Now that the headline for this story has angered plenty of my restaurant friends and foodie snobs, I may as well stand my ground and salt the wound a bit further by throwing some more praise on Louisville’s newest chain player, Gordon Biersch.
Much as I prefer independently owned restaurants to chain operations, in the end I simply go to good restaurants. Doesn’t matter whether there are two or 2,000 under the same name, if I like it, I’m going.
And I like Gordon Biersch a lot.
Full disclosure: Last night was a full-on press love-up and a soft-opening. I and Insider Louisville editor Terry Boyd got lots of attention from the publicist, the staff and the friendly brewmaster, Dave Stacey.
But that didn’t affect my opinion of the place because the food, service and beer were all the same last night as I’ve had every time I’ve been to a Gordon Biersch in Las Vegas or Columbus, Ohio. It wasn’t just good, it was darn good.
Who cares that there’s no culinary theme to its menu? That it’s all over the spectrum is no fault at all when the food is good … and the shrimp bao buns and the pork bao buns and the seared ahi tuna salad and the barbecue chicken sandwich were all first rate. I don’t go to a chain restaurant looking for culinary authenticity, I go for a good eats.
Was the food James Beard Award winning good? Of course not. But that’s not what GB is after. The 34-unit concept seeks to serve reliable, high-quality chow to a broad audience. (And its downtown placement will indeed deliver that.) Amateurs and food snoots alike can find plenty to enjoy there.
And the beer? Yesterday I read one online commenter who wrote that while the beer was “correct to style,” the flavor profile of GB’s beers was just safe enough to not overwhelm average beer drinkers’ palates.
Well, I’m not sure what that “reviewer” expected, but as far as I’m concerned, any beer made correct to style is a beautiful thing, and every beer we tasted was just terrific, worth returning for.
Did I think, “I bet any of these would blow away the town’s best brewers”? Of course not. Even GB’s brewmaster knows he’s playing it down the middle.
“We do specialize in traditional German lagers to make our beer appealing to a broad audience,” Stacey began. “But that does handcuff us in some ways because we can’t do doubles and triples and really hoppy beers you see others doing. So when I’m craving something on the spicy side, I know I can go to some of the locals to get that.”
Though my meager photos don’t detail it well, it’s a gorgeous, snazzy, stylish, modern and tasteful facility, a sight to see.
But for some, the second you put a chain name on it, it’s “sterile, repetitive and predictable.” By comparison, if an indie op built the same place, it would be “inspired, creative and clever.”
Fact is no independent restaurateur in Louisville could (or would be foolish enough to spend the dough required) so interestingly remodel and reshape a 9,000 square-foot empty chain bookstore and install a working brewery in the few months it took GB to get it done. That’s just one of many things thing chains do exceptionally well.
It doesn’t mean you have to like ‘em, but anyone who ignores the business smarts at work in the process is simply goofy.
And if, as so many have said and written, you’d prefer not to have a chain in that Fourth and Liberty location, what do you want? An empty space?
Without a chain, that spot wouldn’t get filled.
I don’t even care if a chain I didn’t like moved in there (and there are at least two on Fourth Street Live I don’t like at all), I won’t ignore the economic impact such businesses bring. Not only do chains deposit tax dollars into community coffers, they bring jobs.
For example, I could see at least 15 cooks working on the other side of the glass partition dividing the kitchen and dining room. That’s a huge culinary staff whose payroll could be close to $400,000 a year, and that’s not even a quarter of the whole staff required to run the place. I fail to see the wrong in that.
Alright, enough with what seems like a chain apologetic. I’m just being honest in saying I really like Gordon Biersch: its beer, its menu, its looks and its whole concept. I like the variety it brings to the restaurant landscape, and I like knowing thousands will come downtown to try it.
I can think of at least three dozen indie places I’d like to eat before coming back there, but when I do return, I’ll go willingly.
And, frankly, I think you should, too.