[Originally published in the Fall 2017 issue of Food & Dining Magazine]
The past three months have seen much activity in the local restaurant world but not at the higher end of the economic range. All of the fine dining establishments seem to be holding their own with no newcomers to that market and no casualties. Of the 27 restaurants that have opened since the last issue of F&D in May, at least 8 serve ethnic cuisine ranging from Turkish to Somali to Vietnamese. Another nine serve familiar American cuisine — or 12, if you include pizza along with burgers, wings and BBQ as quintessentially American food. A few outliers complete the list of new food businesses — a vegan café, a cereal restaurant, and a chef’s performance/demonstration space. Fifteen restaurants have closed for good, and two other businesses — Louis’s the Ton and Me Gusta Latin Kitchen — didn’t so much close as change their identities in mid stride, to The Butchertown Social and El Barrio Tequila & Whiskey Bar, respectively. And eight multi-outlet businesses closed one or more locations, but they are still serving elsewhere.
Perhaps Waylon’s Feed & Firewater should have been mentioned in the category of locations that have morphed. Waylon’s is Tony Palombino’s latest brainchild, a transformation of his St. Matthews Boombozz Pizza & Pub into a Tex-Mex spot, sort of like his Merle’s Whiskey Kitchen downtown, but with a honky-tonk ambience all its own. It can be found at 3939 Shelbyville Rd.
Allan Rosenberg has returned with a new pizza spot, having transformed Butchertown’s iconic Hall’s Cafeteria into Butchertown Pizza Hall at 1301 Story Ave. Along with full pies or slices, Rosenberg offers salads, wings, hoagies and garlic knots, with many of his ingredients locally sourced.
It seems rock ’n’ roll will never die at 1047 Bardstown Rd., the site of the late, much lamented Tewligan’s, and later of Cahoots. The space is now Nirvana, a live-music venue again and also a bar and restaurant serving Indian cuisine and Indian-American fusion bar food. The owners also operate Kashmir up the street a piece.
The outlier places are an interesting bunch. Morels Café, 619 Baxter Ave., is primarily a deli that concocts vegan sandwiches and salads that fans agree taste like meat and cheese. A few doors down at 612 Baxter is The Cereal Box, serving cereals and creative interpretations (shakes, cookies) using cereal as a base. In St. Matthews, Green District Salads offers healthful fresh green luncheon dishes at 126 Breckenridge Ln. And Mesa, at 216 Pearl St. in New Albany, restaurant chefs take turns entertaining a couple of dozen guests by letting said guests watch the chefs prepare them a meal.
Three additional pizza purveyors join the competition. District 22 Pizzeria at 110 E. Main St. in New Albany is operated by Matt McMahan, who also owns Big Four Burgers + Beer, whose kitchen shares the space with District 22. Old Louisville Pizza Company, also an offshoot of a parent restaurant, shares a kitchen and an address with Toonerville Deli at 1201 S. First St. The entrance to the pizza pub, however, is around the corner on Oak St. in the space that was the bakery for Ermin’s, long the occupant of that corner building. The third new entrant on the pizza scene is Lupo at 1540 Frankfort Ave, operated by Max Balliet of Holy Molé taco truck renown. Lupo also serves pastas.
Downtown, at 300 E. Market St., Haymarket Bistro is a lunch spot run for the public by Atria Senior Living. In the West End, Shine’s Diner serves family-style soul food at 3400 W. Market St. At 1601 Story Ave., new owner Isaiah Hoagland has expanded the food offerings at his Butchertown Social, the former Louis’s the Ton space, to make an even more inviting neighborhood hangout.
Two sports-oriented restaurants have opened. Game Day Wings at 4806 Bardstown Rd. has a family-focused menu that includes chicken tenders, burgers, shrimp and corn dogs. In Middletown, The Blind Squirrel is an expansive restaurant and bar located on the grounds of the King Louie’s Sports Complex at 592 N. English Station Rd.
Diners who crave barbecue have two new choices: Mark T’s Slabhouse at 4912 Preston Hwy. and Mission BBQ at 4607 Shelbyville Rd. And Billy Rapaport, an independent producer and director, who for many years worked with NBC on coverage of the Kentucky Derby, and his wife Elizabeth are bringing the first Top Round Roast Beef franchise to Louisville, a California-based company they think highly of. Their hopes are to develop up to four stores locally in the near future in addition to their first venture at 4214 Shelbyville Road.
Restaurants serving ethnic foods continue to rise up and test Louisvillians’ interest in new tastes. Zoom Zoom Yum is tucked into the commercial corridor at 974 Barret Ave.; it offers a Turkish interpretation of kofte, kebabs and gyros. A-Châu Restaurant at 5103 S. Third St. adds another Vietnamese choice to the Beechmont area. Yafa Café, ousted from Theater Square by the Kindred expansion, is now making its much-admired hummus and other Middle Eastern dishes at 612 S. Fifth St.
The funky International Market at 737 S. Eighth St. continues to be a de facto small business incubator, giving recent immigrants with an entrepreneurial streak the chance to start a business. One of the latest such is Imanka, a Somali restaurant started by a refugee, making the African food that is familiar to his family.
Two new modest Mexican restaurants are winning fans for providing good value and great taste. El Taco Loco joins the Latino outlets along Preston Hwy. at 5622. Bandido Taqueria Mexicana has opened at 423 University Blvd. And as mentioned earlier, El Barrio Tequila & Whiskey Bar replaces Me Gusta Latin Kitchen at 129 W. Main St.
For those needing something cold and sweet to refresh them, Cocoberry Pops at 323 W. Woodlawn Ave. offers natural fruit ice pops in a range of flavors, some exotic. Louisville Cream is the latest local ice cream maker to open a shop, at 632 E. Market St. Fante’s Coffee brews in the corner house opposite Cherokee golf course at 2501 Grinstead Dr.
Quills Coffee continues to expand. At its newest shop in NuLu at 802 E. Main St., lunch and dinner are served in addition to a full range of coffee drinks. Wild Ginger has expanded, too, with a suburban sushi and Asian fusion place at 9415 Norton Commons Blvd.
We regret that we have to report once again on the closing of D. Nalley’s. The latest effort to keep the retro diner open did not succeed. The red and white building at 970 S. Third St. remains, awaiting another stab at resurrection.
The structure built by the owners of BBC at 1030 Goss Ave., originally called Germantown Tap House and soon re-branded as Goss Avenue Pub, has also gone kaput. Rumors are floating of a takeover of the site by a new generation of the Gabriele family (who have long run Vincenzo’s Restaurant) for an Italian restaurant. If said rumors alight, we shall follow up on them.
Several locations that saw one restaurant close soon had a new business taking over the space. That is the case with the following restaurants: Food 4 Ur Soul closed, Yafa Café stepped in at 612 S. Fifth St.; Juba Restaurant, 737 S. Eighth St., closed, replaced by Imanka; Taqueria Ramirez, 4806 Bardstown Rd., closed, replaced by Game Day Wings; and Press on Market, 252 E. Market St., was smoothly taken over by Please and Thank You for their third coffee shop.
Some other restaurants simply closed: Sam’s Hotdog Stand at 1991 Brownsboro Rd.; Hanabi Japanese Restaurant at 6027 Timber Ridge Dr.; Bar Code 1758 at 1758 Frankfort Ave.; Coco’s Cakes at 501 W. Oak St.; Genghis Grill, 4002 Towne Center Dr.; Champions Sports Bar & Grill, in the Louisville Marriott Downtown at 280 W. Jefferson St., closed as part of the renovation of the whole Marriott complex.
The last things to note are multi-location businesses that have folded one or more outlets but are still open elsewhere. Cast Iron Steakhouse still serves in Jeffersonville after the 6325 River Rd. location building’s owner sold the property to a developer. There are still three Boombozz Pizza & Tap Houses after the 3939 Shelbyville Rd. location converted to a different concept. Zeggz Amazing Eggz decided not to renew the lease on their only table service store at 4600 Chamberlain Ln. and keep the fast-casual focus of their two remaining restaurants.
Firefresh BBQ closed in Mall St. Matthews but still smokes at two other sites. Las Gorditas took a stab at opening a larger space at 8402 Hudson Ln., but it failed, leaving its original store only. And Sweet Frog yogurt shops have closed all the Louisville locations (1987 S. Hurstbourne Pkwy., 10494 Westport Rd., and 5909 Timber Ridge Dr.) but still serves at two locations across the river in Indiana. F&D