Louisville’s ‘Unique Eats’

Ever been to Shack in the Back BBQ? The little space in Fairdale is the result of years of hoping and dreaming by owners Mike and Barbara Sivells, who knew two decades ago they wanted to open a barbecue restaurant. Sometimes, life just gets in the way. Raising money isn’t easy to do. But they did it, and the results are delicious.

Another area favorite is Barry’s Cheesesteaks & More on Preston Highway. Maybe you’ve had the cheesesteak, which for my money is the best in the city, but do you know the back story? Do you know what brought Barry to Louisville to share his love of authentic Philadelphia food with us? Trust me, it’s about more than just sandwiches.

So many of these places I have written about over the years have little personal touches that often go unnoticed. During my restaurant journey, I ordered a cheeseburger with mustard from Christi’s Café. The mustard on the bun was applied in the shape of a smiley face. At Boomer’s Canteen, I was charmed by the story of a couple and their love for a dear, departed beagle.

And so many people I talk to don’t realize that Ollie’s Trolley, at Kentucky and Third streets, is still operating and serving those delicious Ollie Burgers and fries every weekday. And the lines are still long. That’s a story worth telling, especially since that is one of only two of those trolleys left in America. (And those fries!)

Dizzy Whizz has a love story behind it. Shirley Mae’s Café is not just about delicious food, but a unique mission. Plehn’s Bakery supplied much of the city with bread during the 1937 flood. With all the buzz about every new place that opens in Louisville, and all the attention our culinary scene gets around the region and the country, our city’s eateries run deeper than what’s hot and what’s new.

I started writing for LEO Weekly, back then also known as Louisville Eccentric Observer, sometime in the mid-1990s. My first byline, I believe, was a cover story about toy scalpers — people who scouted out retail stores, bought the most collectible items, and then resold them to desperate parents for a profit.

It wasn’t until the late 1990s that I wrote my first article about food, and I have no recollection what that piece was — no doubt just a review of a local restaurant that likely is long since gone. (I do recall writing about a place called Fusion in about 2001; that space is now Sergio’s World Beers.)

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Writing about food and beer has become a way of life for me, but I’m neither a chef nor a brewer. I’m simply someone who enjoys having an experience and then telling a story about it. I love to seek out under-the-radar restaurants, new or old, and then sharing what I find with others.

This love, and the years I’ve put into it, led to me write “Unique Eats & Eateries of Louisville,” which was released by Reedy Press back in the spring. Essentially, it’s a collection of short stories, histories and interviews about the restaurants, the food, the chefs and the restaurateurs of our city. Some of the places in the book you’ll know, while others you might not.

But the book is based on a simple belief I’ve developed over the years, having talked to so many of these people, watching places open and close, and generally observing what’s been going on for most of my adult life. That belief is that every restaurant is much more than just an establishment that sells food. While many might look at the opening of a new neighborhood restaurant as simply another place to grab a sandwich or a pizza, that restaurant represents the culmination of a dream for the restaurant owner.

It’s a subject I love writing and talking about, and it’s given me the opportunity to do just that on a regular basis. You can join me this Thursday, Aug. 30, at Old 502 Winery, for a laid-back discussion of some of these eateries, and again at the Flea Off Market on Sept. 22. Check out kevingibsonwriter.com for more details.

I’ll have books available, along with my forthcoming rerelease of “100 Things to do in Louisville Before You Die” and copies of my other books, but you can always find them at Carmichael’s Bookstore and other locations around town.

And here’s hoping I’m just getting started. I have a lot more stories to tell and, I hope, plenty more experiences on the way. I’m always hungry for more.

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