In nature, the winter months are a time of rest — animals hibernate, plants shut down growth and conserve their energies for spring. In the Louisville restaurant world, though, there was as much activity in the last three months as there has been all year — no hibernating or tamping down of energies here.
The numbers alone reveal the extent of the activity. Since the last issue of F&D, we have seen 17 new restaurants debut, seven existing businesses open additional locations and six existing restaurants change either their locations or their menu focus.
On the negative side of the ledger, 15 businesses have ceased operation and seven multi-location restaurants have closed one branch while continuing to serve at others.
With late news of Bobby Benjamin, lately of La Coop Bistro, planning a new restaurant of his own, and Bobby Flay still tantalizing us with rumors of his desire to locate a restaurant in a city where he can indulge his new love of race horses, the spring promises to be a lively time for area diners too.
While in the last issue we noted the sudden blossoming of new upscale casual/fine dining venues (8Up, Ward 426, Anoosh Bistro), this winter saw just one place set to open in that category, Mesh, at 3612 Brownsboro Rd. Commuters on that downtown-East End corridor have watched the slow progress of that property — the demolition of the old Bauer’s/La Paloma/Azalea building and the construction of a whole new restaurant space — and wondered when it will be completed. Word now is that a late March opening is set for Mesh, which, like 8Up, is run by an out-of-state restaurant group.
So too is The Goat, 700 Landis Ridge Dr. The owners and operator of that new upscale bar and grill develop condo communities and health clubs, as well as watering holes that serve health-conscious bar food. The only other non-locally owned spot recently opened is First Watch, a breakfast and lunch chain that also touts a more healthful menu focus. It is at 201 S. Hurstbourne Pkwy.
While we are talking about food for the health conscious, we should mention Healthy Eating, a storefront in the Heyburn Building at 332 W. Broadway that serves salads, nutrition-packed soups and lean-meat sandwiches for lunch, prepares healthful take-away dinners and works with health clubs and spas to develop meal plans for customers. Across the river in New Albany, Seeds and Greens Natural Market & Deli, 207 W. First St., has a number of vegetarian choices (as well as lean meats) at its sandwich deli counter.
Ann Marie’s Bacon Bar, 10301 Taylorsville Rd., in J’town, has a somewhat different focus. They are curing their own pork bellies in house and finding creative ways to serve bacon, reportedly the food that most often entices vegetarians off the straight and narrow path.
Barrel House Social, 6201 Dutchman’s Ln., is the latest endeavor from Tony (Boombozz) Palombino. The menu focus will be on shared plate comfort foods such as brined hot and traditional fried chicken, and the ambience will be comfy and sociable, with areas for lounging on sofas and plush chairs as well as tables for eating. The family-friendly space in what most recently was The Tilted Kilt will be renovated into several theme-centered rooms, including one that looks like a ski lift. Such interior changes will take some time; the hoped for opening date of Barrel House Social is now set for late spring.
Back in the Highlands at 2224 Dundee Rd., Dundee Gastropub is a re-imagining of the former Dundee Tavern by two alums of the Bristol Bar Grille organization. And Germantown’s pent-up longing for New York-style thin-crust pizza has apparently been satisfied with the opening of the immediately popular The Post, 1045 Goss Ave., in a former VFW post building. First reports are they serve a mighty fine pie.
A minor efflorescence of bars and grills seems to have occurred recently. In addition to The Goat, already mentioned, Happy Hour devotees can bend an elbow and check out the bar food menus at Diamond Station, 2280 Bardstown Rd., The Planet Bar & Bistro, 1565 Bardstown Rd., or Griff’s, 323 W. Cardinal Blvd.
A few new ethnic food restaurants have opened around town. Bentuhua Teahouse and Taiwanese Eats at 2520 Frankfort Ave. has quickly found fans of its soups and noodle lunch dishes, as well as its exotic teas. Yen Hapa will be the new name of the transmogrified Bahn Mi Hero, at 2245 Bardstown Rd., under the same ownership, but focused on pan-Asian noodle dishes, with a small selection of Vietnamese sandwiches and fusion tacos.
Yummy Pollo at 4222 Bishop Ln. is serving Peruvian-style charcoal-grilled chicken, available to take away as well as dine in. Barasti Bar and Grill, a Middle Eastern cafe and hookah bar, occupies the too-long-vacant corner space at 1164 S. Third St., at Oak.
Falling into the not-quite-ethnic-but-almost category is For Goodness Crepes, 619 Baxter Ave., which has several crepe griddles heated up and turning out a variety of sweet and savory thin French-style pancakes. And the downtown lunch crowd gets its Cajun/Creole food needs met at Lou Orleans, at 430 W. Muhammad Ali Blvd.
Two notable expansions of established restaurants are Feast BBQ’s takeover of the former Cake Flour bakery space at 909 E. Market St. for its second location, and the expansion of the Mellow Mushroom chain into the Highlands at 1023 Bardstown Rd. Feast’s combination of long-cooked smoked meats, inventive side dishes and a revolving craft beer selection is a welcome addition to the arts and eats scene in NuLu. The purpose of the slow infill construction of the unusual, angled building near Jack Fry’s has kept people guessing for a while, but the design is consistent with Mellow Mushroom’s corporate philosophy of fitting into the zeitgeist of the community.
Other expansions of established restaurants include another Rocky Mountain lodge-themed Aspen Creek at 302 Bullitt Ln., behind Oxmoor, another El Nopal at 3002 Bardstown Rd., in the large Gardiner Lane Shopping Center space that once was Thai-Siam, and another Raising Cane’s chicken tender-focused family restaurant at 6811 Bardstown Rd. A Nice Restaurant has opened a second location at 2784 Meijer Dr., and Heine Brothers Coffee has opened an outlet across the river at 1475 Veterans Pkwy., in Clarksville.
Restaurant closings in the past three months include a few well-known old favorites and several small newer efforts that didn’t find the traction needed for longer runs.
The closing of the popular La Coop Bistro, 732 E. Market St., surprised its fans, but that cramped space in the Green Building poses challenges. Just as F&D was going to press, La Coop’s chef Bobby Benjamin announced plans to open a new restaurant, details still uncertain.
Another surprise closing announcement came recently: Palermo Viejo, which specialized in Argentinian grilled meats, is closing after a long tenure at 1359 Bardstown Rd. Owner Francisco Elbl posted a somewhat moving announcement on his Facebook page, saying that he is closing because his family has sacrificed enough for him to live his dream.
Long time suburban favorite Austin’s has closed, and its space at 4950 U.S. 42 will be used for purposes other than a restaurant. Mulligan’s Pub & Grill had a respectable run at 1801 Newburg Rd., though not as long-lived as Kaelin’s, which it replaced. Thai Taste lasted more than a decade at 1977 Brownsboro Rd. before closing recently. Great Wall Chinese was displaced from its nearby location next to the Dirty Kroger to make way for the grocery chain’s expansion and has now moved into the space that Thai Taste vacated.
In an even odder round of restaurant musical chairs, Bahn Mi Hero is closing at 2245 Bardstown Rd., and Yen Hapa is moving into that space. It has the same owner, just re-adjusting his focus from sandwiches and rice bowls to Asian noodle dishes; the new name pays homage to his mother’s Vietnamese name.
A couple of other places that closed soon saw new restaurant ventures take over their spaces. Chuck’s Cafe at 2784 Meijer Dr., closed and A Nice Restaurant saw that spot as right for a yet another location. Taylor G.’s Jamaican Jerk closed, and Healthy Eating moved into the storefront at 332 W. Broadway.
Don Benito’s and Hubba Hubba Gourmet Subs shared an address at 104 Fairfax Ave., in St. Matthews, but neither concept found a fan base. The W.g. Grinders sandwich shop out in the ‘burbs at 2415 Lime Kiln Ln. has closed, as has downtown Le Bossier Cafe at 1800 W. Muhammad Ali Blvd.
Southern Indiana residents have seen several restaurants close. Cheesy’s Pizza at 801 E. Market St. in Jeffersonville was one of them, but the owners are reportedly looking for a new location to reopen. Perkfection, 359 Spring St. in Jeffersonville, was a popular place for coffee and snacks for several years, until the landlord decided to move away from food service leases. Also in Jeffersonville, Quad Cafe, at 103 Quartermaster Ct., has closed after a brief run. And out in Georgetown, Ind., Magdalena’s has stopped serving.
In downtown Louisville, the abrupt closing of Cunningham’s, 630 S. Fourth St., came as a surprise. The River Road location is still in business, though. Earth Friends Cafe and Coffee Bar closed its tucked-away NuLu location at 829 E. Market St. to concentrate on its newer, more visible outlet on Market and Third in the Convention Center.
The Fishery, a longtime stalwart in St. Matthews, continues to fry but has closed its Middletown store at 11519 Shelbyville Rd.; Mr. Gatti’s closed its pizza outlet at 1108 Lyndon Ln.; and Muscle Monkey Grill called it quits at the little corner store at 147 E. Market St. in New Albany.
Finally, a few places have either moved or are changing their focus while staying put. Mikato Japanese Steakhouse has moved from 3938 Dupont Circle to 6001 Pleasant Colony Ct. Grady’s Burgers and Wings has moved from 3825 Taylor Blvd. to 414 W. Oak St.
Papalino’s Pizza at 3598 Springhurst Blvd. has become Papalino’s Italian Pub, with an expansion of its offerings beyond, but still including, pizzas. And just before F&D’s deadline, Kevin Grangier, who has bought the KT’s property at 2300 Lexington Rd., announced that his new concept for that space is a mid-priced steakhouse he will call Le Moo, with a live music space to present jazz and the blues. Until that transition starts, KT’s will continue to be the KT’s that everyone knows.