other hand, the purported source of the world’s first cheeseburger, lasted into modern times at 1801 Newburg Road, and, with considerable remodeling and new owners, hangs on as Kaelin’s 80/20. The CJ ad declared it the home of Colonel Sanders’ Kentucky Fried Chicken, back in the days before the Colonel’s franchising really took off. (Pictured at the top of the page, the 80/20 burger pictured with our 2019 review – heir to the Kaelin’s original cheeseburger – is fashioned from a five-cut beef blend.
Kunz’s The Dutchman resided at 526 S. Fourth St. at the time of this promotion. It started as a liquor store in the 1890s, became a restaurant in 1941, and moved through several Fourth Street locations with its brand of Louisville-style German food before finally closing in 2007.
Leo’s Hideaway had just moved from its longtime home at 115 W. Jefferson St. to 412 W. Chestnut St. when the newspaper ad appeared. An upscale seafood joint featuring shrimp and lobster, it was one of my parents’ favorites. Sadly I wasn’t old enough to go along.
The Colonnade was a fixture in the lower level of the Starks Building for 80 years before new building management ousted the beloved cafeteria in 2006. I can still remember its meat loaf, firm and tender with a haunting scent of green peppers.
“Enjoy the best always,” boasted the ad for Chas Simon’s Delicatessen, at 1603 Bardstown Road just south of Bonnycastle Avenue. Unfortunately, “always” didn’t mean always. This deli seems gone without a trace; even The Google can’t find it.
Li’l Abner’s, “Kentucky’s Most Intriguing Family Restaurant,” was a favorite of Boomer kids during the ‘60s, until the more adult environs of Jim Porter’s replaced it at 2345 Lexington Road at Grinstead Drive.
This random discovery was quite a trip back memory lane beyond the stops that I can actually remember. And that makes me wonder about some of the other older spots that didn’t make the ad or, perhaps, decided not to pay for space on it. Luvisi’s, one of the city’s first upscale Italian restaurants, preceded The Old House at 448 S. Fifth St. and had already gone by the time of this ad. Imorde’s a beloved Italian deli at Third Street near Ormsby, was also gone by the early 1970s.
Now I’m wondering what great restaurants our great-grandparents enjoyed before World War II. Kaelin’s was already there, and Mazzoni’s, and the Cottage Inn. The original Pine Room and the Willow Lake Tavern. The Brown and Seelbach dining rooms. But how about the smaller eateries, the ones whose memories faded before our time? I’d love to know, but I’m afraid Google isn’t going to be much help with this one.