In doing research for this review (and by “research,” I mean eating out a lot), I noticed four types of people who spend their afternoons at the Bristol Bar & Grille —
ladies who lunch, business people on the clock, parties of one in search of some alone time, and frugal diners like me.
Generally, I turn to Bristol in the evening hours, when I’m in search of a nice Louisville-born and -grown restaurant that will satisfy a variety of palates. The menu is diverse, the food is good and the atmosphere (white cloth tablecloths, servers in black) is a notch above causal dining without the expectations or stuffiness of some fine-dining establishments.
I’ve neglected Bristol’s lunch-hour offerings to my own detriment. Like similarly priced restaurants, the midday menu at Bristol offers a selection of the restaurant’s signature dishes in smaller portions at discounted prices. And with the Bristol’s attentive service and consistent quality, this Louisville original injects a little class into the middle of your day.
Bristol was born in the Highlands in 1977 and has expanded to a total of six locations in the Louisville metro area. Nearly four decades has produced a reliable dining option for the city, yet one that still packs a few surprises.
Bristol’s lunch menu is full of sandwiches, salads and pasta dishes that range from familiar and distinctly Southern (the Hot Brown, a Louisville creation of roasted turkey breast with bacon, cheddar cheese and tomato on French bread, with Mornay sauce, $9) to toned-downed, unoffending international dishes (Thai Chicken Stir Fry with peppers, onions, mushrooms and snow peas with Thai chili sauce, $10) that can please a variety of tastes.
The lunch menu varies slightly by location – for example, the BBQ Chicken Sandwich with Maker’s Mark bourbon barbecue sauce (with kettle chips, $9) is only available on the lunch menu at Bristol’s downtown location on Main Street, and the Smokey Poblano Cheese Dip (with hot, salted pretzels, $7), is a Prospect exclusive. Not to worry – some the restaurant’s most popular dishes, such as the green chili wontons ($9, or $6.50 for a half order) and Theresa’s Sweet Chili Linguine ($9) are universal options. The menu might change, but the Bristol’s standards are met across the board.
If in doubt, go for the combination I tried for this $10 Challenge — soup and salad. This is a more bare-bones option than the larger lunch entrees, but this classic lunch pairing is filling, affordable, and won’t leave you regretting your lunch choice at the 3 p.m. lull in your workday.
The house salad ($4) and the black bean soup ($4 for a cup, $5 for a bowl) combine for a reliably good meal. Pair the salad with the house-made balsamic vinaigrette for a tart compliment to the smoky soup. The salad portion was generous, but a bowl of black bean soup more than satisfied any lingering hunger. The soup is a hearty thick dish with most beans still intact as opposed to meeting the fate of an immersion blender. Chunks of mild sausage make the soup even more filling. Chopped red onions add a great crunch to the soup. And don’t be ashamed to dip a piece of Bristol’s crispy roll into the soup — the flavors are so good, I didn’t want to waste any dregs of soup at the bottom of the bowl.
The Bristol has been around for nearly four decades. There’s a reason for that. The food is good and appeals to an array of diners. And shame on me for not discovering the Bristol lunch menu sooner.
The Bottom Line:
Bristol House Salad: $4
Black Bean Soup (bowl): $5
Total (without tax and tip): $9