Oh, hello! I didn’t see you there. Please, come in.
Here, have a seat on my chaise lounge in the holiday parlour. Why, I was just enjoying a dram from my private collection over by the hearth of the fire, a little Christmas oratorio on the phonograph, polishing off exquisite sous vide-prepared, fennel-scented Cornish hens. Oh, friend, I saved you a poached pair, I trust you’ll pick up on the cardamom notes in the glaze. I am so excited to welcome you into my food writer chambers, where I hunch over my Remington tirelessly into the twilight, inscribing prose on the marvelous suppers throughout our fair land. As I am wont to do during this season merry and bright, I delight to survey my prodigious notes over the year… all the exciting dispatches and — my word — controversies, within the hallowed halls of our resplendent town’s most celebrated luncheonettes, bistros, estaminets and hideaways.
Ah, dear cohort, you have traveled far though. Please let me heat you up a cup of small batch, artisanal, humanely-foraged, locally-sourced cocoa in my upcycled, hand-thrown ceramic kettle and while I open up my tome and take you on a journey down memory lane this year though this quaint alt-weekly food column known to the town criers as Welp.
Best New Opening: Panchitos in the Highlands
Panchitos began life as a Mexican ice cream joint on Preston Highway, Louisville’s South End El Dorado for appetite-whetting international cuisine. It has expanded its operations closer to the urban core with a satellite location near Douglass Loop, in the old Bahn Mi Hero building at 2245 Bardstown Road, that includes a beefing up of the concept. Panchitos is now a full taqueria with all the requisite favorites like al pastor and chorizo, coupled with the storied helado and paleta that saw long lines outside at their original creamery. Folks, it gives me pause to publicize this, as I don’t want all the cretins and knuckle-draggers who read LEO to overcrowd my favorite new spot: Panchitos serves you three tacos, beverage (your choice of in-house agua fresca or classic Mexica sodas), and an ice cream scoop for $10. Ten dollars. That’s as many as 10 ones. Given the insanity of the deal, the quality of the tacos and ice cream (best in town, with apologies to Comfy Cow) and the friendliness of the service, I always feel compelled to throw considerable extra cash in the tip jar because it’s simply the best meal in town at an unfathomably good value. Chances are this deal is a special introductory rate, so bop down there soon. I recommend the carne asada tacos and the horchata helado. Both are absolutely exemplary.
Best Discovery: Nano’s Sauce at Gucci Kroger
The legendary South Africa-based Portuguese chicken chain, known for slathering wings and thighs in its signature spicy, tangy Bird’s Eye chili sauce, only recently made it to the states, and unfortunately, won’t be found anywhere here within a 300-mile radius. And yet, Gucci Kroger (291 Hubbards Lane in St. Matthews) has blessed us with multiple varieties of the orange gold. Mild, Hot, Garlic — it matters not which flavor, only that you grab a few, because you’ll want to drown your grilled yield in the good good. And maybe if y’all buy Nando’s in bulk, Kroger will keep it in stock for your boy over here, because I sure don’t need inflated import tariffs on my beloved nectar from online retailers to contribute toward my already pervasive, ingrained SAD.
Most Woke Mission Statement: Butchertown Pizza Hall
Perhaps it’s sad that in 2017 that a business must overtly display at the entrance that all are welcome. But given that 2017 also witnessed Nazis carrying shitty, Home Depot tiki torches because all the sudden racists care about lackluster public art erected during Jim Crow, while greasy, smooth-brained GOP dipshits crafted clandestine legislation at every turn aiming to kill the poor, it might be warranted. So bravo, Butchertown Pizza Hall, for wearing your values on your front door. Pizza’s real good too.
Best Pop-Up: Miracle on Market
Christmas can be corny. Adding a little subversiveness in concert with a yuletide overload of Santa, Frosty, dreidel games, classic movies, twinkling lights and candles housed in glasses etched with two elk fucking, can prove both festive and hilarious. Enter Miracle on Market, RYE’s advent acid trip pop-up (part of a network of 50 worldwide) in the gallery of Nulu’s Green Building at 732 East Market that takes holiday overload to its extreme — a self-aware milieu saturated with Christmas tackiness. Don’t forget the Hanukkah corner, of course, and sweet, boozy cocktails such as the How the Gimlet Stole Christmas and the Yippie Ki Yay, Motherfucker, a tart rum concoction served in a Santa pants mug with fresh mint and sugar. Miracle is best enjoyed on a weeknight for a cozy, and relatively brain-melting experience. Open nightly after 5 p.m. from now until Christmas Eve.
Best Cultural Shift: The absolution of Guy Fieri
Last September, LEO published Welp’s 3,200 word — and, worth mentioning — award-winning screed as the ultimate defense and praise of Guy Fieri, presumably our nation’s least #problematic celebrity. Provided my man does not have some sexual misconduct skeletons in Flavortown’s closet, of course. Citing the significant economic impact of “Diners, Dives, and Drive-Ins” on small businesses, his celebration of lunch pail chic as the everyman gourmand, and that his critics are simply in denial of Guy Fieri as a mirror of their own shitty gluttonous palate, I wrote: “Is Guy Fieri’s distinct brand highly memeable? Indeed. Is PacSun’s walking incarnate packed with the gingerly excitability of a golden retriever worthy of satire? You bet. But does this celebrity chef’s persona and success truly warrant grown-ass adults who pay taxes and mortgages to get mad online? Absolutely not.”
Salon quoted the piece in their feature “The Fieri-ssance is Here.” And before you know it, The Onion AV Club is writing their own thesis, comedian Shane Torres is doing his Guy-Fieri-is-actually-good bit on Conan and Comedy Central, and news networks are applauding Guy’s marathon barbecue feeding first responders battling California wildfires. I’m not gonna suggest that a wacky food column in a secondary market’s alt-weekly set a trend here. That would be cocky. But maybe, perhaps, Welp knows a thing or two about a thing or two.
Smartest Local Food Writing: Courier-Journal’s Correction
Courier Journal, the city’s paper of record, issued a correction in July for incorrectly referring to hot dogs as sandwiches between 1887 and 1966. “Among those errors were references to a frankfurter sausage sandwich, frankfurter sandwich, coney island sandwich, frankfurter sandwich with mustard, and, the most egregious, a frankfurter sandwich with catchup,” the paper wrote. “We deeply regret the errors, especially that last one.”
Regardless of your feeling on the hot dog vs sandwich matrix, a paper taking a bold stance on a hot button issue outside political endorsement deserves our applause. The fourth estate remains healthier than ever, regardless of the attacks from our thick, wet president who yells at the TV while gnawing catchup-slathered leather beef.
Dumbest Local Food Writing: Food & Wine Magazine on Morels
In February, Insider Louisville wrote a blurb about the opening of Morels Cafe, Stanley Chase’s vegan comfort food concept that fills a much-needed niche. Ron Mikulak, the editor of Food & Dining Magazine — a very serious and rad and cool publication that unironically tosses ‘foodie’ around in its pages while covering the same handful of boring white people restaurants helmed by arms-crossed tattooed chefs — got extremely mad online about the new joint and posted a fuckin’ 95 Theses in the comments section. And then our dude wrote up a breaking news piece on his own media property, but without the sass and in a totally neutral tone. As the header image, he included a stock image of asparagus couscous — an item that extremely doesn’t exist at Morels. If you needed proof that food writers don’t have scruples, only a bloodlust for clicks, the proof is in the vegan pudding. “I remain bemused by a vegan café that touts all sorts of products, but does not mention vegetables,” a comment from the magazine’s Facebook page left on Welp’s post. I remain bemused by the fact that a food critic can’t recognize those places already exist, and a enterprising chef developed an exciting concept new to the scene. That the house is packed during most lunch rushes proves both smart execution and market support. The comment was the equivalent of “Old Man Yells at Cloud,” and the editorial about-face was comically insincere. Food writers can go pound sand.
Food Movement That’s Over: Nashville Hot Chicken
I love hot chicken. In fact, I won a year’s worth for free in 2015 as one of Joella’s first customers. For me, always the tendies, spice level Fire-in-da-Hole (I wonder if the brass at Joella’s ever caught the double entendre), with mac and cheese and kale salad. The meal was Prince’s and Hattie B’s proper — served in a basket on white bread with a pickle. It was fun when Louisville saw other hot chicken joints pop up shortly after, such as Royal’s who nailed the extraordinary, hallucination-inducing Gonzo spice breading.
Fast forward to today. KFC co-opted the Nashville delicacy, a dish born as as a punishment from a woman to her adulterating husband. White Castle shortly thereafter introduced their slider version of hot chicken — with fried pickles, mind you. It’s not fun anymore. The dream has become a nightmare. Hot chicken is already an assault to your digestive systems, lest you add the dicey gastronomic qualities of White Castle to the mix. Thoughts and prayers for your butthole, brother.
It’s over. If you’re opening up a new concept around hot chicken, put the kibosh on it. The Colonel’s 11 herbs done steamrolled you.
Specific to this market, barbecue reigns as the close second. Barbecue is great, of course. We have so many phenomenal options. We just don’t need more of it. We good. Don’t open any more.
Food Movement That’s Just Begun: Soup!
Since 2016, Louisville has welcomed Pho Baa Luu, Mirin, Chick’n Mi, Pho Cafe, Ngon Apetiti, and more to its already impressive portfolio of savory broth grub such as La Que, Vietnam Kitchen, Lydia House and others. Soup fuckin’ rips. Some folks feel like soup can’t be a meal on its own. These people — these disingenuous, fiendish scalawags — are wrong. They are not your friends. Ramen, pho, udon, chowder, chili — if it passes up bread in favor of a salty and satisfying bouillon then I am here for it. Soup actually owns. Who’s gonna be the first entrepreneurial spirit to open Louisville’s first authentic borscht spot?
Best Dining Event: WorldFest
Walking onto the Belvedere on Labor Day weekend every year gives me a sort of anxiety because I don’t even know where to start. Kebab? Arepas? Yassa? So that I may never grapple with the dreaded “food remorse” — the enveloping disappointment one feels that maybe you could’ve ordered something better, a sort of gourmand’s FOMO — I start the day with a lengthy jog or hike so that my body, which is my temple, is jonesin’ for calories. And then I eat everything like a disgusting human being. Of course, you don’t need to walk around with three different types of chicken-on-a-stick like me to enjoy the wonder and discovery of Worldfest, a three-day celebration of our region’s diversity. Music, drink, crafts, and food representing six of the seven continents are present. Many of our city’s finest hidden gems are, well, hidden — in strip malls, off beaten paths, lacking proper signage or editorial ink — and WorldFest is a great way to find your new favorite, unique spot.
Best Thing Millennials Killed in 2017 Other Than the Patriarchy: Shitty Chains
“Millennials are killing chains like Buffalo Wild Wings and Applebee’s,” according to a Business Insider feature in June. Good. Fuck ‘em. Brands such as TGI Fridays, Ruby Tuesday and the like have faced sales slumps and closures from declining sales, and B Dubs CEO Sally Smith posits that the craven, wretched generation with their retweets and Tamagotchis and avocado toast and delicious student debt are to blame. ”Millennial consumers are more attracted than their elders to cooking at home, ordering delivery from restaurants, and eating quickly, in fast-casual or quick-serve restaurants,” Smith wrote. Counterpoint: sales at these restaurants dwindled because perhaps they suck. While millennials are an easy flashpoint of blame for every corner of the private sector — to their credit, the same outlet in a self-aware fashion listed everything millennials killed in 2017 — if we must do the heavy lifting to reject the numbskullery of putrid casual chain gruel and demand that businesses stop phoning it in, so be it.
*Closes comically large leather-bound hardcover, gold lief-lettered book* ah, I love the lignin-scented aroma of a fine tactile wood-paper memoir, another brilliant, marvelous year in the books. I see you have finished all the cranberry cognac trifle, nary a wisp of crumb. Outstanding! May I send you along with some of the remaining duck leg confit, your travels arduous and interminable, before our extinguish the candleight? In the words of the bard Béranger, adieu ’tis love’s last greeting, the parting hour is come, and fast thy soul is fleeting to seek its starry home! I must express the sincerest gratitude for your visit to my quarters, and if I may, respectfully ask upon your return to please logon to The Facebook, search Welp Louisville, and smash that “like” button.
Happy new year!