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Profile: Volare Italian Ristorante 2.0

[Originally Published in the Winter 2017 issue of Food & Dining Magazine.]

There are certain anniversaries that inspire self-examination and transformation. For most people these benchmarks tend to come in five year increments, but not for Executive Chef Joshua Moore of Volare Italian Ristorante at 2300 Frankfort Avenue. Instead of making changes on his restaurant’s 10th anniversary or waiting for its 15th, Moore opted to remodel the restaurant and make menu changes on its 13th anniversary.

“Thirteen years is a long time to be in business, especially in this city” Moore explained. “When you walked through the restaurant in the daytime, you could see signs of wear and tear. Over the years, we’ve learned what our guests like – the level of food, the level of service, and the aesthetics they expect. We wanted to just reinvest in the business. It was time for a refresh.”

Moore had contemplated a remodel at Volare for a while. He and designer Laura Crawford of Olive Branch Designs spent more than a year plotting out the $200,000 renovation project. Their goal was to preserve the things longtime patrons enjoyed about the restaurant while incorporating new elements that would elevate its look and function. Moore picked late August as the time to implement their plan because it is traditionally a slow period for restaurants: summer is over, schools are in session, and the holiday season is still a little while away.

The work was done with military precision over four days in order to minimalize the impact on the business. Volare got new carpet, paint, linens, glassware, china, light fixtures, patio chairs and custom chairs for the main dining room. The tile was stripped and resealed, all the kitchen and storage areas received a deep cleaning, and all the brass in the Frankfort Avenue restaurant was shined. The bathrooms were gutted and remodeled. All the duct work was wrapped. The wine wall received LED lighting, and the popular Italian mural in the back of the restaurant received track lighting and new drapes.

The functional changes included adding granite tops to the hostess and service stations, doing new electrical work, and fixing some longstanding issues with the bar area. Over the years Volare has been in business, Moore has had the bar floor painted on several occasions, but it has always started to peel after a short time. During the remodel, a black epoxy was applied to the floor as a long-term fix. A local artist was also commissioned to make circular glass panes that are lined on two sides of the bar to separate the restaurant into sections.

Many of the upgrades are small changes the average customer would not notice according to Crawford, who was also involved in a remodel at Seviche on Bardstown Road. “Our primary focus was on customer comfort,” she said. “We didn’t want to change Volare in such a way that a long-standing patron would walk in and not recognize it. Our conversations were about updating and refinement.”

The remodel at Volare was preceded by another major event in Moore’s life. In October 2016, he married the mother of his 8-year old son Gibson. Lindsay Moore is Volare’s former Catering and Events Coordinator so she did not mind when their two-and-a-half week honeymoon in Italy became a buying trip for the restaurant. The Moores traveled throughout the country taking food tours, hunting for truffles, and visiting some of Volare’s wine suppliers. They also stopped by the Richard Ginori factory to pick out new china for the restaurant.

“Our honeymoon definitely turned into a research and development, food and restaurant trip,” Moore admitted. “We had a good time. Some of the food tours were some of the best things we did. We went to the Parmigiano Reggiano cheese factories and saw howProsciutto di Parma was made. Doing all of that was really fun.”

THE ART OF PASTA

Moore’s favorite Italian purchase was a pasta extruder with 10 brass dies that allow him to make different forms of pasta. The chef and his wife visited a number of specialty stores before settling on the best machine for the menu changes he had in mind. It was an expensive investment, about $8,000. Moore feels it was worth the cost because of the flexibility it provides the kitchen.

Before he purchased the machine, Volare’s house-made pasta selection was limited to pappardelle, ravioli and tagliolini because of the time it took to make pasta with a roller. With the new extruder Volare’s kitchen can now produce 18 pounds of pasta an hour, both tubular and round. Five new pasta dishes have been added to Volare’s dinner menu. The other five dies for the extruder will be used to make pasta for specials in the future.

The star of the new pasta dishes is the Carbonara In un Vaso (carbonara in a jar): house-made bucatini pasta with Stone Cross Farm guanciale, Pecorino cheese, cracked black pepper and egg yolk. The ingredients are put into a mason jar and served tableside by shaking all the ingredients together.  When Volare reopened on August 31, Moore was personally mixing the dish for patrons in the dining room. He looked like a kid on Christmas day. Several times he referred to the pasta extruder as his “new baby.” Hopefully, Gibson (his 8 year-old son) is not a jealous big brother.

Profile: Volare Ristorante 2.0

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Chef Josh Moore

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"Filetto di Salmone" — seared salmon on a bed of house-made squid ink pasta.

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Chef Josh Moore's new pasta extruder.

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Baked clams.

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Rotolini pasta with an eggplant and ricotta cheese filling.

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Angus beef burger with fontina, crispy pepperoni and mustard aioli.

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The "Manzo" and "Carne" pizzas.

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"Lumache Carcerata" — lumache pasta with sausage and a tomato cream sauce.

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Pappardelle pasta with mushrooms and bacon in a cream sauce.

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Gemeli pasta in Bolognese sauce

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Capellini pasta with shrimp and a white wine and lemon sauce.

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Ricotta ravioli in a creamy tomato vodka sauce/

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"Carbonara in un vaso" — bucatini pasta with guanciale, pecorino cheese and egg yolk.

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Linguini pasta with a seafood medley in a tomato and white wine sauce.

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"The Autonno" — a salad of goat cheese, grilled apples and spicy salami.

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Pork belly risotto with a roasted tomato relish.

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"Bistecca alla Costola-Occhio" — Angus beef ribeye topped with rosemary-Gorgonzola compound butter and tobacco onions.

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Chef Moore fashions a "sugar art" rose.

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The new extruder provides Moore with a level of versatility that he shows off with the other new pasta dishes on the menu. In addition to the Carbonara In un Vaso, there is  Lumache Carcerata (a house-made lumache pasta with a sausage, tomato, cream, basil, and Parmesan Reggiano sauce), Malfalde Bianca Bolognese (house-made malfalde pasta with Angus beef, toasted pine nuts, mirepoix, Parmesan and white wine), Gemelli Bolognese (house-made gemelli pasta in a traditional Italian meat sauce with red wine and tomatoes), and Filetto Di Salmone (cast-iron-seared Isle of Skye Scottish sustainable salmon topped with sautéed cabbage and roasted peppers, served over house-made squid ink spaghetti alla chitarra in an aglio olio sauce with green peas and Sheltowee Farm mushrooms). Moore said it took a lot of experimentation with the pasta extruder to perfect the squid ink spaghetti for the last dish.

A MAN OF MANY TALENTS

Moore, 38, said some of his earliest memories revolve around the kitchen. He remembers standing on a chair as a child watching in fascination as his grandmother made dinner. He began working in professional kitchens when he was 14. He progressed from washing dishes to being the pastry assistant at Vincenzo’s Italian Restaurant. He fell in love with the simplicity of Italian cuisine and its focus on fresh ingredients.

Moore worked at Porcini’s and Wildwood Country Club before joining Volare (which means “to fly” in Italian) in 2005. He served as both Executive Chef and Pastry Chef in the beginning. Moore became the restaurant’s operating partner in 2008. His time at Volare has been marked by constant innovation, experimentation, and growth. A few years ago, he drew accolades for mastering the French pastry technique of Sugar Art and displaying it at Volare.

“I’m big into eating with the eyes first,” Moore explained. “I do ice carving and wedding cakes and sugar work. It comes from the pastry background. I put a lot of attention to detail.”

That attention to detail extends to the vegetables that grace the plates at Volare. Much of the produce used at the restaurant is grown at the chef’s own Moore Farm in Taylorsville. He bought the 10 acres in 2005 because he loved the 1905 farmhouse on the property. Of course, the first thing he did was renovate the kitchen, adding a commercial Vulcan six-burner, and double oven range with a two-foot griddle-broiler combo.

Volare uses more vegetables from its farm than any other restaurant in Louisville. Moore never expected to become a farmer. He planted a dozen tomato plants on the land for personal use but after he took the extras into the restaurant the patrons started clamoring for more. Lindsay oversees the farm operation that now takes up two-acres of their property. Moore and their son Gibson help her do the farm work. They start planting in February and are harvesting into December. The farm produces heirloom tomatoes, cabbage, Swiss chard, lettuce, broccoli, eggplants, peppers and herbs.

“Today I picked about 200 pounds of tomatoes,” Moore said. “They haven’t ripened as usual because the weather turned cold early, so I’m going to do some fried green tomatoes at the restaurant.”

MENU CHANGES DON’T END WITH PASTA

As much as he enjoys the new pasta extruder, Moore didn’t limit his culinary changes to noodles. The dinner menu offers two other new entrees: Bistecca alla Costola-Occhio (a 14-ounce certified Angus beef ribeye finished with rosemary-Gorgonzola compound butter and tobacco onions) and Risotto di Maiale (creamy Parmesan risotto with Stone Cross Farm pork belly, scallions, Gorgonzola cheese, fennel pollen, roasted tomato relish and aged balsamic). There is also a new salad –Autunno which features Groganica Farms aquaponics lettuce, goat cheese, shaved fennel, grilled apples, spicy salami, toasted walnuts with stone-ground mustard and white balsamic vinaigrette.

The new bar menu offers an assortment of small plates such as pan-fried oysters with pickled onions and caper aioli; antipasto with assorted cured meats and cheeses; a Hot Italian Beef Slyder; a veal meatball; and the Volare Burger, dressed with spicy pepperonis and mustard aioli. The bar menu offers four pizzas cooked on a stone in a Green Egg: Margarita (roasted heirloom tomatoes, basil, olive oil, fresh mozzarella, and garlic), Bianca (toasted walnuts, prosciutto, dried dates, Brie, ricotta cheese, and Bourbon-balsamic glaze), Carne (pepperoni, rope sausage, salami, banana peppers, caramelized onions, and marinara), and the Manzo (Angus beef, short rib, Henry Baines sauce, burrata, roasted tomatoes, arugula, and tobacco onions).

Bar patrons can wash down their pizzas and small plates with selections from the new cocktail menu. Drinks like Beet the Heat (Hornitos Tequila, Borducan liqueur, honey-beet purée, habanero bitters, fresh citrus) and Banana Bread Buttered Rum (Cruzan Dark Rum and banana bread rum batter) continue Volare’s penchant for unique offerings. The Barrell-Aged Volare Manhattan is a new take on an old favorite and the Berry Bubbly is made with craft brandy from local distillery Copper & Kings. By the way, the beets in the Beet the Heat also come from Moore Farm.

Moore seems to possess a boundless energy. In addition to his time-consuming focus on food artistry and farming, he finds time for power lifting and antique collecting. But after all the activity of the last year, even Moore seems ready for a slower pace. He said, “I think the changes have taken the restaurant to another level. It has a more modern look and functions in a way that make it easier for us to serve our guests. Now I am going to take it easy and enjoy it for a while.” F&D