- 624 E. Market St., Louisville, KY, 40202
- (502) 384-9090
- Overall User Rating:
- (3 ratings)
- Official Web Site:
You could plop down at one of the gnarled, rustic tables at Harvest, glance at your menu, eat a meal and walk blithely out the door without noticing that the restaurant is the city's most devout adherent to locavore, farm-to-table principles.
Founded by area farmer Ivor Chodkowski and a partnership that includes Jim McArthur, Patrick Kuhl and Peter Kuhl, and a number of other investors, Harvest aspires to source 80 percent of its menu from within 100 miles of the city.
That goal isn't explicit on the menu — which commendably scorns the cliché of listing the source for every ingredient in every dish. But it's quietly reinforced by looming black and white photos of area farmers, by a map of the Louisville “foodshed,” marking the supplier locations, and by a caption on the menu that reads, “a locally grown restaurant.”
The mission is also implicit in chef Coby Ming's menu, which is perforce as seasonal as can be. In this part of the country, at this time of year, it requires a leaping imagination and brilliant technique to build a great dining program. And that is exactly what Ming has done — crafting a bill of fare that's rooted in regional ingredients, is informed by regional vernacular cuisine and is executed with a masterful hand.
Ming's style runs counter to the prevailing culinary zeitgeist, with its emphasis on macho flavors and muscle-flexing portions sized to sate the appetites of athletes-in-training.
Even when she builds rustic flavors, she does so with a light touch, as in a creamy sorghum butter for spreading on tender hog jowl muffins — the finest fusion of pork and batter I've ever encountered ($6).
But she's at her best with delicate flavors — the faint scent of smoked paprika that lurks in the crème fraiche that accompanies a crudite platter of carved French breakfast radishes, sprigs of broccoli rabe and stalks of blanched asparagus ($6); or the perfect soup of the season, a chilled broth that melds the earthy spirit of asparagus and the faint bitterness of sorrel ($6).
Asparagus, which just cropped up in the region, plays multiple roles on a menu that promises to adapt often during the growing season. (On a side note, over the course of multiple visits, the only flawed dish I encountered was a woody, inedible stalk of asparagus that inexplicably found its way onto a platter of crudités.)
On the plate, portions sometimes look petite — we've grown accustomed to the notion that an upscale$10 hamburger ought to be the size of a pancake, even if it's nothing but a big bore. Tuck into Ming's freshly ground burger — a crusty, juicy masterpiece served on a pretzel bun and dressed with a soft smear of chevre, some Bibb lettuce and a dollop of exquisite hog jowl bacon jam — and you'll soon get over the impression that size matters. This might well be the best burger in town ($10).
For that matter, several of Ming's dishes might be the best in town. Her roasted vegetable pot pie — not so much a pie, as a turnover made from perfectly diced root vegetables wrapped in a splendid flaky crust and sauced with a beautiful beige mushroom jus — is among the best vegetarian entrees in the city ($14).
Atop an arugula-studded hoecake, she serves superb fried chicken in a buttermilk batter, scatters the platter with jade green arugula leaves and sauces the affair with a brown sauce gently flavored with smoked peppercorns ($19). And her gnocchi — flavored with herbs and ricotta — is a marvel: the airy little dumplings are sauced in a ragu Bolognese that any chef would be proud to serve, the layers of flavor so perfectly integrated that finely minced bits of liver supply just an elusive note in the background ($16).
Given the mission of Harvest and its emphasis on local produce, it's not surprising that “side” dishes ($3) are treated as centrally important. Herbed breadcrumbs — so green and fine-grained they look like something you'd find at a great sushi bar — are sprinkled over tender spears of grilled asparagus; a dish of warm potato salad, sauced with a bacon vinaigrette, was a ravishing take on the German potato salad theme (and the warm bacon dressing left me hoping that a wilted lettuce salad will make the menu sometime this summer).
On my visits, front-of-house personnel (led by Cassandra Hobbic, whose resume includes a stint at Proof on Main), were quick, well informed and enthusiastic about the restaurant's mission.
And excellence isn't limited to Ming's menu. The beverage program is exemplary; a concise wine list doesn't yet include any local offerings (though I'm told that's in the offing), but does include some outstanding estate-bottled wines at reasonable prices; the beer list leans smartly toward local and craft options; and the cocktail program incorporates farm-to-table elements (like the Killer Queen, a crisp, foamy concoction made with a small batch, organic gin, local egg whites and green shards of chervil, $7).
Likewise, pastry chef Patty Knight's desserts ($6) shouldn't be ignored. It's about time someone thought to plate bourbon poached sweet potatoes with house-made Szechuan marshmallows and sprinkle them with a bit of pecan brittle.
And all those folks out there who are experimenting with bacon-flavored desserts had better take notice of what may be the best ice cream sandwich in the city, made with candied bacon, vanilla ice cream and sturdy, flexible sorghum spice cookies.