We’ve written about the food scene in Louisville before and the city as a tourist destination is gaining more traction, largely because of its luscious rolling hills, Churchill Downs for Derby, its infamous Kentucky bourbon and of course a fabulous foodie scene. While the food industry (those in it within a region or town) has always been incestuous and small, I got a kick out of hearing who worked where, when and with who and who chefed or managed which restaurants and generally learning how the whole restaurant ecosystem worked.
While the more traditionalists had sent me to Brown Hotel’s Restaurant (we dined with the chef in the kitchen, so be sure to read our write-up although note – I’ve heard Laurent is no longer the chef there) and Jack Fry’s on my first trip (see my Jack Fry’s review from 2011), I ended up exploring a couple new places in Louisville this time around: Milkwood and Game. I’ve included them in my top picks below as well as Proof on Main (located in the renowned and ever so chic 21c Museum Hotel) which I’ve written about before, but its notoriously good every time.
Milkwood is relatively new on the scene. Smack in the middle of downtown Louisville, I could walk to it from my hotel (the Galt Hotel, one of the most established hotels in the city – that also means that its room are in need of an upgrade btw). I was in the mood for fish and so it arrived – red drum was the fish of the day and was served with smoked fingerlings, broccoli rabe, miso butter, tomato and fish sauce. If you’re not a fish fan, try the Teras Major Steak, served with lemongrass-chimichurri, fries, tarentaise cheese and fried parsley. (a little more decadent but also loaded with a lot more calories).
They are apparently known for this very southern dish here: Fried Chicken and Waffle. It sounds a lot heavier than it really is! Trust me – order it. It is served with radish, dill, chili paste and buttermilk dressing. YUM! I can see why it gets so much praise.
Not afraid of the calories? Go for the Octopus Bacon appetizer, which they convinced me to try! It is served with smashed potatoes, sour dream, kalamata and jalapeno puree. It was well worth the wait.
If you had time for dessert, which I didn’t really, try the Togarashi Cheesecake, which is served with a decadent peanut sea salt, miso caramel and blackened pineapple. I’m not a huge caramel fan and yet they pulled this off. Let’s just say, we finished it and I wasn’t planning on having dessert.
The bar itself is fabulous so I’d recommend if you’re not on a romantic date, traveling solo or with just one other, sit at the bar. The wine list is also interesting and you can pair a few things together by choosing some of their smaller options (starters or sides – recommendations include their cottage fries, roasted garlic sunchokes and below – the Vietnamese Lamb Sausage – it was out of this world). They serve it with fried green tomatoes, pan-drippings, pickled fresno and green goddess. The description alone should be enough to make you want to order it.
Then, I heard about Game, a new place in town dedicated to its namesake. Having lived in Africa a couple of times and no longer into all things vegetarian, I absolutely love gamey meat. The establishment looks more like an old 1950’s drive in from the outside but with a lot more space, I was surprised at what I found inside.
Typically restaurants that serve game tend to be higher end – you know, tablecloths, more exclusive, let’s jack up the prices for the privilege of trying something as exotic as antelope or kangaroo. What’s interesting about this place is how low key it is, not to mention the fact that the staff are incredibly down-to-earth and the food is delicious. If you want to pony up to the bar, there are plenty of deep and bold reds to choose from by the glass and by the bottle to pair with your choices. If you don’t want to go for one of their larger portioned dishes (most of which is served on a pumpernickel, brioche or pretzel bun), you can get them as meatballs or rather gameballs (my terminology, not theirs).
I wanted to sample a few different options to see just how different they were from each other. They convinced me I would be able to tell the difference and of course, there was, but venison and antelope didn’t seem to be that drastically different. The kangaroo meatball was definitely on the dryer side (they say it’s because there’s less fat in it) and not as delicious as my top three: Antelope, Venison and the Elk.
The photos don’t do their creations justice, since the focus on my lens was acting up and it was incredibly dark inside. I went for the Elk with sumac, salt and pepper, Kangaroo with molasses, worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper, Antelope with rosemary (yum), molasses, salt and pepper, Boar with just salt and pepper, and Venison with sweet chili, salt and pepper.
The menu is divided so so you can order almost anything a la carte. For example, you can get a “game” ball for between $3 and $6 and they include Wagyu, Kangaroo, Bison, Duck, Lamb, Elk, Organic Prime, Venison, Antelope, Wild Boar, Salmon (yup, they consider it game) and Angus. For the vegetarians among us, they have you covered. For example, I dragged my friend Holly to the venue, a local lawyer in town who seems to know everyone and has eaten everywhere and since she doesn’t eat meat, she went for the Grilled Mushroom sandwich with red lentils – it is served on a bun with avocado, sprouts, a yummy glaze sauce and avocado. It was to die-for — you can also get cheese on it for only an extra $1 and the list is vast (cheddar, gorgonzola, provolone, herbed goat, pepper jack, American, brie and Swiss). You won’t go hungry here!
They also have an interesting “Extras” Menu, where you can get sides or toppings from $1-$8, with foie gras being at the top of that list. They also offered the following yummy options as extras: soft shell crab, pork belly, bacon, grilled mushrooms, caramelized onions, grilled romaine, grilled fennel, egg, slaw and avocado. And, for the egg fans, they have scotch eggs with pork belly and smoked truffle mayo. I’d imagine you could order it without the pork belly if you so desire.
Behind the restaurant is the creativity of Chase Mucerino and Adam Burress who met in 2003 while attending culinary school at Sullivan University. The pair soon made their way around Louisville’s top restaurants including The Blu (in the downtown Marriott), Jeff Ruby’s and Seviche before opening Hammerheads in Louisville’s Germantown neighborhood in 2010 and Game is an extension of their love for cooking. The building that Game is currently occupying was previously a rundown Mexican restaurant which has been restored. A fun and unique experience you’ll definitely want to try!
Harvest is a favorite of many locals and I had experienced a sample of it at Taste of Innovation for the last couple of years and briefly in 2011, although never sat down for a lengthy meal where I could savor it slowly. My only option this trip was lunch right before I flew out, so I kept things light, starting with their house salad, especially welcoming after diving into more game, fried green tomatoes and sandwiches earlier in the week than I had hoped. Their salad is served with a pickled peach-blueberry relish, sapori cheese, basil-blackberry vinaigrette and topped with crispy noodles, which I was going to leave alone but well….even they were delicious!
They’re also known for their Harvest Burger at brunch, apparently a popular choice with regulars. The “surprise” was the hog jowl bacon jam on the top of the burger, which is made with bacon, sweet onion, honey, molasses and then slowly cooked down into perfect sweetness. That dollop? Chevre of course. It is served on a pretzel bun with chips and a pickle. Rather than chips, I went for the spicy basil slaw, which you can also order as a “side.” It is made with cabbage, carrots, beets, chives, jalapeno pepper, basil and vinegar. Healthy and fresh, it tasted ever so local and farm-to-table to me.
A real treat even if you’re staying away from carbs, is the smashie. How can you not order something called a smashie? I even tweeted about it in real time because it was too good not to! If you’re on one of those lower carb diets, just order a small side of it so you can “taste” but not endulge. The smashie is made up of whole roasted potatoes, grilled onions, beer/cheese, grilled baby bok choy and roasted corn. Oh c’mon, give it a try! You can also get some southern “fun” options as a side, so you can get a variety of tastes, including a ginger-sage sauce, a three cheese plate of grits, smoked bacon and a herb-dijon potato salad to name a few.
Local farmer and champion of Louisville’s “farm-to-table” movement, Ivor Chodkowski, is the master-mind behind Harvest. He said in a video: “We have taken the “farm-to-table” idea to a higher level by crafting a delicious and varied menu featuring traditional and local dishes with a modern twist. We pledge to serve up a menu of “Rustic Regional” cuisine, based on what produce the local farmers have available any given week, regardless of the season”. Apparently, 80% of their ingredients come from a 100 mile radius. Below is the business/restaurant manager who was there when I was nibbling away and made sure I was well taken care of, making recommendations along the way, including local beer.
I tried a Belgian beer since it paired well with some of my dishes. There were plenty to choose from locally however, including West 6th IPA, Falls City, Country Boy, BBC Bourbon Barrel Stout and Against the Grain, all on Draft. While the wine list is extensive enough, it was too early in the day for me and frankly, bourbon is just not an option. While I know its incredibly popular in Kentucky, a couple of fine glasses of bourbon a couple of years ago did me in, largely because I’m a smaller frame and my body simply isn’t used to it. And so, despite the fact that Harvest had an extensive list of bourbons, whiskeys and ryes, I stuck to a small beer, ice tea and a coffee on my way to the airport. If you’re a bourbon fan however, stop in and try one of the Woodford Reserves, although there are plenty of others to choose from including a Maker’s Mark Special Edition which was recommended to me.
The inside is simple and rustic but chic and warm at the same time. The naturalness of the bar, the earthy colors and lighting gives it just the right ambiance for brunch or a dinner out.
While I didn’t have time to indulge, try one of their scrumptious desserts, especially the Bread Pudding which is made with blueberries, blackberries and raspberries. There’s also a sorgum cookie sandwich with vanilla butter cream icing and candied bacon, topped with a caramel sauce and whipped cream. For those who want a little more decadence, go for the chocolate chess pie, served with dark chocolate, whipped cream and pecans. Ahh yes, and there’s strawberries and bourbon oatmeal crisps on top.
The Blind Pig is apparently a well kept secret according to my local friend John, who has been told by several friends that it’s their “private hangout.” Since The Blind Pig is not on the typical restaurant route, it is not downtown and nor is it on one of the trendy strips in one of Louisville’s funky neighborhoods, people assume most folks don’t know about it. Located in a more urban and barren neighborhood called Butchertown on the outskirts, the establishment sits on the corner of a street. Inside, its urban design is also warm, with brick walls, earth tones throughout and a very welcoming bar.
Even if you’re not a “all things pig” fan, they have salads, albeit with grilled bison and bacon croutons. They also have a marinated goat cheese salad with marinated goat cheese, roasted beets and strawberry vinaigrette.
Other “must try’s” are the Beer Sauteed Mussels, which is served with garlic, onions, red and green peppers, cilantro and blue dog bread and the oyster fritters in champagne butter, served with lemon aioli and red wine vinaigrette.
Did I mention their healthy white bean soup? They call it a white bean puree, but from where I come from, it’s a soup. They use cannelini beans seasoned with rosemary, thyme, parsley and basil with blue dog baguette.
Proof on Main is a well known favorite in Louisville as I mentioned above. Even though I dined there this year twice, I didn’t take photos, so here’a a few from last year’s review, my favorites being the strip bison tenderloin and braised blue ribbon short ribs and the Kentucky Bison Tartare. The ribs were served with Weisenberger Grits, tomato confit and sweet garlic and the Bison Tartare was served with egg yolk, frisee, caper, parmesan and parsley. For last year’s review, see our post on Proof on Main from 2012. It was as always, delicious and the service was top notch.