As we sit down to assess the state of the local restaurant world this issue, we see that we have passed a milestone — our total listings at the back of the magazine top 1,400 Louisville area restaurants for the first time. We have tallied more openings than closings in each issue for four straight years. (The last negative tally was Spring of 2014, when two more businesses closed than new restaurants opened.) As we look back on the entire year in 2017, we noted 103 openings opposed to 52 closings – almost 2 to 1. And the torrid pace of new dining options continues into 2018. In this issue, we note more total openings (new stand-alone businesses and additional locations of existing restaurants) than we listed in any single issue in 2017 – a total of 34 new places to eat.
We also have to acknowledge that the winter took its toll. Weather that reduces diners’ desires to venture out of their homes is one factor hard to overcome, as is increased overhead costs like utilities. Our count shows that 20 stand-alone businesses shut down since the last issue of F&D in November, and three others with multiple locations closed one of them. There are two very notable casualties among that number — Chef Dean Corbett’s restaurant Corbett’s: An American Place and Chef Peng Looi’s Asiatique. Both chefs helped shape Louisville’s dining scene over the years. Dean Corbett’s first restaurants, Equus and Jack’s Lounge, have set and continue to maintain a high standard of cuisine and service for 30+ years; Peng Looi brought that eclectic understanding of Pacific Rim foods to both August Moon (which is still in operation) and Asiatique from his native land, Malaysia — a crossroads and melting pot of cultures and food traditions from all over Asia. And both chefs hold a personal connection with us here at F&D, which we will get to a little later.
Along with those closings are some notable additions. Several of those new restaurants will be part of the Omni Hotel complex, from a top-flight steakhouse to a rooftop bar and grill to a bar serving snacks at the lower level bowling lanes. But we are also listing several new eating spots in the West End, ranging from a bakery and deli to home-style soul food diners to a family-focused sports bar.
The single most surprising opening — or re-opening — is Joe’s Older Than Dirt, returning to its original Lyndon location, 8131 New Lagrange Rd., that had been taken over by Olé Restaurant Group’s Red Barn Kitchen. The refurbished building will get another going-over to return it to a semblance of its former suburban neighborhood bar ambiance. But Olé Restaurant Group will be partnering with Joe’s owner and will be running the kitchen.
As F&D prepares for publication, the expeditiously erected Omni Hotel at 400 S. Second St. is on the cusp of opening. When it does, new hotel dining options will include Bob’s Steak & Chop House, a signature restaurant in several new Omni Hotels around the country. Neighborhood Services will be the casual dining choice for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The Library will serve coffee, tea, lattes and pastries during the day and morph into a bourbon bar at cocktail hour. A cocktail bar with a small bites menu, The Water Company will be near the third floor rooftop pool. The Pin + Proof bar will serve hors d’oeuvres with cocktails beside the four-lane bowling alley. The hotel will also host a Heine Bros. coffee outlet.
Another new hotel restaurant is Porch Kitchen & Bar at the Marriott, 280 W. Jefferson St. — part of the hotel’s extensive renovation. The Porch, with an upscale comfort food menu, replaces Champion’s Sports Bar. Another downtown replacement is Encore on 4th, at 630 S. Fourth St., which takes over the old Cunningham’s space from SET. With rotating daily Happy Hour specials and a wide-ranging menu, Encore hopes to appeal to concert and theater goers before and after shows at nearby Mercury Ballroom, the Palace and the Brown Theatre.
A number of independent family-style neighborhood restaurants have opened west of downtown, an area that hitherto has been served mostly by fast-food chains. Sweet Peaches 2 Roll, the second Sweet Peaches location, is a quick-service deli/bakery inside the Nia Center at 2900 W. Broadway. Also on W. Broadway at #2622 is Angie’s Home Cooking Family Restaurant — a name that couldn’t be more indicative of the comfort food you will find there. A little further west still, at 3402 W. Broadway, is Southern Hospitality, a family-oriented sports bar. At Flo’s House of Soul, 3400 W. Muhammad Ali Blvd., you order at the window and take your food to the heated patio to eat.
Daddy Rich’s, 617 W. Oak St., grew out of the Chef Space business incubator in the West End. It serves classic soul food items in Old Louisville. Family Ties, at 1030 Cecil Ave., is another family-focused comfort food provider; it grew out of the Family Ties sports bar well-known for its ribs, chicken and fried fish.
We have frequently noted the openings of new Mexican restaurants; this issue we have three more. Mi Tierra Mexican Restaurant brings fajitas, tacos and carne asada to the East End at 2420 Lime Kiln Ln. You will find oversized margaritas and well-crafted Mexican dishes at Ole Frijole, 5612 Bardstown Rd. At 253 Spring St. in Jeffersonville, Ramiro Gandara has opened his second restaurant, Ramiro’s Cantina Express — an order-at-the-counter quick-casual spot serving Ramiro’s favorite dishes from his larger full-service restaurant on Frankfort Ave. in Clifton.
Also opened in Jeffersonville is Barrelhouse on Market, 1005 W. Market St. The thoroughly renovated former dive bar is now a spiffy bar and music venue, serving upscale bar food. And, as long as we are across the river, we should note that the latest venture from Ian Hall (Exchange Pub + Kitchen, Brooklyn and the Butcher), Longboard’s Taco and Tiki, will soon be serving, of all things, tacos and tiki cocktails.
Gravely Brewing Co., at 514 Baxter Ave., is the newest (as of this writing) craft beer maker, turning out a notable and drinkable range of ales, pilsners and stouts. It has partnered with Mayan Street Food during the week (salbutes, tacos, fried plantains and more from a food truck) and with Commonwealth Cure for Sunday Funkday brunch (sausages, sliders, Scotch eggs, also a food truck).
The area’s first Haitian restaurant, Caribbean Café, has opened in the Beechmont neighborhood at 317 W. Woodlawn Ave. The owners of Safier restaurant downtown have opened Maira Mediterranean Grill near U of L at 1907 S. Fourth St.
The Butchertown vegetarian restaurant Naive has been operating as a caterer for several months while preparing to open its sit-down restaurant at 1001 E. Washington St. And out Dixie Hwy., at #13016, South End Zone serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, straddling the line between diner and sports bar. Also new on Dixie is Highway 31 Diner and Dive at #8610. The theme is lowriders; the menu is comfort foods, and late dinner hours are meant to cater to late shift workers.
Two out-of-town chains have increased their local presence. Another Raising Cane’s chicken place has opened at 1905 S. Hurstbourne Pkwy., and Noodles & Company has been filling U of L bellies for a while now at 319 Cardinal Blvd.
All the other expansions of existing businesses are local operations that are feeling their oats, so to speak. Cocoberry Pops, the Beechmont frozen fruit pop maker, has opened a second store in Clifton at 1813 Frankfort Ave. Red Hot Roasters finally has a walk-in, sit-down coffee shop at 1007 E. Main St. in the trendy Butcher Block strip. J. Gumbo’s adds a new store – back in it’s very first location, 1616 Grinstead Dr. Feast BBQ will soon open a third location at 10318 Taylorsville Rd. in J-town. Also in J-town, Bearno’s has taken over the recently vacated Loui Loui’s at 10212 Taylorsville Rd. for its newest pizza place. And Shiraz Mediterranean Grill will soon open a store in the Highlands at 1565 Bardstown Rd., the corner location that was the site of The Planet Bar & Bistro until recently.
Food & Dining has to note some personal connection with two long-standing restaurants that have recently closed. Asiatique, 1767 Bardstown Rd., was the subject of the magazine’s first cover story in 2003. For 24 years, Peng Looi and his partner Pab Sembillo have created vibrant tastes from the cuisines of Asia and offered classy understated service. We wish them well on future endeavors.
Corbett’s: An American Place, 5050 Norton Healthcare Blvd., has been an elegant East End oasis since Dean Corbett redid the Von Allmen mansion to be a cutting-edge culinary destination. Food & Dining remains indebted to Chef Corbett and his team for offering Corbett’s to host a fundraiser for the family of the magazine’s invaluable vice-president and right-hand man Dan Boyle who died suddenly of a heart attack in 2007. When Dean heard about plans for a fundraiser for Boyle’s two sons, he was the first to call and offer Corbett’s to host the event and recruited a number of local chefs to collaborate on a fabulous dinner. The “Dining for Dan” event in 2008 raised over $12,000 to help Boyle’s family.
Over the 9 and Finn’s Southern Kitchen were both trailblazers of sorts in their respective neighborhoods. Finn’s, at 1318 McHenry St., made a good stab at extending the dining resurgence of that neighborhood out to the edge of Germantown. Over the 9, 120 S. Tenth St., made a strong effort to draw diners beyond the psychological barrier between downtown and the near West End. Both are now closed.
Olé Restaurant Group’s foray into barbecue, Red Barn Kitchen, closed, allowing Joe’s Older Than Dirt to return to its roots in Lyndon at 8131 New Lagrange Rd., but Fernando Martinez’s Olé organization is partnering in the return and will manage the kitchen and menu.
Downtown, Wall Street Deli at Jewish Hospital, 225 Abraham Flexner Way, has closed as has Bendoya Sushi Bar, 217 S. Fifth St. Out in the West End, Irma Dee’s Soul Food, 1213 S. Twenty-eighth St., has closed. In the Highlands, three restaurants have closed, but those locations are readying for new tenants: LOVAFARE, the vegan restaurant (and location of several previous restaurants) at 2009 Highland Ave. will soon be replaced by a noodle bar (Ramen Inochi) if all goes well; Dunkin’ Donuts in front of Mid-City Mall, 1250 Bardstown Rd., has closed, but Heine Bros. Coffee has announced plans to take over that space; and Zäd Mediterranean, 1616 Grinstead Dr., has closed, but J. Gumbo’s will open a branch there — a spot that happens to be the site of the very first J. Gumbo’s more than 10 years ago.
One pizza place has closed: Loui Loui’s Authentic Detroit Style Pizza, but Bearno’s Pizza has already taken over the space at 10212 Taylorsville Rd. Also out in the suburbs, Lone Wolf Family Sports Bar has closed at 5501 Valley Station Rd. as has Ghyslain’s suburban location in Westport Village at 1215 Herr Ln.
Two bakeries have closed: Cake Flour at 2420 Lime Kiln Ln. and Jackknife Café in the Butchertown Market at 1201 Story Ave. Safari Grill closed at 328 Woodlawn Ave., and Rails Craft Beer & Eatery had a short run across the river at 318 W. Lewis and Clark Pkwy.
Three multi-location businesses have closed one outlet each. Mellow Mushroom, the Atlanta-based pizza chain, abruptly closed its Highlands store at 1023 Bardstown Rd.; it is now down to one location in St. Matthews. FireFresh BBQ closed its suburban location at 1929 Blankenbaker Pkwy., and Bazo’s closed its U of L store at 1907 S. Fourth St.
And finally, we have to note some name and/or location changes. Planet Bar & Bistro is now just The Planet Bar at its new larger Highlands location at 2232 Bardstown Rd. Darkstar Tavern kept its name when it moved from Crescent Hill to River Rd., but now new owners Adele Guarino-Sanders and Charles Hocker II think it is time to adopt a name change that reflects it creekside location; it is now Harrod’s Creek Tavern at 6313 River Rd. Lastly, in the inscrutable ways of the Far East, Hunan Wok closed at 6445 Bardstown Rd. The new owners have changed the name of the restaurant to Yummy China but are changing nothing else. F&D