A recent vacation road trip to the East Cost and back unreeled one green vista after another — the Bluegrass, West Virginia’s forested mountains, the rolling lush fields and tree-covered hills of the Southern Tier across lower New York State, and thick, billowing stands of corn in Ohio and Indiana. Where we traveled, the country looked healthy, robust, full of vitality.
As does the restaurant scene in the Louisville Metro area. Just the numbers suggest a quarterly surge of restaurant business optimism. Twenty-five new restaurants have opened or soon will open in Louisville and Southern Indiana, and three other businesses have added new locations since the last issue of F&D. By comparison, 15 restaurants that have closed during that time, and three multiunit brands closed one location. So, after a cold, challenging winter for eateries, the pleasantly mild weather seems to have brought new energies.
Perhaps the most notable new restaurant is a transmogrification of an existing one. Fernando Martinez brought in Allan Rosenberg as executive chef at The Place Downstairs, 9200 Taylorsville Rd. Eager to get back to the challenge of fine dining after a successful stint developing his Papalino’s pizza stores, Rosenberg sold his interest in that business and, after a breaking-in period at the elegant space beneath Mussel & Burger Bar, worked with Martinez, executive chef and co-owner, to morph the restaurant into Cena (Italian for “dinner”). After a modest redesign, Cena is set to offer a sophisticated but casual Italian menu focused on sharable dishes of primi, secondi, contorni and dolce.
Bardstown Rd. is also set to see new dining options in old spaces. After a 25-year run holding down a prime Highlands spot at 1606 Bardstown Rd., Miguel and Maggie de la Torre sold their eponymous Spanish restaurant to Chad and Lauren Coulter, who’ve changed the space into Louvino, a wine bar with extensive by-the-glass selections, and a small plates menu overseen by former Equus chef Tavis Rockwell.
Not far away at 1702 Bardstown Rd., the slot that for many years was home to Sitar Indian, J.D. Rothberg’s and Shane Hall’s Eggheadz LLC is adding a new twist to its interesting variety of restaurant holdings (they own Wild Eggs and Wild Rita’s too) by opening Strati Wild Italian, where they will serve fast-casual Italian fare. The restaurant is located between Tom + Chee and Sapporo.
And, after a good multi-year run, Annette Saco closed La Gallo Rosso, turning the space at 1325 Bardstown Rd. over to Dustin Staggers. He’ll maintain his role as chef at nearby Monkey Wrench, while developing the new spot under the name Roux. As the name implies, it’ll feature classic New Orleans cuisine including lots of oysters and crawfish and red beans and rice.
A lot of new activity is churning on the north side of the river, too. Jeffersonville has seen three new restaurants open recently, led by Red Yeti Brewing Co., 256 Spring St., where the lunch and dinner offerings have been packing in customers even before its brewing component is up and running.
Also new to Jeffersonville is Café on Meigs, 425 Meigs Ave., serving salads, soups and sandwiches made with fresh local ingredients. Momma’s Pizza is already baking up a storm at 1611 Charlestown-New Albany Pike.
In Clarksville, Sam Anderson, who has owned the Montrose property at 318 W. Lewis and Clark Pkwy., and run it as an events space, has now opened a restaurant there, too — Sam’s at The Montrose. Expect to enjoy the classic American fare that’s become his trademark.
And two new restaurants have opened in New Albany. Taking over the space at 134 E. Market St. vacated by Bocca is Bella Roma Authentic Italian Restaurant, whose menu should need no explanation. At 822 State St., Shawn’s Southern BBQ likewise should make clear by its name what diners can expect.
Venturing a bit deeper into Hoosier land, up to Sellersburg, diners can find Rubbin’ Butts BBQ, 8007 Highway 311 and Charlie Nobel’s Eatery + Draught House, 7815 Old Ind. 311. The former is a “traditional” BBQ joint with some house specialties not so traditional: smoked deviled eggs, BBQ pork queso and its signature BBQ hog-a-chonga: a flour shell stuffed with baked beans, cheese, and pulled pork, then deep fried and smothered in queso and BBQ sauce. The latter is the third enterprise run by Matt McMahan, who also operates Big Four Burgers + Beer in Jeffersonville and Irish Exit in New Albany. The focus of his new restaurant will be new American cuisine and seafood.
Back in Louisville, a baker’s dozen of new restaurants rounds out the summer surge.
Three of these new places are bars with kitchen service. Darkstar on the Creek, 6313 River Rd., was displaced from its longtime Crescent Hill digs by The Craft House, which is Bluegrass Brewing Co.’s newest venture. Out in Prospect, Darkstar revived aims to entice old regulars and newbies with creek side ambience and an expanded menu. BBC is renovating the space at 2636 Frankfort Ave., where it’s adding a patio in the back and live entertainment inside.
Rounding out the new bar trio is Overtime Sports Bar and Grill, 307 Central Ave., near Churchill Downs and not far from Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. Look for the kind of bar food people like to eat while watching sports on the bar’s 17 big-screen TVs.
Louisville, too, has seen two new barbecue places join the crowded fray. At 285 N. Hubbards Ln., Dickey’s Barbecue Pit is a Dallas-based chain which focuses on Texas-style beef BBQ, but pork and chicken are not neglected. FDKY BBQ, 9606 Taylorsville Rd., is a local operation named to pay respect to firefighters and other first responders.
Out on Dixie Hwy., at 9609, Good Ole’ Jessie’s Dixie Diner, housed in part in a classic Sears, Roebuck prefab building, is reviving memories of long-time owner Miss Jean Jessie, by serving the down-home food the neighborhood loves.
Another new chain entry is Blaze Fast-Fire’d Pizza, 4600 Shelbyville Rd. Choose your crust, sauce and toppings, and the pie is baked blazingly fast in a superhot stone deck oven.
Don Benito’s, a Tex-Mex “licensed chain” operation shares space with Hubba Hubba Gourmet Subs at 104 Fairfax Ave. Liz and Jesse Huot, the couple who run Grind Burger truck, have settled down to serve their popular gourmet burgers at Grind Burger Kitchen, 3311 Preston Hwy., though they plan to serve from the truck at select outdoor events, too.
Another ambitious couple, Jackson and Courtney Nave, have opened Eggs Over Frankfort, 2712 Frankfort Ave., a comfy Crescent Hill breakfast spot where they can figure out cool ways to start people’s day.
At Asian Bento Express, 4000 Dutchman’s Ln., you can get bento box lunches to go, and expect sushi on the hoof at ToGo Sushi, 700 Lyndon Ln. And to cap off the last of the newly opened eateries, Wingstop has added a second outlet at 2007 S. Hurstbourne Pkwy. Chipotle opened its third store at 1075 Bardstown Rd., and a second Culver’s restaurant is serving its famous custard and burgers at 1555 Veteran’s Pkwy. in Jeff.
Top-of-the-line restaurants seem to have survived the winter weather, and continue into the warm months. The most notable closings are the aforementioned La Gallo Rosso, whose space at 1325 Bardstown Rd. will become Roux; and the snazzy lower level space at snazzy Glassworks, 815 W. Market St., will be dark, as Jazzyblu has closed up shop there.
The one segment of the restaurant scene that seems hard hit this past quarter is ethnic restaurants, especially those serving African food. Al Nuur and Bela’s Café, both serving at 2933 S. Fourth St., have closed. Hong Kong Chinese Restaurant at 345 New Albany Plaza in New Albany, Ind., turned off the lanterns, as did Senor Taco at 4806 Bardstown Rd. Some operations just changed a bit: Kalisimbi’s Bar and Grill at 5600 S. Third St. is now a dance club, and Benito’s Burritos at 13301 Magisterial Dr. has morphed into Don Benito’s and moved to Fairfax Ave.
The grinning has stopped at Puccini’s Smiling Teeth Pizza at 4600 Shelbyville Road. The local franchise of the Indianapolis-based chain closed in July. Both of Miss C’s Kitchen and Pantry locations, at 1319 Story Ave. in Butchertown, and 308 W. Chestnut St. downtown, have closed. Emma Lou’s Café at 1327 Bardstown Rd. called it a day.
Sherry’s Corner Café, 1051 Market St. Charlestown, Ind., and its neighbor, Charlestown Train Station Seafood has derailed, at 1041 Hwy. 62. Achilles Pizza, 1611 Jeffersonville-New Albany Pike, met its match (and made room for Momma’s Pizza), and the Sonoma Coffee Café at 3309 Poplar Level Rd. has perked its last pot.
Just before F&D’s deadline, a fire — arson-caused, police believe — damaged the recently renovated Old Louisville Tavern at 1532 S. Fourth St., causing its closure, a temporary one, we hope.
The following multi-outlet businesses have closed one store, but are operating other locations: El Caporal at 515 E. Lewis and Clark Pkwy. (leaving two); Hometown Buffet at 6641 Dixie Hwy. (leaving one); and Java Brewing Co. at 4828 Norton Healthcare Blvd. closed, so just one remains.
And, finally, Little India has moved from 3099 Breckenridge Ln. to 2956 Richland Ave. For some inscrutable reason, Royal Garden at 5729 Preston Hwy. has changed nothing but its name, to Hibachi Sushi Buffet, though it has no connection to the Hibachi Sushi Buffet at 5316 Bardstown Rd.
Read the entire Fall 2014 issue of Food & Dining Magazine here: http://issuu.com/foodanddiningmagazine/docs/f_d_fall14