A few months back, a friend and I settled into Nirvana for dinner, only to have the bartender inform us there was no food service that day. Why? The cook didn’t show up. So, our hopes of sampling some of the southern-style fare listed on the menu were shot down.
But a week or so ago, I scrolled past a video on Facebook showing off one of the most delicious-looking burgers I’ve ever seen — and it was at Nirvana. Food is back, and it’s completely different from the concept that was there previously.
I’ll never know if that first menu was any good, but I’m here to tell you Nirvana is onto something with its new Americana-meets-Asian concept. The service was welcoming and friendly, the food was imaginative and handsomely presented, and the value was outstanding.
I was there for dinner with my girlfriend, Cynthia, and after our meal our server, Jackie, told us the food portion of the bar, which mostly has served as a music venue, is operated by a pair of culinary school friends of Superchefs owner Darnell Ferguson, who helped fund the venture.
In that way, it’s sort of a Superchefs annex, but the concept is different, focusing on what comes off as high-end bar food, with spins on nachos, sandwiches, tacos and appetizers. Every item on the “Small Baskets” menu is $8, and the price is cut to $6 during the 5-7 p.m. happy hour.
The “Slammin’ Sandwiches” menu features just three items: a chicken sandwich that is twice-fried and tossed in a spicy Thai sauce and topped with brown-sugar coleslaw; the Fresh Prince Cheesesteak, and the McNasty, a giant burger that is filled with a roasted red pepper-infused butter, then smothered in more butter and topped with candied bacon jam, arugula and garlic aioli.
I wanted the burger. Badly. But I knew it was more than my appetite could handle — plus, we went in planning to share small plates, the McNasty will have to wait until next time. But we weren’t in the least bit let down by what we ordered: East Meets West Nachos, Bangbang Cauliflower and Smokey Ribs.
The nachos had a base of fried wonton chips, topped with an intriguing sweet and sour chicken queso, chipotle pico de gallo, Asian guacamole and finished with half of a jalapeño pepper. The chips were delicious on their own, and big chunks of lightly seasoned chicken were scattered throughout. The dish had a unique flavor that seemed to offer just a trace of sweet-and-sour brightness. Mostly, though, it was a pleasing blend of flavors that worked as a whole, from the cheese to the guacamole. Cynthia couldn’t stop nibbling, even after she claimed to be full.
The cauliflower was a basket of 8 or 10 chunks that were buttermilk-battered, lightly fried and then tossed in a creamy bangbang sauce. The cauliflower inside remained firm and flavorful, and the sauce was garlicky and spicy. An appetizer we both thoroughly enjoyed, although Cynthia perhaps slightly more than I.
“I may have a new favorite dish in Louisville,” she said after a few bites.
The ribs came in an order of four, slathered in a sweet-meets-tangy Korean barbecue sauce. The meat was tender, but with a little pull coming off the bone, flavorful, not too smoky and hearty enough to make it feel like a meal. Cynthia handled one rib, while I handled the rest, leaving my fingers nice and sticky.
Other small plates that look intriguing include Not So Mexican Street Corn, Dog Bone Wings and Crazy Catfish Bites. Regardless, next time, I’m getting the McNasty.
“You won’t want to put it down,” Jackie told me. “It’s a monster.”
The creativity, food quality and ultra-friendly service reflect Ferguson’s influence, and the concept was a fine move for a music venue and bar that was, well, starved for food service. Here’s hoping people respond accordingly.
Food service at Nirvana, located at 1047 Bardstown Road, is Tuesday through Saturday, 5-10 p.m., and Sundays for NFL games, 1-8 p.m. A pared-down late menu is served 11 p.m.-2 a.m.