(Editor’s note: Steve Coomes contributed to this post.)
It’s the weekend, and you’re bored.
Over the years, you’ve eaten your way down the Bardstown Road/Baxter Avenue corridor from Zaytun Mediterranean Grill on the east to Molly Malone’s on the west. Then you did Frankfort Avenue, from the North End Cafe all the way east to Blue Dog.
Done Nulu. Done St. Matthews.
What you may have missed is the new downtown restaurant hub that’s quietly been forming (with millions of dollars invested) since 2009 around Theater Square. Park on the south side of Broadway, and you can walk to eight great spots in one block, the majority of which we’re willing to bet you’ve never tried.
Something for every mood and budget, as they say in the ads.
Even “Words to Chew On” restaurant expert Steve Coomes overlooked Theater Square:
I’ve lived in Louisville all my life, and even worked downtown from 1980 to 1995. But when I moved to Goshen in 2001, I had no idea how out of sight, out of mind our city-center streets would become post exodus.
Not by choice, mind you, but by geography.
To get my corpus back into the downtown scene more regularly, a friend recently set me up with a cubicle and Internet access in Theater Square office building a couple of days a week.
From that perch on Fourth Street, I can walk to Sapporo, Theater Square Marketplace, Safier Mediterranean Deli, Bluegrass Brewing Co., both Brown Hotel restaurants and both Seelbach restaurants in under 2 minutes. And I’m sure I left a few cool spots off the list.
(Stinky Cordish deals be questioned, damned or applauded, but there’s no doubt Fourth Street Live has brought people back downtown for fun.)
Stray one block in any direction and you’re upon other great places I have yet to visit. Yes, I’m a huge fan of the places on Bardstown Road/Baxter Avenue, St. Matthews, Frankfort Avenue and beyond. But with the new life appearing just south of Broadway (including the NuLu and around the new arena), I’m more amazed than ever at the restaurant options to be found in a medium-size town like Louisville.
The offerings on Theater Square:
- Theater Square Marketplace at 651 S. Fourth St. This should be your first stop just because you’ll never believe people aren’t buzzing about it. For our money, owners George Stinson and Eric Haner have created one of the sublime urban restaurant interiors in Louisville, not to mention a discrete and luxurious outside dining area by Exteriorscape’s Mark Cain. We don’t even want to know what they spent on the Chihuly glass pieces and lighting over the bar. AND, the place has a fun, accessible menu of under Chef Dallas McGarrity, late of Equus and Jack’s Lounge. (The cocktails here match up even with the Brown Hotel a few doors away, one of our favorites!)
- The English Grill, in the Brown Hotel at 335 W. Broadway. A candidate for Louisville’s best restaurant. Plan on spending $100 per person – considerably more with a decent bottle of wine. But Chef Laurent Géroli makes it worth every penny. The hotel also has J. Graham’s for lunch.
- Sapporo Sushi and Sake, 649 S. Fourth St. Like Theater Square Marketplace, this is another fabulous secret dining destination, this one owned by Mi Kim, who owns the Sapporo on Bardstown Road in the Highlands. Kim did not scrimp on the total rebuild of what had been Cafe Kilimanjaro. Entrees $15 to $25.
- Safier Mediterranean Deli: 641 S. Fourth Street. Most people think of this tiny restaurant as a lunch spot. But it keeps late hours (till 8 p.m.) and has some of the best Middle Eastern food in Louisville. Try the Athenian Broiled Chicken, which has a subtle but flavorful yogurt-based sauce. So cheap, you make money every time you walk in the door. No alcohol.
- Yafa Cafe at 22 Theater Square. Another Mediterranean/Arab restaurant with good, though not great, food. BUT, they have nargile (hookahs, to you non-Turkish speakers.) No alcohol.
- Bluegrass Brewing Co. at 660 S. Fourth. This place can get crazy crowded in the summer, but the beer is fabulous and the food ranges from okay to great. Prices range from about $20 for the New York Strip steak to $8.99 for sandwiches. The beer is the reason to go, especially the American Pale Ale and the Altbier.
- Cunningham’s, 630 S. Fourth St. Ah, yes, fried fish, burgers, roast beef, steaks, french fries, cole slaw and all the stuff your cardiologist loves to hear you’re eating … and it’s all sooooo good, here. And inexpensive. Lunch for maybe $10 per person.
- Sicilian Pizza & Pasta, 631 S. Fourth St. Darn good pizza by the slice. Gourmet pizza, calzones and Stromboli. Prices are really good, with the most expensive pizza on the menu below $20. Try that Wicks! It used to be too crowded at lunch, but Sicilian Pizza recently moved to a larger, much nicer space next door to the original location.
Next time, the rest of downtown!