- 9200 Taylorsville Road, Suite 103 , Louisville, KY, 40299
- Overall User Rating:
- (1 rating)
- Monday-Saturday, 5-9:30 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday, 5-10 p.m.; beginning March 5, lunch service will be available Tuesday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
There’s something deliciously unsettling — and satisfyingly decadent — about Mussel & Burger Bar. On one hand, the place has all the trappings of aristocratic dining: The dining room is defined by white classical columns and elevated banquettes — all artifacts of Caffe Perusa, an upscale restaurant that operated in the space five years ago. On the other hand, the food is a festive interpretation of proletarian cuisine.
Imagine Downton Abbey turned upside down by a palace revolt that finds the downstairs staff taking over the ballroom and dining on joyously drippy burgers and saucy mussels, and you’ll get the idea.
The folks behind Mussel & Burger Bar — husband and wife Fernando and Cristina Martinez, and cousin Yaniel Martinez — have been an influential force in Louisville over the last decade. They’ve been involved in popular and influential restaurants like Havana Rumba and Mojito; and last year they opened the delightful Guaca Mole Cocina Mexicana.
All those restaurants are great examples of how design and cuisine meld to create a perfectly aligned experience — from the Cuban cigar box labels laminated into the tables at Havana Rumba to the green and mauve color scheme at Guaca Mole.
At Mussel & Burger Bar — where there’s a chalkboard menu in the bar and a grand marble fireplace in the dining room — bringing all the elements into alignment clearly wasn’t the focus (at least not when the restaurant opened in early February).
But given the speed and skill of Cristina Martinez’s front-of-house staff and the quality of the food, the discordant design elements feel more like features than flaws.
The list of starters is reason enough to drop in for a beer (plenty of local and craft beer options are available) or a cocktail with a snack. Sliders are made from soft-shell crab, housemade chorizo or Angus beef ($8); a platter of charcuterie and cheese features three meats and three cheeses — Serrano ham, prosciutto and chorizo, Tallegio, Manchego and La Peral ($15); seared foie gras is served with fig marmalade ($10); and nifty little taquitos (five for $5; 10 for $9) can be had filled with seasoned ground beef or cool pockets of finely slivered salmon tartare flavored with capers, shallots and lemon oil — plus a dash of cream and a spicy bit of pickled jalapenos.
And there are imaginative salads — like one featuring goat cheese croquettes, fennel, oranges and a fig vinaigrette ($7).
But it’s the featured dishes that define Mussel & Burger Bar. Mussels (available as an appetizer, $7, or entree, $10) are sauced seven different ways: white wine and butter with parsley and shallots; bouillabaisse-style, with Pernod, fennel and saffron; in a broth made from Guajillo chilies with queso fresco; Greek-style, with feta, olives, fennel and a splash of Ouzo; and more.
An order of moules Basquiase brought a bowl filled with gleaming, moist mussels in a chunky, spicy, red sauce made from piquillo peppers and mild Basque chilies, spicy chorizo, tomatoes and an aromatic lobster broth. Bold and rustic, those mussels were good enough that I might have plunged in fist-first — but out of respect for those white columns, I used a fork for the shellfish (and bread to sop up the last of the broth).
Even those columns weren’t enough to keep me from lifting the burgers by hand — and if their size gives you pause, be brave: The buns are sturdy enough to support the burden.
Louisville chefs have lately started building great veggie burgers. Fernando and Yaniel Martinez have come up with a fine take, crafting a patty from beets and red quinoa, dressing it with fresh goat cheese and black olive aioli and plating it on a firm, warm pretzel bun ($9; they also offer a mushroom Philly made with a medley of mushrooms, caramelized onions and Monterey Jack on French bread, $8).
And the hefty smear of Tallegio (one of the world’s great, smelly washed-rind cheeses) on The Italian Job ($13) suggests that the kitchen is ready to build big gourment flavors into the sandwiches; it doesn’t hurt that The Italian Job also features luscious caramelized onions, crisp slivers of prosciutto, thick slabs of oven-roasted tomatoes and some spicy rocket lettuce, and is accompanied by a superb batch of pommes frites. While you’re at it, order a side of elotes callejeros (Mexican-style corn on the cob), dusted with Parmesan and chili powder ($4).
Options run the gamut from a “Good Ole” burger topped with cheddar, lettuce, tomato and onion ($10) to a Frita Cubana ($12, with chorizo, Seranno ham, caramelized onions, potatoes and sweet potato fries — with a sauce made of smoked pineapple).
But the star of the burger menu is arguably the Seafood Burger ($13), a thick patty formed of crabmeat, shrimp and lobster flavored with onions and chives and dressed with avocado, tomato and crabmeat aioli — and pommes frites. It’s Lent, but anyone who thinks of this sandwich as a “sacrifice” is in for a revelation.
The kitchen provides, as well, for those who want something other than burgers and mussels — with choices like a grilled skirt steak that’s sauced with tangy herb-rich chimichurri sauce ($15) or fish tacos filled with tempura-battered cod ($14).
The list of house-made desserts includes a pots de creme trio so big it ought to be called a pots de creme chorus (Nutella, chocolate and pistachio), but there are also house-made ice creams and shakes — the perfect follow-up to burgers and fries.