Where Brownsboro Road ends its downhill run at Beargrass Creek sits a two-story farmhouse built 153 years ago when the surrounding area was bucolic farmland rather than today’s odd blend of residential and industrial.
Now painted a distinctive (some say shocking) deep mustard yellow, it stands out from its surroundings , which is exactly the intention of the proprietors Ron Kayrouz and Terry Feraday, who intend the latest entry in Louisville’s fine dining scene, Bistro 1860, to be noticed.
Brain child of partners Ron Kayrouz and Terry Fereday when the highly respected L&N Wine Bar and Bistro ended operations in 2012, Bistro 1860 features Chef Michael Crouch and Sous Chef Matthew Kelly plating distinctive food in a flexible portion approach only touched on by the recent popularity in tapas.
“Most dishes can be ordered in portions that are small, medium, or entrée-sized,” said Kayrouz. “Heck, we even accommodated a couple tables at New Year’s that ordered bite-sized samples of every dish on our menu.”
That flexible approach, along with getting Crouch to join the effort after years of honing his culinary vision at some of the city’s better known restaurants, were key.
“After twenty years in the business, I didn’t want to do a full-service restaurant ever again, unless I did it with him,” said Kayrouz.
An Old Friendship
Kayrouz worked with his father J.P. for decades at St. Matthew’s J.P. Kayrouz, a family-friendly café on St. Matthew Ave. near Breckenridge and Shelbyville Road. He also provided the entire deli department service for multiple Paul’s Fruit Market outlets around town. He met Crouch when he was a teenager working as a stock boy for the market.
“He was a good kid and joked around a lot. We just clicked. One day he said, ‘I’m thinking about getting into this food thing’,” Kayrouz said. “I asked what he could do and he said a coconut crème pie. Well, I told him I already knew who made the best coconut crème pie in the world and it was my mother.”
“A few days later he came in with this 10-inch tall coconut crème pie and it was amazing. I told him it was the best I had ever tasted, but that if he told anyone, I’d have to kill him. After that I’d tell him someday we’d do a restaurant together. Over the years I’d visit him at his different jobs, so we kept in touch. And when this place became available, I went to see him.
Crouch admitted his interest in food began at a young age.
“In Middle School, I would sometimes set up at home ‘Michael’s Restaurant’ downstairs with candles on the table, flowers in a vase, etc. and host dinner,” Crouch said.
After his experience with Kayrouz, Crouch took a job at Standard Country Club for a couple years. While he took classes on and off in commercial art and graphic design, Crouch got even more serious about all matters culinary by going to work at Le Beaujolais, the quintessential French bistro on Douglas Loop run by chefs Patrick Peter and Agathe Heuxtrix.
“I learned a ton with them–pastas made fresh, using stocks for everything, and matching proteins in creative ways ,” Crouch said. “I worked up to chef de cuisine before they returned to France.”
With this journeyman experience under his belt, Crouch moved on to Café Metro for nearly half a decade before taking the executive chef position at Bourbon Bistro.
“It was a brilliant concept by Jason Brunner and John Morrison to feature Kentucky bourbons and fine dining,” Crouch said. “We did some great things together and I learned a lot.”
When asked for an example, he replied with a grin, “ like what are now my twelve favorite neat sipping bourbons.”
Three Ways to Fun
“We consider having a meal out to be more of an event than just dinner,” Crouch said. “People go out for fun, so we try to make our experience as fun as possible.”
Bistro 1860 does this by offering a comfortable setting, top line beverage service, and a flexible approach to ordering which makes the entire menu accessible.
The décor by Dennis Tapp is simple but sophisticated, eclectic but not overdone.
“We wanted to have a welcoming feeling with a bit of class,” Kayrouz said. “We want people to be comfortable whether they come in coat and tie or blue jeans.”
Inside natural brick walls are complemented by black and white floor tiles, linen-topped black tables and chairs and a few colorful banquettes. Huge drapes of velvet brocade and modern striped window treatments counterbalance lighting fixtures that range from Deco to industrial.
Upstairs the ‘Camel Lounge’, features a variety of small table seating with comfy chairs in two rooms dominated by large fireplace mantels. Bare brick is alternated with brightly painted walls punctuated with modern art and a variety of camel-themed collectibles that Kayrouz has been gathering for nearly 20 years.
The bar service, developed by Kayrouz and head mixologist Martin Hall, is creative and alone worth a visit. There are 12 custom cocktails extending old standards like margaritas, old fashioneds, and martinis into new territory. Beer aficianados will find a dozen well-selected ales, IPA’s, lagers, stouts and Belgian-style brews. And for eonophiles, the L&N’s old Cruvinet has been totally renovated to make 27 red and 21 whites available by the glass or bottle.
Bistro 1860 also called in Sommelier John Johnson of the Wine Rack, to suggest three different wine pairings for the 16 dishes featured on the current menu, which continues the spirit of exploration and enjoyment.
“We’ve had an extraordinary response to the menu,” continued Crouch. “You can order a small portion and try another one. If you’re still hungry, order another one. Of course, we’re don’t turn tables as fast because people are having a good time.”
Crouch also points out that the menu “steers away from the formality of a lot of restaurant menus where there is always a chicken dish and a salmon filet as options. Here, instead of chicken, you can try quail, have rabbit, enjoy pork tacos, or try lobster hush puppies.”
In keeping with Crouch’s preferences, and more educated palates, ingredients tend to be seasonal and sourced locally whenever possible. He said this will be emphasized when a kitchen garden comes in “out in the front of the restaurant, where we’ll have pole beans, heirloom tomatoes, herbs, etc. right outside the door.”
Crouch is also collaborating with a Henry county farmer to grow four rows of a variety of produce and vegetables timed to meet the restaurant’s continuing needs.
“It’ll be great. We’ll be growing twenty different kinds of tomatoes, Asian melons, peppers, corn and squash and we’ll time plantings to make sure we extend the availability of what we’re interested in..”
This emphasis on seasonal produce results in smart takes on basics. Salads and sides are great examples: watercress or arugula salads, grilled asparagus, braised Brussels sprouts, and combinations that can literally make you stop in your tracks and explore each forkful
“What my menu is all about is exploring flavors,” Crouch said. “Even though French is my background, I’m not restricted to it. I can do Italian, seafood, south of the border. Some people specialize in a cuisine. I specialize in food.”
[box] Bistro 1860 1765 Mellwood Avenue (502) 618.1745[/box]