Sunday, January 24, 2010

Proof on Main

Proof on Main
702 West Main St.
Louisville, KY

Last January I’d booked a long weekend at the 21c, a 90-room boutique hotel and contemporary art museum in Louisville, as a birthday surprise for my husband. Bad weather forced us to cancel, and we didn’t find the time or opportunity to get there before another birthday rolled around – this time mine.

21c Hotel and Museum: just look for the signature red penguins!

Located in a former tobacco and bourbon warehouse, the hotel is not just home to a spectacular art museum, it also houses the award-winning restaurant Proof on Main, which I’d heard great things about and was really looking forward to visiting.

While Chef Michael Paley serves up unique meals featuring locally sourced items on an ever-changing menu, the artwork in the restaurant is more permanent. My eye was drawn to a mixed-media projection called “Tete-a-tete” by Zilla Leutenegger, which features a person sitting at a long table eating bowl after bowl of soup. It made me feel less gluttonous as I ate my way through the menu.

The elegant dining room also features paintings of past Derby winners

I started off with Woodland Farm peppers ($5) from their relishes list. This small dish featured plump, sweet sultana raisins, spicy watercress, and tangy goat cheese paired with a selection of roasted heirloom peppers. It was just okay. While I liked the accompanying players, the peppers were surprisingly tough and after ten minutes of sparring with them I gave up.

Next up was the Bunch Beet Salad ($9). I don't normally like beets, and only ordered it because it was the lone vegetarian item on an appetizer list that included chicken liver pate, yellowfin tuna, and griddled bottarga. I almost eschewed an appetizer altogether and am really glad that I didn't, because it has caused me to completely rethink beets. Consisting of sweet, baby striped bunch beets with pickled carrots, crunchy pistachios, watercress and goat cheese, this salad knocked my tastebuds into the stratosphere. Rarely am I at a loss for words, as I'm sure Steve would agree, but wow, this splendid marriage of flavors left me speechless. So good I nearly wept.

Bunch Beet Salad

I can't say as much for the Garganelli entrée ($18), which had too many different textures going on in the mouth. Consisting of penne pasta with sage, brown butter, walnuts and a few putty-like hunks of sweet potato, the dish was dry and rubbery, and the crunchy walnuts further detracted. Had I known how good that blessed bunch beet was going to be, I would have opted for the roasted beet risotto instead, which was the other vegetarian item on the entrée list.

Garganelli covered in shaved parmesan

Service at Proof on Main is second to none. Diners' needs are anticipated and taken care of with the friendly professionalism that one would expect from one of the nation's top-rated restaurants. Our server was knowledgeable on every aspect of the menu, was attentive without hovering, kept our champagne glasses filled and the breadcrumbs cleared, and made sure we had a very pleasurable dining experience.

Although the menu changes weekly, there are a few (non-veg) standards: bison marrow bones on the starters menu and Kentucky bison burgers on the entrée list, both courtesy of the Kentucky Bison Company in Goshen. Having never tried buffalo before, Steve was intrigued by the bison burger, which came topped with smoked bacon and Tillamook cheddar. He found the meat a bit too gamey for his liking and the charred bun was inedible. At $15 it was the least expensive entrée, but he wished he had shelled out another $10 and gotten the roasted Amish chicken instead.

Bison burger with burned bun

The dessert menu consisted of a selection of house-made sorbets and gelatos, and our awesome server brought out a trio of them in honor of my birthday.

A birthday treat of sorbet and gelato

Steve and I are big fans of contemporary art, especially Op-Art a la Bridget Riley, and we were more impressed with the quality of the works on display at 21c than we were with the Proof kitchen. One of our favorite pieces was the hotel-commissioned, site-specific exhibition called “Going Home,” which celebrates El Dia de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead).

Artwork is everywhere, even on the wall outside

This exhibit was inspired by the story of 14 Mexican immigrants who died while trying to cross the Arizona desert. Created by Mary Carothers’ students at the University of Louisville’s 2-D design class, the 10,000 hand-cut butterflies symbolize migration, while the traditional marigold flowers symbolize the path between the living and the dead.

Not your ordinary hotel/restaurant artwork

Exhibits we loved but that were too difficult to photograph included “Text Rain” by Camille Uterback and Romy Achituv. This interactive installation near the hotel elevators projects letters falling from the sky, and visitors are encouraged to become part of the exhibit. I LOVED it and had great fun slinging letters at a fellow waiting for the elevator. When he caught on to what I was doing he couldn't stop laughing.

Another permanent exhibition we liked was mounted to one of Proof's exposed brick walls. “Baker’s Apprentice” is a 3-D sculpture of a person struggling not to drop the armload of egg cartons she’s carrying.

21c has unique, eye-opening and provocative contemporary artwork from 21st century artists, the best bathrooms in the state of Kentucky (I won't ruin the surprise), and by far the most happening bar in town. I wanted to be as blown away by Proof on Main as I was by the hotel and museum, but I found the food hit or miss. I'm glad they have several vegetarian items to choose from, and their commitment to local farmers is commendable, it's just too bad that our entrées couldn't live up to the beauty of that simple salad.

Husband-and-wife owners Steve Wilson and Laura Lee Brown are bringing the 21c/Proof concept to Cincinnati by 2012, in the former Metropole Hotel. I'll be very interested to see how Cincinnatians deal with pieces like the full-frontal Jackie-O in 21c's lobby.

Proof on Main on Urbanspoon

Sunday, January 17, 2010


Sukhothai Thai Restaurant
Marketplace of Montgomery
8102 Market Place Lane

I have a friend who used to write a humorously scathing column about the area's restrooms, which appeared each week in the sadly defunct Everybody's News. Each time I happen across a truly wonderful or hideously awful facility, I think of her. She used to say "if the crapper's this bad, just think of what their kitchen must look like!"

Sukhothai Thai Restaurant

I shudder to think what Tina would have to say about Sukhothai Thai Restaurant. It looks as though it has seen better days: threadbare carpeting, collapsed ceiling tiles, dodgy lighting that flickered ominously, and worst of all, the most appallingly filthy bathrooms we've encountered in ages. The loo at Sukhothai was so abysmal that we really should have just walked out rather than eat there. Seriously.

Tempura veggies with spicy sweet dipping sauce

The food tasted ok, but portions were small for the price, and we couldn't shake the feeling that our food had been prepared in a kitchen that was probably as unclean as the bathrooms. It was enough to make us lose our appetites. Perhaps it was for the best that their portions were small afterall.

Thai spicy vegetable stirfry with tofu runs $10.95

All soups at Sukhothai are made with chicken stock and are to be avoided, but they do have dedicated vegetarian options on the menu and can make most of their items vegetarian - just ask them to eliminate the fish stock.

Steve's deluxe garlic stir fry with chicken was $12

The staff were friendly, but it felt as though there was an air of desperation about the restaurant. I know they must be struggling as much as the next place, but only those that make a concerted effort to provide a pleasant and cost-effective dining experience are going to survive this recession. I suspect Sukhothai will be a casualty.

Most restaurants offer mints or fortune cookies - Sukhothai gives out leftover Halloween candy

Sukhothai Thai Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Brothers Bar & Grill

Brothers Bar & Grill
1 Levee Way
Newport, KY

Having looked at their website beforehand, I should have known better than to even visit Brothers. From the photos on their site, it appears to be more of a bar than a grill. Secondly, they don't even bother to post their menu online - which in my book is a red flag. But I eschewed my trepidation and decided to stop in to the new Levee establishment one snowy day after work.

I wish I hadn't.


There is precious little for the vegetarian diner. We are stuck with a couple of overpriced appetizers (garlic parmesan fries, spinach/artichoke dip, nachos with dipping sauce) or a grilled cheese sandwich.

Steve and our friend Neville were already there with a basket of parmesan fries when I arrived, so I didn't get a photo of them, but they didn't look (or smell) very appetizing anyway, so no big loss.

Brothers' happy hour is from 4-7 p.m. Monday through Friday, with half-price drink specials. Neville and Steve opted for Jack & Coke's (only $2 each) and I ordered a Michelob Light...which even though it is on their menu they apparently do not stock, so Mich Ultra it was. At $1.75, it wasn't bad value. We nursed our drinks while playing trivia on the large, flat screen TVs.

Grilled cheese and fries

Booze and trivia are about the only things Brothers has going for it, to be perfectly honest. Strange as it may sound, the food had absolutely no taste whatsoever. My grilled cheese and fries were rubbery and flavorless, and although a large dose of salt and ketchup helped, I left most of it untouched. What a waste of eight bucks!

Chicken wrap with chips

Steve's chicken wrap fared no better, and the sizzling fajitas that Neville ordered were deemed "tasteless." In fact, the only item we ordered that had any flavor at all was the pico de gallo that came as a side with the fajita platter. The fresh cilantro was a relief after all the blandness we'd encountered.

A side of nachos comes with the fajita platter

If Brothers was a restaurant only, I doubt very much it would last through the end of the year. As a bar, however, and a non-smoking one at that, I think it has a shot at survival, although I doubt very much it's going to hurt the bottom line of Levee bars like Bar Louie and Jefferson Hall.

Brothers on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 6, 2010


Hoggy's BBQ
2807 Town Center Blvd.
Crestview Hills, KY

Ordinarily a restaurant with a name like "Hoggy's" would send me screaming in the opposite direction. Number one, it sounds fattening, and secondly you just know it's going to be pork overload. But I love my husband and think it is only fair to occasionally go to restaurants that he might enjoy, even if I suspect there isn't going to be much for me. I figure if he can "suffer" some of the "fru-fru" (his words) places that I drag him to, I can do the same at a restaurant that specializes in southern-style barbeque.


More to love...

As expected, there isn't a whole lot for the vegetarian diner at Hoggy's, but our friendly server steered me into the direction of “any three sides for $6.99” since they do not offer anything for vegetarians on the entrée menu. I can deal with that; it’s a small but adequate olive branch for the non-meat eater and at least it isn’t going to break the bank.

The Western decor includes these handpainted murals

They have plenty of sides to choose from too. Of the 15 side items on their current menu, only the baked beans, chili and green beans are no-no’s. The “safe” items include a couple of salads (tomato-cucumber or side salad), slaw, mac-n-cheese, grilled asparagus, potatoes (mashed, fried, baked), corn on the cob, and sweet potatoes.

If you visit during lunch, they offer two specials that vegetarian diners can enjoy: two sides and a salad, served with fresh-baked cornbread for $7.99, and a jumbo baked potato & house salad meal for $6.99. I didn't feel hungry enough to order either of those, so went for with 3 item deal and got mac-n-cheese, fries (moreso for Steve than myself) and coleslaw. It’s carb overload for sure, but everything was absolutely delicious.


Steve got the prime rib luncheon special

All in all, I am okay with Hoggy’s. I’m by no means their target demographic, but I didn’t feel left out like I have at other local ribs restaurants, and for that reason alone I am giving this small, Columbus-based chain a thumbs-up.

Hoggy's on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 1, 2010

Recipe: Vegan Curry

Recipe: Vegan Curry
Serves 6

1 rib celery, diced
1 Tbs olive oil
1 small green pepper, diced
2 carrots, finely chopped
1 onion, diced
3 tomatoes, skinned and diced or one (14 oz) can whole peeled tomatoes
1 Tbs lemon juice
1 apple
2 Tbs brown sugar
2 tsp turmeric
2 Tbs shredded coconut
1 Tbs curry powder
2 Tbs flour
10 oz. vegetable stock
2 Tbs sultanas/golden raisins
2 Tbs peanuts
salt and pepper to taste

This fantastic curry recipe was given to me by a neighbor when we still had our home in England. Her recipe used metric measurements rather than imperial, so over the years I have tweaked it to suit our American kitchen.

The Ingredient List

Add oil, pepper, carrots and celery into a large pot and saute for 5-10 minutes over medium-low heat, until celery and pepper are softened.

Stir in onions, apple, and tomatoes.

Add lemon juice, sugar, curry powder, turmeric and coconut. Mix well. Cover and cook for about ten minutes, stirring once halfway through cook time.

Stir in flour, hot stock, sultanas, and peanuts.

Mix well. Cover and allow to simmer for ten minutes. Taste and add salt and pepper if needed*

Serve with rice or naan bread.


*Note: If using McKay's hot stock, you will probably not need to add salt.