- 1219 Bardstown Road, Louisville, KY, 40204
- Overall User Rating:
- (6 ratings)
For over a decade, the Highlands Tap Room (1279 Bardstown Road) has been serving up live music, karaoke and assorted craft beers. It’s become a pretty popular hangout for hip Highlanders.
But owners Tommy and Sally Clemons have long dreamed of something more — specifically, they dreamed of creating some really interesting pub grub. That only makes sense, given that earlier in his career Tommy Clemons spent about eight years as the dinner chef in one of the city’s most adventurous and creative kitchens: Lilly’s (1147 Bardstown Road).
A couple of months ago, that dream came alive when they opened a brand-new place, the Highlands Tap Room Grill — at 1058 Bardstown Road. I have no doubt that customers will occasionally wander into the wrong place — and the firm’s website, which covers both establishments, exhorts customers to “Choose Wisely.”
And if it’s food you’re after, the wise choice is the Highlands Tap Room Grill, where you’ll find some of the best pub grub in the city — house-smoked meats, handmade sauces, artful presentations, intriguing flavors and prices that top out in the $12 vicinity; or dishes like smoked shrimp scampi (on capellini, with lemon butter and capers) or a pan-seared pork chop with pear onion compote and cheese grits flavored up with country ham.
The dining areas are comfortable and festive — a fine patio that fronts on Bardstown Road, decking that runs along the side of the building, a bright, noisy dining room (brick, hardwood and TV screens). Service is quite good and knowledgeable (well, except for the time we visited for a late meal, were seated on the patio by a staffer, and subsequently visited by a server who, rather than covering for her colleague, subjected us to a gratuitous lecture about restaurant policy and sitting in the wrong place at the wrong time).
Late nights — when a band might be striking up — can be fun and rambunctious at the Highlands Tap Room Grill (for that matter, even earlier in the evening, diners might find themselves in the midst of a trivia game). Often restaurants that offer both entertainment and food end up failing on the food side, but that’s not the case at the Highlands Tap Room Grill.
In a phone interview, Clemons said that his goal was to offer classic, well-executed, attractively presented pub food. And he’s done just that, while thus far avoiding the trendy allure of materials — say, pork belly — that now seem to be mandatory fixtures on every “gastropub” bill of fare.
Even without the pork belly, Clemons dishes up some killer dishes. His Tap Room Chop salad ($6) looks pretty conventional — iceberg lettuce, cucumber, egg, bacon, cheese and so forth — but he dresses it with a smoked tomato buttermilk dressing that I’d buy by the gallon. My wife, Mary, said the dressing tasted as if he’d figured out a way to put the essence of a BLT in a jar.
I’d heard rumors about Clemons’ pulled pork spring rolls ($7) long before I dropped in — and those rumors may someday grow into legends. Crunchy cylinders filled with juicy, house-smoked pork and ample veggies are dished up with a drizzle of red-flecked golden Asian sauce that gleams on the plate like a display of Christmas lights.
You can start a meal (or snack happily) on creamy hummus or Falls City beer cheese ($4.50), or a skewer of smoked shrimp and veggies ($5). Or you can feast on some of the most artfully presented nachos in town ($5).
A thick cheeseburger ($9) is made from ground short ribs and strip steak — a combination that yields rich flavor and mouth-pleasing texture.
Other sandwich offerings include a whimsical sort of steak sandwich — basically a skewered club sandwich made of seared sirloin with golden brown caramelized onions and piquant dabs of blue cheese ($10); and an elaborate autumnal offering called Uncle Keith’s Thanksgiving Day ($9), with house-roasted turkey, cheese grits, cranberry sauce and gravy.