Thumbing through Urbanspoon reviews of Germantown’s Coach Lamp Restaurant & Pub last night, (as we waited for the owners Gail and Bill Darling to complete a “move that bus”-style on-camera walkthrough) I noticed a post from December of 2011 which read, “this place needs a visit from Gordon Ramsay.”
Preceded by a no less fiery reputation, celebrity chef Robert Irvine and his crew from Food Network’s “Restaurant: Impossible,” as well as dozens of local volunteers, had just completed a 48 hour marathon of renovation and reinvention that saw the addition of a gorgeous new patio space, a completely redesigned menu, and yes, a new name: Brooke & Billy’s Back Patio.
Walking into the facelifted bar and dining space shortly thereafter, it was surprising to see just how far an updated paint job and some sleek new fixtures can take you.
Those familiar with the general layout of the old Coach Lamp will still be able to find their way to the restroom just fine, but the aesthetics are nearly unrecognizable.
Gone is the old decor, which a group of women outside referred to as “stuffy,” replaced by warm lighting with black and burnt gold trim throughout, which, in tandem with some new pieces of art, serve to highlight the previously extant hardwood flooring.
But it is the new patio space that is the structural star, boasting a beautiful open-air wooden enclosure, silver-colored chandeliers made of repurposed lights and hand-painted murals on the red brick exterior.
Louisville-based actor and visual artist Kenn Parks painted a black and white fleur-de-lis for the patio space, and explained that it was the first time Restaurant: Impossible had attempted an exterior build. The decision came after the production canvassed the neighborhood for opinions, with reportedly 100 percent of those surveyed expressing a desire for outdoor dining.
Earlier that evening, killing time down the street, a bartender at Seidenfaden’s explained to me that many of those in the neighborhood felt priced-out by the Darling’s 2001 move towards upscale dining and top-shelf libation (the locale had been a reasonably priced haunt for decades). And it is with the new menu and expanded bar options that those concerns seem to have garnered the most attention.
Sure, you can still throw back a Woodford or better, but the expanded stock of bourbons (which runs the entire length of the bar) include plenty of cheaper options as well, and there is both BBC and (gasp) Pabst on tap.
The menu has moved in a similarly populist direction, with entree prices in the $10 to $15 range generally (down from the uppers teens to low twenties), but foodies should find the palate no less adventurous.
In fact, according to Bill Darling’s daughter Brooke, the Prime Rib is the only remaining dish from the old menu, and it seems the most vanilla option on the list by far.
More colorful highlights include a boursin cheese-stuffed pear wedge served with artisan greens and candied pecans, a modified Hot Brown with brie mornay, pepper jam and braised pork, and for dessert, raisin bread pudding with sriracha bourbon ice cream.
One of the things people often wonder about reality TV is just how involved “the host” actually is. I can say that in the case of Robert Irvine the answer appears to be: totally.
“He yells at you whether the camera is rolling or not,” laughed a volunteer grabbing a post-production beer at Seidenfaden’s.
But Kenn Parks said he met a man that was as kind as he was demanding, and 100percent committed to his craft. Irvine confided in Parks he had hardly slept Tuesday night, up all night worrying about the production. “I just really care about these restaurants,” Irvine told him.
Irvine and the Darlings were said to have had several vocal confrontations throughout the shoot, but it is unclear whether that was for real or for “reality.”
What was clear, as he mingled among the standing-room only crowd, posing for pictures and telling stories, was that the bulk of Irvine’s stress melted away the second the restaurant took its first order.
The wait staff, bartenders and line cooks appeared slightly less relaxed, grappling with a packed house and a completely new everything, and were darting around with that recognizable glimmer of mild terror in their eyes.
Talking to the Darling’s last night, I’m not sure they were completely prepared for what they were in for with Coach Lamp’s extreme makeover, but all parties, raucous patrons included, seemed largely positive on the improvements. The full story will have to wait until November, with a reported non-disclosure agreement in place until five days after the episode airs.
It has been a busy summer for Louisville’s presence on the national food scene, with the Kentucky episode of “Bizarre Foods: America” airing earlier this week, and Louisville chef Damaris Phillips winning her own Food Network show.
Judging by the enthusiasm at the new Back Patio last night, with walk-in reservations waiting as long as three hours for a table, it is the sort of attention for which this food community is exceedingly eager.
One fun anecdote that likely one make it to your TV: As chef Irvine tore away the white plastic cover-up shielding the new patio from view (as part of the aforementioned “move that bus” moment”) he also broke one of the small electric lamps mounted on the top of the fence line, to be left dangling by its wire.
It struck me as being strangely akin to Jennifer Lawrence tripping on her way up the steps at the Oscars.
Just the perfect amount of Louisville charm.
The Coach Lamp episode of Robert Irvine’s “Restaurant: Impossible” will air on Food Network on November 6th.