Even after more than two decades in operation, Ditto’s Grill still manages to surprise me every time I walk through the door.
It’s a restaurant that enthusiastically embraces its mission as an affordable, family-friendly restaurant. On the face of it, that seems a relatively modest goal that’s shared by plenty of competent restaurants. But pay attention to the atmosphere and services, take a glance at the Ditto’s menu, sample the food (both the staple menu and the monthly list of updated seasonal offerings), and you quickly grasp that mere competence isn’t the standard here.
Ditto’s was founded by two chefs who were part of a culinary revolution that lifted Louisville’s dining scene to national prominence back in the late ’70s and early ’80s.
Before the era of celebrity chefs and food television, chefs Frank Yang and Dominic Serratore graduated from storied culinary programs (Johnson & Wales and the Culinary Institute of America) and were lured to Louisville by the opportunity to work in the Grisanti family restaurants (Casa Grisanti and Sixth Avenue), whose legacy continues to shape Louisville’s dining scene.
In the decades since, Ditto’s has established itself as a quietly unassuming center of excellence that always seems to outperform expectations. The space is big, bright and boldly decorated with walls full of local imagery and a variety of comfortable seating options.
And under general manager Chris Bebe’s leadership, front-of-house service is unfailingly prompt, professional and well-informed. And the food is always creatively imagined and precisely executed.
The menu is an extensive globetrotting affair that encompasses pretty much everything from Buffalo to Bangkok — no matter which way you decide to travel around the globe. If you doubt it, order a plate of Buffalo wings and a plate of Thai wings (either will run $10.99 for a full portion, $6.99 for a half-portion — and one of the delights of Ditto’s is that many menu items can be had in smaller portions), and compare the flavors.
Or check out the list of sandwiches ($7-$9) — burgers made with beef or Kentucky pork (and oh, those caramelized onions), fresh-roasted turkey and gravy, served open face, and the like. Then consider options such as the BBQ chicken pizza ($8.99), and crab cakes in a lemon-garlic sauce ($13.99/$8.99).
And bear in mind that the Sunday brunch offerings (like linguine with scrambled eggs, spinach, mushrooms, artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes and plenty of fresh herbs, $7.25) are way more fun than sleeping in on Sunday.
If you’re in the mood for meaty indulgences, I commend to your attention the Sizzling Stacked Ribeye Steak ($18.99), a generous portion of tender beef that’s stacked up with a seemingly endless supply of caramelized onions (well, sadly, not really endless), plenty of house-made Henry Bain sauce and lots of sweet, crisp, fried “tobacco” onions.
Like nearly all the Ditto’s entrees, this one is designed as a full meal, complete with sides, like a crisp chopped or Caesar salad and perfectly steamed broccoli on a lovely bed of couscous.
And if meat isn’t on your menu, or you’re looking for gluten-free or other accommodation, just mention it to your server; you’ll find the kitchen ready to meet pretty much any special need.
Even if you’ve been eating at Ditto’s for a couple of decades, the rotating monthly menu keeps things fresh and seasonal. This month, for instance, the abundance of good tomatoes inspires a twist on the classic Tuscan panzanella salad ($14.99), and spicy chicken chorizo sausage is paired with a grilled chicken breast to make a firecracker of a sandwich ($8.99).
But before it disappears, you’d be wise to dive into a plate of pan-Asian garlic noodles with crispy cod (or chicken; $14.99). For this dish, hot fettuccine is dressed with a wonderful melange of Mediterranean (chilled tomatoes, grilled asparagus, fresh basil and lemon, olive oil) and Asian elements (rice vinegar, soy sauce, chili sauce) to create a marvelously addicting summer pasta dish. Order the crispy cod — a gentle surface crunch and pure moist flesh within. Then start making plans for a return visit.
Note, by the way, that the monthly menu includes recommended wine pairings — and the Ditto’s wine program is as table-friendly and affordable as they come, with plenty of choices in the $24-$32 range.
And there’s no shortage of sweet finishes — including house-made pies, creme brulee and more.
You can email freelance restaurant critic Marty Rosen at email@example.com.