[Originally Published in the Winter 2017 issue of Food & Dining Magazine.]
Now here’s something we found interesting as we were reflecting on Food & Dining’s coverage of the local restaurant industry: in the over 14 years or so and 58 issues of the magazine, this column has noted that restaurant business closings have outnumbered openings only five times. This column in this issue continues to mark this remarkable growth. In the last three months, restaurants that have opened (brand new businesses and expansions into new locations of existing businesses) have outnumbered restaurant closings 28 to 13.
The higher end of the spectrum of dining options seems to be holding its own; the only casualty in that area is BLU Italian, and that is because the downtown Marriott hotel is under renovation and is rethinking its role in the local restaurant scene.
Among the new entrants, there is much to happily anticipate. Ed Lee is soon to open his third local dining concept, Whiskey Dry, even as he moves on to nurture his Succotash restaurants in Washington, D.C. The next generation of the Gabriele family, Michael and Carmelo — sons of Agostino Gabriele, chef and co-owner of Vincenzo’s — will soon open Sarino in Germantown, an area sorely needing an Italian restaurant. Several other veterans of the local restaurant scene are launching new ventures — Ryan Rogers (Feast BBQ, Royals Hot Chicken) has opened bar Vetti downtown. Eric Morris (Gospel Bird) and his partners now have Hull & High Water in New Albany. Liz and Jesse Huot (Grind Burger Kitchen) are opening Oskar’s Slider Bar near the zoo. And Len Stevens (L&N Wine Bar) is part of the team opening Metro Diner on Outer Loop. Here are additional details of this exciting next phase for Louisville dining.
Slated to open soon are Ed Lee’s newest local concept, Whiskey Dry, at 412 S. Fourth St., which takes over the Fourth St. Live space that previously was The Pub. Lee has variously described his new venture as “a bar with a chef-centric point of view” and as a “whiskey bar for the next generation.” There will be over 200 whiskeys from around the world featured and high-end burgers with suggested whiskey pairings. Lee at first hoped for a summer opening, but is shooting now for late November.
The building at 1030 Goss Ave. constructed for Germantown Craft House (quickly rebranded as Goss Avenue Pub and as quickly shuttered) has been taken over by Michael and Carmelo Gabriele. Their “casual, authentic” Italian restaurant, to be called Sarino, is expected to open before the end of the year.
Two other new concepts still under construction with openings planned around the holidays are Oskar’s Slider Bar, 3799 Poplar Level Rd. and Nouvelle, a wine bar at 214 Clay St. in NuLu. Oskar’s is named for owners’ Liz and Jesse Huot’s young son, and will feature the popular small sandwiches in many guises: beef, of course, but also pork belly, Korean chicken, fish and vegetarian. Salads, fries and soups will be offered, too, in scaled-down portions at modest price points.
Nouvelle is styling itself as a French wine bar, not serving just French wines, but encouraging wine drinking as the French do, as an everyday exercise of convivial cosmopolitanism. Wines by the glass (in 3, 6, and 9-ounce pours) or by the bottle, small bar bites, cocktails and beer, if you must, and a shady garden in season are planned.
Now onto places that are already open. Hull and High Water, a seafood restaurant conceived by Gospel Bird’s Eric Morris and his partner Garrett Petters at 324 E. Main St. in New Albany, offers a raw bar, fried frog legs, hush puppies and oysters, po’ boys, low-country boils and fish and chips platters. A rooftop lounge overlooking the river is under construction.
Another new approach from a veteran local restaurateur is bar Vetti, a casual Italian restaurant and bar opened by Ryan Rogers at 800 S. Fourth St in the renovated 800 Building. Enjoy small plates, pastas, pizzas and drinks in a vibrant modern setting one block south of Broadway.
Two diner openings pose an interesting study in the evolution of the “diner” concept. D. Nalley’s, for a half-century or so at 970 S. Third St., has remained unchanged in its furnishings, its ambiance and its menu. The classic urban diner with its counter with stools, booths along the wall and glass-domed pie stands has maintained the nostalgic aura that is at least half its appeal. A series of owners in the last several years have not found the right mojo, but new operator Gibin George has painted the familiar white building in alternating bands of red and black and is adding rotating ethnic specials to the familiar American diner menu.
Metro Diner, opened at 4901 Outer Loop, is the first local outpost of a growing Florida-based chain that has ambitions for further expansion in the Louisville area. Like all restaurants that aspire to the “diner” concept, Metro serves all three meals with hearty breakfast selections — chicken and waffles, a “breakfast pie” (an American-style strata), among others — and familiar comfort foods — meatloaf, chicken pot pie, chef’s salad, Reubens and French dip sandwiches, that sort of thing.
Indian cuisine is well represented with several new iterations: Himalayan Restaurant, 1578 Bardstown Rd. and Chamling Kitchen & Bar, 2249 Hikes Ln. Both focus their menus on northern Indian dishes. Himalayan occupies the Highlands space that had been Brownie’s the Shed sports bar. Chamling Kitchen is in the former Empress of China building. The owners of both restaurants are Nepalese and plan to gradually add more of their native dishes to their menus as they build clientele with more familiar Indian and Chinese dishes first.
Another restaurant serving Indian cuisine has recently opened: Tandoori Fusion at 4600 Chamberlain Ln. in the former Zeggz’s space. Tech entrepreneur Purna Veer, who also grows vegetables and hops on his Oldham County farm, has started Tandoori Fusion with ovens and cooks brought in from India. Veer plans to use his home-grown vegetables and herbs at his restaurant.
Before we move away from Asia, we have to mention Ngon Appetit, a new concept from Thuy Nguyen, who had the recently closed Four Sisters Café in Clifton. Ngon Appetit, at 1991 Brownsboro Rd., serves French-influenced Vietnamese dishes — pho, crêpes, and bánh mi sandwiches.
The rate of Latin restaurant openings has slowed recently after a flurry that saw an upsurge in recent years. Mi Cocina on Fourth, just south of the Seelbach, has made many fans with efficient and tasty lunch service and convivial Happy Hours. Now, Mi Cocina has opened a second Mexican restaurant at 2060 S. Hurstbourne Pkwy., replacing the El Nopal that was there. The only other new restaurant serving Latin foods is Panchito’s Ice Cream, which has tacos, quesadillas and tamales, as well as Mexican-style frozen treats. The first local outlet of the Lexington-based chain opened earlier in the year at 8112 Preston Hwy.; the recent second location is in the former Bánh Mi Hero building in the Highlands at 2245 Bardstown Rd.
This quarter has seen a continuation of the spurt of Italian restaurants. In addition to the aforementioned Sarino and bar Vetti, Milantoni Italian Restaurant — which quickly opened in the space vacated by Gilberto’s at 1600 S. Hurstbourne Pkwy. — has an Italian menu that includes pizza but extends beyond to appetizers, salads, a range of pastas, chicken and seafood dishes. The cleverly named Mac’s Dough House, 10509 Watterson Trail, emphasizes America’s favorite Italian food (pizza) and its favorite all-American dish, mac ’n’ cheese. These two never-fail American comfort foods dominate a menu that also offers wings, sandwiches and fried dough balls with dipping sauce as dessert.
The last new businesses to mention are interesting outliers. Inwave Restaurant & Juice Bar, 10310 Shelbyville Rd. in Middletown, is a project of family physician Kamlesh Dave. It’s a fast-casual restaurant and juice bar focused on plant-based drinks (smoothies, juices) and “power bowls” of grains, rice, beans and vegetables. In Jeffersontown, at 1915 Blankenbaker Pkwy., is The Sword & the Scone Tea Parlor and Boutique, which has been offering British-style afternoon teas in a roomy party space, catering to ladies’ lunches and shower parties for a while. Also out in the suburbs, Norton Commons has been seeing a robust flowering of dining spots in its prettified enclave. The newest food purveyor is a small grocery and deli, Bluegrass Exchange Marketplace & Deli at 9428 Norton Commons Blvd.
Out in the far West End, Hosanna’s Kitchen & Catering at 139 S. Forty-fourth St., serves soul food. Across the river in New Albany, Baby Mae’s, 1817 Graybrook Ln., is a barbecue joint that is the long-held dream of its owner, Marshaun Long. The new business at the former Mom & Pop’s Cone Corner property boasts pleasant outdoor seating and moderate prices.
Two current chain operations, Taziki’s Mediterranean Café and Red Robin have each added an additional local outlet at 106 Fairfax Ave. in St. Matthews and 1354 Veterans Pkwy. in Clarksville, respectively. And three local businesses are expanding. Original Impellizzeri’s has added its fourth pizza outlet at 805 Blankenbaker Pkwy., taking over the space that Mellow Mushroom vacated. Green District Salads now has a second store downtown at 225 S. Fifth St., and Roof Top Grill is setting up a second outlet at 414 W. Oak St. for selling its Jamaican food.
There are only a relative handful of closings. Although The Cereal Box has closed at 612 Baxter Ave., owner Eric Richardson plans to re-open nearby in a few months in an expanded space. He outgrew the old location. And he says he plans to sign up with Uber Eats, so you can get your cereal fix delivered.
Yen Hapa, which was Lee Tran’s rethinking of his previously shuttered concept Bánh Mi Hero, has closed at 2245 Bardstown Rd. and is now a Panchito’s Ice Cream. Blue Bull Burgers and Tacos in the strip mall at 2420 Lime Kiln Ln. has closed, as have both locations of Dickey’s Barbecue Pit, at 285 N.Hubbard’s Ln., and 9930 Linn Station Rd.
Other restaurant locations that have closed in the last few months that quickly found replacements include Gilberto’s, 1600 S. Hurstbourne Pkwy. (Milantoni took that over), Grady’s Burgers & Wings, replaced by Roof Top Grill at 414 W. Oak St., and Teena’s Pizza, 3799 Poplar Level Rd., which is to become Oskar’s Slider Bar. Little India, 2925 Richard Ave., has also closed.
A few multi-location businesses have contracted. Famous Dave’s BBQ closed its Clarksville location at 1360 Veterans Pkwy. but still has one outlet in Jeffersontown. Homemade Ice Cream and Pie Kitchen is down to eight stores with the closing of its store at 1041 Bardstown Rd. The Urban Bread Co. closed its New Albany outlet at 145 E. Main St. to concentrate on its expansion in Jeffersonville.
And, finally, Texas Roadhouse has moved from 6460 Dutchmans Pkwy. to its newly constructed building at 5055 Shelbyville Rd. F&D