Fork & Barrel brings elevated Southern food, sophisticated cocktails to Clifton

I thoroughly enjoyed Basa Modern Vietnamese, and

Not your Basa anymore. New eye-catching colors coat the wood-sided exterior of Fork & Barrel.

Not your Basa anymore. New eye-catching colors coat the wood-sided exterior of Fork & Barrel.

though I never visited it frequently enough, when I learned it was ending its 10-year run at 2244 Frankfort Ave., I and many others were saddened.

But all good things must come to an end sometime, right? And nothing makes that so abundantly clear as a dramatic makeover like the one given that space for the opening of Fork & Barrel last week. No former fan of Basa will look at the quaint, wood-sided Clifton building and recall its former tenant. The battleship gray exterior now bears a scheme of muted orange, tan and black, colors carried over to the mix of rustic and modern tones and textures inside. You’ll find yourself asking, “This was Basa? Really?” and then struggling to find elements connected to that concept.

“We wanted it to have its own look in every way possible,” said Geoffrey Heyde, who owns the restaurant with his wife, Emily. “That took more work than we expected, I’ll have to say, but I think it’s worth it.”

Emily's Garden, a delish gin cocktail to start.

Emily’s Garden, a delish gin cocktail to start.

In conversations I’ve had with Heyde over the past two months since the opening was announced, he’s described his cuisine as elevated Southern and classic American. The dinner-only menu reflects a blend of both notions with multiple beef, lamb, chicken, pork and regional fish dishes, though it veers toward the East Coast with mussels, crab cakes—before taking far eastward to the Mediterranean, with charred octopus. With the backing of Nick Sullivan, longtime chef de cuisine at 610 Magnolia and, most recently, chef de cuisine at The Oakroom, such off-theme excursions are both welcome and expected.

That carries over to the bar menu as well, where just two of seven house cocktails listed use bourbon as their base spirits. Head mixologist Karla Jean clearly likes clear spirits, leaning on gin, tequila and vodka to create several clever offerings including my choice, Emily’s Garden (gin, ginger syrup, lemon juice and rose water). (Worry not, brown spirits fans, there’s lots of that to draw from.)

Charcuterie board with foie gras bonus.

Charcuterie board with foie gras bonus.

Food prices range from $8 (parsnip soup) to $39 for Border Springs lamb chops, but the majority of the plates are priced at the middle of that spread. A couple could easily get out for $50 or ratchet up the spend to triple that with a bottle of wine, so the experience is easily tailored to your mood and appetite.

Invited by Heyde for a soft opening (meaning food guests’ food is free, but tax, drinks and gratuity are on them), a friend and I shared a pair of appetizers including the super lump crab cakes ($12 with sauce gribiche, avocado mousse, red vein sorrel and chili oil), and charred octopus ($16, white beans, country ham, rutabaga, flash-fried greens and haricot verts). Both were great, but I was taken with—as I always am—the eight-legged creature. Such a treat to find tender versions like this one. The assorted charcuterie ($14) was delicious as well, especially the bonus foie gras.

The cornbread and buttermilk salad ($9) could double as a savory dessert should Heyde want to scoot it around the menu. The buttermilk was actually a strip of delicate buttermilk panna cotta served atop sweet corn puree and blistered corn kernels along with tufts of mache, strawberry slices and crumbled cornbread.

Our entrees were straightforward Southern: mine a pair of cornmeal-encrusted Lake Barkley carp ($24) fried and served atop a Rappahannock clam chowder and roasted vegetables; my friend’s, roasted veal loin ($26) with celery root, mashed potatoes and veal jus. Hearty and substantial, but well prepared. Great cooking technique is always appreciated, but occasionally lacking sometimes in kitchens.

Barkley Lake carp over Rappahannock chowder.

Barkley Lake carp over Rappahannock chowder.

Not only were we too stuffed to even look at the dessert menu, we both had separate engagements afterward, so we bid our solid server adieu and headed out.

Long story short: There’s nothing in Clifton like Fork & Barrel. It’s its own breed in a neighborhood collection of upscale Italian, relaxed American, rustic Irish, dive bar chow and full-on trendy spots. Maybe the closest comparison I could make is it’s a bit similar to Harvest, where ingredient selection and classic technique are hallmarks. It’ll be fun to see what personality Fork & Barrel develops over the coming year. Heaven knows adequate talent is under roof to make it a solid spot on the local scene.

Fork & Barrel, 2244 Frankfort Ave. Hours: Tuesday-Thursday, 5-10 p.m., Friday-Saturday, 5-11 p.m. Call 502-907-3675 for more information.

Nick Sullivan joining Geoffrey Heyde in kitchen at Fork & Barrel

This will make for a lot of culinary talent in the same room.

Nick Sullivan, who recently left his post as chef de cuisine at The Oakroom, and formerly longtime chef de cuisine at 610 Magnolia, will join Geoffrey Heyde in the kitchen at Fork & Barrel, when it opens in early spring.

Heyde, the longtime executive chef at Village Anchor Pub & Roost, who last was executive chef at SET, is the owner of Fork & Barrel, which is under construction in the spot held by Basa Modern Vietnamese at 2244 Frankfort Ave. in Clifton. Eat Drink Talk broke the story of the new ownership in January.

Heyde said he’d interviewed a lot of candidates for the job, but that Sullivan’s application stood out as much as it gave him pause. With experience in the high-end restaurants listed above, not to mention time at Corbett’s: An American Place, Heyde wondered whether Sullivan would enjoy cooking the intentionally non-pretentious American food set to populate Fork & Barrel’s menu.

The longtime home to Basa Modern Vietnamese will become Fork & Barrel in March, and be run by chef Geoffrey Heyde.

The longtime home to Basa Modern Vietnamese will become Fork & Barrel in March, and be run by chef Geoffrey Heyde.

“I really was hesitant at first—his creativity is outside the box, it’s awesome,” Heyde said. “I was wondering if our visions would mesh. But we’ve met probably three or four times, and I really think they’re going to.”

In his first effort as a restaurant operator, Heyde also wanted a strong personality in the kitchen, someone who could lead the crew and execute plans to his standards while he’s involved in all areas of the business.

“I need a leader, not a follower, and that’s what I really saw in Nick,” he said. “I want somebody to bounce ideas off of and challenge me as I want to challenge him.

“I’m still going to be very much in charge of the kitchen and in there more than not, but I think we’ll work well together.”

Since leaving SET some time ago, Heyde said he’s missed the culinary collaboration of the kitchen, but that Sullivan is already filling that gap. He said the two are already feeding off each other with ideas for the new restaurant, as well as keeping each other informed on larger culinary issues.

“I’ve really missed … those conversations about what’s happening outside of here, talking about trends, what’s happening in other cities, and what we do in Louisville,” he said.

Eat Drink Talk reached out to Sullivan for comment, but he did not respond by press time.

Before Heyde hired Sullivan, he asked him about his professional goals. Knowing Sullivan’s talent level and desire to have his own restaurant, he wanted to be sure the chef was going to stay a while before seizing the next opportunity that arrived.

“He said realistically he’d be here for a couple of years,” Heyde said. “He said he wants to learn as much from me as I want to learn from him.”

Heyde said the projected late March opening of Fork & Barrel remains largely on course. He expected the changeover from Basa would produce some delays, such as the cumbersome and costly update of a new grease trap, but that no major roadblocks have appeared.

“Even though it was a restaurant beforehand, we definitely had to think about changing the décor and the organization and flow of the restaurant to optimize it to its fullest potential for what we’re doing,” he said. “That and the grease trap might have set us back some, but nothing significant or really unexpected.”

Prepare for at least 8 Louisville restaurant openings in July

Count me among those who thought—incorrectly—that the tipping point had arrived early this year, i.e. that loosely determined time in the lifecycle of the Greater Louisville restaurant scene when restaurants would begin closing due to excessive supply. Why? Because eight are scheduled to open in July alone. Here’s a brief rundown:

Kevin’s Picnic: This Anchorage restaurant owned by Kevin Grangier (The Village Anchor and Le Moo) just had its soft opening this weekend. No menu yet, but its Facebook page says it’ll serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. In conversations I’ve had with Grangier about the operation, he said food will center on lighter items and made-to-order dishes. I suppose that means not as indulgent as Le Moo and Village Anchor, yet high quality all the same. Expect to hear from Grangier in an upcoming podcast.

SuperChefs/Dinner: Remember when SuperChefs’ St. Matthews location burned in January? It returns July 9, but in the Highlands (1702 Bardstown Road in the former Strati Wild Italian location) with a new two-part concept. The comic-book themed SuperChefs will return with breakfast and brunch served until 3 p.m., when the restaurant closes and resets for DINNER starting at 5 p.m. According to a Courier-Journal story, expect bargains on indulgent items. Read more by clicking here.

The 502 Bar & Bistro: This entry into the surging Norton Commons scene will host private soft openings beginning July 19, and likely followed by a public unveiling before month’s end. Chef Peng Looi (of Asiatique) is a consultant on the project, and his former protege Ming Hsuan Pu is driving the culinary effort here, but don’t assume the fare will be Asian. What it will be, I don’t know, but I’ll know by the 19th.

HopCat opening July 30: This oversized beer and sandwich concept at the corner of Grinstead Dr. and Bardstown Road has a Louisville-centered website, but it lists no food or beer yet. To get an idea of what’s served in Lexington, one of a total 12 HopCats spread throughout the upper-Midwest, you can assume it’ll be pretty close to a mirror image.

I walk by the space frequently and am amazed at its size. I’m also wondering where customers will park, or where the business will find enough help to staff the operation.

SET at Theatre Square: No details yet on this restaurant, where Geoffrey Heyde, the longtime chef at The Village Anchor, will serve “fine American dining,” says its website. Private soft openings start July 12, so I’d expect an opening to the public to follow within a week.

Red Barn Kitchen: One the most anticipated openings this year is this latest in the long line of OLE Restaurant Group businesses (as in little brother to Mussel & Burger Bar, Guaca Mole, Artesano Vino y Tapas, El Taco Luchador and Mercado Italiano). According to partner and executive chef Fernando Martinez, this will be the last restaurant opening by OLE for quite a

Smoked rib test at Red Barn Kitchen. Photo courtesy of Red Barn Kitchen

Smoked rib test at Red Barn Kitchen. Photo courtesy of Red Barn Kitchen

while because he, like me, believes the restaurant industry here is saturated. As he discussed in our recent podcast interview, the restaurant labor shortage is beyond serious, and without the ability to hire and retain staff, every new restaurant will struggle. Heck, long-time restaurants are struggling to keep good help, and doubtless the situation will not change for a long time.

Anyway, the good news is RBK will bring barbecue and Southern food done Martinez-style to Lyndon, where Joe’s Older Than Dirt operated for many decades. And who doesn’t look forward to that?

Bubba’s 33: And lastly we have Texas Roadhouse founder Kent Taylor’s latest restaurant concept, Bubba’s 33, set to open July 25 at 4631 Medical Plaza Way in Clarksville. Serving pizza, burgers and beer in a casual sports bar setting isn’t clever or creative, but no one’s ever accused Taylor’s businesses of being either. They just acknowledge his restaurants are amazingly successful.

According to an Insider Louisville story, it serves dinner only, and each Bubba’s unit (this one will be the chain’s 12th) costs $4.7 million to build. Company executives say it has the potential to exceed sister chain Texas Roadhouse’s store count of 485.

LouVino will pop the cork on No. 2 on July 20 at 11400 Main St. in Middletown’s Douglass Hills ‘hood. Here’s another sign of weirdness in this labor market. Co-owner Chad Coulter tells me he had an overabundance of cooks apply to work there, but that servers were scarce. Completely the opposite of the way it was when I worked in the biz in the Dark Ages, and mostly counter to what’s happening elsewhere in the city.

Perhaps it also says something about local cooks’ willingness to work for a place that advertised great benefits.