- 4021 Summit Plaza Drive, Louisville, KY, 40241
- (502) 394-9797
- Overall User Rating:
- (1 rating)
- Monday-Thursday, 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday, 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m.; Saturday, noon-11 p.m.; Sunday, noon-9 p.m.
- Official Web Site:
In 2007, Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse Inc. announced that it was purchasing Mitchell’s Fish Market, an upscale restaurant chain that was part of the Cameron Mitchell family of restaurants based in Columbus, Ohio. The deal was part of a transaction so large — 94 million bucks — that it required Federal Trade Commission approval.
The deal left Cameron Mitchell with a dozen or so restaurants scattered across nine states — including the Louisville outpost of the Martini Italian Bistro mini-chain. Almost immediately, Business First reported that Martini’s manager, Jim Davis, was negotiating to buy the restaurant, an anchor restaurant at The Summit, and turn it into a locally owned and operated establishment.
It took a while — not surprisingly, considering the economics of the restaurant business during the Great Recession. But Davis pulled it off. And yes, Martini Italian Bistro is now as local as it can be.
Truth to tell, Martini Italian Bistro was a very fine restaurant when I reviewed it some years ago — one of those little chains where the scale of operations allows it to maintain a high level of quality, value and service. That polished professional feel is very much intact.
The dining area has the grand, lofty feel of an Italian piazza, complete with decorative rope-twist columns and brightly colored flags hanging from the ceiling. The lighting is tinged with gold, and even on a very busy night (the dining room is set up so that on the fringes very large parties can enjoy big celebratory dinners) sound levels are comfortable for conversation, and service is efficient and knowledgeable.
The core menu hasn’t changed much — yet. But chef Allen Hubbard Sr., whose culinary history includes time in the kitchen at the prestigious Vincenzo’s, is introducing little touches in the form of interesting seasonal specials (risotto with salmon, shrimp and mussels in a saffron-infused white wine sauce, $15.99), creative presentations and an increased emphasis on local sourcing.
For the moment, Hubbard’s kitchen is already dishing up good stuff. For a casual meal (or perhaps as a starter or side) there are hand-tossed pizzas baked in a wood-burning oven (whether you’re a vegetarian or not, Melanzana — made with fresh eggplant, spinach, roasted red peppers, provolone and caramelized onions — might be on your list; $11.99).
And if you want to get a group of four or more off to a hot, creamy, satisfying start, go for the spinach al forno ($10.99), a red, green and golden oven-baked assembly of spinach, sun-dried tomatoes and artichoke hearts bathed in Parmesan cream served with garlic Parmesan crostini for dipping. And dip you will — though if you’re a party of two, you’ll certainly find yourself wishing a smaller portion were available.
Pastas come baked (lasagna filled with sausage, $15.99; baked rigatoni with shrimp, lobster, garlic, tomatoes and basil-pesto breadcrumbs, $16.99) or loose and saucy — like the appetizing plateful of al dente linguine that served one night as an excellent backdrop for tender sauteed shrimp, crimson strips of sun-dried tomatoes, capers and a few paper-thin slices of lemon in a light lemon-butter-garlic sauce ($16.50).
Add a Caesar salad or the vividly colored chopped house salad (dressed with a faint hint of sweetness) to a pasta or an entree for $2.99, and the meal will feel more than generous. And by the way, if you’re looking for whole-wheat or gluten-free pasta, Martini Italian Bistro can accommodate you.
If you’re in the mood for protein, there’s a balsamic pork chop ($19.99), or broiled salmon served with wood-fired asparagus ($18.99), or, my favorite, a rib eye marinated in citrus, garlic and parsley grilled to a (for me) perfect medium-rare state, topped with a dose of crisp fried onions, and served with bright green skillet-seared beans and roasted potatoes ($21.99).
And as for dessert, tiramisu served in a martini glass adorned with a bright purple and white blossom and a couple of wafers of dark chocolate was a memorable closing course.
You can email freelance restaurant critic Marty Rosen at email@example.com.