For three years, Meta owner Jeremy Johnson has celebrated his bar’s standing as Louisville’s only exclusively craft cocktail spot in the city. But all the while he’s not-so-secretly wished he could sell food at the 425 W. Chestnut St. location and given guests reasons to linger and drink more.
Fact is the Meta facility isn’t a restaurant, which presents the first hurdle to foodservice. But most importantly, he wanted the cocktail program perfected before he could divert his focus to food. He tried serving once, but it didn’t go well.
“We didn’t have the resources to do it,” Johnson said. “We already run on a skeleton staff, so to have someone leave the bar and go get food while people waited on their drinks, it was ridiculous.”
Now Johnson’s trying again with what he believes is a more manageable program of small bites, or Zakuski, which is Russian for what we’d recognize as tapas.
“It’s bar food, and kind of where the sandwich came from,” Johnson began. “They’re originally done on small toast points or crackers and paired with vodka.”
The Zakuski will be simple for him to produce in an offsite commercial kitchen, and small enough that people could order multiples. Prices will range from $3 to $9 for snacks, such as potato chips, roasted almonds, olives and pickles, to small bites like marinated feta cheese, Shuckman’s smoked whitefish dip and cured ham tartine from Blue Dog Bakery.
The rollout will happen in two phases: beginning with food only from Feb. 9-23; followed by food paired with a ¾-ounce shot of a spirit chosen by Johnson. That’s the part he’s most excited about, turning customers on to new spirits and flavor combinations they might not have had.
“I want the customer experience here to be elevated, to take it to another level,” he said. “To do that, we needed to have food. I think this will be a revolutionary step in our business.”
And what does this veteran mixologist know about food, you ask? He’s been in restaurants since he was 19, and is an accomplished home cook. Each year he picks a foreign cuisine and teaches himself the basics in order to educate himself.
“I’d certainly hesitate to call myself a chef, but I’ve been cooking at home since I was a kid,” he said. “I want the food program to become an extension of what I already do here.”
Johnson expects food to run out in the early days of the program, but he said that’s not a bad thing. It’ll teach him what his pars should be, and it’ll ensure food turnover happens quickly.
“Then it’s fresh, which is what I want, the only way I’ll do it,” he said.
Want to see for yourself what he’s doing? Here’s tonight’s menu below.