Welcome Ryder Cup fans! Now, let’s have dinner

LEO’s Eats with LouisvilleHotBytes.com

Welcome to Louisville, Ryder Cup fans, and please excuse us if we accidentally misspell the name of your event. After all, in Louisville for the last 140 years or so, “Rider” has meant one of the little guys who captain those big horses around the track at Churchill Downs.

But we’re trying to get on board with the idea of folks who use long sticks to knock small white balls into tiny holes, and we truly do want to make you feel welcome.

Ryder Cup may attract more than 200,000 spectators (and another 1,500 reporters and photographers) to the Valhalla Golf Club during the five-day event (Sept. 16-21), and that puts it on par with Kentucky Derby season as a gathering likely to pack the town and make it mighty hard to get a table in some of our hottest eateries.

Valhalla, a gated, guarded greensward, is surrounded by endless suburbia, a scene that you may find a lot like home, whether you’re visiting from Atlanta, Ann Arbor or Greenwich. It would be all too easy for you to enjoy a pasteurized and homogenized dining experience, too, should you choose to take your meals at Olive Garden, Red Lobster or any of the many other corporate chains that dot that quadrant of our map.

But what a shame that would be! Louisville, a city where the locals allegedly dine out more often per capita than any other U.S. metropolis, is rich with fine, independently owned and operated eateries at a broad range of prices, styles and ethnic origins.

We hope you’ll make it a point to spend some time – and yes, some of your tourist dollars – getting to know our locals. We think you’ll see just why it is that we eat out so much.

For a quick overview, let’s turn over the pulpit to my friend Stephen Dennison, the Key Employee at Varanese Restaurant, a stylish bistro in the Crescent Hill neighborhood that clearly fits into our list of exciting originals. Here’s Stephen:

I would like to extend a sincere welcome to our Ryder cup guests. When you visit a new place, expert travelers say, you should eat like the locals. Louisville makes that easy with its large, diverse and evolving independent culinary landscape. These are the places we dine, and I hope you’ll join us. (Pertinent restaurant info is listed below. For more restaurants, refer to LEO Weekly’s wonderful city guide “UR Here: Louisville” or Robin Garr’s LouisvilleHotBytes.com.)

Kentucky Classic: We go to these places when we want to feel a sense of tradition and local identity. Expect regional food in an un-stuffy environment with unpretentious hospitality. Top examples: Limestone, Café Lou Lou, Bourbon’s Bistro, Jack Fry’s, Pat’s Steakhouse and Lilly’s.

Avant-Garde: These are the places for a culinary adventure. If you consider yourself a gourmand, don’t miss 610 Magnolia, Corbett’s An American Place or either location of Seviche.

Ethnic: These establishments are owned and operated by people born and steeped in their own culinary traditions, who cook and serve you as they were taught to make it. Just to name a few: Red Pepper (Sichuan), Queen of Sheba (Ethiopian), Taste of Jamaica, Bombay Grill (Indian), La Tapatia (Mexican) and Vietnam Kitchen.

Chophouse: Looking for exceptional surf and turf? These restaurants specialize in the finest-quality steak and seafood. Expect a high-end a la carte menu and formal environment: Z’s Oyster Bar & Steakhouse and Jeff Ruby’s.

Alfresco: With the cooler breezes of fall wafting in, there is no better time to dine outdoors in Louisville. Each boasts its own identity: Varanese, Avalon, Captain’s Quarters and Melillo’s.

Artistic: Creative fare and creative art pair to provide an experience that’s sometimes elegant, sometimes kitschy, always interesting and eye-catching: Proof on Main, Artemisia and Lynn’s Paradise Café.

Louisville’s dining scene is so diverse that it’s impossible to list all the great places in a short overview. Nevertheless, allow me to add a few more favorites to Stephen’s list: L&N Wine Bar & Bistro for fine wine and American fare; Primo and Volare for gourmet-style Italian; Palermo Viejo for outstanding Argentine cuisine; 211 Clover Lane and Equus for high-end sophisticated dining; Le Relais, a top French restaurant; Napa River Grill for California cuisine; and Maido Essential Japanese, no mere sushi bar but an Osaka salaryman’s saloon in Louisville.

While you’re in town, don’t miss “The Cup Hop” on historic Frankfort Avenue, a special Trolley Hop on Friday, Sept. 19, from 6-11 p.m. More than 40 businesses will sponsor a golf-themed scavenger hunt in which the grand-prize winner will receive a prize package worth more than $500. A free shuttle will take hoppers from the Kentucky International Convention Center to the trolley stop on Frankfort, starting point for the scavenger hunt. For details, visit http://www.fatfridayhop.org.
– Robin Garr