La Chasse chef, Dulaney, headed to Maker’s Mark’s Star Hill Provisions

A year and a half after helping La Chasse become one of Louisville’s best regarded restaurants, executive chef Alex Dulaney is leaving his post June 7 to become chef de cuisine at Star Hill Provisions, the recently opened restaurant and catering venue on the campus of Maker’s Mark Distillery in Loretto, Ky.

Delany will join owners Newman and Rachel Miller, who operate the business, and who also own the Harrison-Smith House in Bardstown. The restaurant, which went on hiatus last fall, has since become a busy private event venue catering to bourbon tourism and business crowds. Dulaney’s help at that venue will also be essential, said Newman Miller.

“We knew Star Hill Provisions would become busy, but we never imagined it would be as busy as it’s become,” said Miller, who is chef at both venues. His wife manages front-of-the-house teams at each place. “Private events at Harrison-Smith have taken off, too, and we really needed the help. So I’ve been after Alex a long time to come down here.”

Prior to joining La Chasse owner Isaac Fox, Dulaney logged several years as chef at Le Relais. Together, he and Fox created the menu for the rustic French country restaurant which has garnered rave reviews for its exceptional food and imaginative cocktails.

Leaving the restaurant is bittersweet, Dulaney said, but the opportunity to be nearer the countryside and work with Miller, an esteemed Kentucky chef, was too hard to pass up.

“It’s really hard to step away from La Chasse; I’ve loved it here,” said Dulaney. “I feel like I’m at the top of my game in Louisville, business on Bardstown Road is doing really well, our reservations are always filling up—there are so many good reasons to stay.”

But when he lived in Santa Fe, N.M., 14 years ago, he was close to the wilderness where he could leave the city and wind down.

“Working with Newman also gives me the opportunity to work with the distillery, and to get back to some great basics of cooking,” Dulaney said. “The other day I had his biscuits and sausage gravy, and I realized how I’d forgotten how good that was because I’ve been so absorbed in making beef Bourgogne so long.”

While the Millers own the Star Hill Provisions business, Maker’s Mark Distillery owns the facility, and bourbon producer spared no expense in buying top-of-the-line Jade and Winston Industries equipment for the new enterprise. Harrison-Smith House’s kitchen also is well equipped, but nowhere as spacious as Star Hill Provisions, yet Dulaney said both kitchens will be exciting to use.

“Newman devotes a lot of attention to detail, and I thrive on that,” Dulaney said.

Miller called Dulaney “a chef who actually reads and likes numbers, which is essential in this business. We can’t wait to get him down here.”

St. Matthews Boombozz site to become Waylon’s Feed & Fire Water

Boombozz Craft Pizza & Taphouse owner EAP Restaurant Concepts will close that location of the mini-pizza chain at 3939 Shelbyville Rd. this weekend and change it into Waylon’s Feed and Fire Water, a whiskey and taco-centered restaurant by mid-June.

The new concept is a riff on EAP’s Merle’s Whiskey Kitchen, a restaurant, bar and live music venue on Whiskey Row downtown. Beyond some changes to bar offerings, EAP founder Tony Palombino said Waylon’s will be highly similar to Merle’s, adding that a few new offerings to appear in Waylon’s lineup were tested recently at Merle’s.

Palombino said the shift from pizza to whiskey and tacos is a move designed to adjust to the evolution of St. Matthews’ entertainment district. The upcoming addition of El Taco Luchador, Steel City Pops and Quill’s Coffee is adding momentum to the already busy Shelbyville Road segment bookended by Breckenridge Ln. and St. Matthews Ave. Venues already operating there include Drake’s, Tin Roof, Molly Malone’s Irish Bar and Sullivan’s Tap House, which opened in late April.

An architect's rendering of Waylon's future exterior.

An architect’s rendering of Waylon’s future exterior.

“I think Waylon’s coming in is the perfect fit for the future of this area,” Palombino said. No other restaurant or bar option, he added, includes a 100-plus-bottle whiskey selection. “It just mixes it up a little bit for the neighborhood.”

Palombino insists Waylon’s will be more restaurant than bar due to lessons he learned operating Manny & Merle’s, the original iteration of Merle’s Kitchen. At its launch, M&M’s was skewed more toward drinking, but when that formula didn’t meet expectations, Palombino added more food offerings and sales responded.

“Now our food sales outpace the bar at Merle’s,” he said. “That 55 percent food and 45 percent bar mix is the sweet spot for a restaurateur like me.

“Sprinkle in some regional live music and you have the perfect fit for St. Matthews—but not a nightclub.”

Palombino expects to spend $350,000 converting the longstanding pizzeria to Waylon’s. He said physical changes to fixtures and equipment will account for about $275,000 of that amount, and that the balance will be spent on soft costs such as training, rent and utilities. Restaurant seating will remain at 165.

“It’s a little bit more than just lipstick and makeup,” he joked. Though Boombozz’s large pizza oven will be removed, he said the kitchen will remain largely the same.

Referring to the rapid changeover of a Middletown Boombozz to Joella’s Hot Chicken, another EAP concept, Palombino said his firm is getting pretty good at redos.

“You can’t be afraid to change and adapt,” Palombino said. “That’s what we’re doing here, and I’m really excited about that.”

Drinkers can expect some new twists at the bar, including some whiskeys and cocktails poured on tap. Such novelties do attract attention, Palombino said, but that speed of service is the biggest reason for employing them.

Palombino, who informed employees of the change on May 15, said staff reception of the idea was positive. Those who want to work at Waylon’s when it opens in mid-June can be added to the roster at other EAP concepts until that time. And in a tight labor market, that’s what Palombino hopes happens.

“The next few days will tell” whether many want to say, he said.

It’s wine time in Springhurst with opening of Cuvée Wine Table

When a real Master Sommelier (capitalization required and deserved) opens a wine bar, most would imagine it an oenophile’s temple to snobbery. After all, there are only 200 such wine-wonks in the entire world, and so what better place to showcase that knowledge than in your own place?

Thankfully, snobbery isn’t Cuvee Wine Table owner Scott Harper’s style in any respect, and especially so with wine. Oh, he can leap past wine-geek trivia to pinot grigio-dry wine facts in a millisecond—but only if you ask. He even asks permission to dive into the science of wine making, saying, “If that just doesn’t bore you, I’ll go there.”Cuvee bar

If wine drinking isn’t approachable and accessible to all, no one wants to do it, Harper said during a press conference last Friday, just hours before Cuvée’s grand opening. He wants it to be a place where anyone with interest in the fermented grape can feel at ease.

He puts customers at ease by offering some 55 wines by the glass and nearly 70 by the bottle: arguably a short list of selections beside some comparably encyclopedic lineups in town. Old World and New World selections can be found, and a balance of the recognizable and “I’ve never heard of that one” choices are available. He poured two of the latter for the press group: a Furmint Erzsebet Pince Tokaj from Hungary; and a Monthelie (pinot noir) Chateau de Puligny, Montrachet, Cote do Beaune from France. Both were outstanding wines that exemplify choices Harper loves to surprise with.

“It’s always enjoyable, to me anyway, to give people something new,” Harper said. “It gives them a new experience and most times, they want to learn more.”

The name Cuvée Wine Table has a double meaning, Harper explained. Cuvee is a French wine term meaning a blend, and Table was chosen to imply wine’s communal qualities. (One of the space’s standout elements is its 10-person table.) He also chose table to steer clear of any implication of the term “wine bar,” for bar, Harper said, is regularly interpreted as a place to get rapid service or a wide range of beer and cocktails.

“If you looked closely and counted, you saw just seven bourbons on the bar, and one tequila, one vodka and gin,” Harper said. Beer drinkers get eight selections here. “I didn’t want to tell

Steamed mussels.

Steamed mussels.

bourbon drinkers no when they asked for it, but first and foremost, this is about wine.”

Customers can buy wine pours from 2 ozs. to 6.25 ozs. or full bottles, with prices ranging on the extremes from as little as $3.50 for splash of Moscato to $238 for a bottle of Kosta Brown Pinot Noir. Most 6-ounce pours sell for low double-digit prices, but the list is well curated, so you’re paying for a unique experience, not just getting a wine fix.

Executive chef Edoardo Bacci has prepared a menu of about 30 small plates created for wine pairing. Servers are trained to make suggestions to ensure ideal matches as well. If that sounds fussy, just eat the food and choose whatever wine seems best. Not only might it be impossible to make a bad pairing here, if you just want to come nosh a bit, Cuvée would be a great choice.

Cuvee Wine Table is located at 3598 Springhurst Blvd. (formerly Papalino’s Pizza, if that helps.) It’s open Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m., and Friday-Saturday, 11-11 p.m.

Scott Harper to open Cuvée Wine Table May 12

Scott Harper, Louisville has thirsted for this for some time. Glad you’re finally ready to fill our glasses.

This Friday, Harper, a Master Sommelier, wholly approachable wine wonk and all around well-liked guy, will open Cuvée Wine Table (3598 Springhurst Blvd.) The wine-focused, small-plates restaurant is the manifestation of Harper’s long-held dream to have such a place. It’ll also be an excellent addition to the dining scene in a corner of the city that’s light on such fare.

The longtime general manager of The Bristol Bar & Grille in Jeffersonville, Harper hired executive chef Edoardo Bacci and chef de cuisine Brandon Noe to create a diverse menu designed to pair with what will surely be an impressive list of wines from around the globe served in 2-ounce, 6 1/4-ounce and half- and full-bottle pours.

Scott Harper

Scott Harper

According to a news release, the restaurant, in the former Papalino’s Springhurst location, will seat more than 100 seat guests throughout its dining room, patio and bar. There’s a 10-seat tasting table available for large parties and communal eating, and 24-seat private dining room.

The restaurant will offer daily happy hours from 3 to 7 p.m., as well as full table service dinner Sunday through Thursday from 3 until 10 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 3 until 11 p.m. Fast-casual lunch service will follow in the coming months.

Want something a bit more intimate? Cuvée will offer wine tastings, pairing events and workshops run by Harper and his expert staff. Conveniently, Harper’s a veteran wine class instructor.

Bacci’s menus include a variety of appetizers, salads, house made flat bread pizza and sweets. Highlights include polenta fries with garlic aioli; Israeli salad with parsley lemon vinaigrette; smoked duck flat bread with aged balsamic; and Chifeletti with chocolate ganache. Sandwiches like Kentucky lamb sliders, braised pork belly BLT and grilled cheese with local Capriole Farm goat cheese will be served for lunch only, while diners can enjoy small plates for dinner like cast iron provoleta, crab bruschetta and mussels and chorizo with fennel white wine sauce. A rotating daily entrée will be available as well.

For more information, visit www.cuveewinetable.com and follow on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Most chefs, restaurateurs agree, prix fixe menus are necessary at Derby time

If Louisville’s restaurant boom proves one thing, it’s that customers like choice. Who needs to eat at the same places all the time when restaurants offering completely different cuisines and experiences keep opening?

But Friday and Saturday of Kentucky Derby week, the choices at many finer restaurants are pared back significantly through the use of prix fixe (fixed price in English) menus. Rather than running the full menu, chefs prepare a limited roster of their best dishes—or a lineup of one-offs—with the goal of gaining better control over purchasing, prepping and final cooking of foods on guests’ plates.

Some restaurant regulars I’ve talked to object to such limited menus, especially when the restaurant is a favorite of theirs and they want to guide their guests to specific favorite dishes when they visit this week. I get that. No one likes choices reduced.

Steve Coomes | Photo by Nancy LaRocca

Steve Coomes | Photo by Nancy LaRocca

And it makes me consider my own experience as a chef in the 1980s, when we offered not only the full menu during Derby Week, but added a few high-dollar specials to the mix. It was hell preparing all our normal food to a multiple of 4, but we pulled it off relatively well.

But in defense of chefs taking the prix fixe route, there’s no denying that changes in local restaurants and the Kentucky Derby itself have forced them to pare back some. On April 21, I asked “why prix fixe?” on my Facebook page, and here’s a bit of what I learned:

  1. Post time of the Kentucky Derby comes later than ever. If memory serves me correctly, Derbies long ago went off around 5:30 p.m. That meant the first guests of the evening began trickling in close to 6. By 6:30, when crowds from the track were coming in, restaurants were serving their first full “turn,” the industry term used for a full seating and emptying of their tables.

Now, however, the race goes off more than an hour later, meaning restaurants lose that first turn (and a lot of revenue, too), and guests all try to get in for a single seating at 7:30 p.m. The need for speed at the restaurant is greater than ever, and streamlining the menu with limited choices is one solution to that problem.

  1. Many restaurants were larger back two and three decades ago. A full seating at some of the places I worked ranged between 200 and 300 people. But think about how many local independent finer-dining spots have that many seats these days? Most seat about 100. Many of the older restaurants simply had the seating capacity to handle the crush better.

Bigger restaurants also had more storage to hold the massive quantities of food needed for the week. And even then, when I worked at Sixth Avenue, a huge restaurant with four large walk-in coolers, we still rented a refrigerated truck for overflow production. Modern indie restaurants simply aren’t that big, and lacking such basic infrastructure can be a problem this week.

  1. Restaurant staffs are much smaller than ever. Several operators who responded publicly and privately said many local indies serve somewhere between 75 and 150 guests on a common Saturday night, numbers they can manage with small staffs. To serve double that number in a compressed period of time—along with the full menu—isn’t the best way to go, they say.

And the ongoing restaurant staffing shortage—it happens when you open as many restaurants as we’ve seen here the past few years—only aggravates the situation during Derby Week.

But not everyone agrees. At least two chefs who responded said their restaurants (Harvest and Bistro 1860) are running not only full menus, but additional tasting menus and amped-up specials. Are those staffs just better able to handle the crunch? Or are their chefs just old school-stubborn and insisting it be done the hard way?

I don’t know and, frankly, I don’t think it matters. It’s just their choice to do that, and having cooked through eight Derbies, I’m in awe of chefs Patrick Roney and Michael Crouch and their crews. Given the choice to go prix fixe, I think I’d have done it on the off chance it would lower the insanity level some—and restaurants are insane places to work this week.

So if you’re going out to dinner this week, be patient in those places that are super-busy. Know it may take a little bit more time to get your food and drink, but it’ll get there. Look forward to prix fixe menus (if that’s what they’re serving) because they may hold some neat surprises reflecting those chefs’ whims of the moment. And just be happy you live in a marvelous city like this one for the greatest party in the world this weekend.

Haymarket offering ultra-pricey, ultimate Van Winkle whiskey experience for Derby

Whether you’re a high roller headed in to town for the Kentucky Derby or a local who hits a longshot at the track this week, the Haymarket Whiskey Bar owner Matthew Landan has a delicious idea for spending your dough on some of the world’s rarest bourbon.

“We’re putting together the mother of all bourbon packages, the ultimate Pappy Derby experience,” said Landan. “We wanted to do something that was so decadent, so exclusive, that only people flying in private jets would be interested. Or people who might win the race might.”

Here’s what’s on offer: All or some part of seven bottles of Van Winkle bourbon, multiple Buffalo Trace products, multiple beers, cigars, Haymarket swag and unlimited pinball.

The least expensive package costs $5,000 and is for four people: Everyone in the group gets 1 ounce each of Old Rip Van Winkle 25 year, Pappy Van Winkle 23 year, Pappy Van Winkle 20 year, Pappy Van Winkle 15 year, Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye Whiskey 13 year, Van Winkle Special Reserve Lot B 12 year, and the Old Rip Van Winkle 10 year. The foursome then splits a 16-ounce bottle of the rare Goose Island Bourbon County Stout, be given “chaser beers” throughout the evening to enjoy between whiskey tastes, cigars and unlimited games in the bar. To take home on the free Uber ride, the foursome will get Haymarket swag along with a whiskey four pack (to divide among them) of Blanton’s, Eagle Rare, Buffalo Trace and Sazerac Rye. Three total $5,000 packages are offered.

The empty versions of this etched crystal Old Rip Van Winkle bottle will likely sell for low four figures some day. |Photo by Steve Coomes

The empty versions of this etched crystal Old Rip Van Winkle bottle will likely sell for low four figures some day. |Photo by Steve Coomes

The most expensive package is a $25,000 drinker-take-all option including: sealed full bottles of all seven Van Winkle whiskeys, three bottles of the Bourbon County Stout, a full case of beer of their choice from the bar, 16 bottles of the aforementioned Buffalo Trace Distillery whiskies, cigars and Haymarket swag.

“Of course, if you just come and pick it up, you don’t get to play free pinball,” Landan joked. “But we’d certainly offer a raincheck for that.”

When Landan received his bottle of 25-year Old Rip Van Winkle Bourbon, he admitted he didn’t know what to do with it. The thought that he, the owner of a relatively small bar, now possessed what’s arguably the most coveted bottle of American whiskey offered this year, left the wild-haired, loquacious Landon literally speechless.

He couldn’t shake the thought of owning a bottle of such rarity: only 710 made, all of which are poured into one-of-a-kind etched crystal decanters housed in padded wood boxes made from the 11 barrels that bore the whiskey for 25 years. He knew for certain he couldn’t pour such whiskey out by the shot.

“You’d have to ask for something ridiculous, something like a thousand dollars a pour,” Landan said. “And since that would sell so slowly, the whiskey would be exposed to a lot of air which would change it.”

Admitting it sounded a bit cliché, the idea for the Kentucky Derby doozy of a drink offer “hit me like a bolt of lightning,” he said. “I wanted to come up with something in the bourbon world that would be as big as the Derby is in the horse racing world.”

To buy the lot or reserve a $5,000 share for your party, email haymarketwhiskeybar@haymarketwhiskeybar.com or call 502-345-4749. Landan warned that if a $5,000 customer makes a reservation, but someone steps in to buy the $25,000 lot, then Mr. or Ms. Big Bucks wins. To make it up to any groups who get bumped by the $25,000 buyer, Landan will buy them flights of his private barrel whiskeys.

And what will happen to that precious whiskey if the packages don’t sell?

“We’ll save the (25 year) bottle for a charity event and pour it out that way,” Landan said. Though he declined to share the price he paid his wholesaler for it, he said the cost was affordable given the impact it’ll make either on Haymarket’s sales or as a charity donation. “That bottle is something so cool that you want to see others enjoy it, too.”

Old Forester launches Statesman bourbon in partnership with “Kingsman” movie release

If you’re a fan of the Kingsman series of action adventure movies, then you know the next release, The Kingsman: The Golden Circle, is due out in September.

If you’re also a fan of Old Forester bourbon, all the better, as a new 95-proof release dubbed Statesman will be featured in the film—but not in a mere product placement role. In the movie, the Kingsman, a London-based elite international crimefighting organization, meets its American counterparts, the Statesman, who operate their namesake distillery as a front.

“Bourbon isn’t just part of the movie, it’s central to the plot,” said Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer at a Monday morning press conference. “And if you’re going to take bourbon as your theme in your movie, what better place to frame those scenes than here in Kentucky.”Kingsman pic

According to Campbell Brown, president of OId Forester, when the movie’s writer-director, Matthew Vaughn, requested the brand participate in the movie, he said he was intrigued. Vaughn wanted technical advice on how to represent a distillery in the movie, and he wanted it to have connections to Louisville and Kentucky.

Accepting Vaughn’s offer was “a little bit of a leap of faith for us, but I think you will see this film is intended to be Matthew’s love letter to Kentucky,” Brown said.

He joked that movie “certainly isn’t to be mistaken as a film documentary on bourbon film making,” but he said Old Forester was thrilled to be a part of the picture and is proud of its “ties back to the Commonwealth.”

In the movie, Statesman members wear belt buckle flasks filled with, presumably, Statesman Bourbon.

In the movie, Statesman members wear belt buckle flasks filled with, presumably, Statesman Bourbon.

Stacy Yates, vice president at the Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau, said her group is launching an international marketing effort to promote the city alongside the release of the film. The promotion will include a sweepstakes named “A Statesman Experience in Bourbon Country,” which will see guests win trips to the city for extended stays and visits iconic attractions that are mentioned in the movie.

After Brown presented Mayor Fischer with what he said was the first bottle of Statesman to come off the line, attendees then were treated to a sip of the new release. Its official market launch is set for August, but a few cases will be available at select spots throughout Churchill Downs this weekend, and at a few retailers.

Master bourbon specialist Jacquelyn Zykan said that by law, liquor brands aren’t allowed to release product to just one location, but she didn’t know which Louisville stores would receive what amount to small allotments.

“I’m thinking it’s probably just a few bottles for those stores that get them,” she said. “And all that is up to the distributor.”

So how does it taste? It’s fantastic and already in the running for my favorite Old Forester release. It’s complex, big, round and balanced, with lots of stone fruit, spice and a wisp of smoke.

Old Forester’s official notes on the spirit are aromas devil’s food, clove, oak and an undercurrent of raw vanilla. On the palate “buttery leather is quickly dominated by a bold flash of pepper, cinnamon bark and sharp citrus. Finish is intense spice and eucalyptus which fade into orange cream and caramel.”

The bourbon is a mingling of an undisclosed number of 4- to 6-year-old barrels Zykan said were pulled from the hot spots in its rickhouses. “Since we heat cycle, the temperature stays pretty consistent throughout our warehouses,” she said. “But there are some spots that skew a little hotter than others, whether it’s right in the sun (near a window) or near a heat duct.”

And here’s the doozy of a marking spin: “The whole premise behind this brand was, the Statesman and Kingsman, their true character shows when they get into a little heat,” Zykan said. “So that was the idea behind the bourbon: to pull from the hotspots to see what it does. And it turned out awesome.”

After two years work, ROC Restaurant opens quietly in the Highlands

I was certain I heard Rocco Cadolini say he’d been working on his new spot, ROC Restaurant, for three years.

“No, two years, just two,” he says, correcting me kindly. Adding with a grin, he says, “If it was three, I’d cut myself.”

As in a suicidal way, implying that there’s nothing easy about opening a new restaurant, especially when dealing with permitting. The city hasn’t yet approved the bourbon-barrel ROC sign that will hang from the newly erected pergola at the sidewalk of 1372 Bardstown Road. And the kitchen: built from the ground up in what was the backyard of the former Emma Lou’s Café, the city wasn’t sure it would allow that either. (Thankfully it relented and there’s an amazing and spacious cooking area there now.) And the pergola over the curbside patio: the city didn’t like Cadolini original plans, which included a more natural design that would have appeared as if live trees were growing from the ground. What’s there for now are sterile but sturdy 8-by-8-inch posts, but that’ll change.

Rocco Candolini, a native of Italy's Amalfi Coast, owns and operates ROC Restaurant.

Rocco Candolini, a native of Italy’s Amalfi Coast, owns and operates ROC Restaurant.

“Eventually, there will be an awning over the top to shade from the sun, and misters, too, because I know how hot it gets here in the summer,” Cadolini says. The native Italian’s accent is heavy, but after 28 years in the U.S., it’s wrapped as comfortably around English as prosciutto drapes melon. “It’s all coming together. It just takes time.”

Cadolini knows. He’s done two prior restaurants: one in the Tribeca neighborhood of New York City, and another in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg section. Connected to neither now, he’s all in when it comes to his Louisville investment. Parents of his wife, Stacey, live here, and they wanted their two daughters close to kin.

Also relocated are his two chefs, Giovanni Penace (pronounced “pen-ah-chay”) and Davide Zigrino. Both men are from Italy’s

Puglia region; Penace moved to the U.S. a few years ago, while Zigirinio just arrived.

When I ask him how diners might find ROC different from other Louisville Italian standbys, Cadolini, first compliments his competitors, saying they’ve done well developing their own niches over time. The difference, he says, will be in his chefs’ interpretations of the foods of their homeland.

“I told them to just make authentic Italian—what your grandmother made,” he says.

That means things like fresh mozzarella and burrata, and housemade pasta.

“I just bought this beautiful machine,” Cadolini says, pointing to the pasta maker and its three dyes for cutting fettuccini, spaghetti and pappardelle. “There’s nothing better that fresh pasta, ah?”

It also means grilled octopus with potatoes (polipo alla griglia con tortino di patate), linguine and clam (linguine alle vongole) roasted branzino (branzino al cartoccio), pork Parmigiana (lombata di maiale alla Parmigiana) and many more items Italian food fans will recognize. The pasta lineup features seven dishes, the panini menu just two choices. Short and simple, Cadolini says, to “keep food fresh coming in and going out. Prices range from $8 for smaller plates, to $30 for entrees.

The entire space is an interesting one, a combination of a farmhouse and a trattoria. Guests enter through the patio and pergola before stepping inside to the main dining room, a modest spot with a long bar and multiple bare wood tables and floors. Candolini calls that mostly a cocktail area until guests arriving for dinner are seated further toward the back. When it fills in, a curtain will be pulled to cordon off drinkers from diners. A naturally lit glass walled room toward the front is an all-weather space overlooking the patio.

“Upstairs is a little bit more formal,” Cadolini says, climbing ROC’s wooden stairs. “Up here it will be mostly white tablecloth.”

A trio of spaces can be used for private events or overflow from the main floor. He envisions guests who want a quiet experience will go there.

Cadolini opened without announcement nearly two weeks ago in order to give his staff real-time training without the pressure of large crowds.

“Right now we’re kind of taking it easy and learning how we want it to run,” he says. “But last night, there were just a few of us here and it got busy. I had to jump in.”

Ready to go yourself? Hours are 5-10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 5-11 Friday and Saturday. Lunch will follow once dinner business is solid, and he expects it’ll open from 12-3 p.m., Monday-Friday. Future Saturdays should see brunch served from 10 to 4 p.m.

Underground sounds: Jimmy Can’t Dance to bring the Jazz Age tunes to downtown

Longtime Monkey Wrench owner Dennie Humphrey is teaming up with Another Place Sandwich Shop operator Brian Goodwin to open an underground jazz club that’s truly underground—as in the basement of the aforementioned restaurant at 119 S. 7th St. The location is a prime spot: directly across from the 21 C Museum Hotel and a couple doors down from Mussel & Burger Bar.

The club will be called Jimmy Can’t Dance, and it will host live music four nights a week, starting mid-summer. According to a news release, the goal is to create a speakeasy vibe first by having guests enter through the dimly lit sandwich shop. Down below, they’ll find what resembles a traditional Manhattan jazz hall with New Orleans touches. The space will be classy and comfortable, owners say.

Programming will include weekly residencies by professional musicians, while serving as a place where young talent, including students from University of Louisville School of Music, can hone their skills.

Humphrey, who also is a partner in The Taj bar in NuLu, will lead the club’s beverage program. Expect a reasonably priced menu of jazz age-inspired cocktails, bourbon and craft beers.

“We want the bar program to be simple enough that you can get a drink quickly and get back to enjoying yourself,” Humphrey said in the release. “The menu will have variety, but will be price conscious. We don’t want anyone priced out of the experience.”

Another Place Sandwich Shop is creating a limited menu for Jimmy Can’t Dance, but don’t expect deli foods. Rotating menus will include pop-up collaborations with Louisville restaurants and chefs, and a weekend jazz brunch will be added to the lineup later this summer.

The name pays homage to Goodwin’s father, Jim Goodwin, who, before venturing into real estate, was a promoter in the Louisville music scene. He opened Friend in Hand and Beggar’s Banquet in Downtown Louisville. Goodwin also owned Another Place Sandwich Shop, now in its 45th year. Under the leadership of his son Brian, the operation has undergone a rebirth, including new culinary direction.

“Jim loved music, but he most certainly couldn’t dance,” said Goodwin. “Louisville has a great music scene, and we’re looking forward to adding to it while honoring my dad in the process.”

Expect more stories about your favorite haunts and ‘joints’

In the past, I traveled a lot with clients whose means far exceeded mine, lifestyles that included chauffeurs, four- and five-star hotels and restaurants matching that level. Because I was there to chronicle their activities, I got a taste of their lifestyle by proxy, so I joked that I lived like a king while earning a pauper’s wages.

But it could become too much of a good thing, and after several days eating every meal out and living in hotel rooms nicer than my apartment, I longed for the comforts of a PB&J on the couch in front of the TV. I was ready for, as my boss would say, “a little slumming,” which meant food and drink we could afford, meals consumed hunched over a bar and served from a plastic basket lined with wax paper. I’ve never lost my love for such relaxed repasts.

Perhaps my and my wife's favorite "dive" in the city, Cumberland Brews. Beer, food and service ... a complete package.

Perhaps my and my wife’s favorite “dive” in the city, Cumberland Brews. Beer, food and service … a complete package. The Jamaican jerk wings here are fantastic.

I made a few stops in such places recently and found myself surprisingly refreshed when it came to my writing. I found new stories to tell, things I’d overlooked by focusing mostly on “the newest restaurant in town.” With so many places opening, the best way to keep up pace is to produce blow-by-blow recitations of what I ate or drank—a task that can become tedious to write and, I gather, read. But it’s news, so we do it.

Yet, perhaps most interesting is the reaction I’ve noticed to tweets and posts about those relaxed stops, compared to reactions received about higher-end places. Going to places like Kern’s Korner yielded a story of a first date that led to a marriage, others praised the burger or the club sandwich, while some included suggestions for similar spots. A post about The Back Door yielded similar results, especially about the big, affordable pours of spirits.

Now that is a Back Door Pour: generous and inexpensive.

Now that is a Back Door pour: generous and inexpensive. This one is the bar’s Old Forester private barrel pick, my favorite of that series I’ve ever tasted.

By comparison, posts about amazing meals (Bistro 1860’s recent Titanic dinner, St. Paddy’s Day feast at Harvest), openings of Chik’n & Mi and Fork & Barrel get far less response, and likely because 1. only a small number of readers get to attend such special dinners, and 2. few people have anything to say about brand-new restaurants because they haven’t visited yet.

But let’s face facts: Many of us are drawn to those lower-end spots because they’re affordable. When we settle in, take in the surroundings, food and drink, we realize how soul satisfying they can be. It soon becomes practically impossible not to return, especially when you start making friends with bartenders, servers and regulars. An extended family forms unexpectedly, and you’ve got a new draw.

Perhaps most surprising of all is how many restaurant industry folk frequent these less-heralded spots, the “joints” where good burgers, wings, beers and sturdy whiskey pours are found. Given their days spent cooking and serving finer-dining fare, perhaps they also are burned out on it and longing for the basics done well.

Last Sunday at The Back Door, I chatted with a bartender who’s been there since it opened 31 years ago. Monday, while at the Bob Evans on Hurstbourne Lane with a former client, I hardly got a word in before our meal because he was surrounded by staffers who’d worked there between 31 and 39 years. He, a man who’ll turn 95 next week, has frequented the restaurant since it opened, but he hasn’t been there as much since he relinquished the keys to his car. It was touching to see them have an impromptu extended family reunion.

She ain't pretty, but she's tasty: the basic cheeseburger at Kern's Korner.

She ain’t pretty, but she’s tasty, right down to the grilled bun: the basic cheeseburger at Kern’s Korner.

Of course, such exchanges happen at upper-crust eateries, too. I participated in it when I worked in such restaurants, and I see it now on those infrequent occasions that I dine at local legends. I’ve seen owners beam when hosting special dinners for brides who they held as babies when their parents began dining there 25 years before. I’ve seen owners give backrubs to the ailing and the aged, and then say, “I’ll bring you some dinner by the house tomorrow, OK?” In short, there’s love at every level in this business. It’s how great restaurant folk are wired.

But as far as slumming—if you can even call it that since none of these places could be considered rundown (at Kern’s Korner, even the bottles on shelves appeared spotlessly dusted)—that’s where I think I want to be for a while, where I want some of my reporting to take me. There are new stories to tell, tales about people we all relate to, and anecdotes easily shared over burgers and beers.

Perhaps best of all is they won’t empty my wallet, and they’re free to you!

  • And please send any suggestions for your favorite haunts (or restaurants of any kind for that matter) to steve@stevecoomes.com!