- 909 Swan St., Louisville, KY, 40204
- (502) 627-1777
- Overall User Rating:
- (4 ratings)
- 4:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday
“Real Italian ... You got a problem with that?” So reads the amusing and feisty challenge on the Come Back Inn website.
The correct answer is a firmly stated “No.”
Serving real Italian food — real Chicago-style Italian food, that is — has been the mission at Come Back Inn since it was founded by Mark and Gena Wagner back in 1996. The place was a hit from the beginning. The food was good. And the kitchen managed to capture the authentic spirit of Chicago-land pub-style eats.
It had the feel of a neighborhood restaurant — but drew customers from all over the place. Portions were large and prices were low. In fact, prices were so low that a friend of mine (who operates another successful restaurant in our fair city) warned me back then that the Come Back Inn couldn’t possibly survive if it continued to serve those portions at those prices.
Earlier this year, the Wagners sold the Come Back Inn to one of the restaurant’s longtime servers, Cathy Zachari (another Come Back Inn operates in Jeffersonville, Ind.; the two restaurants are independent of one another, though they share in common the core menu developed by the Wagners).
Based on recent visits, Zachari seems pretty firm about keeping the Come Back Inn unchanged. She said in a phone interview, “The only staff member I’ve replaced is me.” And that’s a good thing. The one major change she’s made — and a highly commendable change, at that, is to restore lunch service (Tuesday-Friday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m.). Apart from that, the vintage photos, the dim lighting, the quick, cordial greetings, and the stately old bar (vintage 1865, I’m told) are all the same.
And so is the kitchen. Dale Fromm, who’s been the lead cook for more than a decade, is still cooking up pastas, pizzas ($7-$16), salads ($5.50-$9.25), appetizers (crostini covered with sauteed spinach, tomatoes and mozzarella, $6.75), soups (Italian wedding soup is a signature attraction, $2.75/$3.50), sandwiches and the like.
Speaking of sandwiches, as someone who has eaten more Italian beef sandwiches ($8.25) with hot giardiniera ($1) than I would care to admit to my doctor, I can state with authority that this most sloppily majestic of all sandwiches is still slightly embarrassingly large when it comes to the table — which may be why I work so diligently to destroy the evidence as quickly as possible.
For those who haven’t seen this sandwich, in its basic form it’s a thick stack of sliced, long-simmered beef that’s sluiced with its own aromatic broth (sufficiently sluiced that eating this sandwich by hand is inconceivable).
The hot giardiniera is a chunky, spicy pickled relish that adds a satisfying blast of heat (one could — though I’ve never done it — add other things as well, like provolone or mozzarella, or — if you happen to be in training for an iron man competition — you can top the sandwich off with fennel-laced Italian sausage). Or you can opt for a meatball hoagie ($8), an Italian Hot Brown (smoked turkey, pancetta, tomatoes and Alfredo sauce, $10), or others.
I could probably survive (or not) on a steady diet of Italian beef sandwiches, except that the rest of the menu is pretty good as well. Linguine with a richly flavored marinara ($9) is satisfying on its own, but better yet when you add meatballs — rustic in appearance, but tender and fragrant as can be ($11.75). Pasta with white clam sauce is inflected with fresh herbs and garlic ($11.75). Other saucy pasta offerings include a vivacious puttanesca (capers, chicken, olives, onions, tomatoes, garlic, white wine and olive oil), wild mushrooms (with basil pesto or garlic cream sauce), or the classic meaty Bolognese (each $11.75).
For those who crave Italian flavors — but without the carbohydrates supplied by pasta — the Come Back Inn’s “Il Forno” offerings are always attractive. But they’re especially tempting when cool weather comes. Price from $12.50 to $13.50, these are hearty baked dishes that feature ingredients like pork loin, chicken breast, Italian sausage or grilled sirloin in company with veggies, sauces and cheeses — baked to a dramatic finish and served piping hot.
Come to think of it, I wonder whether I could persuade them to whip me up an Italian Beef Bake? You got a problem with that?