In a city like Louisville where there are new restaurants opening by the minute and oldie-but-goodys are constantly turning up the heat, who better to ask for a restaurant rec than the men and women in touch with every aspect of our ever-popular food scene? We reached out to 10 local chefs, farmers and influential foodies to find out which recent meal knocked their socks off. Fair warning: You’re going to be downright starving by the end of this article! Grab your keys and wallet — here’s where you’ll be heading …
Farmer and owner of Field Day Family Farm, Harvest Restaurant and the recently launched Grasshoppers line of locally made pestos, pickles and the like (currently on sale at the St. Matthews and Bardstown Road Farmers Markets, as well as Rainbow Blossom and other local purveyors).
“If you’ve not been, there’s a little gem (It is indeed little, with around 25 seats total, both inside and out.) of a breakfast and lunch place on Frankfort Avenue called Con Huevos. I was there lately with my son, Eliah, and we started with a stack of Tres Leches mini pancakes. It was a great start for both of us. They were fluffy and light and just the right amount. Eliah then had carnitas tacos and I had the special, which was a pork and a chicken tamale. With a delicious hot sauce, pickled onions and cilantro, the tacos were a great straight-ahead version of this now very popular dish (we shared). The tamales were a melt-in-your-mouth experience and, as with all tamales that are done well, the banana leaf wrapping always reminds me of their having been hand-made and very well cared for, which would be a great way to describe Con Huevos more generally. Congratulations to Chef Paco Garcia and his team for having pulled off this great little restaurant! With eggs … go try it!”
“A week prior to my birthday, my parents took me to Harrison Smith House in Bardstown for my father’s birthday. Their menu reads of pure Southern comfort food: pork chops, fried chicken and Kentucky catfish. It just speaks to your soul — and you want to order everything, which I highly recommend because the dishes that come out are the best versions of those dishes you’ve potentially ever had. They’ve perfectly captured the essence of your grandmother’s cooking and brought it into the 21st Century with the highest-quality ingredients and culinary technique — all snuck into deceptively large portions of food and served, rightfully so, inside a colonial tavern. I’ve yet to leave there without bags upon bags of food left over.
“Being the glutton I am though, I had to celebrate my birthday with a second meal, this time at Lockbox inside of the new 21C in Lexington. Their menu reads of a wide range of Southern influences from house-made Toulouse sausage to tomato pie with kil’t greens. And the presentation of the food and the superbly refined culinary technique used to create it match the beautiful former bank building you’re dining in. Their luxurious use of fresh herbs and acid help to counteract the heft of the satisfying Southern-inspired food in a way that only encourages you to further explore the menu.”
Second-generation owner, Rainbow Blossom Natural Food Markets
“The last best meal I had was one that was pleasantly surprising: NOLAFARE — the vegan, gluten-free, peanut-free, soy-free, organic and non-GMO restaurant. Even as someone who was raised on healthy food, I was skeptical that any restaurant with that many limitations would be good. I am so glad that I was wrong! I ordered an open-faced guacamole sandwich with a hearty and well-seasoned black bean patty on top. My friend ordered vegan nachos complete with raw, vegan cheese and cashew “sour cream.” Both were really tasty and I was excited to see that they were so busy that the only seats available were at the bar in the front window.”
Executive chef, Proof on Main
“I really enjoy going to Decca. Chef Annie is always in tune with the seasons and takes pride in showcasing the farms in our community. This shows in the menu that is always changing. The first date I ever went on with my girlfriend was at Decca, so it’s always fun to go back. And it just so happens they cook really damn good food. They have a beautiful patio to enjoy and the cocktails and wine specials are a lot of fun as well.”
“There are so many great restaurants in the city but, as a restaurateur and spending most of my evenings at my own places, I don’t get to visit them as often as I would like. When I find the time to explore, I tend to navigate toward casual environments, often hidden — a bit contradictory to my own restaurants, I know. I like environments that are just crowded enough with engaging servers and staff and where noise levels are complementary to the food — I don’t really care what the noise is, so long as it matches what I’m eating and the experience I’m anticipating. I recently visited Game and tried their local bison burger with brie and smoked truffle mayo. I ordered it with white cheddar mac ‘n’ cheese and the dish with every drop of juice was amazing! Perhaps a burger and mac ‘n’ cheese is not what many “foodies” would qualify as their best most recent meal but I’m a country kid and fresh burgers and anything with cheese are a part of my soul. So when it gets qualified as amazing, then that works for me.”
“Once in a while, I get a craving I simply can’t suppress for a giant plate of Indian food. Or sometimes my husband and I happen to be out by Buechel (one does have to go to Target occasionally after all), and when we’re so close we just can’t resist going to DakShin. I’m happy the moment we open the door into the dim and curry-scented lobby. We slide into the oversized booth, I order a tamarind margarita and always look through the entire massive menu even though I know what I’m having. My husband and I share a combo — one that we can never remember the name of but when I show the waiter the picture of it from last time he laughs and tells us the one — and then we get an extra chicken tikka masala or palak paneer. Cliches, I know, but they’re just so ridiculously good we have to do it. We strategically eat enough rice so that they bring us more just in time to pack up our leftovers. That’s lunch tomorrow — and then some.”
“My wife Paula and I recently went to At The Italian Table on Frankfort Avenue. It was a special birthday dinner that Paula arranged for me and some of our close friends. We had a delicious spread of fresh bread, salad with fresh local veggies, house-made pasta with pesto and a lemon sorbet for the sweet finale. What we enjoyed most was the intimacy of the restaurant. It was a small place that allowed for a cozy and relaxing evening with our friends — and we even met at new couple!”
Chef/owner, Butchertown Grocery
“Imagine this: You’re lying on a hammock on one of the most beautiful days and there’s a nice subtle breeze on your face; that’s how it felt eating Decca’s food. I went to Decca in the spring with some close friends. I had mussels, some shrimp, charcuterie and a pasta dish. The food is simplistic yet it shows finesse towards every ingredient. It’s light but has lots of flavor. It was a great experience all around.”
Chef Dean Corbett
“To get a great big city experience without leaving the neighborhood, I always enjoy dim sum on a Sunday at Jade Palace in Westport Village. I love their classic service style, how they still roll around the dishes on carts. Recently, we enjoyed siu mai, mini barbecue ribs, chicken feet, braised barbecue duck Peking-style and Mongolian pork. Fantastic! Okay, so we also had some taro root cake, too … ”
Co-founder and gardener, Foxhollow Farm
“My most memorable recent meal I had in Louisville was from Rye on Market. I started with a J. Bro’s heirloom tomato salad with burrata cheese and basil. The tomatoes were a mix of colors and were perfectly wedged so the tomato seeds burst in your mouth. The burrata was creamy and oozed with silky, milky goodness. The highlight of the meal was the bone-in ribeye with béarnaise sauce, grilled lemon and triple-cooked fries. The steak was definitely a splurge and meant to serve two. It was grass-fed and cooked to perfection with a crispy crust and pink center. To finish I shared a “Salt Of The Earth” dessert with my husband made of chocolate cremeux, salted caramel, coffee rocks and toasted hazelnut. Perfection!”
Looks like we have our work cut out for us, SB readers! Thanks to all who let us in on their favorite meals.
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