- 1147 Bardstown Road, Louisville, KY, 40204
- (502) 451-0447
- Overall User Rating:
- (0 ratings)
- 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday
- Official Web Site:
If I were in charge of a culinary school, every candidate for graduation would have to pass one final exam before earning a diploma: Roast a chicken. Perfectly.
It seems a simple task, but in order to get it right a cook needs knowledge, purity of purpose and absolute technical command.
At Lilly's — A Kentucky Bistro, Kathy Cary and her kitchen crew demonstrate all those traits in abundance. There's nothing frilly about their version of roasted chicken ($18). They eschew all inessentials. There are no saucy slathers or masks of garnish to be seen. Instead, they give you the very essence of chicken.
The skin color is a deep, rusty brown; its texture is fragile but crisp. The meat — both white and dark — has a muscular firmness about it. And in a world where most chickens have had the flavor systematically bred out of them, this is one of those rare chickens that, well, tastes like chicken.
Simplicity is the theme at Lilly's, and it shows up in variations all across the constantly changing menu. A list of “Kentucky Tapas & Starters” includes fried oysters and Weisenberger grits ($8), house-made pate ($9) and a cheese plate with a regional focus ($13).
Butter beans — what could be simpler than those? — are spiced up with chorizo made from locally grown hogs, and the resulting gratin is a bubbling, joyous dish of sedimentary flavors ($7). Even that most luxurious of foods, foie gras, finds itself in homely company on this menu — served atop a crisp, delightfully rustic corn cake with a dab of jammy pear compote that makes a sweet complement to those earthy riches ($18).
Either of those small plates, with a salad, would make a grand meal. Especially if the salad were, say, a grilled column of romaine lettuce ($6 at lunch; $8 at dinner) cloaked in a fine, wood-fire scent that emphasizes the sweet essence of the central leaves, or crinkly, pale green leaves of Limestone Bibb lettuce sprinkled with candied pecans, blue cheese and balsamic vinaigrette ($8).
The only dish on the menu that lists more than a few ingredients is a carefully orchestrated bistro salad that pays tribute (as do many of the dishes) to local agriculture with Capriole cheese fritters, Broadbent bacon and Greg's Greens.
Bistro is one of those terms that has been degraded over time to the point where it's nearly meaningless, but Lilly's is what a bistro ought to be. It's a sprawling, narrow, wrap-around space enlivened by bright artworks and windows that look out on Bardstown Road. Service may be by turns flaky or formal, but it seems competent, warm and straightforward — and on the rare occasions when a staff member doesn't have perfect knowledge of the menu or wine list, there always seems to be someone close by who does.
Some folks assert that Lilly's lunch menu is the best fine dining bargain in the city — and they may be right. A three-course prix fixe menu ($15) recently started with a salad of rock shrimp and sunflower seeds on Bibb, continued with chicken croquettes and polenta with a mushroom Madeira sauce, and culminated with apple cake and house-made ice cream. Other offerings include fish and chips ($12), the fish wrapped in a thin, crisp veil; and the perfect remedy for bitter weather: chicken pot pie ($13).
And besides that paragon of chickens, the entrée list includes lamb shank ($24); grilled beef tenderloin ($28); seared duck breast ($22); a hamburger on a homemade bun ($12); a grilled pork chop on the bone that was thick, moist and in the excellent company of a hash made from brussels sprouts, smoked bacon and figs ($24); and a vegetarian plate that employs local seasonal produce (recently, caramelized onion, butternut squash, kale, sage butter, pumpkin seeds and ravioli).
The dessert list includes crème brulee, chocolate lava cake and, recently, a caramel cake that — as our server observed — was a great example of grandma-style goodness.