Say what you will about the Yum Center – and I say it looks like the offspring of an unnatural union between a toaster oven and an ink-jet copier – you have to give it credit for helping foster a boom in good places to eat in its Main Street neighborhood. Like Bluegrass Brewing Company. And other good places, too, but BBC, I’m looking at you right now.
BBC’s arena shop popped up in August 2010, just in time to welcome the Yum, in the first three floors of the handsome white-stone 300 Building at Third and Main streets. The 1880 structure, originally the Kentucky Bank Building, is on the National Register of Historic Places.
It’s conveniently located diagonally across the street from the Yum, next door to ATL, and just a quick 2 1/2 block dash from the Kentucky Center for the Arts.
Of course other options abound in the neighborhood, too, from pricey Jeff Ruby’s, which was there to meet the Yum, and stylish, upscale MilkWood below Actors, which came along a bit later, to quick arrivals Impellizzeri’s Pizza, Merle’s Whiskey Kitchen, and Doc Crow’s, not to mention neighborhood pioneer Bearno’s by the Bridge, and drinks-focused Down One Bourbon Bar and Troll Pub Under the Bridge.
So there is plenty of choice around the Yum, and certainly arena-bound crowds helped drive the boom. BBC remains one of my top picks, though. It makes the case with a decent, quick and modestly priced meal, plus a glass of good local microbrew, before or after the show.
Currently the last BBC shop standing, it is rooted in Louisville’s oldest surviving brewpub, which launched in St. Matthews some 25 years ago and lasted until its closure last year. The BBC in Kindred Healthcare is also on construction hiatus, so for now, if you want BBC, this is the place to go. The locally brewed beer is the same, and the menu is familiar, kicked up to dining-room character with entrees that top out at $19 for an Angus sirloin plate.
Don’t worry, you can get your pub grub here, whether it’s fried pickle spears ($7, elevated with beer batter and crunchy panko), nachos ($12), brew house chili ($5 for a cup, $6 for a bowl), or BBC’s iconic wort hog wings ($12). But the bill of fare quickly moves up from pub land with a half-dozen salads – try the powerhouse ($11), loaded with healthy kale, quinoa, nuts and seeds). Pizzas are $13 to $14, or build your own pie starting at $10 and building up with a la carte toppings.
More than a dozen sandwiches, including six burgers, range in price from $9 (for a barbecue pulled-pork sandwich) to $13 (for several of the burgers, including the house-special Bluegrass burger, an Angus patty dressed with spinach, pimento cheese and a fried green tomato, yum). Entrees vary seasonally – I’m sorry we missed the hearty pot roast – but currently a half-dozen range in price from $12 (for blackened-salmon tacos) to $19 (for the aforementioned sirloin).
This is a full-service bar, with cocktails, wine, and a good library of bourbons, but I’ll invariably reach for a BBC brew when I settle in here. This time my choice was BBC wheat beer ($4.75), a light, fresh golden brew that goes well with food.
Caesar salad ($5 for a small portion, $8 for dinner-size) was very good. Fresh, cold romaine was broken into bite-size bits and tossed with a creamy, tangy dressing, sans anchovy flavor, topped with good-size, crisp herbed croutons and grated Parmesan. Kale and artichoke dip ($11) swaps in healthy kale for the traditional spinach-artichoke dip, the ingredients buzzed into a smooth, thick puree with a hint of aromatic spice, cumin perhaps. A generous portion came fresh and warm in a shallow bowl topped with tomato dice and currounded with soft pita points.
Margherita pizza ($13) was filling if a bit idiosyncratic, varying the traditional recipe with a potent lake of roasted garlic puree added to the gooey mozzarella, sliced plum tomatoes and snipped basil. The thin, crackery, pale-tan crust reminded me a bit of whole-wheat matzoh, not that there’s anything wrong with that.
The steak (pictured above) tops the menu at $19, but it was fine, and that’s a more-than-fair toll by steakhouse standards. A slab of Angus sirloin that looked bigger than the advertised 10 ounces was served medium-rare as ordered, hot-pink inside. It was topped with savory beef gravy and plated atop a generous mound of creamy, peppery, fresh-mashed potatoes, and accompanied with a skimpy but well prepared ration of six buttery, garlicky thin asparagus spears.
A fine dinner for two, with a beer and a soft drink, came to $58.02, plus a $15 tip for Jon, our friendly and skilled server.
Bluegrass Brewing Co.
300 W. Main St.
Noise level: Variable. At best, conversation ranges from easy to possible, but noisy neighbors can spike the sound to a dull roar. (Average sound level 75-85, with peaks to 95.)
Accessibility: The three-floor restaurant is accessible to wheelchair users via a ramp and one-person elevator at the entrance on the Third Street side.