Louisville Food Favorites That You Can’t Go Wrong With

Looking for a nice, casual place where we could settle in with our laptops and get some work done over lunch, my friends Amy and Susan and I found our way to Heart and Soy.

I was expecting good cheap eats. I was delighted to find something more: A hearty, delicious dish that tickled my taste buds with memories of times past. Quang’s traditional yellow noodles ($11.50). 

Why the nostalgia? This Vietnamese-flavor dish can stand on its own as a meal-in-a-bowl worth celebrating. Served in a large metal bowl,  it assembles a wealth of appealing colors and tempting flavors. At the bottom it gently rests on a bed of crisp fresh lettuce – you could even call it a salad, but that would be seriously misleading. “Noodle bowl” might be a better description, as the next layer is a pile of golden-yellow, turmeric-scented Southeast Asian rice noodles.

But wait, as the saying goes: There’s more! Crisp, chewy pressed and fried tofu — Heart & Soy makes its own in a shiny machine on the premises — crunchy squares of rice cracker, shredded carrots and bean sprouts, plenty of chopped peanuts (which can be left off on request), and a tub of soy-scented, umami-rich Vietnamese sauce to be used as dressing. Stir it all together, dig in and you won’t be sorry.

But here’s the thing: Not only is this a tasty treat if you’re just now discovering it, but come back to it as an old favorite and it will warm your heart as it does mine. This dish, you see, has been a favorite at Heart and Soy — and at its predecessor, Zen Garden on Frankfort Avenue — ever since Zen Garden opened around the turn of the turn of the millennium.

There’s something especially heart-warming, and tummy-warming too, about a dish that you’ve enjoyed many times over the years and still smile when it turns up on your plate. 

Quang’s traditional yellow noodles is one of those dishes and we celebrate it today. Let’s talk about a few more old favorites that have stood the test of time.

One such specialty, although to be honest I haven’t enjoyed it for many years, is the decadent dessert item mocha dacquoise, which was a favorite at 610 Magnolia back in the 1980s and has since turned up at other local high-end eateries including Cafe Metro (R.I.P.) and Buck’s Restaurant & Bar in Old Louisville, where it’s still on the menu at $12.

Created originally by Gerard Hampton, who started as a busser and dishwasher at 610 but rose to pastry chef thanks to his skills and later took it with him to other local dining rooms, mocha dacquoise has become a Louisville standard. The description on Buck’s menu gives us the basics, but only a taste will properly introduce it. “Mocha butter cream and Chantilly rum crème layered between baked almond meringue, dusted with powdered sugar and drizzled with chocolate.” Yum!

No survey of this type would be complete without a song of praise for the menu item codes as K8 (or its vegetarian sibling, VK8) at Vietnam Kitchen. One of the restaurant’s spicier dishes (although you can request the heat level you like), it falls in the “stir-fried noodles” menu category, but its comforting soft, white, spaghetti-like rice noodles are just the beginning. They’re joined with a contrasting portion of crisp bean sprouts to offer a crunchy contrast. The noodles and sprouts are bathed in thick, savory-spicy brown saté sauce scented with lemongrass and topped with broccoli florets and chopped peanuts. The $14.95 dish is finished with your choice of bite-size bits of beef, chicken, or pork or tender cubes of tofu.

Louisville loves its fried cod sandwiches, and you don’t have to wait for Lent to enjoy them. Dozens of shops around town offer this favorite, and you’ve probably got your own go-to spot. We’re going to miss the memorable sandwich at Sal’s Pizza Pub when it closes next month, and the pandemic and supply chain issues have been rough on Moby Dick, which has seen a few of the local chain’s properties close and others falter recently in quality and service. But plenty of excellent options remain, and in my view it’s hard to beat The Fishery, where, on my last visit, the 10-ounce fried Icelandic cod platter brought three hulking fillets, white, flaky and mild, perfectly fried with cornmeal breading. 

Meanwhile, Louisville may remain short on traditional, old-school New York City-style delis, but, for quite a few years, we’ve had the pleasure of Stevens  & Stevens, which I like to describe as a New York-style deli with a distinct Louisville accent. Its extensive menu features more than 60 deli sandwiches, many of them named after New York and Hollywood celebs. You can certainly get your Gotham on with corned beef, pastrami or go the fusion route with novelties like the New York-Vietnam fusion pastrami banh mi!  I’m a fan of the Woody Allen, a classic smoky, peppery beef pastrami sandwich piled high on rye. It was estimable pastrami, good enough to take my memory back to the Lower East Side or maybe Queens, and good enough to go back and enjoy time and again. Which has kind of been the point of today’s journey.


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About the Author

Storyteller and seeker. Writer, editor, recovering metro journalist; playwright, poet, once a classical DJ. Hard-core food-and-drink geek, serious home cook. Seminary grad, part-time Episcopal preacher. Did I say eclectic? Deeply rooted Louisville native who’s lived in NYC, LA and the Bay Area; political junkie and unapologetic leftie. Covering the Louisville dining scene in print media since the 1980s, and doing it online since 1994.

@RobinGarr

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