- 4864 Brownsboro Center, Louisville, KY, 40207
- Overall User Rating:
- (1 rating)
- 5 p.m. to closing
- Official Web Site:
Like his second cousin, Mark Twain, Henry Watterson was an effervescent and opinionated writer and a man of many interests. His career as a journalist began just after the Civil War, and lasted through the end of World War I.
For five decades he edited The Courier-Journal (and its predecessor, the Louisville Journal). But in 1919, he had a falling-out with the paper’s new owner, Robert Worth Bingham. That same year, he published his two-volume memoir, “Marse Henry: An Autobiography” (which is available free as an online resource).
Watterson had a magnificent and prescient understanding of the issues of his time (including some that still play a role in American politics). He wrote on women’s suffrage (for it) and Prohibition (against it). He wrote insider tales of Kentucky and American politics.
And on occasion he even wrote about food. For instance, sometime in the 1890s, he expressed concern that “there was not really a good eating place in Louisville” and urged a Frenchman (nicknamed “The Major”) to open a restaurant. The Major did just that, and a place called The Brunswick became Watterson’s go-to restaurant — a place where he and his pals could feast on terrapin.
So it makes perfect sense that chef-owner Charles Reed has dedicated his restaurant, Henry’s Place, to Watterson’s memory. And though there’s no terrapin on the menu, I’m pretty sure Watterson would have loved his namesake.
Reed’s concept is Pan-European cuisine in an environment that asks customers to play along by dressing up a tad. The restaurant website encourages men to wear a jacket, and warns that those wearing jeans may find themselves relegated to the bar area rather than the dining room (though sitting in the comfortable, nicely appointed bar won’t be viewed as a hardship by most customers).
If some design elements seem slightly at odds with the restaurant’s mission — a row of large booths, for instance, requires servers to reach across diners, a practice that precludes the sort of service and removal we association with more formal dining — there are also banquettes and attractively dressed tables for two and four, and a pleasantly jazzy soundtrack.
And general manager Alicia Minteer (a Sullivan University alum who previously worked at Village Anchor and other Louisville hotspots) and her front-of-house crew deliver well-informed service that seems to flow like clockwork.
Chef Reed’s menu is a mix of continental techniques, American whimsy and global influences. He’ll serve you butter-poached asparagus on a bed of cress with beurre blanc ($9) or a platter of cheeses and house-made pate with quince preserves and cipollini onion jam ($19), but he’ll also dish up a spectacular guacamole — a festive platter that contains not only the signature element, but a chutney made from Hatch green chilies and onions, a gently spicy avocado leche, a vertical spray of scallions crowned with golden beets and carved carrots that look like poppies, and tucked away, like a brilliant punch line, a creamy chunk of Morbier — a surprising cheesy note that accentuates the other flavors ($11).
I love those kinds of surprises, and nearly everything Reed plates seems intended to keep you intrigued from first taste to last. Salads look like bright modern sculptures. One is made by placing a tightly bound cluster of red romaine in a Parmesan crouton stand, placing some big, creamy beige beans on the plate, supplying some lemon anchovy dressing (and a few anchovies, to boot) — and that would be enough. But all of a sudden you’ll discover a cone of red pepper stuffed with feta ($9).
Or you might dine on one of the house-made pasta dishes (Reed makes all his pastas in-house, using duck eggs and semolina flour, and the results are outstanding), like chicken schnitzel over linguine, and after a few bites you might think you understand the dish — tender, juicy chicken with consomme, carrots and lots of fresh herbs (a superb example of the culinary connections between Northern Italy and Germany) — when underneath a tangle of superb pasta you encounter another element — a brightly flavored heirloom tomato touched up with just a faint accent of mild cheese ($19).
Surprises are great, but some dishes feature a sort of simple, transparent excellence that bespeaks an outstanding kitchen — like Ulvik sole with crabmeat, tender spears of white and green asparagus, shredded cipollini onions, deft use of herbs and perfectly prepared sauce ($21).
The menu is well focused, but offers enough inviting choices to keep an adventurous diner entertained for a long time: braised beef short ribs ($24); cioppino, with shrimp, crab, lobster and mussels ($29); and a new lunch menu that includes a formidable sandwich called the Jurgen Decker ($12, mortadella, pastrami, salami, Swiss and paper-thin onions, plus more), soup, salad and sandwich combinations ($11-$12); and a maple duck risotto made with edamame, Morbier and tree oyster mushrooms ($13).
You can close your meal with house-made limoncello, or not-to-be-missed desserts, like a fresh fig tart or a fine butter cake. And there’s a good chance that even at this late stage of the meal, Henry’s Place might find a way to surprise you.