Olmsted’s Bistro open to everyone

Just about everyone in Louisville knows that our impressive collection of city parks from Cherokee to Iroquois to Shawnee – and the tree-lined parkways that connect them – were designed in the 19th century by the prominent landscape-architecture firm, Olmsted Brothers, headed by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr.

It’s perhaps a bit less well-known that Olmsted designed other landscape projects around Louisville, including the oak-shaded lawns of the Masonic Home of Louisville on Frankfort Avenue, for which Olmstead designed the plans in 1867.

Originally the Masonic Widows and Orphans Home, now providing residential personal-care and nursing-care services for seniors, Masonic Home today is a stately campus of red-brick buildings, most of them built during the 1920s. Its central building is now called the Olmsted after the famous architect.

The Olmsted has been open to the public for catered meetings and events for several years. Now, after a recent renovation of its lower level, its 48-seat dining room – dubbed The Bistro in Club Olmsted – is open to the public for breakfast, lunch and dinner. (The Bistro, by the way, is operated by Morrison’s Cafeteria/Canteen Group. It is in no way related to the event facility, which was created and opened in 1998 by Mastersons Catering.)

The downstairs section, a friendly gentleman told us, had been empty space. Now it’s “Club Olmsted,” a recreation and community facility with pool and card tables, television and sitting areas and the dining room.

It’s attractively finished, matching the old-style elegance of the rest of the building in style, with patterned carpeting that looks a bit like Persian rugs. Colorful flowers are arranged in bud vases; the tables are set with attractive salt shakers and pepper grinders stocked with a mix of black, white and pink peppers. Large, soft cotton napkins are comfortable and absorbent.

The menu offers simple fare, intended primarily for the home’s elderly residents, but it’s well-made and possibly the best cheap-meal deal around, with prices for most hot and cold sandwiches either $2.95 or $3.95; there’s also a salad bar and hot steam table lunches, plus a plate lunch of the day with entree, two sides and bread, just $5.95 for lunch or dinner. Breakfast is served daily from 8 – 10:30 a.m., and a $6.95 brunch is served Sundays from 11:30 a.m.-3 p.m.

Start with a trip down the cafeteria line, where you can select from the steam table or order a sandwich from the grill, pour your fountain drinks and pay for your meal. You’ll get a plastic number identifying your table so the servers know where to bring your lunch.

Our sandwiches were served on shiny white plates garnished with a bit of leaf lettuce. Both our sandwich choices are grilled, making them crunchy and delicious if, frankly, a bit on the greasy side. Those big, soft napkins do come in handy.

A Reuben ($3.95) was simple and not overly large. A serving of thin-sliced deli beef was joined by a discreet layer of mild sauerkraut, a slice of Swiss-type cheese and a paint-coat of Thousand Island dressing on grilled marbled rye.

“The Big Cheese” ($2.95) was a grilled cheese sandwich made with melted slices of mild yellow and white cheese on grilled Texas toast. I took the “CEO” option for an additional 50 cents, adding a ration of thin-sliced deli ham.

An order of onion rings ($1.50) looked good, bright golden and crisp, but the breading was thick and a bit sweet, and they were noticeably greasy. Next time I might try the fries ($1.25) instead.

Overall, it’s a comfortable, quiet place for lunch in an attractive setting, with a decidedly older clientele, but everyone’s welcome.

It’s not the fanciest food around – I’d liken it to childhood memories of the Woolworth’s lunch counter, not that there’s anything wrong with that. But it comes at a price that’s right: Our lunch was just $11.55 for two, including a diet cola and fresh, flavorful iced tea, plus a couple of bucks and change on the table as tip.

The Bistro in Club Olmsted
Louisville Masonic Home Campus
3701 Frankfort Ave.