As a lifelong consumer of healthy, delicious cuisine, or even vegan and vegetarian “junk food,” if you will, I’ve forever been hunting for the perfect collision of natural nourishment and a thoughtful bar program under one roof.
While restaurant proprietors in other, larger cities have delightfully paired booze with health, it seems as though Louisville restaurateurs often leave the spirits side of things out of vegan, vegetarian or simply healthy, sustainable concepts. I cannot be alone when I say that, after a certain hour, I need something a little stronger than Yerba Mate, friends. This is why I could hardly contain my elation when I heard that Naïve, a pop-up concept predominantly slinging irresistible breakfast bowls, fresh-pressed juices and beyond at our local farmer’s markets (in addition to catering, boxed lunches and more) had officially opened its doors to a new world of buzzy, healthy and nutrient-packed delights in Butchertown. Little did I know, it had always been the intent of married twosome Catherine Mac Dowall and Michael Kerrigan to open a brick-and-mortar location and create an entire restaurant ethos that promotes healthy and sustainable living for all walks of life — including those of us who like to belly up to the bar.
My partner, Jamie, and I meandered into the Washington Street eatery on opening night, surveying the plethora of seating options — from high-backed booths with geometric tables to plush couches and a sparkly, granite, moon-shaped bar hugging a glowing, electric “cocktails” sign. (Should I ask you to guess where we chose to sit?) The clean and modern décor at Naïve is inviting, with a sustainable, earthy vibe woven into subtle details, including composting bins, as well as billowing vines that are perched atop stacks of glistening bar glasses. Patrons can choose fast-casual counter service or bar dining, which seems to embody the “food at your own pace” concept that Mac Dowall described later: “We want you to be able to create your own dining experience.” She explained that such an experience can range from the quick coffee to go to a four-course meal, complete with libations.
Speaking of libations, the slew of adventurous, healthy cocktails on Naïve’s menu are packed with vibrant colors and flavor, a labor of love through lots of experimentation and creativity by Mac Dowall and Naïve’s bar manager, Nicole Stipp. With a focus on quality ingredients and house-juiced fruits and veggies, all of Naïve’s spirits, wines and beers must fall into one of three categories to make it on the menu, “organic, biodynamic, or practicing sustainable farming,” said Mac Dowall, adding that they refuse to sacrifice flavor in order to meet these qualifiers. “We don’t just want to put an organic label on something, we want to go toe-to-toe with any (product’s) flavor profile.”
Among the creations Jamie and I sampled were the Sexy Elvis (peanut butter-washed bourbon, cherry syrup, honey syrup, orange bitters and a blackberry jam floater), the Kombucha Drank (Prairie Gin, honey syrup, lavender lemonade kombucha) and the Cobbler Punch (Prairie Vodka, cherry syrup, lime juice and coconut water). I should add that upon asking for the Cobbler Punch, Stipp used some sort of metal concoction to break open an actual coconut, mixed the cocktail and poured it back into the palm drupe and served it to me with a spoon, so that I could eat the young coconut meat, of course. I felt like I was back in Thailand sitting at a barstool in Butchertown, y’all… and that’s no easy feat.
You may wonder about the peanut butter-washed concoction mentioned above, or you may have heard of fat-washing spirits and be clamoring to taste Naïve’s version. Fat-washing is a clever mixology technique that adds savory notes to a spirit of one’s choosing by adding an ingredient to a spirit, chilling it for hours and then scooping off the solid bit. Bars across the nation have infused cocktails with duck fat, bacon, sesame oil and more. It is truly delicious. But, Mac Dowall said, “It’s actually really unhealthy.” So, she said, they began wondering, “how can we make fat-washing bourbon healthy?” Thus, they used our favorite nut butter and created a boozy PB&J to the delights of my taste buds, and surely yours, too.
Louisville, there is a corner kitchen and bar at the intersection of Washington and Wenzel streets that houses all you need to quench your thirst with beet juice margaritas and even fill your nutrient-deprived bellies with Superfood Nachos. A healthy bar option in Derby City, so we can come for the goods and stay for the nourishment.