- 1164 S. Third St., Louisville, KY, 40203
- (502) 585-2233
- Overall User Rating:
- (0 ratings)
- 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; closed Sunday
- Official Web Site:
After 11 years of operation, it seems safe to say that the Third Avenue Café is one of the anchors of the Old Louisville dining scene.
Against the Victorian backdrop of the neighborhood, the cool, campy décor — colorful artworks, a scattering of Elvis images, a color scheme based on fall colors that seems especially seasonal and comforting just now, plastic tablecloths as bright as a tropical jungle and the big, bright windows that look out across Third Street — is a pleasant study in contrast that offers a fine refuge for folks who live and work in the neighborhood.
When it opened in 1999, Third Avenue Café was also distinctive for its commitment to vegan and vegetarian cuisine. And some of the vegetarian sandwiches — notably the vegetarian Reuben ($8.75), a savory, smoky, saucy concoction featuring tempeh and sauerkraut — are as good as their meaty counterparts.
Until early this year, the menu extended to a full slate of steaks, chops and pastas, including ambitious items like parchment-steamed grouper and flank steak served atop a savory Moroccan stew.
More recently, the kitchen has been focused on a narrower range of options, including sandwiches and a short list of entrees (the restaurant's website still shows an obsolete dinner menu, and I'm told there are plans to revive it soon).
Sandwiches — the mainstay of any café — are still a strength. Offerings include burgers ($8.95), a generously apportioned fish sandwich ($8.95), and a boneless pork chop boldly done up Jamaican jerk-style, with a generous mix of spices and a tangy spritz of citrus ($8.95).
These days, the sandwich list is complemented by a constrained bill of fare: a couple of pastas and a handful of entrees (including a stuffed chicken breast and curry roasted vegetables).
The shorter menu, however, doesn't necessarily lead to distinguished results. For instance, a grilled filet of salmon ($13.99, with a couple of side items) was competently cooked — commendably moist throughout — but tasted of bland duty rather than flavorful imagination (and a bowl of melted butter, presumably intended as a dipping sauce, didn't really add much to the affair).
One of the sides, a house salad, was as crisp and fresh as could be. And though we hoped for indulgent comfort in a side of macaroni and cheese, it wasn't to be found; this macaroni and cheese smacked of puritanical restraint.
So did a vegetable medley — an austere bowl of blanched, unseasoned cauliflower, carrots, broccoli and squash that adhered to healthy principles, with nary a concession to pleasure. Happily, a baked bowl of vegan “meat loaf” — a mélange of lentils, grains, veggies and herbs, topped with a spicy red sauce — was more fun, and a bowl of black jasmine rice that smelled of Middle Eastern seasonings made a nice appeal to the senses. And these days, given the increasingly delightful array of plant-based dishes available locally, that's the minimum standard for vegan and vegetarian dishes.
Still, that sandwich list does cater to pleasure-seekers. A classic Reuben — the one made with real corned beef — is a juicy, guilty pleasure served on thick slices of marble rye ($8.95). Smoked turkey, provolone, avocado and red pepper aioli make for a colorful, zingy sandwich ($8.75). And sides like herb-flecked cheese grits and a sparkling wheatberry salad studded with jade-green edamame, offer robust flavors and visual dash.
By the way, speaking of appeals to the senses, Third Avenue Café features Desserts by Helen, and there's nothing the least bit austere about that.