- 204 S. Spring St., Louisville, KY, 40206
- Overall User Rating:
- (1 rating)
It seems a simple thing, the Caesar salad. It's an exercise in transparency and purity. In its classic form it requires just a few ingredients — croutons, Romaine lettuce, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, Parmesan, egg, salt, pepper, the faint memory of an anchovy — all as perfectly balanced as a ballerina on her toes.
Alas, classics are out of fashion and most chefs think of the Caesar salad not as a dish they should master, but one they need to “improve” — hence the proliferation of salads that lay claim to Caesar's mantle but are nothing more than pretenders.
At Gary's on Spring, which opened a month or so ago, chef Harold Baker upholds the original concept. His Caesar — each batch of dressing made to order — is the finest I've tasted in years, and triggers memories of the old days, when Bim Deitrich presided over the house at the old Formerly Myra's.
For some Louisville diners, Gary's will trigger other fond associations. In addition to his childhood friend Baker, owner Guy Sutcliffe has recruited Greg Fearing — whose resume includes a long stint at the old Hasenour's — as general manager. And to turn the old Spring Street Meeting House into a splendid, multifaceted space for fine and casual dining, Sutcliffe recruited Hubbuch & Co.
At Gary's on Spring — named in memory of Sutcliffe's father and grandfather — every element comes together nicely.
The main dining area is a long rectangle with hardwood under foot, a mix of brick and white walls, and warm track lighting that falls on black and white photos of vintage Louisville scenes. It has the calm of an art gallery — notwithstanding the echo of happy voices, which creates something of a din on busy nights.
Upstairs, there's a comfortable bar area with plenty of soft seating. Both levels offer generous, well-considered outdoor seating suitable for fine weather dining or quaffing a cocktail or a glass of wine at twilight.
The restaurant is still in its early days, and service hasn't yet achieved full confidence and polish, but it's not for lack of trying. And if a little detail goes awry (like mistakenly bringing a glass of wine rather than a bottle), corrections are quick and friendly.
Baker's food isn't likely to require corrections. His menu is concise, well thought out — with consideration for local products — and tastefully executed.
He places a dollop of creme fraiche and a few shards of green onion atop buckwheat pancakes, then sprinkles them with Kentucky paddlefish caviar for a starter at once rustic and elegant. The pancakes would make a perfect framing device for caviar Kentucky-style, except that the impact of the tiny eggs is muted in this company ($9).
There's nothing muted about Baker's chicken fritters, though, a fried globe of diced chicken, green chiles, red bell peppers and onions served with what the menu calls “curry red chili chutney sauce,” but which tastes to me like chow chow straight from a farmhouse kitchen ($8).
A handful of sandwiches — burgers of bison ($11) or beef ($9), an oyster po' boy ($10) and a sort of Cobb salad in the form of a club sandwich ($9) are on offer, as well as 11 entrees that run from $17 (roasted chicken breast) to $32 (an 8-ounce grilled filet of beef), as well as pan-seared salmon in an Asian-inspired ginger-chili sauce ($22) and blackened scallops and linguine with a sherry cream lobster sauce ($23).
Baker's entrees reflect the same classic values as that estimable Caesar salad. He wraps tender loin of lamb, spinach, pine nuts and goat cheese in sheets of phyllo dough to craft a perfectly pink, medium-rare lamb en croute ($26), then sauces it with mint and pear. He plates the centerpiece with little red potatoes roasted to deep, dark perfection.
And as if that weren't enough, he scoops out the center of a turnip, fills it with finely chopped vegetables, sprinkles it with crumbs, and roasts it to create a side dish that deserves its own place of pride as a vegetarian entree.
Speaking of vegetarian entrees, I was told in a telephone interview that Baker happily crafts vegetarian dishes on request. But if you're ordering from the menu, his sole plant-based dish, eggplant Napoleon ($17), is alive with flavor.
He builds the dish with layers of panko-breaded eggplant and slices of tomato, covers them in provolone and Parmesan, surrounds the stack with tender bow-tie pasta in a garlicky, basil-infused marinara, and tosses a few spears of perfectly grilled asparagus on the plate to complete the feast. As much as I liked my lamb, I'd have swapped for that dish in a flash.
When it came time for dessert, there was sharing instead of swapping, which turned out to be a good thing because our creme brulee — soft and custardy beneath its golden glazed surface — was probably big enough to satisfy four diners.