Bobby Benjamin’s Approach is Perfection; and more in Podcast #58

Of course it’s one of our favorite restaurants, precisely because of the time and attention Chef Bobby Benjamin takes to prepare the great food at Butchertown Grocery and Lola’s, the bar upstairs. Benjamin joined Rick and Carolyn in the studio for a lively conversation about his approach — which includes insisting on fresh ingredients and making sure his staff is properly trained.

Meanwhile, there’s a lot going on locally, including three restaurant openings – Couvillon in Germantown, the BBC in Theatre Square and a new Con Huevos in Holiday Manor. Carolyn recounts her Staycation at the Omni Hotel. We reminisce about our history with the Ehrler’s brand, which may make a comeback as part of an ice cream/drinks bar.

Carolyn has a positive movie review of the film A Quiet Place. At Ditto’s, Rick had the Heuser Special experience – an amazing Blackened Cod. And one of our favorite attractions, the Skystar Wheel, had a glitch which shut it down briefly. Plus we both spent Sunday watching the Masters.

Thanks for downloading the show. And please tell your friends – we’ll have all the scoop on Derby and springtime in the ‘Ville in the next few weeks.

Bobby Benjamin’s Passion Produces Results in Butchertown

To find out everything you need to know about Bobby Benjamin’s passions, ask him to explain the colorful tattoos that run up and down his right arm. The enthusiastic entrepreneur will point to mushrooms and brussels sprouts and the places he first cooked them.

Benjamin is the force behind the one-year-old Butchertown Grocery, and its cocktails and small plates lounge upstairs, Lola.

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Bobby Benjamin’s sleeve. Photo by Bill Brymer

And while food images dominate his arm, he points out spots that remind him of his wife and young daughter, and mentions he’s got a son on the way.

In an interview for the Rusty Satellite Show podcast, Benjamin talked about his roots in Bell Buckle, Tenn., his travels as a chef, and his vision for his business in Louisville.

“When I was a kid I got this job, working at the Bell Buckle Cafe out in the middle of nowhere,” he said. “I graduated from a high school with 47 students. I worked with Jeannette and Heidi Heineke, mother and daughter, in a mom and pop restaurant. That’s where I started falling in love with food, at 13 or 14. By the time I was 15 I knew I wanted to be a chef.”

Bell Buckle wasn’t your average country diner. Benjamin learned to eat and cook soul food there, and thanks to an ostrich farm nearby, to make ostrich burgers.

He set out on a culinary career, which eventually landed him in Louisville at Sullivan University, where he earned a culinary arts degree. From there, it was on to the West Coast, and eventually back to Tennessee, working with legendary chef, Sean Brock, in Nashville. That led, seven years ago, to a prestigious position as chef de cuisine at The Oakroom here.

Benjamin’s partners in the Butchertown Grocery are attorney Jon Salomon and My Morning Jacket drummer Patrick Hallahan. Benjamin said the business did $3.5 million its first year.

2016-11-22-17-36-47While the space for Lola had been used on occasion for special events and was regularly open for pre- and post-dinner cocktails, the partners wanted it to have an identity of its own. Beverage manger Nic Christiansen created a Lola-specific cocktail menu, while Benjamin crafted a menu of sandwiches and appetizers he described as “elevated bar food.”

On a recent Thursday, Lola was packed as local favorite Danny Flanigan played guitar and sang on stage. He’s one of many local and regional performers scheduled to perform there.

With two establishments under his control, I asked Benjamin if there were other ideas for concepts rolling around in his head. He didn’t share specifics, but said he’s open to explore other concepts. He added that he’s grateful for his success.

“For us to be so busy, it excites me, it means a lot of people are happy to come here and see the same servers,” Benjamin said. “It’s almost like our family here is building relationships with other families, and I think it’s getting stronger now.”

Listen to the entire interview with Bobby Benjamin on the Rusty Satellite Show here:

And check out the previous EatDrinkTalk story on Lola’s at this link.

For more, GoToLola.com.

 

Lola at Butchertown Grocery opens tonight

Tonight, Thanksgiving Eve, the most popular bar night of the year, the partners of Butchertown Grocery will relaunch their second-floor lounge under the name of Lola at Butchertown Grocery.

Don’t get too hung up on the name; it’s not a reference to the Kinks’ famous tune about a guy mistakenly falling for a transvestite, or the heartbroken waitress in Barry Manilow’s “Copacabana.” It’s just a sobriquet executive chef and partner Bobby Benjamin thought sounded lighthearted.

“Everybody’s thinking it means something in particular,” says Benjamin, “but it’s nothing concrete. Lola is a fun name, so that’s kind of the personality we want this place to have: fun.”

Not that Butchertown Grocery isn’t fun, it’s just different fun centered on more expensive and serious food, a reservations-recommended spot for the dining cognoscenti seeking a culinary experience.

To left, a tasty Lola negroni. | Photo by Rick Redding

To left, a tasty Lola negroni. | Photo by Rick Redding

“Lola is relaxed, a different vibe all the way around,” Benjamin says. “Very approachable.”

For example, beverage director Nic Christiansen’s 14-item cocktail menu includes a list of nine shots combining a mix of straight spirits and amaros. If knocking back a straight pour isn’t exciting enough, pour it into a “bone luge,” a halved beef bone the drinker angles into one’s mouth for shooting booze Fred Flintstone-style.

“It’s what Lola would do,” Benjamin says, grinning. “She’d do the luge.”

His partners, attorney Jon Salomon and My Morning Jacket drummer Patrick Hallahan, refer to the space as a living room away from home, a gathering place that sometimes is more energetic than the restaurant downstairs, other times more subdued—a mood that’s easy to achieve in the largely candlelit room. (“More lighting is coming, we’re working on that,” Benjamin insists. That our press group ate and drank by candlelight is why we have no food pictures worth showing. Though she doesn’t even exist, I’m sure Lola would be offended by our photography were she real.)

“Sometimes people come for the live music, other times you can tell they like that it’s quiet,” Hallahan says. “The music that we’ve had here has been something to see.”

That includes appearances by famed bluegrass fiddler Michael Cleveland and impromptu piano playing by Teddy Abrams, conductor of the Louisville Orchestra.

“Teddy Abrams has kind of a residency here,” Hallahan says. “He’ll be up there playing that piano, just grinning and having a great time.”

Expect more live music, Hallahan adds, and possibly poetry and Moth-style storytelling nights.

It’s also now a place to eat. Benjamin created a short and mostly Lola-dedicated menu of sandwiches and bar snacks such as its portabello fries with a sambal aioli and “a spinach and artichoke dip that’s actually really good. I’ve always thought that dip really wanted to be good, but it wasn’t,” he said. Or, perhaps just not good enough for Lola.

Per his touches, the Cuban sandwich gets some pork and pizzazz from Broadbent’s country ham, and the “Ladies Man” cod sandwich isn’t your average Louisville fish sandwich: Belgian beer battered, house-made pickles and a punched-up tartar sauce turn that staple into a standout. On late nights, classic American hamburgers will be sold as well from 12:30-2 a.m. Food prices range from $5-$13.

In addition to an abundance of cushy couches, there are seats at tables and the bar. So don’t think you have to eat standing.

Lola is so all her own thing that she has her own entrance on the Buchanan St. side of the building. Just look for the sign and climb the stairs.

Lola will be open for dinner and late-night cocktails Wednesday and Sunday 6 p.m. to midnight, and Thursday through Saturday 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. For more information, visit www.gotolola.com beginning Wednesday, Nov. 16 or follow on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

Butchertown Grocery opening Lola lounge upstairs Thanksgiving Eve

Sometimes restaurateurs just can’t leave well enough alone. Or, if you’re Bobby Benjamin, you look at it another way: You have to finish what you start.

That’s his reason for the Thanksgiving Eve launch of Lola, the newly named space above Butchertown Grocery that, for the past year, patrons have understood to be its cocktail lounge. Simple as that, right?

Not for Benjamin, who sees an opportunity to give the space its own identity as a bar where customers can get unique drinks and great food that’s more relaxed than the first-floor fare. It has live music after all, and it’s cozier and darker than the bustling bistro one flight of stairs below.

“Butchertown Grocery BG has a clean bistro feel, a nice mood to it, and it’s high energy,” said Benjamin, a partner and in the restaurant and its executive chef. “But the space we’re calling Lola is a whole other room that it deserves its own identity with the elevated bar food and great drinks we want to serve up there.”

No, that’s not a pun on its second floor location. “Elevated” is chef-speak for Benjamin taking approachable menu staples and finessing them. For example, the portabella fries will be served with wasabi sambal aioli, a Cuban sandwich with porchetta, glazed ham, dill pickles and mustard, and a Florentine panino (the Italian singular expression of the plural “panini”) with fried eggplant, peppers, goat cheese, pepita pesto and chips. Food prices will range from $8-$15.

“People in Louisville love their fish sandwiches, and we’ve got a lot of good ones around town,” Benjamin said. “I wanted ours made from really good cod and a Belgian ale batter and a spicy buttermilk dressing—something just a little different.”

The 55-seat Lola be will be refined, yet rawer than before, including new lighting that’ll be different and … wait for it … brighter than before. Responding to a gig about the sometime criticized darkness of the lounge, Benjamin laughed and apologized “for not giving that enough thought when we first opened. I was so focused on getting the downstairs going that I neglected that. That’s one thing I mean when I’m saying I’m finishing what I started upstairs.”

Benjamin said beverage director Nic Christiansen has created a new cocktail lineup that’ll include clever shots.

“She came to me and said, ‘I know you’re going to think I’m crazy, but I want to do a shots menu for Lola, a really cool cocktail menu and a shots menu,’” he recalled. A little surprised, he asked what she meant, and Christiansen described a shot of whiskey poured through a halved beef bone. “So we do bone marrow downstairs, but we use the roasted bone as a luge upstairs.”

He even said Jimmy Russell, the 83-year-old master distiller at Wild Turkey, did a bone marrow shot during a recent visit.

“That was awesome to watch,” Benjamin said. “The whiskey picks up the flavor of the bone marrow as it goes down. It so cool.”

Lola will be open for dinner and late-night cocktails Wednesday and Sunday 6 p.m. to midnight, and Thursday through Saturday 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. (On late nights, classic American hamburgers will be sold as well from 12:30-2 a.m.) For more information, visit www.gotolola.com beginning Wednesday, Nov. 16 or follow on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.