Louisville’s culinary landscape is quite varied. Restaurants entice patrons’ palates with everything from hot fried chicken at mom-and-pop stops to richly marbled steaks served at tony establishments helmed by millionaires. Yet, there are chefs who venture beyond the established gastronomic offerings, bringing a fresh twist to the local scene.
If you’re familiar with neighborhood eateries, then you’ll recognize the name Adam Burress, Executive Chef and Owner of Game, Hammerheads and Migo. He added a fourth restaurant this summer, Ostra, which means “oyster” in Spanish. Ostra is described as a “sustainable, Pacific equatorial” restaurant. Though people will ask if his place is a “seafood joint,” Adam explains it really doesn’t have a particular label. “We’re really kind of a fusion restaurant,” he says. Adam says there’s really no way to pinpoint the offerings at his new place.
Though his place isn’t a full-on seafood restaurant, one practice he follows is to keep on top of the super green list provided by the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California. It’s kind of a version of “eat this, don’t eat that” when it comes to choosing which oceanic proteins to use in his food. “My end goal is that my menu revolves around whatever is sustainable at the moment,” Adam explains. “Some of the most sustainable proteins I could come up with happen to be oceanic, so I use fish or bi-valves,” he adds. He also uses insects, the number one sustainable protein on the planet. Other items include rabbit, duck and chicken, available for those who may want a dish that’s not from the sea.
The menu is divided into several sections: Pacific equatorial cuisine, salad, raw, bocata, more amore and desserts. Paying homage to the restaurant’s name, there are oyster dishes including the Hot Half Shell, with kale goat cheese and jalapeño mornet, and the West Coast Half Shell, with smoked mignonette or truffle ponzu. Salad options include the watermelon with basil yogurt, roseheart, toasted peanuts, feta and white balsamic, and the Jay Kale with citrus vinaigrette, Parmesan, toasted pistachios and cranberries.
Poke, kinilaw, ceviche and tiradito are found in the raw selection at Ostra. Adam explains that on this portion of his menu, you won’t find specific proteins listed, due to the fact that they constantly change. “It’s kind of just seasonal,” he points out. “We were doing salmon during the salmon run, and we got some of the best fish available. Now that the run is over, we use other protein in those dishes, like striped bass.”
Under Bocata, which is Spanish for “sandwich,” there’s the tempting chicken chorizo pambazo on Wiltshire focaccia bread with cranberry, brie and grilled kimchi. Continuing down the menu, other temptations listed are Spanish paprika fries, bang bang cauliflower, poblano duck stroganoff and rabbit empanada.
To satisfy your sweet tooth at the end of a meal, you may want to explore the red velvet churro or the pistachio goat cheese filo rolls. But if you’re an adventurer, delve into the third selection — the Cricket Brownie. “Instead of using traditional flour in this brownie, we use ground up crickets, called cricket flour,” Adam explains. “You really can’t taste any difference.” He says the brownie is kind of like a protein bar and that it has a whole host of health benefits. Yet, Adam doesn’t stop at using insects inside the dessert. “We actually garnish the plate with candied crickets and super worms,” he says. “We get them live, cook them and sprinkle them with sugar. There are bugs all over.”
If you’re seeking a spot for a nightcap, Ostra’s Jungle Room Lounge is the ideal place to hang out with buddies or to take a date. Located just a few steps up from the dining room, this leafy respite is where they serve drinks named after Nickelodeon TV programs like “Kablam,” “Pinwheel,” “All That” and “Double Dare.” This creative cocktail program was designed by Adam’s business partner, Chris Derome.
If you’re interested in venturing beyond the regular menu, daily specials are available, which basically come from Adam’s love of creating new dishes. “I’m really into mushrooms,” he smiles. “Recently, I got in six pounds of lobster mushrooms. They’re not cultivated but literally hunted out of old growth forests in Washington State. I like to do lobster mushrooms over a cauliflower truffle puree. Specials arise from the times I need to use stuff before they’re no longer fresh, or I just take stuff and play with it to create new dishes.”
Adam is conscientious about where he obtains his proteins and produce from. He seeks out partners who have the same kind of integrity he does when it comes to how their products are raised or grown. He enjoys working with small farmers, purveyors of fresh products and even the Amish community. “Over the course of 10 years or so I’ve developed a close relationship with the Kentucky Proud community,” he comments. Other purveyors include Creation Gardens, Bluefin Seafoods and Marksbury Farm.
Adam’s popularity expands beyond the bluegrass borders. He’s been featured on television shows like “Chopped” on the Food Network. “I’ve been on the Cooking Channel’s ‘Cheap Eats with Ali Khan’ and on ‘Road Trip’ with G. Garvin. Chef Andrew Zimmern even came to my barbecue joint,” he says.
When it comes to culinary trends, Adam isn’t sure if he can be categorized as an actual leader in that arena. “There are people who are following trends, and there are people who are setting trends,” he says. “They’ve got an idea, and they just gamble with it, and everyone else is just sitting on the shore to see if they float. If those people float, then others will try it, and that’s how a trend gets started. I don’t look at trends, I genuinely just cook. I like what I do. I can’t explain where it comes from. I just do stuff, and people like it.”
Ostra is located at 1758 Frankfort Ave, Louisville, KY 40206. Hours are Tuesday through Saturday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Reservations are recommended. For more information, call (502) 915-0160 or visit ostralousiville.com.
Photos by Blair Dog
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