- 3801 Willis Ave., Louisville, KY, 40207
- (502) 896-2630
- Overall User Rating:
- (2 ratings)
- 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday through Saturday
Fresh flowers, fresh sauces, freshly made everything, and servers who aren’t fresh, but have the fortune-teller’s gift of knowing exactly what you’re going to want and getting it to you before you think to ask.
That would be a pretty good list of attributes at a spendy, high-end restaurant. At a place like Kayrouz Cafe, where nearly everything on the menu tips the register at under $10 – and the menu tops out at $15 — it’s downright marvelous.
In the Louisville dining scene, the Kayrouz name is one to conjure with. The old J.P. Kayrouz restaurant, which closed in 2003, after operating for more than a quarter century, was pretty much the perfect family restaurant. Its virtues were moderate prices, a great atmosphere, fine food and a bunch of menu staples that elicited devoted loyalty from regulars who packed the place week after week — like the oversized scrod dinner that lured me many, many times over the years.
Not long after J.P. Kayrouz closed, the much smaller Kayrouz Cafe opened in a cute little postage-stamp of a building (but don’t be deceived — there is a good-sized back dining room, and in fine weather the patio offers plenty of seating).
Christopher Kayrouz, the third generation of his family to go into the business, operated the cafe until 2010, when he sold it to longtime cook Tyler Conway, who now co-owns the restaurant with his mother, Holly Conway. The Conways have kept the look and feel intact — right down to keeping vintage photos of the Kayrouz family on the wall.
Most importantly, they’ve kept the basic values alive as well — and they’ve preserved many of the menu staples. You can still find the classic Kayrouz Benedictine and bacon sandwich ($7.75) and the towering Kayrouz Club — and really, in Louisville, for some reason, it’s hard to find a really good club sandwich ($8.25).
You can also get that thick, perfectly cooked slab of scrod on Fridays and Saturdays ($13, while supplies last), either broiled and dressed with fresh basil pesto or perfectly fried and accompanied with a tangy tartar sauce that will make you wish every day were Friday.
The classics are nice, but Tyler Conway has his own knack for plating beautiful, flavorful dishes — like bruschetta ($5.95) that comes to the table as a spiraling golden tower of toasted bread smeared with pesto and sprinkled with diced tomatoes and white crumbles of feta, or a salad in which creamy green slices of avocado and sweet chunks of mango perched on a bed of tender spinach are dressed with blue cheese crumbles and a sprightly orange-mint vinaigrette ($8).
Fried oysters have recently been on the menu — battered and lightly enough fried that they’re still quivering and juicy, but accompanied, it must be said, by an innocuous cocktail sauce — my kingdom for some horseradish, say I (six oysters, with a side dish, like the juicy, creamy coleslaw, $12.95; eight, $14.95).
Louisvillians are always on the hunt for a good Hot Brown — and Kayrouz Cafe has one. No frills or fancy variations here, just a perfectly executed, piping-hot example made from roasted turkey, a light, luscious Mornay, slices of gently grilled tomato and a dose of crisp bacon ($10.95).
The burgers ($8.50-$9.95) are made from a generous half-pound of freshly ground sirloin — and if you’re one for running a burger through the garden, you’ll like the fresh veggies that adorn these big, juicy patties — big enough and juicy enough that a simple Kayrouz burger (burger, cheese, lettuce, tomato and onion) should satisfy anybody. But they’re in their glory when topped off with, say, bacon and pepper Jack cheese, or a couple of ounces of crabmeat and sun-dried tomatoes, or slathered with homemade barbecue sauce.
Vegetarians will find hummus ($6.95) with a sprinkle of cayenne and all the fixings, assorted salads, a sandwich made of grilled vegetables (artichokes, roasted red peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, provolone, spinach and a homemade aioli, $8.25); or a veggie Reuben made with a portobello mushroom, Swiss, sauerkraut and all the standard trimmings ($8.25).
And if you’re in the mood for pasta, the tomato basil sauce has a deeply layered flavor that would pass muster in any home kitchen ($8; add a grilled chicken breast for $3).
And for dessert there’s Nin’s Carrot Cake, a family recipe developed by Holly Conway’s mother (who also takes care of the flower arrangements). I’ve heard that some folks don’t like carrot cake. But for those who do, this one, covered in thick, cream cheese icing, is likely to become a favorite.