2016 already is shaping up to be another year of continued growth for Louisville’s restaurant scene.
Sure, some will inevitably close. But the restaurant industry seems to end each year on a net positive — at least for the past few years.
The rapid growth in the culinary world has led some to question how many eateries a city Louisville’s size can sustain and if there is a large enough employee pool to keep them all running. Despite this, foodies still salivate every time a new restaurant is announced and anxiously await its grand opening.
Here are some of the key restaurant openings scheduled for next year.
The Texas Roadhouse-owned burger, pizza and sports bar concept will open its first location in the Greater Louisville area in early summer. Bubba’s 33 will be located off U.S. 31 in Clarksville.
This restaurant is unique because it will be one of less than a dozen locations. Texas Roadhouse is growing the brand slowly to get a feel for how to run it best.
“We’re still trying to figure everything out. We’re very pleased with the performance so far, but yet, a lot of the stores are not even six months old,” Texas Roadhouse CEO and founder Kent Taylor said back in November.
It’s not surprising after an October visit to the future Doc’s Cantina site that the opening has been delayed until early 2016. The Mexican restaurant was little more than stone walls and floors at the time.
Still, the partners with restaurant company Falls City Hospitality Group are professionals and will get the eatery open one way or another. The group expects to spend about $3 million turning the former Tumbleweed on River Road into Doc’s Cantina.
It will seat about 200 people and provide wide views of the Ohio River and Southern Indiana.
Corporate chef Jonathan Schwartz is crafting a mixture of “tried and true” Mexican dishes and out-of-the-box items like beef tongue for the menu.
Insider Louisville broke the news this summer that Michigan-based Barfly Ventures plans to open its HopCat concept in the former Spindletop Draperies, a prime location in a hopping neighborhood.
The pièce de résistance of the restaurant and bar is the 100 or more beers on tap it will offer. In terms of menu, HopCat offers a variety of soups, salads, sandwiches and burgers.
The Spindletop building is currently undergoing about $2 million in renovations and is expected to open next year. No firmer timeline has been given.
Mercato Italiano Trattoria and Market
Originally expected to open this month, the grand opening of Mercato Italiano Trattoria and Market in Norton Commons was pushed back to the second week in January.
The Italian restaurant is the brainchild of prolific restaurateurs Christina, Fernando and Yaniel Martinez.
Mercato Italiano’s menu will include some items from the now-closed Cena, but the atmosphere will be more casual, Fernando Martinez said. The restaurant also will have a deli counter where it will sell Italian cheeses, bread, fine olive oil and vinegar, charcuterie, meatballs, homemade pasta and pasta sauce.
The average per person dinner check will run about $25.
Red Barn Kitchen
No surprise this next restaurant is also a Martinez family venture.
It is currently slated to open in February in the former Joe’s Older Than Dirt bar on New Lagrange Road. However, that could be pushed some after Mercato Italiano’s delayed opening.
Red Barn will be a Southern barbecue joint, a departure from the Martinezes’ Latin roots. Chef Reed Johnson, formerly of Wiltshire Pantry Catering, will act as head chef.
Menu items will include traditional Southern favorites with a twist, such as a barbecue-influenced shrimp and grits, and duck confit and waffles.
River House Restaurant and Raw Bar/Levee at the River House
Chef John Varanese announced two separate but related concepts that he plans to open in late winter in 2016.
The first is River House Restaurant and Raw Bar, a Southern restaurant and raw bar at 3015 River Road that will take its influences from Kentucky down to South Carolina’s low country. The average per person check will be $15 for lunch and $32 for dinner.
The second will open on its heels: Levee at the River House will focus more on small plates, cocktails and music.
The River House concept has been a dream of Varanese’s for more than a decade, he said.
Owned by New Yorker Rocco Cadolini, the Italian restaurant is set to open softly sometime this January on Bardstown Road, right next to chef Dustin Staggers’ Roux.
The menu will include authentic Italian dishes as well as some Americanized Italian. Prices will range from $9 to $32.
This will be Cadolini’s only restaurant outside of New York City.
Royals Hot Chicken
It’s a toss up whether this restaurant’s opening will spill over into the New Year.
Royals Hot Chicken held a private soft opening last night but an official open date hasn’t been set, meaning it could still open just before the clock strikes midnight on Dec. 31.
The restaurant’s official Twitter noted last night that the open date is “tbd, maybe later this week.”
Royals Hot Chicken is a locally owned eatery serving up a Nashville favorite and the latest venture for Feast BBQ owner Ryan Rogers.
Rogers keeps mostly mum when it comes to the media. However, social media shows that the restaurant will have three different levels of heat for its chicken — hot, “xtra hot” and Gonzo.
Rogers also will offer customers menu items such as a honey mustard fried chicken salad sandwich with Granny Smith apples, sunflower seeds, celery and golden raisins; fried chicken with Duke’s Mayonnaise; black-eyed pea salad; soft-serve ice cream and milkshakes (presumably to counter the heat).