The lively local restaurant scene continues to percolate as this dreary winter draws to a close. Throughout the last three months there was some upheaval in the restaurant world here, as a few long-running businesses ended, others changed hands and still others tried to reinvent themselves. Newcomers have joined the fray, 21 by our count. At least eight of those serve ethnic foods, owned by newcomers to America trying to gain a foothold by feeding us, always a welcoming way to join in the national ambition to make good by doing what you know how to do. Four additional outlets of existing restaurants have opened as well. There were only 13 restaurant closings in that time, plus four multi-location restaurants that have closed one outlet but still have others open.
Familiar faces who have made good at other local restaurants offer several new options, joined by one experienced out-of-towner who was so impressed by Louisville that he decided to try his hand here. That guy would be Rocco Cadolini, who has two New York City restaurants, ROC in Tribeca in Manhattan, and Baci & Abbracci in Brooklyn. He also has a father-in-law who is a native Louisvillian, and family visits here persuaded him that this was a good place to do restaurant business. Cadolini has been making extensive alterations to the first floor and front garden space of the house at 1327 Bardstown Rd. that for about a decade was Butterfly Garden. The first floor of ROC Restaurant will be a bar and casual dining area, the upstairs a more formal room. The menu will be “traditional Italian with a touch of American.”
Nostalgia buffs will be happy to know that Rick Longino has taken over D. Nalley’s, 970 S. Third St., which got a much-needed mechanicals upgrade and thorough cleaning while keeping the 1950s-era diner interior unchanged. The menu is just what you would want from a diner, including breakfast items served all day.
In Clifton, two veterans of the local food scene who have been in at the start of several ventures have opened restaurants of their own. Geoffrey Heyde, who was executive chef at The Village Anchor for several years, and who then got SET off to a strong start, is opening Fork & Barrel at 2244 Frankfort Ave., the building that until recently had housed Basa Modern Vietnamese for 10 years. Heyde’s interests in his new venture will be classic, unpretentious American cuisine. Griffin Paulin is serving Asian street food – bahn mi, ramen, dumplings, bao – at Mirin, 2011 Frankfort Ave.
Those who prefer more familiar Asian foods can find them at Dragon Café, 13206 Hwy. 42, and at Yoki Buffet, 1700 Alliant Ave.; both are Chinese restaurants that won’t unduly challenge American tastes.
Three new Mexican restaurants have opened hither and yon. El Rio Grande has opened in the classy space at 10001 Forest Green Blvd. that used to be Limestone. Gilberto’s is at 1600 S. Hurstbourne Pkwy. and Cancún, at 808 Lyndon Ln., adds some Mayan dishes to its otherwise standard Mexican choices.
Rounding out the roster of new ethnic restaurants opened recently are Naila’s Caribbean Cuisine, 1370 Veterans Pkwy. in Clarksville, where curries on the menu show the influence of Indian emigration in the Caribbean islands; and Nahyla’s Restaurant, 12220 Shelbyville Rd., which is giving Middletown a sampling of Venezuelan cuisine (arepas, pableon criollo, asado negro). And Little Jerusalem Café has moved from Iroquois Manor to 4413 Saint Rita Dr., and renamed itself Jerusalem Kitchen, where it’s still serving Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dishes.
There are three new bakeries in the area, each carving out an idiosyncratic niche. Flora Kitchenette, 1004 Barret Ave., offers gluten- and nut-free pastries; Hi-Five Doughnuts has settled into a storefront in the Butcher Block at 1011 E. Main St., and 410 Bakery is a full retail bakery, offering breads, pastries and coffee at 140 E. Main St., New Albany.
Also in New Albany, at 147 E. Market St., “the old Little Chef” is now Lady Tron’s, serving soup and sandwiches “with a retro outer space vibe.”
Another new place likely to appeal to families is Double Dogs, 13307 Shelbyville Rd., a small, growing chain out of Bowling Green serving wings, salads, sandwiches, pizza and, of course, a variety of hot dogs. Chef’s Cut Pizzeria, 9901 LaGrange Rd., also serves a variety of other stuff in addition to pizza: sandwiches, wings, bread sticks, salads and pasta.
Scene is the new bar and fast-casual dining offering in the lobby of the Kentucky Center for the Arts, serving small plates, salads and burgers to patrons before shows, and drinks afterwards.
Across the river, the former Old Bridge Inn at 131 W. Chestnut St. in Jeffersonville is becoming Parlour, a casual restaurant and bar, with a beer garden and extensive game lawn for playing horseshoes, cornhole and other outdoor bar games.
Out at the airport, Coals Artisan Pizza has installed one of its high-temp ovens to provision travelers, and Book & Bourbon Southern Kitchen has taken over the large lobby space before the security checkpoint. The menu will focus on modern twists on Southern comfort food.
A few expansions of, or changes to, existing restaurants are worth noting. El Taco Luchador will soon open a second store at 112 Meridian Ave. in St. Matthews, the former Meridian Café location. Other moves include Red Hot Roasters, which is relocating its signature drive-thru across the street to a larger, more easily accessible spot at 1399 Lexington Rd., and The Seafood Lady, which has moved to a larger space at 105 E. Oak St., where there is now room for dining in.
Two other expansions include DiOrio’s Pizza & Pub opening another location in the space vacated by Café Lou Lou at 2216 Dundee Rd. And the Urban Bread Co. (which used to be The Hub Roti Café) has renamed itself and opened a larger space at 145 E. Main St., New Albany, in addition to its original store at 716 E. 19th St. in Jeffersonville.
Among the most notable recent closings are Basa, 2244 Frankfort Ave.; Hillbilly Tea, 106 W. Main St.; The Monkey Wrench, 1025 Barret Ave.; Hall’s Cafeteria, 1301 Story Ave.; and Meridian Café, 112 Meridian Ave.
Michael Ton, Basa’s chef, decided to follow his wife, whose business interests have relocated her to Florida. His departure led him and his co-owner and brother, Steven Ton, to end Basa’s run and concentrate on other ventures with Falls City Hospitality Group, which runs Doc Crow’s and other properties.
Karter Louis’s efforts to revive Hillbilly Tea did not work out — again.
Dennie Humphrey, owner of The Monkey Wrench, has more irons in the fire than he finds able to juggle effectively, so he has decided to retire his popular restaurant/barspace by April 1. Similarly, co-owner Pamela Hall and her partners in Hall’s Cafeteria, a Butchertown tradition, have aged out of the hectic-paced restaurant world and decided to retire after a half-century of feeding the general public.
The sort of clever but really rather limiting concept of the fast-casual chain Tom + Chee found that Louisville’s taste for tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches was more restricted than hoped for, and the last of the three local outlets, in the Highlands at 1704 Bardstown Rd., has closed.
Two local creperies have closed, For Goodness Crepes at 619 Baxter Ave., and Four Sisters, 2246 Frankfort Ave. The latter is reportedly looking for a new location.
Also closed are Emperor of China, a multi-decade staple at 2210 Holiday Manor Ctr.; Diamond Station, 2280 Bardstown Rd.; Red Dragon Pub, 145 E. Main St., New Albany; and Wiseguys Italian Kitchen, 4413 Saint Rita Dr. Little Jerusalem closed in Iroquois Manor, and, re-christened as Jerusalem Kitchen, took over the Wiseguys’ space.
Finally, Bluegrass Brewing Company has closed its founding location at 3929 Shelbyville Rd. in St. Matthews, leaving only a single location at 300 W. Main St. Ruby Tuesday has closed the Clarksville branch at 1354 Veterans Pkwy., and The Ville Taqueria closed the store at 3099 Breckenridge Ln. Other locations of both businesses are still serving.
Two long-running businesses now have new owners. The Melting Pot, 2045 S. Hurstbourne Pkwy., closed briefly until new franchisees resumed operations. Locally owned Bistro 1860 Wine Bar, 1765 Mellwood Ave., has changed hands. The new owner, Doug Prather, who also recently bought Bistro 301, is making modest upgrades to that restaurant, but leaving Bistro 1860 as is.
Two restaurants have closed temporarily, for different reasons. Eiderdown, 983 Goss Ave., closed temporarily in January (but has already reopened) to rethink its focus and re-orient its menu. Owners Heather Burks and James Gunnoe feared it had become fancier than what its neighborhood would prefer, so it made modest changes to the facility and the menu and reopened in February with a more casual, lower-priced menu. Ghyslain, the French fast-casual restaurant, patisserie and chocolatier, has closed the downtown location at 721 E. Market St. for a year or so, to allow for nearby hotel construction to commandeer its parking lot. Ghyslain’s suburban location in Westport Village will remain open. F&D