- 2255 Frankfort Ave., Louisville, KY, 40206
- (502) 894-8838
- Overall User Rating:
- (1 rating)
- 5 to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, 5 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday
- Official Web Site:
The back bar at Bourbons Bistro is a lofty altar of amber offerings. Even in the land of bourbon, where massive catalogs of whiskey are the pride of many bars, Bourbons stands out as one of the key destinations on Louisville’s Urban Bourbon trail.
Nearly any time you drop in, you’ll find spirit-seeking pilgrims poring over a long list of Kentucky and American whiskeys (or perhaps sifting eagerly through a big book of tasting notes as they decide what rarity to try next).
When they opened Bourbons Bistro in 2005, owners John Morrison and Jason Brauner created a great shrine to bourbon, and little has changed in the years since.
The brick-and-wood ambiance of the 19th century building is elegant but casual, dressed up with vintage photos of distilleries, barrels and even a clean-cut motorcyclist with a sidecar who looks like he’s delivering cases of Four Roses (and in fine weather, there’s a pleasant, popular patio).
The restaurant has always been able to attract professionals to the front of the house, and Margot McMillen’s current staff of servers is quick, efficient and quite knowledgeable about both food and drink.
What has changed is the leadership in the kitchen. Founding chef Michael Crouch recently moved on to a new project (Bistro 1860, 1765 Mellwood Ave.), and chef Jeff Bridges now helms the kitchen at Bourbons.
Bridges, a Sullivan University graduate, brings an interesting resume. He was sous chef at Jack Fry’s before becoming head chef at Hillbilly Tea — two restaurants that are fine exponents of very different styles.
At Bourbons, Bridges has built a classic bistro bill of fare with starters like braised pork belly over white truffle grits ($9) and entrees like braised short ribs ($26) and pan-seared duck breast ($24), but his touch is light and graceful, and he has a knack for not getting in the way of his ingredients.
Bridges piles crisp, molten fried oysters over a slab of grilled cornpone and builds a gentle cascade of heat from butter, a sweet pepper relish and peppery spices for an attention-grabbing starter ($11). In his hands, crisp wafers of tart, fresh apple, smoky chunks of bacon and smoked almonds work together to accent — rather than overwhelm — a salad built around tender leaves of Bibb lettuce ($7).
The menu includes plenty of sinful indulgences. In case plain old pasta carbonara isn’t already luxurious enough, his version uses pork belly and a rosemary cream sauce ($22). And his towering entry in the race to build ever-more-elaborate gourmet burgers uses a brioche bun, white cheddar, rocket lettuce and tomato bacon jam (as well as garlicky house-cut fries; $15).
Bridges also has an impressive entry in the house-made veggie burger category (where many of us would like to find more competition); his is made with grilled chickpeas, black beans and white beans dressed with basil aioli, caramelized onions and feta ($13).
But even at his most extravagant, Bridges makes every ingredient work. A thick, bone-in pork chop is wrapped in prosciutto, then expertly pan-seared and mounted atop a dead simple — but oh-so-effective — scoop of pureed celeriac. Mellow braised collards and caramelized apples round out the plate. And though bourbon doesn’t show up as an element in every dish, it does here — in a subtly inflected glaze that fuses Kentucky’s signature spirit with its salty signature meat: country ham ($22).
A thick slab of grilled cobia — a firm, tasty white-fleshed fish that has the look and texture of cod but is widely viewed as an excellent example of a sustainable, ecologically friendly aquaculture — is the centerpiece of a great offering. The surface of the fish is lightly crunchy from the grill, but the center is moist and flaky — and the fish tastes as fresh as an offshore breeze. It’s served with linguine tossed with herbs and a tart dash of citrus, and flavors of wild mushroom, prosciutto and basil oil add depth and interest to the plate.
Although lots of Bourbons Bistro diners will opt to sip rare and interesting whiskeys straight, or with a dash of water, the beverage program also includes a list of specialty cocktails — like a colorful bourbon mojito and an old school bourbon cobbler (one of those classic 19th century concoctions that merges spirits, syrups and fruits).
And Bridges also has a knack for dessert — the center of his chocolate babas is a piping-hot core of ganache (and the little cake is surrounded by a wonderful bourbon caramel glaze). But of course, it’s the bread pudding — which also features notes of bourbon — that speaks most directly to Southern foodways.
You can email freelance restaurant critic Marty Rosen at firstname.lastname@example.org.