“The nest of goodness.” That catchphrase pretty sums up the warm, cozy feeling you get when you walk into Four Sisters, a cute little cafe that recently opened on Frankfort Avenue in the calm, bright space that formerly housed Zen Tea House.
The nest motif is emphasized by a flock of birdhouses (handmade by the four sisters who own the place) that hang on one wall. And a comfortable nest the place is, as well, with a variety of seating choices (including soft seating and pleasant outdoor spaces).
No sooner do you step into Four Sisters than you’re met with smiles and welcomes — and most of the time all four sisters are bustling to and fro, whipping up coffee drinks and making the sandwiches and crepes that comprise the menu.
These sisters are fairly new to Louisville; they made their way here because their family has friendly connections to CoCo Tran (who formerly owned Zen Garden and Zen Tea House and now focuses her attention on Roots and Heart & Soy).
And it’s worth noting this isn’t the first time Tran has encouraged young and promising restaurateurs to locate in Louisville. Her nephews Steven and Michael Ton are founders of Basa, Doc Crow’s and La Coop. Based on the number of meals served at restaurants with connections to Tran, you start thinking she’s a pretty formidable force for economic development in the area.
But getting back to the point: Here’s your field guide to the Four Sisters. They hail originally from Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, and came to the U.S. (Virginia, originally) about four years ago. If you look at their logo, you’ll get a sense of their personalities. On the left is Duong Nguyen, known as an expert shopper — and the restaurant’s expert in marketing. Next is Khe Nguyen, in the act of applying some lipstick (she’s the fashion sister). Then comes Ly Nguyen, with her hair in a bun and a ukulele in her hand. And on the right, that’s Thuy Nguyen, the family barista.
Over the past few years, two parallel trends have had a huge impact on Louisville’s dining scene: the gradual gentrification of ethnic dining and the rising quality of cheap eats. Four Sisters rides both of those trends, and does it beautifully.
The menu focuses on Franco-Vietnamese dishes and falls into three categories: banh mi, the signature sandwiches of Vietnam; savory crepes; and sweet crepes. It’s a concise menu, but flexible enough to appeal to many tastes. Every dish is admirably executed. And the menu tops out at $8.50 — which means two persons can easily dine for under $20.
The Four Sisters use sandwich rolls, rather than traditional baguettes, for their banh mi, but these are excellent rolls that come to the table warm and sporting a slightly crunchy, gently fractured crust that’s sturdy and satisfying.
And the fillings — gently seasoned pulled chicken, grilled pork, beef flavored with lemongrass, or mushroom and tofu — boast light, fresh flavors and tongue-pleasing textures. The balance of bread to fillings is just about perfect: The rolls support the sandwich but don’t intrude.
And the garnishes — a generous smear of a full-flavored pate, crisp daikon, superb pickled carrots, plenty of cucumbers, onions and thin-sliced jalapenos, add up to excellent eats — (pork, chicken, mushroom-tofu, $6.50; lemongrass beef, $7.50).
The savory crepes ($6.50-$8.50) serve as satisfyingmeals no matter the time of day. Tender batter, with a gentle webbing of brown from the crepe pan, is folded around combinations like tomato, basil and mozzarella; smoked salmon, cream cheese and red onions; or creamed spinach with sauteed mushrooms, avocado and feta.
You can have your ham, egg and cheese crepe with the eggs’ sunny-side-up yolk poking up through the center of the golden envelope, or you can have the egg accompanied by lush caramelized onions, goat cheese, sun-dried tomatoes and delicate green sprays of fresh chives.
These are crepes that will get you started in the morning, or revitalize your spirit in the evening. At this point there’s no wine (or any other alcohol) to sip alongside your crepe.
There is a full slate of coffee drinks, though, as well as smoothies, and hot and cold teas. And the plush, decorative layer of foam on a recent bowl of latte was a fine thing, indeed. Especially when served with a simple honey-lavender crepe ($5), or a gorgeous concoction made with candied pecans, honey butter and a light dusting of cinnamon ($5.50).
You can email freelance restaurant critic Marty Rosen at email@example.com.
Address: 2246 Frankfort Ave.
Telephone: (502) 384-4262
Web: under construction; see Facebook.com for information.
Cuisine: Cafe; sandwiches and crepes.
Alcohol: None — at present.
Vegetarian: Several options; ask your server.
Price range: Inexpensive; two persons could dine for under $20.
Reservations: Accepted for any size party.
Credit cards: AE, D, MC, V
Smoking: Outdoors only.
Access: The restaurant appears to be fully accessible for people using wheelchairs without assistance (a ramp connects to the rear entrance).
Hours: Tuesday-Thursday, 7 a.m.-8 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 8 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sunday, 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
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