In Louisville’s hyper-competitive dining scene, where new trends blended with Southern tradition seem to be a driving force, some places seem to sit still while time goes flying past.
Nothing drives this home like a visit to the Cottage Inn, the enduring little restaurant on Eastern Parkway that incredibly has been in business since 1929. It had been a good two decades since I’d been somehow, even though each time I drive by, I think, “I need to go back to the Cottage Inn.”
How is it that some restaurants can be forgotten? Is it because we simply expect them to be there forever, giving us an excuse to simply put it off a while longer? As if we’re going to be here forever? The Cottage Inn may well outlive us all, so we may as well enjoy it while we can.
So, my girlfriend and I stopped in for dinner one night and were greeted by a friendly server named Justin as we approached the front door.
“You guys here for a large party?” he asked.
“Nope,” I told him, “just here for dinner.”
Well, enjoy!” he said with a burst of enthusiasm.
We stepped inside and, apart from some updated paint and décor, the place looked almost exactly as I had remembered it, with the same wood wall accents, and the same “bar” bearing homemade cakes covered in glass. The two-room cottage – it literally is a stone cottage, in case you’ve missed this place somehow – is small, but in a cozy way.
The place was bustling, and we felt lucky to find a two-top near the front door. Justin was quickly upon us to drop off menus, take our drink orders and reel off a couple of specials – I caught fried pork chops and Brussels sprouts.
I already knew I was getting fried chicken, the signature dish for decades at Cottage Inn, while Cynthia decided on fried whitefish. Both of us craving our favorite comfort foods, we each ordered mashed potatoes with white gravy and green beans as sides. Her bread choice was a dinner roll, while I asked for the sweet cornbread muffin.
As tables emptied, the place quieted down a bit; it can get downright clamorous in there, a fact which I had forgotten. But I took a chance to marvel at some of the old memorabilia in the backroom, such as original menus from 1929 framed on one wall, and an early shot from when it was a deli.
Soon, the place filled back up, as the “large party” Justin had spoken of began to trickle in. At last count, it looked like there were at least 14 of them.
Our dinners came more quickly than I’d expected – it takes a while to fry chicken to order and do it right – and our eyes immediately were pleased. Our stomachs were soon to follow.
I managed a bite of Cynthia’s whitefish, which was just what you’d want it to be – two medium-sized filets, generously rolled in delicious, seasoned cornmeal, and fried just right.
“It literally tastes like my mom made it,” Cynthia said. Indeed, it reminded my of my late grandmother’s whitefish feasts of years past.
I started with the mashed potatoes, then the beans, to give my piping-hot chicken time to cool. The potatoes were the real deal, with a few lumps for good measure, lightly seasoned, and topped with a solid, peppery country gravy. The green beans were slow-cooked and seasoned with bits of bacon. Around the time I decided to brave the hot chicken wing in my quarter white order, Cynthia tried her potatoes.
“Oh, my goodness,” she said. “These mashed potatoes. Oh, my stars.”
The chicken was every bit as delicious as advertised, not to mention a fair-sized meal for the more-than-reasonable $8.99 price tag. The breading was nicely peppery and crispy, while the chicken inside was meaty, fresh and perfectly cooked. And on Wednesday evenings, it’s still all-you-care-to-eat for $12.99.
We grabbed a slice of homemade chocolate cake to take home (delicious and decadent) and paid our bill, which clocked in at just under $25.
Other menu items I’d like to try, assuming I don’t wait another 20 years to return, include frog legs (“We only cook champion jumpers!,” the menu trumpets), chicken livers (another house favorite), and I’m guessing the Monday turkey and dressing special and Tuesday hot roast beef special are worth a look as well.
Cottage Inn, located at 570 Eastern Parkway, is open 9:45 a.m.-10 p.m., Monday through Saturday.