Look, don’t make the same stupid mistake that I did. For months I’ve been putting off an evening trip out to Westport General Store for no particularly good reason. “It’s too far,” I whined. “It’s way out in the country. Takes forever to get there.”
Yesterday afternoon, as we drew toward the close of one of those achingly beautiful early-autumn days with blue October skies as brilliant as a sapphire and foliage popping against it like a postcard with colors too bright to be real, we finally packed the car with provisions for a long trip and hit the road to Westport. Huh. It’s just 20 miles out US42 from the Watterson, a 25-minute trip out one of the most scenic highways in the region … and that’s before the leaves start to turn.
Less than a half-hour. One-sixth of the time you’d have to wait for a table at P.F. Chang’s on a Saturday night. And when we got there, we found a cozy spot in a pleasant setting, where proprietors Will and Laura Crawford and their crew provide a comfortably sophisticated bill of fare that would in no way be out of place in the fanciest bistro on Bardstown Road or Frankfort Avenue.
|Westport General Store
7008 KY Hwy 524
Westport – originally the far-end terminus of what was then a winding, narrow country lane from Louisville called Westport Road – was once a thriving river port, back in the 19th century days when the river, not the roadways, was the region’s primary route of commerce. Now it’s a very tiny, very sleepy village on the riverbank a few miles north of the Oldham County seat, LaGrange. A few years ago, the Crawfords bought the village’s old country store; and when Oldham finally voted to permit its eateries to go “wet,” they converted the old grocery into an attractive bistro that neatly melds bright colors, antique furniture and a discreet amount of country-antique memorabilia, just enough to pay tongue-in-cheek homage to its rural heritage.
The proof of the pudding, though, is in the eating; and we ate very well indeed. As a starter, we shared “baby Hot Browns” ($6.50), a heart-warming and fairly close rendition of the Brown Hotel’s classic original repurposed as an appetizer for two, with four toast points on a large plate, each topped with a slice of roast turkey, then sauced with a well-executed creamy, cheesey Mornay and garnished with plenty of crisp smoky bacon and diced fresh tomatoes.
Kentucky country ham (the real thing, from Finchville Farms in Shelby County) played a strong supporting role in two excellent entrees.
A Kentucky twist on a Roman classic, chicken breast saltimbocca Southern style ($13.95), substituted a grilled boneless breast for the Italian veal scalloppine, topped with a thin slice of salty ham and a ration of earthy Provolone cheese, grilled under a savory bath of lemon butter and fresh sage. The flavors were great together, with a simple, mild take on Cajun “dirty rice” and crisp-tender zucchini and red bell pepper slices on the side.
Braised redeye shrimp ($14.95) offered another innovative variation on a traditional standard, Westport General Store’s bold and spicy take on shrimp’n’grits. Four jumbo crustaceans were wrapped in country ham and grilled just-so, dressed with a spicy reddish-brown sauce that reminded me as much of barbecue sauce as redeye gravy – an offbeat flavor combination that really sang – and plated atop a pool of creamy Weisenberger Mill stone-ground grits from Midway, Ky., with a pile of tender collard greens on the side, a presentation that lifted these greens from country-style cookery to something more sophisticated.
Westport’s wine list is short but nicely chosen, ranging from $4.25 a glass, $15 a bottle, for Redwood Creek and Blackstone Merlot and Chardonnay to $90 for Cakebread 2001 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. We went with a daily special, MacMurray Ranch 2003 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, $7 for a glass, $27 for a bottle. It was pretty and light, a crowd-pleasing Pinot with a sweet-tart-prickly cherry flavor. It might be a little light for bold red-meat courses, but worked out very nicely with all three dishes on our table.
Well-made coffee ($1.50) and a shared slice of coconut-chess pie ($3.50) rounded off a very pleasant meal in a relaxing casual atmosphere that was only enhanced by music from a smiling gent who played the banjo, mandolin and country fiddle, but not all at the same time.
Dinner for two was a very reasonable $73.57, and excellent service earned a $20 tip. We’ll be back. It’s not that far. Go, soon, while you can enjoy the drive out at the peak of autumn beauty. But go. Don’t be as stupid as I was. ($$$)
Open for dinner Tuesdays through Saturdays, lunch on Saturdays
ACCESSIBILITY: Although it’s an older building, Westport General Store appears to have been thoughfully modified to accommodate diners in wheelchairs.