- 401 E. Main St., Louisville, KY
- (502) 515-0174
- Overall User Rating:
- (3 ratings)
- Monday-Saturday 11 a.m.-midnight (kitchen closes at 10 p.m.); Sunday noon-9 p.m.
- Official Web Site:
It used to be that learning how to order wine — parsing the wine list, negotiating with the sommelier — was the definitive rite of passage for the sophisticated diner. Back then, all you needed to know about beer was what label you liked best. (And if you wanted some cred as a sophisticate, you could always order something from the “import” list.)
Not anymore. Craft beer is in the ascendancy. Massive beer programs with dozens of local, national and international choices in bottles and on tap are rapidly becoming the norm. And ordering beer has developed a set of rituals that’s perhaps more interesting and functional than the way people used to order wine: just tell the server or bartender what you ordinarily drink, and let him or her point the way or, better yet, bring you a sample from the tap.
At places like Against the Grain Brewery & Smokehouse, where house-brewed beers are the main focus, it makes sense to get acquainted by working your way through a sampler of the house brews. Against the Grain offers a $6 flight of pours served on a handsome wooden platter. Quaff your way through the entire lineup — usefully categorized by style: hop, smoke, dark, malt, session, whim — and you might not need another beer.
Taste all of the current slate (which will rotate over time), and you’ll discern the work of a skillful and opinionated brewmaster (Jerry Gnagy, formerly of Bluegrass Brewing Co., who is a co-owner along with Adam Watson, Sam Cruz and Andrew Ott). There’s plenty of variety in the lineup, but all of the current selections feature adventurously bold, sharply drawn flavors (the restaurant also features “guest” beers, including, recently, a crisp, easy-drinking pilsner for those who drink from the middle-of-the-road).
Against the Grain has taken over the Slugger Field space that formerly housed Browning’s, which means the big copper vessels still gleam overhead, there’s ample seating, plenty of space, and TVs.
Alas, so far the culinary side of the house hasn’t caught up with the brewery. Not for lack of ambition or imagination, but on recent visits, execution has been inconsistent at best. One of the best items on the menu is a superb beer cheese. Served warm, it’s a genuinely luxurious dip made from smoked beer and smoked gouda — and going through a bowl of it is a mad pleasure ($6). Another bar snack, hickory-smoked fried hominy, served at cool room temperature, isn’t bad; it’s just an innocuous, salty snack that doesn’t deliver the promised smokehouse smoke ($5).
In fact, calibrating levels of smoke seems to be a pervasive issue.
An order of beer-can chicken ($14), smoked over beer, looks spectacular when brought to the table with nicely seasoned green beans and horseradish mashed potatoes, but the smoke dosage here will be off-putting to all but the most smoke-addicted diners. Meanwhile, a pulled pork sandwich, ostensibly from slow-smoked, dry-rubbed pork butt ($9), was dry and flavorless, though a side of coarsely chopped smoked slaw did offer a bit of intrigue. A grilled burger on a challah roll with a nicely melted slab of Kenny’s white cheddar was fine ($10), as was a beer-battered Monte Cristo — ham, Gruyere and apricot preserves, sandwiched between thick slices of bread that had been dipped in a porter-infused French toast batter and seared ($9).
A smoked Waldorf salad ($9) was garnished with goodies, including smoked walnuts and perfectly carved slices of apple, and made for a superb autumn meal. But another salad — Bibb lettuce garnished with fried chicken liver and smoked corn ($9) — disappointed with unappetizing chunks of cool, fried chicken liver. It’s possible that service glitches affected the chicken livers (on one visit, one person’s entrée mysteriously appeared 10 minutes before the rest of the meal), but a greasy order of smoked beer-battered onion rings ($8) was still piping hot when it arrived. The kitchen did better with an order of hot, crunchy catfish fingers, but an accompanying order of long grain and wild rice tasted like the stuff that comes out of envelopes, and a lackluster scoop of southwestern-style pinto beans needed the same level of detailed attention the brews are receiving.