- 320 W. Jefferson St., Louisville, KY, 40202
- (502) 581-1234
- Overall User Rating:
- (1 rating)
- Monday-Friday, 6:30 a.m.-2 p.m., 5-10 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday, 7 a.m.-2 p.m.; 5-10 p.m.
- Official Web Site:
Ask a native whether Louisville is a city of the South or a city of the Midwest, and you’ll hear a bit of hemming, a bit of hawing, and, in the end, you’ll be told that it’s a bit of both. Ask an anthropologist, a sociologist, an economist or a political scientist and you’ll likely get the same answer.
But I say this: Essence is perception.
And if you were to poll the tourists who come our way, I think you’d find they perceive us as a Southern city. And they’d be right. Our signature event, the Kentucky Derby, is more than just a horse race. It’s the horse race. And as such it’s arguably the single greatest celebration of the South’s gracious, glorious agricultural legacy.
Head a hundred miles north and the iconic event is an auto race — an equally famous event, but one that pays tribute to the industrial might of the Midwest.
Here’s another piece of evidence: My correspondence from out-of-town visitors nearly always asks me for advice on where to find great fried chicken. Just a guess, but I’m pretty sure this is not a hot topic among visitors to Indianapolis.
Up until recently, the Fried Chicken question was pretty vexed. Some of my top recommendations (Big Momma’s Soul Kitchen, 4532 W. Broadway; the Village Anchor Pub & Roost, 11507 Park Road, Anchorage; Shirley Mae’s Café, 802 S. Clay St.) haven’t been very convenient for travelers. Then came Harvest (624 E. Market St.), an outstanding exponent of farm-to-table dining that’s won plenty of accolades over the last year.
And now comes a sweet and surprising addition to the scene: Sway, the Hyatt Regency Louisville’s new restaurant/bar. Sway — Southern Way — isn’t the first locavore Louisville restaurant. Nor is it the first to offer a chef-driven menu that pays loving homage to Southern foodways. But in important ways, Sway represents a watershed moment in the local locavore movement.
First, it benefits from a great setting in the heart of the city. The tastefully rustic street-level space very nearly spills out onto the street. On fine days, the lounge windows are open to the breezes and buskers, and because they sit at a smart angle to the street, diners have a sweeping view of the cityscape.
Second, it’s notable that a major international hospitality corporation has signaled its commitment to Southern locavore cuisine. A Hyatt in Atlanta has a restaurant based on the same principles — but with a Georgia-centric menu. Given the clout of such a corporation, that has to be a boon both to farmers and diners.
Third, the Louisville Sway offers the sort of honest, authoritative, well-conceived, well-executed Southern cuisine that will make it not only a great option for visitors, but a deserving destination for Louisvillians.
Developed by chef David Barrett, the menu reflects a deep knowledge of regional sources, from the Chaney’s Ice Cream (Bowling Green) featured in the Tagalong ice cream sundae (made with Girl Scout Cookies baked here in Louisville) to the cage-free eggs (Rose Acres) to the Capriole goat cheese (Greenville, Ind.) that shows up in an egg white, mushroom and organic spinach omelet from the breakfast menu ($10).
The breakfast, lunch and dinner menus are full of Southern riffs, like fried chicken Benedict — chicken, poached eggs and country-style greens on a biscuit base ($12); an extravagant Romaine salad generously garnished with crisp chunks of salt-cured Penn Country Ham (Taylor County), Kenny’s Farmhouse Blue and a ravishing white balsamic dressing ($9); and airy, grease-free fried pork rinds that come popping and crackling to the table — and are admirably accompanied by Bluegrass Red Hot Sauce (McCracken County).
Heck, the menu reads like a list of local ingredients that have been featured over the years by yours truly in the pages of The Courier-Journal.
Service is extraordinarily knowledgeable. Ask servers about particular dishes, and you’ll learn that Hyatt management took them to visit the farm that raises the thick, bone-in pork chop that’s slathered with a slightly sweet pan sauce and plated with snap peas and seared new potatoes ($26). In fact, the servers have visited many of the sources (and even when the less experienced servers get out of their depth on busy nights, they never lose their friendly enthusiasm).
Fried dishes — chicken fried steak ($14), Southern fried chicken (lunch, $12, dinner, $20), crisp, creamy grit fritters stuffed with local cheddar and bacon ($7) — are simply extraordinary. On recent visits, every example has been cloaked in classic Southern breading — crisp and crunchy, with just the right dose of salt and pepper. And the flesh of the fried chicken — which takes some time, since it’s battered and fried to order — is as firm and flavorful as a good brining can make it. And oh, those natural gravies!
In contrast, pan-seared chicken breast ($23) seemed positively austere, its deeply flavored sauce more stern than satisfying. And a biscuit-topped vegetable pot pie ($18) that had a creamily spectacular look (filled with asparagus, spinach, onions and black-eyed peas), fell flat until we gave it a hefty dose of salt at the table (no such problem afflicted a terrific bowl of mac and cheese, $6).
And if you’re looking for bar snacks, don’t ignore the dedicated bar menu, which includes, say, chicken fried steak dippers with horseradish sauce ($6).
Oh, and did I mention that Tagalong Ice Cream Sundae? Yes, I think I did.
You can email freelance restaurant critic Marty Rosen at firstname.lastname@example.org.