2015 Summer Dining Guide: Our favorite local appetizers, pizzas, dessert cocktails, donuts and more

Jun 10, 2015 at 4:33 pm
2015 Summer Dining Guide: Our favorite local appetizers, pizzas, dessert cocktails, donuts and more

Nine local appetizers that will make you make orgasm noises

By Kevin Gibson

The appetizer is an odd thing; it’s something you eat to make you hungry enough to eat something else. I get it, because it stimulates the appetite, but what happens if the appetizer is better than the meal? I’ll tell you what happens: You wonder why you didn’t just get four or five of those damn appetizers and skip the “meal” altogether. This is a kind of food that I often refer to as a “mouth-gasm,” something so delicious that you are momentarily startled, with an accompanying dopamine rush. Then you relax and feel a warm sensation, followed by a realization that you may have moaned gently as you chewed and that people are now staring at you. Yeah, so here are my top nine of those.

Back Burner Bombers, The Back Door — People rave about the green chili wontons at The Bristol, and I understand why, but these boys are spicier and, for my money, tastier (it’s the jalapenos). Get them with a side of avocado and you won’t want to share the experience with anyone else. (In other words, your mouth will want to touch itself.)

Cheese Boulders, Buckheads Mountain Grill — They’re boulders. Of cheese. Fried. I usually snub fried cheese, but these? Oh my. Four cheeses and marinara, and there’s some sort of special seasoning in there too. Hell, you don’t even need the dipping sauce — just eat ’em naked. (The boulders, not you.)

Bacon Sampler, Ann Marie’s Bacon Bar — I started drooling just by typing the word “bacon.” But this appetizer is more than a bacon-and-something nod to America’s favorite cured meat — it’s just bacon. Four different kinds — turkey, duck, beef and house-smoked traditional — will grace your mouth and make you wonder why you ever had that awkward fling with broccoli in the first place.

Bone Luge, Winston’s — Yes, bone luge. Actually, the dish is called “Poached Egg with Pea Puree Toast and Bone Luge with Sherry Broth Back.” I chose it for this list in part because the phrase “bone luge” itself is innuendo, but also because the bone luge part is delicious. You literally suck marrow from an ox tail bone, then you put the bone in your mouth and pour the broth down the center like a shot. All together now: “That’s what she said.”

Oyster on the Halfshell, Roux — There are several great places around town to get oysters on the halfshell, but I like Roux because they’re classic Gulf oysters and they’re affordable — which is why I stuffed 24 of them into my face recently. (Insert your own joke about oysters being an aphrodisiac.)

Wasabi Salsa, Dragon King’s Daughter — Sort of like Mexican salsa, but with diced tomato, avocado, mango, jalapeno, red onion, garlic, cilantro, wasabi and lime juice, served with crispy wonton chips. Every so often, you get a bite so spicy that it kicks in the endorphins and makes you glad all over. Get it with red tuna or salmon sashimi mixed in, and you’ll melt away.

Hand Breaded Asparagus, Clucker’s — Just what it sounds like, these asparagus spears are coated in what tastes like fried chicken breading and served topped with Parmesan cheese shreds and a slightly spicy aioli that you’ll want to bathe in. Tantalizing, tasty and almost healthy. Sort of. (Makes your pee smell, too, which is sort of kinky.)

Smoked Wings, Barret Bar — Wait, Barret Bar has food? Yeah, good food. Smoky good. I am addicted to the wings, which come in three main flavors: Buffalo, mango habanero and dry-rub. I like the Buffalo best, except when I’m eating the mango habanero. Or the dry-rub. Don’t be afraid to put the meat way down in your mouth, and then provocatively lick your fingers. Sicko.

Beef Jerky, Against the Grain Brewery & Smokehouse — This isn’t the dried-out stuff you’re thnking of. This is honest-to-god strips of flat iron steak. Chewy, but not tough. Actually, very tender with a hint of spiciness. Like the perfect lover. Good god, I’m hungry. Can I stop now, please?

Eight Louisville pizzas that will make your soul and tummy smile

By Robin Garr

Ahh, pizza! Some people say that Louisville has too many pizzerias already. I say that those people have a hard, shrunken little stone where their heart is supposed to be. Here’s my list of favorites. I crowd-sourced it with friends on HotBytes and Facebook for a reality check, but ultimately the decisions are my own: Ten Louisville pizzas that will make your soul and tummy smile.

The Post — New owners nicely renovated the old VFW Post 3593 in Germantown, and now you don’t have to be a veteran to check in. Veterans are certainly welcome, though! Vets and civvies alike can enjoy some of the city’s best pie, oversized and foldable, New York City style.

Loui Loui’s Authentic Detroit Style Pizza — Yes, it’s a chain. But it acts like a local with quality fare and a one-of-a-kind setting in the former Ferd Grisanti quarters in Jeffersontown. Detroit-style pizza is one-of-a-kind in Louisville, too, built on a medium-thick, buttery crust baked in square pans that resemble auto-factory parts pans.

Cafe Lou Lou — Now in St. Matthews and Highlands locations, this amiable mashup of Louisiana and Mediterranean fare has become a local favorite. With all its diversity, don’t overlook the pizzas, built on high quality dough that has clearly known a baker’s love.

Impellizzeri’s — Frankly, the classic “Louisville pie,” moderately thin crust piled high with loads of toppings and plenty of cheese, could lead us to Clifton’s, Wick’s or Impellizzeri’s. The “Big I” is on a roll lately, though, so let’s hold up their pie ... even if it takes two strong arms to do that.

Garage Bar — When this hugely popular NuLu spot opened, I didn’t think it was a pizzeria. Too much other great stuff! But its creative, artisanal wood-fired pies are so good that everyone calls it a pizza place now. Even management has faced the inevitable, declaring, “Pizza is at the heart of the offerings.”

Boombozz — A Louisville pizza landmark since 1998, Boombozz’ shops have become a reliable go-to for dine-in or delivery. The mini-chain’s creator, Tony Palombino, can show you a wall full of international awards for his iconic pies and creative variations.

Caffe Classico — Many people don’t know that this comfortable Clifton bistro-and-coffee shop even makes pizza. Those people are in for a happy surprise: These crisp, thin-crust pizzas are outstanding; the margherita is Louisville’s closest match to my happy memories of pizza in Italy.

Coals Artisan Pizza — By a thumping majority, my crowd-sourcing Internet poll celebrated Coals as Louisville’s best. Nobody was in second place. Skilled chefs, quality ingredients, and a coal-burning pizza oven that burns at 1,000 F., hot enough to turn a pizza searing golden brown in four minutes. What’s not to like?

Seven dishes to eat at Vietnam Kitchen before you die

by Jim Welp

Vietnam Kitchen (5339 Mitscher Ave., Iroquois Manor) is a veritable institution in Louisville, but its long menu reads like a code and is pretty overwhelming for diners who haven’t eaten there like once a week their entire lives. Here’s a cheat sheet.

A4. Goicuôn  rice paper rolls — Two steamed thin rice paper rolls filled with lettuce, bean sprout, vermicelli noodles, shrimp and pork, served with peanut sauce. Sometimes you want a light appetizer that you could eat while parasailing or robbing a bank. When you do, choose something else because you will want to give your full concentration to these delicious salad rolls.

A28. Turnip Cake — You know that time you stayed up all night and drank your last beer with drive-through hash browns from McDonald’s? If you thought that was good, this will blow your mind.

B5. Pho gà — Rice noodle soup with shredded chicken. The national dish of Vietnam, it’s a massive bowl of your darling, brilliant grandma’s chicken noodle soup, if your grandma was born on the Indochina Peninsula. Scientifically proven to cure any ailment.

J1. Bún bò Huê — Spicy northern style noodle soup with lemon grass, mint, pork hock, pork roll and beef. Bring some tissues to deal with the runny nose and tears of joy you’ll drip while you eat this fiery bowl of love.

D5. Mì Vit tiêm — Duck with egg noodle soup and Chinese herbs. Vietnam shares a border, a rich cultural legacy and the spectacular Ban Gioc Waterfall with China: just a little something to google on your phone so your companions know not to talk to you while you’re eating this dark, rich broth and tender duck.

N1. Cá bông lau kho tô — Boneless catfish simmered with fish sauce in a clay pot, served steamed rice, broccoli, cabbage and carrots. Like ph gà, this curative, slightly sweet dish is palatable to the most ambitious and most timid palate alike. Come for the catfish, stay for the fish sauce.

D4. Mì dac biêt  — Egg noodle soup with pork, shrimp, fish patty, squid and quail egg. Why have just one flavor in your mouth when you can have 29? When you bite into the quail egg you will think “bacon is now egg’s second most delicious sidekick.” Yes, I just said this soup is better than bacon.

Five dessert cocktails in Louisville better than actual dessert

by Kelsey Westbrook

A bourbon slushie from Feast BBQ — Since we’re in bourbon country, a neat pour of Evan Williams aged right on Main Street is always appropriate for dessert, but leave it to Feast BBQ to throw that sweet nectar in a slushie along with a myriad of flavors — I recommend the delectable Orange Dreamsicle option.

Chocolate Martini from Varanese — Ordinarily, I’d poke fun at anyone that orders a chocolate martini, but Varanese in Clifton strains their candy flavored imbibe into a sinfully delicious dessert cocktail — the perfect cure for a post-dinner and wine sweet tooth.

The Hemingway Daiquiri from El Camino — It’s particularly hard to find a properly made Hemingway Daiquiri anywhere outside of Key West, but somehow El Camino has perfected the art made with Flor de Cana four year rum, and sipping this sweet nectar amongst the ambiance of their sugar skulls and fire pits is always better than actual dessert.

The Jennifer Lawrence Champagne Flight from Louvino — A “well rounded, beautiful and bubbly” end to your evening, just like its’ namesake, this flight lets you sample Veuve de Vernay Brut, Anna de Codorniu Cava Rose, and Ruffino Prosecco. While some may start and not end their evenings with champs, I like a nice light not e to round out my meal from time to time.

The Port Sampler from Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse — If you’re out celebrating or splurging and find yourself at Ruth’s Chris, skip the crème brulee and indulge in the port wine sampler, accompanied with divine chocolate almond bark.  Shockingly enough, this dessert replacement is a mere $10.

Four donuts that will make your jaw drop and your arteries clog

by Robin Garr

Homer Simpson likes them. “Life is like a box of donuts. Mmm, Donuts!” So, according to verifiable legend, do police officers. Well, a lot of them, anyway. Show me a fat cop who hates to get out of his squad car, and I’ll show you a connoisseur of Krispy Kreme.

Many of Louisville’s old-line donut bakeries, including the late, lamented Ehrmann’s, carried the city’s German heritage downstream intact. Indeed, three of my favorites all boast German roots. The fourth and arguably the finest, Clifton’s, is named for its neighborhood and is run by a lovably friendly Cambodian couple, so go figure.

Bussman’s — Don’t “curb-appraise” this long-standing Clifton bakery. Its street view is, frankly, unimpressive, to the extent that I’m constantly running into people who assume it’s defunct. Not so! Nearly three dozen large, tender donuts compete for your attention here, not to mention cakes, pies and pastries. The simple classic glazed donut remains hard to beat, though.

Nord’s — On the edge of Germantown — cheek-by-jowl with Zanzabar, if that helps locate it — Nord’s current owners carry on the Nord family’s 80-year tradition. It’s all good, but the “crack sticks” — buttered, glazed stick donuts — earn their nickname the old-fashioned way. And then there is the bacon long john ...

Plehn’s — Coming up on its century mark in less than a decade, Plehn’s has been a St. Matthews landmark since Calvin Coolidge sat in the White House. I like to think that even old Silent Cal might have let out a whoop if he ever tasted one of Plehn’s large, tender chocolate donuts. Or an apple fritter. Or whatever they’ve got.

Clifton Donuts — A donut shop run by a Cambodian couple is not as strange as you might think: Following the French colonial history in Indo-China, plenty of Laos, Cambodians and Vietnamese mastered the secrets of French pastry. These donuts are a bit smaller than most, but quality and affordable price justifies indulging in two. Or three. This is donut perfection, each tasty bauble fried just right, lightly crisp exterior encasing featherlight dough. I love the chocolate donuts, especially the ones filled with cream cheese. Please, sir, may I have some more?

Three spots for ‘morning-after eggs’

Laura Snyder

“Morning-after eggs” are the eggs you go out for in order to (1) cure a hangover, (2) prolong a the kind of night you never want to end or (3) bring to closure the night that should never have been. In any of these situations, you’re a little emotional, so you need exactly the right vibe. Choose accordingly.

Eggs over Baxter — An urban diner (with full bar) meets your hip grandma’s kitchen. Left Hand Milk Stout with my hashbrown casserole and Grateful Dead on the stereo? You betcha. Fresh OJ in my mimosa, Nutella on my waffles and Panic on the stereo?  Uh-huh. Feelin’ better already just thinking about it.

Con Huevos — Bright and cheery with the eggs pastured and all things local. These friendly Clfiton folks are serving up huevos rancheros in intimate quarters with sauces and salsas (upon request) hot enough to make you cry or at least to mask the real reason for your about-last-night tears.

Wild Eggs — The standard-bearer for Louisville’s all-eggs, all-the time scene. It all started here, and no matter where you might find yourself in the morning (even if that’s Denver ...lucky!), there’s a Wild Eggs close enough to help you stick a fork in last night and move on. •