- 900 E. Market St, Louisville, KY
- Overall User Rating:
- (1 rating)
- Lunch: Tuesday-Saturday 11:00am-2:00pm Dinner: Tuesday-Thursday 5:00pm-midnight Friday-Saturday 5:00pm-2:00am
- Official Web Site:
Restaurant dining is generally a private experience that happens to take place in public. Even at fast-food restaurants we queue up with strangers but rarely make eye contact or exchange words.
Traditionally, in the elite reaches of the restaurant world, we dine in a bubble, at judiciously spaced tables, and escape into the night suitably impressed by the well-oiled, uneventful predictability of the event.
That kind of meal has its pleasures. But a new generation of Louisville restaurateurs seems to delight in a new model, coupling excellent chef-driven cuisine with a rambunctiously social environment. A notable example is RYE, newly opened on the East Market Street corridor.
RYE’s operating team — proprietor Michael Trager-Kusman, general manager Erin MacDonald and chef William Tyler Morris — will tell you that a great dining experience need not be either private or predictable. The three developed their vision for RYE in big urban centers, and they share a notion that part of the pleasure of dining out is experiencing the unexpected.
At RYE, that notion plays out in ways that will unsettle some, while delighting others.
For instance, the only phone in the building is upstairs in the office; there’s no way to reach the greeting station during service hours. Milling around at the bar is an integral part of the experience.
Another example: The menu changes daily (one night the folks sitting next to us lamented the disappearance of what they described as a legendary pasta carbonara). Seating is tight enough to encourage conversation with your neighbors.
Dress runs from suit and ties to T-shirts, and hair color runs from naturally gray to unnaturally pink. .
The space is a superb example of urban reclamation and local artisanship. Hand-carved details by Louisville artist Michael Ratterman adorn a bar made of sassafras from an Indiana barn. Evocative photos by Louisville’s Sarah Lyon hang behind the bar. Furnishings are made from reclaimed wood and metal shutters salvaged from an old distillery.
Service standards are quite high — and exceptionally well-informed, given that the menu is constantly changing. And every day seems to bring new and exciting selections. If today’s carbonara or gnocchi disappears, to be replaced by Arctic char with wilted kale ($23) or fettuccine with fennel sausage and arugula pesto ($19), it seems petty to complain.
Besides, that arugula pesto adds a fascinating edge to the creamy white beans that share a plate with the best roasted chicken in the city: a generous portion of juicy, spice-rubbed chicken that’s cooked sous vide to create sublimely tender meat, then finished in a cast-iron skillet — which creates a gorgeous, golden, faintly crusty surface ($18).
A house-smoked pastrami sandwich ($11) didn’t quite work for me: The meat was finely flavored and stacked high, but sliced too thickly to be eaten by hand. But the burger ($11) was like edible art, with every element, from the melted cheddar to the house-made bun, in service to the whole.
The entrees are formidable — and shareable — but you could make a fabulous communal meal from the small plates and sides.
Toasted flatbread is smeared with a faint hint of ricotta, then covered with a moist layer of finely chopped, gently spiced broccoli rabe, and crowned with a soft egg that, when pierced, sauces the combination with gorgeous golden yolk ($10).
The fritto misto is a mix of fresh and pickled vegetables (including crinkly, crunchy nests of kale), all delicately fried in tempura batter ($8), and served with a zingy aioli.
Some sort of croquette seems always available (lamb and wild rice, $11; walleye and wild rice, $11).
And the vegetables and salads ought to make RYE a mandatory visit for anyone interested in plant-based dining.
Fans of bright green Romaine look glorious when touched with buttermilk dressing ($10). The kitchen mixes roasted Brussels sprouts and bright red baby beets with pickled mustard seeds ($7), dishes up carved spears of pan-roasted salsify and seasons it with thyme and lemon ($7), and does miraculous things with bright orange chunks of winter squash, roasting it, sprinkling it with a faintly bitter blue cheese, and giving it a fascinating finish with a hazelnut vinaigrette ($8).
And although pairing pear granita with creamy panna cotta struck as a discordant experiment, both elements were quite fine in their own right.
Contact freelance restaurant critic Marty Rosen at firstname.lastname@example.org.