- 2116 Bardstown Road, Louisville, KY
- (502) 690-4161
- Overall User Rating:
- (0 ratings)
- Sunday, 8 a.m.-9 p.m.; Monday, 8 a.m.- 2 p.m.; Tuesday-Thursday, 8 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 8 a.m.-11 p.m.
- Official Web Site:
When North End Cafe opened in the spring of 2003, there was no restaurant row on Frankfort Avenue. In fact, Susan Reigler, The Courier-Journal’s dining critic then, described North End’s location as “on the edge of Butchertown.” In the years since, Frankfort Avenue has developed into one of the city’s most popular and diverse dining zones — and North End Cafe has become one of its anchors.
Now, chef-owner Christopher Seckman has brought the North End Cafe to Bardstown Road. And a pleasantly appointed cafe it certainly is.
The space, which once housed the darkly romantic (and much lamented) Club Grotto, now seems bright but calm. The dining area is broken up into comfortably cozy chambers connected by generous wall openings that give the place a loose, spacious feel. Eggshell green walls are punctuated by white trim and colorful splashes of art.
Comfortable seating includes a pleasantly appointed bar area. The recorded soundtrack leans toward John Coltrane, Charlie Parker and old-fashioned blues — and on recent visits, the volume level has been conversation-friendly.
Service at North End Cafe – Highlands still seems in the organizational stage. Unlike the original location, there’s no convenient greeting station at the door, so occasionally customers dangle in limbo for a moment or two. And we’ve seen (and experienced) long waits between being seated and being served. But once things get going, the pace improves, and servers seem knowledgeable and accommodating.
As for the food, the menu at North End Café – Highlands is exactly the same as that found in the original location. And that’s a good thing. Seckman’s cuisine has always emphasized regional ingredients and eclectic approaches that cater to a wide variety of tastes and pocketbooks, and offer plenty of options for vegetarians as well as omnivores.
Heading up the kitchen at the new location is head chef Adrian Jimerez, and on recent visits he and his crew delivered some very nice meals. A small plate of baby back ribs ($7.25) in a blueberry barbecue sauce wasn’t especially promising (tender meat, a lackluster, faintly sweet sauce), but a cup of corn chowder ($3) sparked up our appetite with the hot, salty, smoky interplay of cayenne and bacon in a pleasantly creamy base.
Entree, sandwich and salad listings include a wide spectrum of ideas: scallops and risotto (actually cheddar grits) with caramelized onions, shiitake mushrooms and a tarragon sauce ($24); vegan Reuben (tofu, sauerkraut and soy cheese, $7.99); smoked pork loin with mashed butternut squash ($18); a soba noodle salad with sesame dressing, cabbage, scallions, carrots and tofu or ginger ($10.35).
Vegetarian dishes including wild mushroom lasagna ($16.50) and eggplant casserole ($15.50) are well thought out and nicely plated, but the (literally) crowning glory of the vegetarian dishes is the chickpea and quinoa cake, a handsome cylinder of flavor that’s studded with grilled carrots, zucchini, yellow squash and caramelized onions, surrounded by a pool of red pepper coulis and topped with a tangle of haricots verts (and what seems a gratuitous sprinkle of crumbled goat cheese; $16.50).
For some folks, a plate of enchiladas ($12.99) will serve as comfort food, but for me, in the midst of a dreary December, there are few things more appealing than a plate of chicken and dumplings, and North End Cafe’s version ($10.50) is about as good as it gets. Now there are some folks (including my mother-in-law, Roberta), who insist that true dumplings are rolled out flat. Those folks might view North End’s soft oval pillows as an outlandish innovation, but nobody could find fault with the saucy morsels of chicken surrounded by carrots, onions and celery. This stuff is the real thing.
Speaking of midwinter comforts, North End’s breakfast menu is always available, which means the tongue-tingling migas (scrambled eggs with blue corn chips, plenty of sliced jalapeno, melted cheddar, fresh salsa and home fries, $7.50) can be had anytime.
Alas, the biscuits and gravy operation shuts down at 3 p.m., which means those hankering for sage-inflected sausage gravy (or vegetarian mushroom gravy) have an incentive to breakfast during the day.
It’s always puzzled me that North End, long noted as a breakfast destination, and a restaurant that prides itself on novel flavors, persists in serving those little restaurant tubs of jam instead of doing something different.
But perhaps that’s because chefs like Elizabeth Riggs are focused on dreaming up daily pancake specials (like a recent eggnog concoction that involved bourbon, vanilla and nutmeg, $7.99/$8.99), or are designing desserts like the spicy peach crisp that brought a recent meal to a sweet, warm close.
Contact freelance restaurant critic Marty Rosen at firstname.lastname@example.org.