El Camino hits the road to Germantown

Probably the worst-kept secret in the Louisville restaurant scene of late is El Camino’s upcoming move from the heart of the Highlands to an undetermined location in Germantown.

After the restaurant’s operating partner, Larry Rice, confirmed the rumor for me several weeks ago, he asked that I hold onto the story as long as possible in hopes that he and his partners, Shawn and Vanessa Cantley, would be able to say where they’re moving the 3-year-old Cali-Mex-street-food-hybrid concept.

As Rice points out in my upcoming podcast interview with him on Friday, it’s a risk to say a restaurant is moving because too many assume that when one site closes, the operation has met its end.

“That’s the last thing we want people to think, but it’s easy for people to think that,” Rice said. “Bottom line, we’re not closing, we’re moving.”

So why is El Camino hitting the road? Why is it leaving one of the best locations in the city—with arguably the coolest patio in the Highlands—for Germantown, hip, up and coming as it is?

The answer is simple: Tacos. They’re the most popular items on the menu, but their affordability doesn’t generate the check averages the partners hoped for in that location.

The solution therefore is to move to a lower-cost, but equally cool facility in Germantown, where Rice lives, and lease the 1314 Bardstown Road property to, you guessed it, another restaurant concept.

A Germantown location will also give Rice easier access to The Pearl, the Goss Ave. bar he and the Cantleys are working to open up soon in the old Pauly’s spot.

Yet don’t despair, Rice said, though the menu will be different from the current lineup, it’ll still be a dandy, and the bar program will not change a bit.

So enough of my pecking away, come back Friday morning and hear the story as told by Larry Rice—who by that time will be on a well-deserved sea-side vacation.

Will Creation Gardens be kitchen labor savior with produce firm acquisition?

Here’s at least one possible solution to the cursed nationwide kitchen labor shortage: Louisville-based Creation Gardens, a foodservice distribution company, just acquired ReFresh Produce of Cincinnati. According to a news release, the firm specializes in fresh-cut processed produce offerings, which for chefs means less knife work required by their already limited staffs.

“With the restaurant industry experiencing explosive growth, increasing wages and high turnover, this addition is a valuable service for chefs to access fresh and quality fresh cut produce,” the release read. “This new line and service extension will be advantageous to foodservice operators and allow them to manage labor costs without jeopardizing quality.”

Ron Turnier, president of Creation Gardens, also said in the release that, “We spend a lot of time talking face to face with chefs on what they want, and we know this is something they really need given current and future labor shortages.”

It remains to be seen whether chefs buy those products since though they are labor saving, they’re costlier due to the labor required to prepare them. It’s an interesting balance chefs must strike in this difficult operating environment, and one we’ll discuss on this week’s Eat. Drink. Talk. podcast with Dean Corbett, chef and owner of Equus and Jack’s Lounge and Corbett’s: An American Place. Trust me, the labor shortage is a hot-button issue with this outspoken and passionate chef.

If you’re not familiar with Creation Gardens, it’s distributor of produce, butchered meats, gourmet foods, dairy, paper and bulk staple items to many of the city’s top restaurants. In other words, if you’re reading this story, you’re likely the type who’s frequented such restaurants and eaten their foodstuffs.

Four Roses Bourbon Elliott’s Select Limited Edition Single Barrel in June

LAWRENCEBURG, Ky.—Four Roses Bourbon will release Elliott’s Select, a limited-quantity Single Barrel Bourbon, in June. This barrel-strength bourbon will be Brent Elliott’s first limited edition release as master distiller.

Elliott, who assumed the post of master distiller in September 2015, personally hand-selected the 14-year-old OESK, one of the Distillery’s 10 unique bourbon recipes.

Subtle aromas of peach jam, magnolia blossoms and light oak preview the elegantly balanced flavors of spiced vanilla, fresh nutmeg and delicate, ripe fruits. Sweet flavors of honey and light apricot linger in the finish. Its mellow character from beginning to end is very much a reflection of Elliott himself.

“I’ve always been happiest when I’m so deep into a project that I lose track of time, and that’s exactly what happened when we began the process of selecting barrels for Elliott’s Select,” Elliott said. “There’s something unique about this 14-year-old Bourbon, and now that it has been bottled, I’m looking forward to taking a step back and hearing what our fans think.”

Four Roses will produce and distribute approximately 8,000 hand-numbered bottles of Elliott’s Select in the United States, which are expected to hit retail outlets in June. Elliott’s Select will retail for roughly $125 per bottle.

Four Roses Bourbon will celebrate the release of Elliott’s Select with a series of events throughout the month of June, many coinciding with Kentucky Bourbon Affair in Louisville, Kentucky.

“I’m very proud of this special bottling, and I’m looking forward to sampling the product as I meet with Bourbon fans at various events this summer,” said Elliott.

Blaze Fast-Fire’d pizza continues growth in Louisville with third location

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Get ready, Louisvillians! It’s going to be a blazin’ hot summer. Blaze Fast-Fire’d Pizza, the nation’s leading fast-casual artisanal pizza concept, announced today the opening of its third Louisville location late this summer.

According to a news release, the new restaurant will be located in the Paddock Shops at 4055 Summit Plaza Drive, next to Zoe’s Kitchen and Five Guys Burgers and Fries. This marks the fifth Blaze in Kentucky after Bowling Green opens later this month.

Each Blaze Pizza features an interactive open-kitchen format that allows guests to customize one of the menu’s signature pizzas or create their own, choosing from a wide selection of carefully sourced, high-quality ingredients for around $8.

The generously sized personal pizzas are then sent to a blazing hot open-flame oven – the centerpiece of the restaurant – where dedicated pizza makers ensure that the thin-crust pies are fast-fire’d and ready to eat in just 180 seconds.

The concept, known for its custom-built pizzas, freshly made salads, blood orange lemonade and s’more pies, came to Kentucky in June 2014 with the opening of its first Louisville restaurant at Shelbyville Road Plaza in St. Matthews. A second location opened at Louisville’s Middletown Commons in June 2015.

“Blaze Pizza will be a welcome addition to the Paddock Shops, which has become a Louisville hot spot for top-notch shopping and dining,” said Rodney Poston, Operating Partner for Blaze Pizza in Kentucky. “Blaze’s fast-casual concept is perfect for area shoppers who want a delicious, high-quality meal without the wait.”

Each restaurant makes its own dough from scratch and requiring a 24-hour fermentation period. For pizza fans with specific dietary needs, Blaze Pizza offers gluten-free dough and vegan cheese.

The authenticity of Blaze Pizza, along with its culture that focuses on the happiness of its guests and crew, has been the key to the concept’s nationwide popularity and expansion.

Award-winning design architect Ana Henton will add several unique, modern touches to the new Louisville location, including an over-sized wall mural custom designed to suit the space.

The new Blaze Pizza will be operated by Louisville-based Millennial Restaurant Group (MRG), which continues to develop the concept throughout Kentucky, Tennessee and Florida. The partnership consists of James Patterson Sr., Jim Patterson II, Ulysses (Junior) Bridgeman, Wayne Albritton and Collins Cogan. About Blaze Pizza: The first Blaze Pizza® restaurant opened on Aug. 6, 2012, in Irvine, Calif., and quickly gained attention for its chef-driven recipes, thoughtful interior design, and a service culture that celebrates individuality.

Now ranked as the overall #2 fast-casual brand in FastCasual.com’s annual Top 100 list, Blaze Pizza is building momentum and developing a cult-like following as it expands across the country. The company currently operates 134 restaurants in 28 states and Canada, including the major metropolitan areas of Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Toronto, Dallas, Las Vegas and Washington D.C. Founded by Elise and Rick Wetzel (co-founder of Wetzel’s Pretzels), the concept is backed by investors including LeBron James, Maria Shriver, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Boston Red Sox co-owner Tom Werner and movie producer John Davis. For more information, please visit blazepizza.

Visit Buck’s for May 24 Ballotin Whiskey dinner

LOUISVILLE, Ky.—Visit Buck’s Restaurant and Bar on Tuesday, May 24, when executive chef Colter Hubsch creates a four-course dinner paired with four flavors of Ballotin Chocolate Whiskey.

“For this dinner, I wanted to explore the ability of this product and how it can be used in savory food dishes as well as a drink,” Hubsch said.

Ballotin Whiskey owner Paul Tuell is honored to partner with Buck’s for the event.

“Buck’s has been the go-to restaurant for special occasions in Louisville for nearly 25 years,” Tuell said in a news release. “We are very excited to team up with Buck’s and Chef Hubsch to create a night that lives up to the beauty, hospitality, and culinary creativity that are Buck’s hallmarks.”

The menu for the evening:

  • Ballotin Chocolate, paired with tomato salad with local tomatoes, queso fresco, fresh veggies and a Ballotin Chocolate balsamic vinaigrette
  • Ballotin Turtle, paired with pecan breaded shrimp with a sweet and sour sauce and fresh herb salad
  • Ballotin Bourbon Ball, paired with smoked certified Angus beef tenderloin carpaccio with local microgreens tossed in a Ballotin Bourbon Ball and shallot dressing
  • Ballotin Chocolate Mint, paired with pork mole (roasted and smoked pork belly) with a Ballotin Chocolate Mint mole, smoked in a corn husk
  • Ballotin Flight with house-made ice cream

Make your reservations today by calling 502-637-5284 or email bucks@buckslou.com.

The evening begins with a 6:30 p.m. cocktail reception, followed by dinner at 7 p.m. Cost for the meal is $65 per person plus tax and gratuity.

Bristol Bar & Grille closing Prospect location on May 29

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (May 18, 2016)—The Bristol Bar & Grille announced it will close its Prospect location at the Prospect Village Shopping Center (6051 Timber Ridge Dr.) on Sunday, May 29.

According to a news release, despite experiencing its most profitable year since opening in 2006 and making multiple proposals to lease the property, Bristol was not afforded the opportunity to negotiate with Kroger, which owns the center.

The restaurant’s other four locations in the Highlands, downtown, on the waterfront in Jeffersonville and on N. Hurstbourne Parkway will remain open. All the employees from the Prospect location will be offered positions within the company.

“I’m really disappointed that Kroger, who owns the shopping center, through their leasing agent did not negotiate a lease extension for the Bristol,” said Norb Paulin, managing member of HIPP Enterprises who owns the lease for the property. “The leasing agent’s unresponsiveness to Bristol’s offers were very disheartening. It appears to me that there was a predetermined strategy to remove the Bristol and go with another concept. I’m very sorry that our loyal customers and dedicated staff will no longer have a Bristol in Prospect to enjoy and work.”

Bristol Bar & Grille entered an agreement with Paulin’s Louisville-based group to manage the space in 2006. After a very successful decade making a home in Prospect, Bristol intended to negotiate to take over the lease from HIPP when it expired this month. Last week, Bristol was notified by Kroger’s leasing company that would not be an option.

“Since 1977, we have been Louisville’s neighborhood restaurant, no matter which part of town you live,” said Bristol’s director of operations T.J. Oakley. “We love the Prospect community and felt at home there. We want our customers to know it was not our choice to close the restaurant. For reasons unbeknownst to us, the owners of the space weren’t willing to even negotiate with us about continuing.” Oakley says they hope one day to return to the area.

Kentucky bourbon production sets 48-year record

FRANKFORT, Ky. – Kentucky’s iconic Bourbon distilleries filled a whopping 1,886,821 barrels of amber nectar last year, breaking production records all the way back to 1967, the Kentucky Distillers’ Association announced today.

The previous all-time high was 1,922,009 barrels filled in 1967, the KDA reported. Since 1999, when just 455,078 barrels were filled, Kentucky Bourbon production has skyrocketed more than 315 percent.

That gives the Commonwealth a total inventory of 6,657,063 barrels of Bourbon, the most since 1974 when 6,683,654 were resting in Bluegrass warehouses.

“We’re running out of adjectives to describe the growth and success of Kentucky Bourbon,” said KDA President Eric Gregory. “Plus, filling nearly 2 million barrels in one year should remove any doubts about the future of our signature industry.”

Distillers also are paying $17,814,134 in ad valorem barrel taxes this year, another all-time high. Revenue from this tax funds education, public safety, public health and other needs in local communities where barrels are stored.

Amounts include all distilleries in Kentucky compiled from state Department of Revenue data. The KDA represents 28 of the state’s distilleries, from legendary, global brands to emerging micro distillers that are building upon centuries of craftsmanship and tradition.

Other key facts released today:

  • Bourbon isn’t the only spirit aging in barrels. When you include brandy and other whiskies, the state’s total barrel inventory was 7.2 million in 2015, the highest total since 1973.
  • Production in 2014 was 1,306,375 barrels. That means distilleries filled more than 580,000 barrels in 2015 over the previous year (44 percent increase). That’s the biggest difference in year-to-year production since 1967 and triples the previous record.
  • The tax-assessed value of aging barrels this year is $2.4 billion, an increase of $299 million from 2015 and a 135 percent increase over the last 10 years.
  • Kentucky Bourbon is one of the Commonwealth’s most historic and treasured industries, a thriving $3 billion economic engine that generates more than 15,400 jobs with an annual payroll topping $700 million and pours $166 million into state and local coffers each year.
  • The KDA’s world-famous Kentucky Bourbon Trail® and Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour® adventures also set an attendance record last year with nearly 900,000 guests touring an all-time high of 19 participating distilleries.
  • KDA member distilleries are in the midst of a $1.3 billion building boom that includes new production facilities, aging warehouses, expanded bottling lines, state-of-the-art tourism centers and more.

“That figure is sure to rise with the passage of Senate Bill 11, our landmark Kentucky Bourbon Tourism Reform measure, and the ongoing phase-in of our Barrel Tax Reinvestment Credit,” Gregory said. “Our distilleries are building for the future, and that future is brighter than ever.”

Barton 1792 Distillery releases limited edition Full Proof Bourbon

BARDSTOWN, Ky.—Barton 1792 Distillery is releasing a 125-proof Full Proof Bourbon is the latest limited edition release in the 1792 Bourbon line up. Bottled at the same proof it was originally entered into the barrel, the bourbon was distilled, aged, and bottled at the historic Barton 1792 Distillery.

According, a news release, new oak barrels were filled with 125 proof distillate in the fall of 2007 and left to age in Warehouses E, N, and I for eight and a half years. Warehouse I is one of the oldest warehouses at Barton 1792 Distillery. All of these warehouses are seven stories high, metal clad, with concrete bottom floors, and windows all the way around the outside, allowing some direct sunlight inside.

After the barrels were emptied, the bourbon underwent a distinct filtering process, forgoing the typical chill filtration, and instead was only passed through a plate and frame filter. This allowed the bourbon to maintain a robust 125 proof for bottling, as well as the rich and bold flavor. The aroma is powerful – with vanilla and dried cherries notes. The first taste is intense as it meets the tongue, oaky and full bodied, but continues with flavors of caramel and jam-like fruit, before an enduring finish.

This is the fourth limited edition release of 1792 Bourbon expressions, the Full Proof joins previous releases of Sweet Wheat, Port Finish, and Single Barrel Bourbons. Although the 1792 Full Proof Bourbon is very limited in quantities, it will be released annually for the next few years. The 1792 Full Proof Bourbon will be available at retail starting in late May. Suggested retail pricing is $44.99.

No Louisville food and drink fest until at least 2017

Louisville skyline

No Bourbon & Beyond here until at least 2017–if then!

Louisville’s dreams for a food and drink festival aren’t any nearer to reality than they were two-and-a-half years ago when a committee was convened to make it happen. Seems a lot of problems abound, not the least of which is too many voices in the room, no single visionary driving it and no clear vision of how it best would become uniquely Louisville.

An email from the office of Mayor Greg Fisher–who tentatively wants to name the event, “Bourbon & Beyond”– says the event will not take place until 2017. Check out this portion of it:

“We had hoped to launch the festival this summer, but after much discussion with those involved — including local chefs and distillers and our production partner, Wimmer Presents – we realized that 2016 was too aggressive. …

“When we advised Wimmer Presents that we were not comfortable proceeding with the event this year, they indicated that they would continue to develop a bourbon/food festival, host the event, and assume all financial risk and all planning and production for a 2017 festival. This is a great solution for all involved as our city will have another bourbon/food festival without city government assuming any of the risk.”

Yet committee members I’ve spoken with call that number laughable since no significant plans have been made.

I’d agree, especially given the lack of talk I’m getting from committee members, people who usually throw me bits of information when they’re excited about different developments. Their reticence implies little to no progress.

Louisville’s restaurant scene is regularly getting national attention as an up-and-comer. And it’s widely believed that it’s ready to host a significant coming out party and bring people here to eat. And drink. Be it cocktails or our waves of bourbon, drinking is important also.

Yet it’s not so important that the current name under discussion, Bourbon & Beyond, bears no mention of food.

Bardstown has The Bourbon Festival, Lexington hosts The Bourbon Shindig and Louisville hosts The Bourbon Classic and The Bourbon Affair. Though there’s plenty to eat at all of those, none mentions food because bourbon is the star of those shows.

But any idea of a Louisville festival must be rooted in restaurants, and its name needs to include food.

Real nuts and bolts marketing sense, right? Yet apparently such a concept beyond some committee members’ grasp.

The very word “Beyond” begs the question, “Beyond freakin’ what!?!” The word drips with vagueness.

Event producer Danny Wimmer Presents has been hired to manage the event, yet according to its website, its core business is large-scale rock concerts, such as Louder Than Life, hosted here the past couple of years. The addition of a restaurant food and a bourbon pavilion into the fest was well received. Yet did that small success give Wimmer the gumption to believe it can scale up such an effort into a large festival? Apparently the Mayor’s Office is convinced it can.

But here’s where the whole thing can stall interminably: If you don’t get the cooperation of local restaurateurs, you have no festival. Right now there are several disgruntled chefs and owners who’ve lost their enthusiasm for this event. Some have said, “I already spend so much time outside my restaurant working for charity,” and “Am I really going to take time away from my business and family to get involved in something that doesn’t even mention food in the name?”

Their tension levels are rising, and as far as I can tell, there’s little to show for anyone’s effort so far.

That leads me to believe that Beyond in the name of this festival means well beyond a 2017 start date—if then.

When context counted, there was no bourbon to sip

As a Kentuckian, it’s sometimes hard to admit I became a fan of bourbon so late in life. Five years ago, I think, is when it finally kicked in for me. My palate awakened during a tasting at Heaven Hill’s International visitor center in Bardstown. Something about those sips of Elijah Craig 12 year and Larceny turned me from one respectful of Kentucky liquor to a man who actually, finally liked it.

Fred Noe, III, master distiller, Jim Beam.

Fred Noe, III, master distiller, Jim Beam, circa 2011.

Some like to say it was the context talking, that anyone could sip the brown stuff in Bardstown—bourbon central in the Commonwealth—on the grounds of Heaven Hill, in a casual tasting and get all caught up in the alcohol-warmed moment. But I don’t like to think so. I think my palate, distracted for decades by good wine, craft beer, aged tequila and gin, had just finally caught up and got bourbon religion.

Context wasn’t the issue a year before that either, the night I dined with Pappy Van Winkle president, Julian Van Winkle, and tasted his famed line’s 12, 15, 20 and 23-year-old expressions. I kid you not, I came to the table with a Hendrick’s martini in hand and apologized for “probably not drinking your fine bourbon tonight.” But Van Winkle dismissed my regrets quickly, saying, “You don’t have to like it or drink it. That’s fine. It’s not for everybody.”

Of course, his kindness only nudged me to try each pour, which I did. But I wasn’t wowed by it. I wasn’t meant to be just yet.

Context didn’t help earlier that year either, when I was at Jim Beam in Clermont, Ky. There a CNN crew was interviewing master distiller Fred Noe, III, about the first barrel of Booker’s headed to bottling after a short market drought. I was so clueless about bourbon that I didn’t recognize the significance of Booker’s running out. But I dutifully scribbled and scrawled to learn quickly and make a story out of it.

And then the moment I loathed came: everyone there got a pour of Booker’s—directly from the barrel, residual charcoal swirling in our glasses—and I was expected to toast and sip. Which I did, and which I did not like.

Noe, who is a heck of a funny guy, sat down for an interview with me and asked how I liked the bourbon. I admitted I didn’t. Said it gave me an instant headache.

Early on in our chat, we’d established my connection to nearby Bardstown (his and my father’s hometown; and my grandparents’ last house there was just a few blocks from Noe’s), and that gave him good cause to rib me for not liking brown liquor.

But then he became curious.

“You say it gives you an instant headache?”

“Instantly,” I said.

“I wonder why?” he asked, clearly perplexed by the discovery of my sad fate. His mouth pinched closed as he paused and thought, “I wonder if it’s the wood. Maybe you have an allergy to that somehow. Maybe it’s the oak.”

He reached for his desk phone, punched in a number and asked his secretary to fetch him a sample of “white dog.”

White dog? I had no idea what that even was, but when it arrived, he explained it as liquor straight off the still, clear booze before the barrel turns it brown. We shared an oak-free taste, and sure enough, there was no headache.

Well, I may have lied about that. I don’t recall whether I’d sidestepped a headache. All I recall was I didn’t like the taste of that white dog and didn’t want another. Or any more Booker’s for that matter. I just wanted to get through the interview, chug some water and let him revisit the business of serving appreciative people.

“I bet that’s the cause,” he said, happy to have solved my problem. (I later learned that seasonal allergies somehow compounded the bourbon impact in my forehead, not the oak.) “Maybe that’ll go away someday.”

When I saw Noe a few years later, I was a full-on bourbon fan. We sat for an interview in wooden rocking chairs on the sunny porch of an old house on the Beam distillery property. It was fall, the air perfectly warm and the trees circling the grounds glowed golden and red in the eastern sun. Beam fans touring the grounds approached Noe as if he were royalty, asking for autographs and photos. I was hanging with one of the neatest guys in the bourbon business. That’s context.

Yet there was no bourbon, and for once I longed for it. Maybe I’d imagined that Beam’s master distiller always carried a pint, that within arm’s reach of those rocking chairs there’d be a few rocks glasses stashed just for such an occasion. About 100 feet away was a rickhouse stuffed with 20,000 barrels of Beam’s best. Bourbon, bourbon everywhere, but not a drop to drink.

I suppose it served me right for neglecting it all those years.