Some of the wits on the LouisvilleHotBytes Restaurants Forum have taken to calling the growing cluster of eateries and watering holes on East Market and Main streets “Clay Street Live.”
From the BBC Tap Room to Jenicca’s Wine Bar, Artemisia and Kim’s and Melillo’s, Felice Winery and the Bodega and more, this unorganized collection of funky, independent local spots in the gentrifying zone east of I-65 boasts a lot more local character than Fourth Street Live, as far as we’re concerned. We love its distinctly Louisville accent, shorn of franchise logos and plastic.
The latest arrival, Toast on Market, makes a good thing even better. Opened just last week in the quaintly historic old building that our grandparents knew as the Empire Vaudeville and our parents recognized as the Shel-Mar moving-picture theater, it more recently housed a junque shop. Now thoroughly renovated, it’s offering breakfast and lunch daily (except Mondays) in a comfortably arty setting, where Chef George Morris is turning out impressive dishes that add a tongue-in-cheek bistro spin to traditional diner fare. (Think Lynn’s without the Southern accent or the ugly lamps.)
As you’d expect of a former theater, it’s a large space that seats maybe 100; its high ceilings have been well scrubbed and freshly painted, dark-wood beams supporting a vaulted ceiling in earth-toned dark red. Exposed brick and lemon-sherbet plaster walls bear striking digitized poster-style portraits that brighten the place with colors of raspberry, lime, lemon, blueberry and creme brulee. With all the hard surfaces and undraped tables, it can get a little noisy, particularly if you neglected to request seating in the no-babies section. It’s a comfortable noise, though, signaling that people are having a good time in here.
Morris, who I’m told has cooked at L&N Wine Bar, Furlong’s and Rafferty’s, has put together an inventive menu based on comfort food. There must be 20 breakfast choices, including such creative variations as gingerbread pancakes with cherry compote and whipped cream ($7), bread pudding pancakes topped with Irish Cream sauce and rum-raisin syrup ($7.50), brioche French toast in a three-slice stack ($6.25), and an ‘00s update of that ‘60s standby, the Monte Cristo, now re-imagined as brioche French toast filled with ham and Gruyere cheese with orange and rosemary syrup ($7.25).
“Mmm, that looks bodalicious,” I muttered as I spotted The King, brioche French toast stuffed with bananas and peanut butter and a ration of sweet Italian mascarpone cream cheese. My wife’s eyes got as big as coffee saucers until she figured out that I was hossin’ around.
An extensive beverages selection includes mixed drinks (a Bloody Mary is $6.50, a Mojito $6) and a good selection of imported and microbrewery beers (plus Bud and Bud Lite for any rubes who wander down from Fourth Street Live), and a full range of coffee and espresso drinks. A bottomless mug of the coffee ($1.85), a fine blend from Consumer’s Choice, was rich, dark and strong; a cappuccino ($2) came in a smallish cup but was made just right, chocolatey espresso and hot steamed milk with a creamy “cap” of foam.
Our breakfast choices were excellent, prepared well and attractively plated.
Beefcakes ($7.75) were an offbeat, hearty creation: A good ration of tender chunks of beef pot roast blanketed with a thick, rather salty beef gravy was garnished with snipped chives and dolloped over two thick, feather-light golden pancakes and a crunchy, savory potato pancake flavored with sour cream and chives.
A chorizo-and-Manchego omelet was thick and custardy, a golden-brown half-moon of tender eggs folded over a bit of mild sausage (I’m thinking it might have been Spanish chorizo, not the fattier, more spicy Mexican style), topped with a drizzle of melted mild Spanish Manchego cheese. It was accompanied by an addictive hash-brown casserole made up of tender cubes of potato baked in a rich, yellow sauce … egg? cheese? A dash of mustard? Too good to analyze, I just enjoy, and clean my plate. Buttered white toast appeared homemade, and was accompanied with a ramekin of whipped butter, small institutional packets of Smucker’s Concord Grape jelly and strawberry preserves and a couple of orange slices as garnish.
A return trip for lunch another day made us just as happy: A thick slab of meatloaf as good as Mom’s gained character from grilled onions, fresh tomato and thick-sliced artisanal brioche loaf to make it a sandwich ($7.25). Garlic and sharp cheddar turned the traditional grilled cheese sandwich ($8.50) into something far more elegant than you’d ever find at a Woolworth’s lunch counter.
Toast on Market
736 E. Market St.
There’s something a little fishy about Eat ’N’ Blog correspondent KIM MASSEY this week, and no, we don’t mean she’s up to anything suspicious. Kim, our expat Londoner, has been hanging out at some of our favorite ethnic spots around town, looking for excellent fish dishes with exotic flavors. She loved these dishes, and we think you will, too.
Fishing in foreign waters …
Few fish lovers can resist the traditional fish fry. One of my fondest memories from my childhood in London was the ritual weekly trip to the local “Chippie” to feast upon freshly battered, crispy fried fish and thick hand-cut chips (fries to y’all). And yes, as quaint as it may sound, the meal came wrapped in newspaper in those days. But all that was before my culinary epiphany — the discovery of the joys of ethnic cuisine! Although I’m still partial to the traditional “Fish ’n’ Chips,” the dishes of Africa, Asia and the Caribbean hold far more allure for me these days. Little wonder, when you consider the rich and diverse dining delights that these cuisines offer.
Consider the fish dishes served at Taste of Jamaica, a delicious alternative to its popular jerk chicken. The fish escovitch ($9.95) is a whole snapper, liberally sprinkled with spicy seasoning that’s every bit as tantalizing as anything you will find on fried chicken, pan-fried to satisfying crispness without sacrificing the moist succulence of the flesh beneath. The fish is all but smothered with a saucy mélange of sautéed green peppers, onions, garlic and carrot, a gentle, supple topping that partners perfectly with the crispy, spicy fish and results in a wholly gratifying dish.
Taste of Jamaica’s saltcod and callaloo ($7.65) offers an entirely different but equally enjoyable dining experience. Tiny flakes of salt cod are sautéed with a slightly spicy, savory mix of chopped callaloo (spicy Jamaican greens), garlic, onions and sliced okra. The finished product looks like a simple bowl of stewed greens, but this mild appearance belies the intensity of the dish. The salt cod adds far more depth than you would expect from a single ingredient and elicits a newfound respect for this humble fish. Had the stewed greens of my childhood tasted like this, I might have directed my energies to actually consuming them rather than hiding them beneath the equally unappealing mashed potatoes!
A Taste of Jamaica
2017 Brownsboro Road
Two similarly contrasting entrees at the diminutive Chez Seneba showcase the rich diversity of Senegalese cuisine. Thiebu jeun ($7) — widely regarded as the national dish — consists of a generous portion of bluefish and large pieces of carrot, yuca and eggplant, all simmered in a rich, slightly spicy, tomato-based sauce. The strong, distinctive flavor and firm texture of the bluefish make it a worthy partner for the rich sauce. Served atop a generous mound of djolof rice, the dish is reminiscent of its Northern cousin couscous and every bit as satisfying.
Poisson braisée ($10) provides a sharp contrast to the stewed dishes characteristic of West African cuisine: It is a whole tilapia, deeply scored so as to absorb a thick and decidedly hot-and-spicy paste-like marinade, then perfectly grilled. The fiery heat of the dish is only mildly tempered by the subtle, sweet flesh of the tilapia and a gently sautéed side dish of onions and green peppers. This is no dish for those of tender palate, but if you enjoy a little fire on your fish, you’ll pick over the bones for every last mouth-watering morsel.
Chez Seneba African Cuisine
1215 Gilmore Lane
The claypot catfish ($9.30) at Vietnam Kitchen elevates a relatively humble ingredient to new culinary heights. Boneless nuggets of catfish simmered in a rustic clay pot take on a meaty quality akin to swordfish. The fish fully absorbs the rich, dark soy-based sauce with its liberal seasoning of crushed black pepper; light caramelization imparts a subtle and welcome sweetness. This uncomplicated yet rich dish requires no further adornment beyond the simple steamed broccoli and rice that accompany it.
5339 Mitscher Ave.
The equally modest and often underrated codfish takes center stage in the mixed seafood stir fry ($9.95) served at Sari Sari Filipino Cuisine. A heady combination of codfish, shrimps, mussels and peppers stir-fried in garlic, herbs and coconut milk, it’s a deliciously delicate yet complex dish. The aromatics alone — a happy result of the liberal addition of ginger and lemongrass — foretell the pleasure to come before you take the first bite. It’s a winning combination, a sensory sensation that stays with you.
Sari Sari Filipino Cuisine
2339 Frankfort Ave.
Eat globally …
Got your taste buds ready for WorldFeast at WorldFest? This culinary world tour on Aug. 31 will offer an international tasting menu of goodies from nearly three dozen Louisville Original members and other local eateries. Festivities begin at 6 p.m. in the Main and North Lobbies of the Kentucky Center. Tickets are $50 a person, and a portion of the proceeds will benefit the Kentucky Center’s world music and dance programs, Louisville Originals and Metro Government’s Office for International Affairs. WorldFeast kicks off WorldFest, which will fill the Belvedere on Sept. 1-2 with international music, food and craft vendors and more. To make reservations for WorldFeast, visit the Kentucky Center’s Web site, www.kentuckycenter.org, or call 584-7777. For details on WorldFest, see www.louisvilleky.gov/International/WorldFest.
Lions, tigers and beer, oh my! The third annual Brew at the Zoo, a day of beer, food, music and beer, starts pouring promptly at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 26, in the Oasis Festival Tent & Field at the Louisville Zoo. Local microbreweries and brewpubs BBC Beer Company, Bluegrass Brewing Company, Browning’s Brewery, Cumberland Brews and New Albanian Brewing Company will be on hand with their best suds, as will guest regional artisan-beer producers Bell’s Brewery, Hofbrauhaus Newport, Lexington Brewing Company, Broad Ripple Brewery and Upland Brewing Company. For more solid fare, some three dozen restaurants will have goodies on hand. Admission ranges from $35 for Zoo members buying in advance to $45 for non-members paying at the door. For information and reservations, visit
www.louisvillezoo.org/events/brew.htm online or visit the Zoo ticket office or the BBC Taproom, 636 E. Main St.
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