Louisville is quickly becoming famous as a world-class food city. Its evolution in this regard over the past 25 years has been remarkable. From a few solitary outposts, the area has developed an abundance of ethnic, international, fusion and chef-inspired venues where diners can satisfy almost any culinary curiosity.
A new venture, Le Moo, opened last September with high ambitions to take a prominent place in the galaxy of Louisville’s dining options. Equal parts hard-edged, whimsical and luxurious, Le Moo aims for the kind of memorable experience that engenders fond memories and a desire to return. Judging from several visits, and the positive reviews stacking up on the Web, it is off to a very good start.
Le Moo is the creation of Kevin Grangier, a 52-year-old marketing veteran who distinguishes himself among restaurateurs by admitting he is an amateur in the kitchen who creates success by having a sharp eye when it comes to ambiance, a discerning palate, and very high standards about service and how to make a positive customer experience.
“It’s a tough business. There are so many ‘touch points’ in a restaurant, and each has to be executed not just well but practically perfectly to be a success,” Grangier said. “With food there is its look, timing, presentation, the understanding between the customer and chef. Then there is the seating, lighting, how the drink is prepared and presented, the relation with the host and the server. Each one comes into play.”
Grangier grew up in Southern Indiana and graduated from Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green before traveling extensively to work in public relations and brand management. Ultimately, he had a firm with offices in five cities, handling accounts like the famous California Milk Board “Got Milk?” campaign, before returning to Louisville and settling in Anchorage.
His restaurant life began when, after having staff fly in from New York, he found no dining options open after 9 p.m. in the Anchorage area. This led him to create the Village Anchor seven years ago, which has been a success, as measured by most any yardstick, since it opened.
When approached by developer Kevin Cogan, who had purchased the KT’s restaurant property at Lexington Road and Grinstead Drive, Grangier sensed a significant opportunity.
“KT’s had nearly a 30-year run and many devoted customers. It was a great space but needed new breath,” Grangier said. “I saw what it could be, not what it had become. There was all this brick and ironwork, and the idea slowly catalyzed of the playful concept of Le Moo — a quirky sense of humor with a sexy overlay of chandeliers, velvet and brocade — serving the best beef available.”
A new ambience in a familiar space
The old KT’s building, now wrapped in a violet-patterned paint job and corralled by greenish fencing visible from blocks away, has been transformed both outside and in. Similarly, Grangier immersed himself in the knowledge and techniques required to offer exceptional steaks.
“For Le Moo, I spent months studying steak and the competitive landscape — what was the product, the customer base and where the holes were,” Grangier said. “I went to steak school in Ohio, learned how a cow is broken down, the different cuts, the flavors associated with different genetics and whether they’re grain or grass fed. I also went to every competitor in town and ultimately grasped they were focused on the ‘special occasion’ diner — you know, anniversaries, birthdays and white tablecloths. I saw a niche for a more accessible place with excellent food, a vibrant bar scene and a celebratory, fun environment.”
Grangier off-handedly describes Le Moo as “funky,” or “warehouse meets whorehouse,” but when urged for more, he elaborates, “Steak is actually a masculine and sexy entrée, but here we’ve overlaid it with sexy chandeliers, brocade and velvet.”
In keeping with its name, elegant paintings of cows in 19th century French style act as calm visual anchors amid the blend of brick, ironwork, fabrics and different styles in lighting, seating and decoration. The whole is a mash up of industrial chic, castle-like fixtures and the elegant overlay of richly-colored fabrics.
This gives interior spaces different atmospheres — a dramatic and vibrant bar, a rustic and relaxed dining area, a more elegant dining room with high-backed banquettes upholstered in velvet and brocade, cozy booths (like the Louis Vuitton with its crystal chandelier and $500 minimum for a group reservation), along with pockets of more quiet intimacy.
“We want guests to be able to see and experience something different each time they come in, and, while constantly searching for what is the ‘wow’ factor, we wanted the customer’s experience to be first.”
The experience starts the moment you get out of your car, according to Grangier.
“From hearing maybe Eartha Kitt singing ‘C’est Si Bon’ when you arrive, to the greeting from the host or complimentary water iced down in the entryway water font (salvaged from an old Argentinian church), to the server making eye contact and helping you navigate the menu, we want guests to immediately get into the feel and ambience of dining at Le Moo,” Grangier said.
The setting is cool, but the food is what matters
All the setting is only a stage to showcase the food at Le Moo, which starts with a solid selection of dishes aiming to be the “best of show.” All entrees are generous, whether it’s the 32-ounce Tomahawk rib eye, a 16-ounce, bone-in, prime Duroc pork chop with maple glaze, steak and eggs with an 8-ounce Angus flat iron steak, pan-seared salmon or redfish, or a vegan cassoulet.
“We’re not slivers or smidgens here. Everything is hardy, grand,” said Grangier. “You should walk away satisfied and maybe with a to-go bag.”
The menu is so diverse it allows one to work toward an advanced degree in steaks.
Le Moo offers 14 different cuts of beef (many conveniently on display in a cold case between the bar and main dining area). They are further differentiated in well-ordered offerings of prime, choice, dry-aged, or Wagyu, a special Japanese breed known for its well-marbled cuts originally made famous in the U.S. through the renown of cows raised in, and named after, the Kobe prefecture. Today Wagyu beef is raised in North America, and Le Moo offers both the best grade and the largest cut, a 30-ounce T-bone.
“One can discover the different flavors available, not only in the quality or aging process, but also the difference between different cuts like a rib eye, strip steak or filet,” Grangier said. “One of our most popular offerings is a Tenderloin Flight with 6-ounce filets of choice, prime and Wagyu.”
“We also do a great preparation of steak Diane, beef Stroganoff, steak and eggs, and fish, things people remember from growing up that have a nostalgic pull,” Grangier continued. “We also have a great selection of non-beef entrees, such as redfish, salmon, lamb, chicken and salads with protein. Of course we wanted our appeal to include families and groups who come in and not everyone wants steak.”
Entrée prices cover a spectrum from $19 for the beef Stroganoff, to $34 for cherry-balsamic chicken, steak Diane or any seafood dish, to $87 and $96, respectively, for the Tomahawk rib eye and tenderloin flight. The apotheosis, and easily shared by three or four, is the 30-ounce Grade 8 Wagyu T-bone for $158.
This is a broad range, making a priority of customer choice and, by inference, customer education. Le Moo’s core team leaders in this respect are Executive Chef Chip Lawrence, Sous Chef Elliot Checinski, General Manager Chris Fenton, Assistant Manager Michael Parsley, and Justin Green, Director of Store Operations. They hold daily meetings with staff to ensure all servers are ready to engage with the diners to see that their curiosity and appetites are satisfied.
There are small-dish starters & desserts, too
In keeping with Le Moo’s vibe, the bar area welcomes right off the entryway with dark wooden beams, sturdy chairs handmade from knotty Pennsylvania hickory, and a blend of lighting fixtures that include old-timey bulbs, crystal chandeliers, and outsized sconces of steel and glass climbing the columns. There are enough TV screens to satisfy hard-core sports fans, but the buzz of conversation from expectant diners usually fills the space in the evening.
“We wanted a space where a customer could spend time both before and after dinner,” Grangier said. “We have fabulous bar masters who make our guests feel special and mix a damn good cocktail. With an inventive cocktail list, 80 different bourbons and 170 wines, we feel one can explore, celebrate or enjoy old favorites.”
Appetizers are rich and satisfying: and a couple with a beverage can provide a smaller, yet satisfying, meal. Mussels in white wine broth, pan-seared scallops in wild mushroom cream sauce, Parmesan-crusted bone marrow with veal glacé, Wagyu hot dogs with Maytag bleu cheese, croissants and Cherrywood bacon jam give one a sense of the offerings. They continue with cumin-coriander braised lamb ribs, and drunk-cut fries, a favorite side where irregular cutting results in the potatoes coming out of the fryer from crispy to warm and soft, all in the same order.
With its desserts, Le Moo makes good on the now frequent meme of “Southern with a twist”. Even if it is not a special occasion, you still might have to make room for pecan pie cake with salted caramel sauce, chocolate Bourbon bread pudding, Guinness chocolate cake with fudge and Bailey’s Irish Cream frosting, or short cake with strawberries, Chantilly cream and white chocolate mousse. Each is a separate, delicious, indulgent undertaking.
Sunday brunch and a jazz blues room are on the horizon
Since it opened, Le Moo has built experience and strength in each of its offerings. In December, it added a completely new lunch menu with a selection of less expensive but equally inventive sandwiches, like chicken and mashed potatoes, PB&J with fresh fruit, short rib and triple cheese, croque monsieur and Benedictine, plus soups and salads. It provides an opportunity to try what Grangier asserts is the best burger in town, 10 ounces of beef from Kentucky’s Black Hawk Farm, served on a brioche bun with oven-roasted tomatoes, pickled red onions, crispy country ham and Kenny’s Farm cheddar cheese.
Current hours for lunch are 11 a.m.–2 p.m., with light fare at the bar from 2 p.m.–5 p.m.. Dinner is from 5 p.m.–10 p.m.
This spring Grangier plans to roll out a casual Sunday brunch, offering yet more dimensions to the menu, and he is already brainstorming a 60-seat jazz and blues dining experience.
”We have a special event room that I’d like to become a music venue,” Grangier said. “Maybe we’ll call it ‘Blue Moo,’ which will feature great food along with live jazz and blues. We’re aiming for late September.” F&D