When The Fat Lamb Modern Kitchen and Bar opened a year-and-a-half ago, my full intent was to get there for a meal sooner rather than later.
And then life happened. Timing went awry, other things came up. I finally decided to make it happen during the lunch shift, but something else stopped me — the cornmeal-fried oysters are not on the lunch menu.
I should explain: I had spoken at length with owner/chef Dallas McGarity back in February, and during that conversation I asked him what, if he were going for dinner at Fat Lamb, he would order. His answer came quickly: the cornmeal-fried oysters and the cheeseburger.
When the chef makes a recommendation, you take heed. So at that moment, I knew that when I finally made my way to Fat Lamb, that’s what I would order, and it would have to be for dinner.
When I finally made plans last week to go for an early dinner, I got within two blocks of the place to find the intersection at Grinstead Drive and Bardstown Road closed and crawling with Louisville Metro police vehicles and heavy equipment.
It was a water main break, and they weren’t letting me through. Grinstead gutters ran like aqueducts.
So I parked on Grinstead, walked down Cherokee to Highland Avenue, then back up the alley to the restaurant, probably a half-a-mile out of my way. It was as if the restaurant gods had tried, and failed, to thwart me one more time.
I sat at the bar and ordered my oysters, flashing police lights illuminating the small restaurant. It’s an attractive place with tile and neutral colors and designs — a modern feel but not stuffy, accentuated with Edison lighting and a few décor pieces such as a rusted tiller, a crosscut saw, an old blue lantern and an antique bellows.
The place was mostly empty (no doubt due in part to the traffic snarl), so I sat at the bar and quickly ordered a Rhinegeist Truth from the draft menu — there’s also a full bar with a handful of house cocktails and a nicely tailored wine list — and ordered my oysters appetizer, at long last.
I heard the oysters go into the fryer just a few minutes later and readied myself. They came out soon thereafter in a basic white bowl, garnished with mixed greens atop a layer of sumac-seasoned tzatziki sauce, kalamata olives sprinkled in.
The oysters were layered in a thin coating of peppery cornmeal batter and cooked perfectly, to the point that the larger oysters (there were about eight) were downright creamy in the center. The fresh, briny and slightly earthy flavor was darn near perfect, and the tzatziki was a nice balancing touch to the salty and savory dish.
The kalamata olives were a bit of a curveball, but the salty brightness was another tasty complement to the oysters. I’d never had oysters presented quite this way before, and I devoured it all, right down to the greens.
Next up was the cheeseburger, a dish I’d heard good things about from quite a few people, chefs included, and if McGarity endorsed it in his own restaurant, how could I refuse?
The dual patties are smashed, “diner style,” according to the bartender, and served on an egg-wash bun, cooked about medium to medium-well, and topped with two squares of American cheese, thick-sliced pickles and a light layer of lemon garlic mayonnaise.
The American classic is served with fries, which honestly were basic to the point that I had to believe it was purposeful — on an adventurous menu that strays here and there but with a constant eye toward Southern American fare, this is the staple. The fries even came with a small metal vessel of basic ketchup.
For my taste, the fries could have used another 30 seconds or so in the fryer, but they were lightly salted and solid and never took attention away from the star of the show, which was the double-decker burger that seemed larger once I got halfway through than it did when I first laid eyes on it.
The fresh beef was juicy and flavorful, the cheese was just the right complement, and it was just generally a really good burger. The garlic-lemon mayo added just a hint of seasoning but stayed out of the way. My only hiccup was that there was a sweet flavor in the pickle brine that I couldn’t quite place but didn’t seem to fit for my savory-leaning palate.
That’s not even a complaint, really — when I was younger, my burgers were always simply meat and cheese, nothing else, because I prefer to focus on the flavor of the beef. There were three pickle slices (super-thick, I might add), so I took the last two off and devoured the rest of the burger to the delight of my inner 12-year-old.
When I was about halfway through, the bartender asked how I liked it. I nodded in approval, and he said, “Those things will wear you out, put you to sleep.”
He was right — the meat sweats seeped in shortly thereafter, but it was worth every bite.
It will be hard to go back to Fat Lamb and not get the oysters and the burger, but the cumin-seared lamb chops look awfully tempting, as do the lamb meatballs and soy-braised pork belly. Here’s hoping that water main stays fixed.
Fat Lamb, located at 2011 Grinstead Drive, is open for lunch 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday; and for dinner 5-10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, and 5-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.