bar Vetti is located in the ground floor of the 800 Building. | Photo by Kevin Gibson

I had the pleasure of sitting down with Chef Andrew McCabe a few weeks back and vowed to put his restaurant, bar Vetti, on my list, in part because I was struck by how much he puts into his food.

I finally made it in for a meal, and I wasn’t disappointed.

First of all, the clean, upscale feel of the place — the neon “bar Vetti” sign on the wall commands attention as soon as you walk in — doesn’t mean it isn’t a cozy spot to have a meal with friends and enjoy a cocktail or two. The restaurant is oddly situated in the ground floor of the 800 Building, just south of downtown, yet it somehow belongs.

bar Vetti has an inviting vibe. | Photo by Kevin Gibson

I met my friend Traci for dinner recently, and we sat at the L-shaped bar, giving us a fine view of McCabe and his staff at work in the kitchen. We each ordered a beer and then set about finding a couple of items to order and share (the bar Vetti menu encourages sharing).

There’s a version of fondue, a country ham plate and a small bite plate called Flaming Hot Fried Chickpeas. Options on the “Plates” portion of the menu include everything from sea trout to a Caesar salad, not to mention roasted cauliflower.

If it’s Italian fare you crave, bar Vetti has you covered with four pasta dishes, including whole wheat spaghetti and a Rigatoni Cacio e Pepe that advertises “lots of black pepper.”

Six signature pizzas range from a classic margherita to a pie topped with Kentucky-raised country ham from Broadbent Foods, red onion, peach, mascarpone cheese, arugula and balsamic.

Traci and I decided to start off with a plate of tartare made with Black Hawk Farms beef, then make our main course a Summer Squash pizza.

Beef tartare | Photo by Kevin Gibson

I’d never imagined I’d consider eating raw beef — tuna or salmon I’m OK with, for whatever reason — but this iteration of beef tartare was absolutely delicious, served in the shape of a small patty along with a large sourdough cracker with sesame seed.

Calabrese chilis gave the dish an unexpected spice, and it was rounded out with tomato aioli, hemp hearts and colatura, a type of fish sauce. Italian parsley topped the flavorful dish. I’d go there again, gladly.

Our pizza came on a thin crust, with a thick, scorched edge, baked in a custom brick oven. Toppings included slices of squash and zucchini so thin as to nearly be translucent, quartered cherry tomatoes, plenty of mascarpone and house-made buttermilk ricotta. The chilis made another appearance, along with a liberal dose of basil on top.

The bright flavors in the fresh ingredients popped with every bite, and the big basil aroma was a nice balance to everything else coming at our palates as we ate. The center crust was crackers crisp, while the edges were crispy outside and soft inside.

Summer Squash pizza | Photo by Kevin Gibson

It was notable that this wasn’t a pizza slathered in tomato sauce; rather, olive oil provided deft flavor and moisture, making it almost like a salad on crust. Thoroughly enjoyable.

With the small appetizer plate and the roughly 12-inch pie, we weren’t full when we finished up, but we were well satisfied. Quality is quality, and that’s what you’ll get when you dine at bar Vetti.

When the bartender ran my card and brought my final receipt to sign, I started scanning for the tip line — and then I remembered that bar Vetti doesn’t do tipping, opting instead to simply pay employees a livable wage. I’m all for that decision.

Also, we had beers with our dinner, but if you go, you may want to try a cocktail — the ingredients used in them are as fresh as those used in the food.

bar Vetti, located at 800 S. Fourth St., is open 5 to 10 p.m. on Monday and Tuesday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday, and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.

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Kevin Gibson
Kevin Gibson tackles the 3Rs — retail, restaurants, real estate — plus, economic development. He loves bacon, loathes cucumbers and once interviewed Yoko Ono. Check out his books, “Louisville Beer: Derby City History on Draft” and “100 Things to do in Louisville Before You Die.” He has won numerous awards for his work but doesn’t know where most of them are now. In his spare time, he plays in a band called the Uncommon Houseflies.Email Kevin at [email protected]