When you think about a place named The Fat Lamb, if you think about it at all, you would probably imagine a temple of carnivorous delights.
And just as you would expect, Louisville’s new Fat Lamb offers some of Chef Dallas McGarity’s appealing takes on lamb, pig, cow, chicken, a bulging net full of seafood and fish. What’s more, there’s a similarly-delicious cornucopia of healthy veggies.
This comes as no surprise for anyone who’s followed McGarity’s local career. He is known as a quiet and unassuming guy, without the overabundance of ego that attends some top chefs. But he’s certainly earned bragging rights with repeated trips to James Beard House in New York City. Now, he has moved from running kitchens for other owners to managing his own shop, and it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if the folks at Beard House reach out to him again.
Fat Lamb recently succeeded Fontleroy’s, stepping into its strip-center space without many changes, and there are some issues with that, as Fontleroy’s was renovated in a style more glitzy than user-friendly. Walls of bright, white subway tile, floor-to-ceiling window walls, hard, undraped tables and tile floors make for a noisy environment; stylish but uncomfortable metal chairs and retro-look dangling light bulbs cast eerie moving shadows.
McGarity told me on Facebook that they intend to make the place more comfortable over time, but his prudent plan is to take step by careful step as the restaurant grows. They have “a ton of issues to fix,” he wrote, “but I think we have done a tremendous job so far and we will continue to work towards it.”
Meanwhile, at Fat Lamb they are graciously-responsive and will eagerly accommodate requests for a table in a quieter corner or with better lighting: just ask. And you can count on the excellent food and drink to get you in a good mood.
The drinks program is short but well-chosen lists of craft beers, interesting wines and house cocktails. A “Thief in the night” cocktail ($11), blending mezcal, yellow chartreuse, habanero-laced honey, grapefruit and bitters, was a bit aromatically aggressive for my tastes, but a tall Campari and soda over ice ($8) made a palate-cleansing follow-up to go with the meal.
The menu isn’t overly long, and it changes frequently to match the seasons, but you can count on creative variety with inventive flavor combinations. Currently, a dozen starters and salads range in price from $3 (for warm bread) to $12 (for several choices). A dozen main courses — three marked as vegetarian and five gluten-free — range from $16 (for a Kentucky Black Hawk Farms double cheeseburger) to $29 (for a seared New York strip or seared scallops). A four-course chef’s tasting menu is $45 per person, plus $26 for the optional wine or cocktail pairing; the entire table must buy in for this option.
Lamb meatballs ($12) made a fine starter. Two fat spheres of mild-flavored New Zealand lamb the size of tangerines were very finely chopped almost into a paté — something like gyros meat — making for a firm, dense meatball. They were topped with a snow-white blanket of tzatziki sauce loaded with earthy feta cheese.
I used to hate brussels sprouts, until I was converted by the Korean-style roasted sprouts at Rye on Market a few years back. Now, I’ve found another triumphant take on this much-despised miniature cabbage: Fat Lamb’s roasted brussels sprouts and red cabbage ($12) are a game-changer. Roasted until caramelization had done its delicious work, these sweet, tender halved sprouts and tender strips of red cabbage were slathered with sweet-hot chili glaze and finished with crunchy chopped almonds.
Lemon-and-paprika fried chicken thigh ($21) looked appetizing on the menu, but sadly turned out to be our one dish that missed the mark. Tart, sour lemon meeting surprisingly bitter smoked paprika just didn’t make a happy marriage in a thick breading, and the combined flavors were so strong that they overpowered the very mild chicken meat. Creamy mashed potatoes with roasted red peppers and tender, savory red cabbage made palatable sides.
Chickpea fritters ($18), one of the meat-free mains, brought us back to a culinary happy place, though. Three golf-ball-size golden-brown spheres, like large falafels, were tender and savory, with a deep hummus-like flavor. Perched on a silken bed of roasted red-pepper mashed potatoes and topped with creamed spinach, they were exotic comfort food, and thick strips of tzatziki sprinkled with smoky Persian sumac made an appealing dip. If I had three thumbs, I’d give it three thumbs up.
Creamy rounds of airy Nutella and mascarpone mousse ($9) made a fine finish, plated with scoops of whipped cream on a schmear of additional Nutella and dressed with strawberry quarters and crisp, sweet candied walnuts.
Fat Lamb gives us good eats, but they are not cheap eats. With dark and very, very strong coffee ($3 each) to finish, a filling dinner for two came to $103.88, with a $25 tip for Kelly, our casually friendly yet careful and professional server.