The late developer Al J. Schneider, never a man to pay much attention to negative counsel, pretty much went it alone when he built the Galt House on Louisville’s then-moribund waterfront in 1973.
Schneider lived long enough to enjoy vindication as a vibrant redeveloped downtown scene rose around his venture, which bore the name of a historic 19th century hostelry where Charles Dickens once stayed.
But if the truth be told, a lot of people are still chuckling at the combination of hard-headedness and wacky design sense that inspired him to create the place in a style that can only be described as “idiosyncratic.”
Shocking pink met pukey green, and plaid introduced itself to paisley in an odd high-rise that used to boast the simple letters “H-O-T-E-L” running vertically down its river facade, surmounted by a pair of oversize, revolving view restaurants that from the outside resembled nothing so much as bulging bullfrog eyes.
Within, the old Flagship Room restaurant shared its fustian decor with the rest of the building, boasting the look and feel of an old Spanish galleon that had been decorated by interior design students on a very bad drug trip, ameliorated somewhat by the best restaurant views available in the region. Food quality varied over the years, but more often than not it stood in mute testimony to Calvin Trillin’s famous wisdom about the quality of restaurant fare being inversely proportional to the building-top view.
But that was then. This is now. Schneider’s heirs are yanking the hotel into the 21st century; and the Flagship Room, closed for renovation since early this year, reopened this week as the swanky Rivue — “River” plus “View,” get it? In the early going, it’s earning rave reviews for food and mood that erase all memories of the “old” Galt House.
We sent Eat ‘N’ Blog correspondent PAIGE MOORE-HEAVIN to a Rivue privue, er, preview, and she came back with this glowing report.
Galt House revolver is a real pistol
When Al J. Schneider built the Galt House on Louisville’s riverfront three decades ago, he placed a one-of-a-kind restaurant on the top floor. The dining room featured two revolving floors that slowly rotated on the north side of the building, exposing diners to an ever-changing view of the city, the river and points beyond. But like the hotel itself, the Flagship restaurant lost its luster over the years.
In recent years, the Galt House has been modernized with $60 million in renovations — a project spearheaded by Schneider’s daughter, Mary Moseley, who now runs the company. Rivue, the new and improved rooftop restaurant, opened June 5. Moseley calls it “the crown jewel” of the renovation project.
The 17,000-square-foot space occupies the entire 25th floor of the west tower. It includes a lounge and bar area, the main dining room and a private room facing south — the Waterford Room — that seats up to 240 people.
As soon as you step out of the elevator, you’ll realize that this is not your father’s Galt House. The lobby features glistening black and white tiles, modern wood walls and dramatic splashes of red. In the lounge, the vibe speaks upscale art deco supper club, with comfortable furniture upholstered in buttery off-white leather.
The art-deco theme carries into the dining room, where hanging sculptures of clear glass bulbs reflect the light, and black-and-white draped tables offer an air of elegance. The west-facing platform is perfect for dinner at sunset, while the east-facing platform would be ideal for viewing the twinkling lights of downtown Louisville at night. If you can’t decide, the private table for 12 perched between the platforms could be just the ticket.
At the preview event, my friend Jennifer and I sampled two of Rivue’s signature cocktails, as well as two appetizers and two entrees created by Chef Tim Baker.
Jennifer reported the Mochatini cocktail was excellent, down to the coffee bean in the bottom of the glass. The Sunrise Mango Martini was beautiful to look at, but a bit too sweet for my taste. Fortunately for this whiskey girl, Rivue also has a full bar and wine list.
Moving on to appetizers, we were very pleased with the Jumbo Shrimp Martini. Three extra-large shrimp are served with a dollop of horseradish cream on top of “cocktail salsa” — I’d describe it as chunky, somewhat spicy gazpacho. We were also impressed with the Imperial Crab Croquettes, three tender and flavorful crab cakes a few inches in diameter, accented with a touch of basil.
The entrees we tasted were also good, though it’s difficult to predict how the samples would translate when served on a plate, rather than on bite-size toast points. The Filet of Beef features grilled black angus topped with sage-infused white sauce. I thought the dish had a nice balance of flavor, and on the plate it looked fantastic, with a side of potato gnocchi and an artfully displayed blossom made from a roasted roma tomato.
Next we tried Chicken Baccalà, which, despite its name (“Baccalà” is Italian for “salt cod”), is actually a boneless chicken breast stuffed with mozzarella cheese and arugula, wrapped in Kentucky country ham. It was slightly sweet from the arugula, smoky from the cheese and ham, and richly indulgent as a whole. This one’s a keeper.
All in all, Rivue’s Kentucky-meets-Italy bill of fare is worthy of hotel visitors and locals alike, and the view only adds to the experience. Entrees start at $20 (for mozzarella chicken wrapped in Kentucky country ham with a redeye gravy demiglace) and rise to $34 (for a grilled 7-ounce black angus filet with fresh potato gnocchi and roma tomato confit with a sage beurre blanc), which is toward the top range by Louisville standards. But that’s in line with the city’s top tables, where Rivue is destined to reside. —PMH
Soups and salads and a short “bar menu” of tapas are generally under $10, and most appetizers in the lower teens, affording more options for thrifty diners. The wine list needs work. Based primarily on mass-market and industrial brands at shocking markups, plus a few high-end “name” wines for high rollers, it lacks the level of sophistication that Rivue’s food and mood otherwise suggest. We hope management will take a second look at this as Rivue gets its feet on the ground. —RG
The Galt House
140 N. Fourth St.
Caffe Classico adds pizza
Hot on the heels of last week’s survey of thin-crust, authentic Neapolitan-style pizza, I was absolutely delighted to learn — just hours past LEO’s press time — that the lovably sophisticated Caffe Classico in Clifton has added thin-crust pizza as part of a move to beef up its food offerings and expand its dinner menu.
I tried a margherita pizza, the simple, basic Neapolitan pizza with thin-sliced roma tomatoes, molten cheese and strips of fresh basil making a pie in the bright red, white and green colors of the Italian flag, and a grilled eggplant pizza, and came away smitten.
Owner Tommie Mudd says he got the recipes from a Bosnian friend, an ethnic connection that’s not as strange as it seems, since the small countries of the former Yugoslavia, which lie just across the Adriatic from Italy and make contact near the lovable city of Trieste, make some of the best pizza I’ve encountered.
Caffe Classico’s version is clearly Italian in style, with quality toppings in appropriate amounts atop a crisp, toasty crust as thin as The Courier-Journal on a slow news day but much more appetizing. The two pizzas mentioned (both $9) will be joined next week by a pizza alla Bobo with pepperoni, cheese and other meats. I can’t wait.
2144 Frankfort Ave.
Contact Robin Garr at