This is the 65th installment of our quarterly “Comings & Goings” restaurant update. And over the years, it’s become a very popular, must-read feature for anyone trying to keep up with Louisville’s ever-changing dining scene.
Even after all these years, Louisville-area restaurateurs continue to surprise me. And this quarter they gave me far more work than I had anticipated. For the record, this time around we are reporting 33 openings and 22 closings, more than in any previous issue. That’s 55 restaurants that have either “started service” or “cleared down” for the last time.
(Originally published in the Winter 2019 issue of Food & Dining)
For the year, this quarter brings us up to 130 reported openings of restaurants versus 77 closings, almost a two-to-one ratio. That marks 2019 as the 16th straight year that Louisville’s restaurant growth has greatly outpaced any decline, and by a significant margin.
All in all, the listings in our guide at the back of the magazine currently total 1,437. When Food & Dining published its first issue in 2003, there were 817. We are proud and excited to have been recording the growth of the metro areas’ dining scene for 16 years.
Two themes dominate a third of this cycle’s openings — the upsurge in new downtown hotel restaurants, and new ventures started by veterans of the local dining scene.
The Galt House (140 N. Fourth St.), which lately has undertaken a number of renovations and redesigns, has opened a new ground-floor restaurant, Walker’s Exchange, with patio access to the Belvedere. Allan Rosenberg, the always-inventive veteran whose previous restaurants included the Frankfort Avenue bistro Danielle’s, Papalinos Pizza and Butchertown Pizza Hall, is overseeing the kitchen.
Two brand new hotels, Hotel Distil, 101 West Main St., and Moxy Hotel, 100 W. Washington St., are wooing diners with an assortment of options. Hotel Distil’s flagship offering is the upscale Repeal Oak-Fired Steakhouse. Then it tops things off with Whiskey Row’s only open-air rooftop bar, Bitters End, which complements artisanal cocktails and house-made bitters with an attractive menu of small plates. Moxy Hotel, on the other hand, is focusing on fun, super-casual dining with its 24-hour Zombie Taco walk-up shop.
The Omni Hotel, 400 S. 2nd St., which for a brief moment was the new kid in town, has enhanced its dining options with Con Huevos Craves, the third outlet for the popular Clifton-based Mexican breakfast and lunch spot. Omni’s installation features a slimmed down, grab-and-go menu.
Local dining veterans who are branching out include Bobby Benjamin’s Butchertown Grocery Bakery (729 E. Main St.), where his accomplished baker and pastry chef, Barbara Turner, has a generous new space in which to expand her repertoire.
Against the Grain, the successful brewhouse and restaurant at Slugger Field on Main Street, has taken over the Cumberland Brews space in the Highlands and re-dubbed it Public House By Against The Grain (1576 Bardstown Rd.).
The owners of the excellent Jasmine Essential Chinese have opened Jasmine Asian Bistro (2420 Lime Kiln Ln.), bringing their authentic Szechuan menu (and a sushi bar) to a somewhat more upscale space. The owners of Havana Rumba have moved into the former Waylon’s Feed and Firewater. The new place, Mojito in Havana (3939 Shelbyville Rd.) brings together Rumba’s Cuban offerings and a best-of collection of dishes from sister establishment Mojitos Tapas Restaurant.
And Allan Rosenberg — apparently needing more projects to keep himself busy — is overseeing the small bites bar menu at Butcher Block Eatery at High Horse (1032 Story Ave.), which has taken over the former Do Drop Inn. By the way, the Butcher Block principals include Marie Zahn, whose cocktail wizardry has been part of the local scene since the days of the legendary, lamented 732 Social.
Two new restaurants have sparked considerable early buzz. District 6, named for the owners’ native neighborhood in Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City, is a Vietnamese gastropub, serving traditional Vietnamese dishes with modern interpretations, and an imaginative cocktail menu. SOU! Southern Kitchen and Bar (9980 Linn Station Rd.) is helmed by Chef James Moran (8UP, Seviche), who offers an eclectic menu that ranges from crispy cauliflower in sorghum peanut sauce to chicken and waffles to salmon in coconut habanero curry.
The dining scene across the river continues to intrigue. We’re recording another craft brewery in New Albany: Our Lady of Perpetual Hops (300 Foundation Ct.). The brewery will host food trucks on Fridays and Saturdays. Also in New Albany, Get It on a Bun at Booty’s (822 State St.) started as a food truck but now has landed in a stationary location.
In Jeffersonville, The Early Edition is a breakfast spot that will share space with the soon-to-open Dos Gringos (149 Spring St.). And out at the casino in Elizabeth, Indiana (which has been rebranded Caesar’s Southern Indiana), The Piazza is now the new casual dining offering.
Back in Louisville, an additional 11 new restaurants have opened in the last three months. Primo’s Pizzeria, an excellent new place with old-fashioned pizza values, took over the former Pieology space at 2043 S. Hurstbourne Pkwy. Lucky Burrito, a sort of spinoff from La Suerte, has found a niche at 2118 Bardstown Rd. You can access it from the larger restaurant or from the street. Its fortuitous location next to Great Flood Brewing allows beer drinkers to bring back to the brewery tacos, tamales and burritos for consumption.
Limón y Sal brings a modern Mexican approach to 10000 Brownsboro Rd. (previously home of Casa Fiesta). A new Cuban/Caribbean restaurant, Open Caribbean Kitchen at 4735 Poplar Level Rd. is yet another business that got its start at the Chef’s Space business incubator in the West End.
Apna Café at 11322 Maple Dr. serves Indian food. Juno, 5406 Antle Dr., brings sushi, hibachi, and other Japanese items to the Okolona area. Charcoal, at 2805 N. Hurstbourne Pkwy., serves a limited menu of charcoal roasted-chicken with garlic sauce, falafel and Middle Eastern sides like tabbouli and hummus.
Out at 12406 LaGrange Rd., Philly Cheesesteak Express touts its menu in its name, as does Louisville Vegan Foods at Logan Street Market (1001 Logan St.). Louisville International Pub has opened at 5343 Mitscher Ave., replacing the former Peppermint Lounge. ShopBar has opened in a renovated building at 950 Barret Ave. Inside is a bar, in the back is a permanent food truck and the patio is a pleasant covered eating and drinking space.
Five existing restaurant businesses have determined that this moment seems a good time for expansion. Biscuit Belly has opened a second location in St. Matthews in the Vogue Center complex at 3723 Lexington Rd. Royals Hot Chicken is on the verge of opening an outlet in Jeffersontown, at 10305 Taylorsville Rd. And Please And Thank You has expanded into the suburbs, opening another location at 9561 Hwy. 42 in Prospect. Gustavo’s Mexican Grill has also seen potential in the suburbs, opening another outlet in Norton Commons at 10715 Meeting St., and Spinelli’s Pizzeria has reopened the store at 4005 Shelbyville Rd.
Of the 22 businesses that have closed in the last three months, four are long-running venues that have run out of steam, and several others had noticeably short lives on the competitive restaurant battlefield. City Café, a local chain popular for fresh and creative sandwiches, soups, and salads, closed its last foothold at 505 W. Broadway. Two long-running mainstays, Café Mimosa and The Egg Roll Machine, both at 1543 Bardstown Rd., have closed as well (word is that Dragon King’s Daughter will take over the Mimosa location).
Stout Burgers, which had a multi-year run at 1604 Bardstown Rd., is retreating from the Louisville market. The last long-time stalwart to mention this issue is Bussman’s Bakery, which closed its store at 1906 Frankfort Ave.
Other businesses succumbed, after relatively short runs, to the various pressures that challenge restaurants. Butchertown Pizza Hall (1301 Story Ave.) has closed; owner Allan Rosenberg has quickly found other projects. Flavour, which moved into the multi-level space vacated last year by Asiatique at 1767 Bardstown Rd., has closed after little more than a year in business. We understand that El Mundo has plans for that space next year.
Palatucci’s Italian Ristorante (204 S. Spring St.) closed after barely five months. Steve O’s Italian Kitchen also closed after only a few months in the former Clifton’s Pizza location at 2230 Frankfort Ave. Hull & High Water, the casual seafood restaurant started by Eric Morris, who also had a short but warmly remembered stint with Gospel Bird, has closed. It was at 324 E. Main St., New Albany. Cumberland Brews closed at 1527 Bardstown Rd., but the space was quickly transformed into Public House at Against the Grain.
Other closings include Casa Fiesta, 10000 Brownsboro Rd.; that space is now Limón y Sal. Freakin’ Unbelievable Burgers, 5000 Shelbyville Rd., has closed, as has Inwave Restaurant and Juice Bar, 10310 Shelbyville Rd. Two restaurants at Horseshoe Casino Hotel in Indiana have closed — JB’s Café and Smoke and Rye — as the whole casino complex rebrands itself as Caesar’s Southern Indiana.
Two multi-location businesses have reduced their numbers by one each. Pieology at 2043 S. Hurstbourne Pkwy. closed, but Primo’s Pizza rose in its place. Zoe’s Kitchen, 3723 Lexington Rd. closed; Biscuit Belly is opening another outlet at that central location in St. Matthews.
A few restaurants are closed for renovations. La Bamba, the semi-famous giant burrito supplier, is closed for major renovations to its long-time location at 1237 Bardstown Rd. Bombozz Pizza and Watch Bar is gradually renovating and refocusing all its outlets. Currently the pizza joint at 1315 Herr Ln. is closed for that renovation.
We are continuing to de-list three of the restaurants that were put out of business by the collapse of their continuous roof at the strip of stores on Oeschli Avenue. Havana Rumba had planned to move before the collapse, but the other three businesses there, Del Frisco’s, Charim Korean and Half Peach Café are still awaiting recompense from the strip mall’s owners and insurers.
Moves & Changes
Finally, two restaurants are undergoing some changes. Los Aztecas, a fixture at the corner of S. Sixth and W. Main Streets for 21 years, left its long-time location there (530 W. Main St.) and moved into the space vacated by Wild Rita’s at 445 E. Market St. And Olive Leaf Bistro, 130 W. Riverside Dr. in Jeffersonville is changing its name to Bella Italia and refocusing its menu on Italian cuisine. F&D