Sunday, July 22, 2012

Rye - Louisville

I’ll be the first one to admit that I don’t know much about the city of Louisville, Kentucky. Outside of a few days in 2004, I've done little more than drive through the city in the past eight years. However, this year, while making my annual pilgrimage to “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing”, I decided that I needed give Louisville a little more attention. Sadly, that meant a stop for lunch at the most.  After a little research and a helpful Eater email, I set my sights on the part of town Louisville known as NuLu and Rye.

After finding parking and being shown to my seat, I had a chance to look Rye’s menu and I noticed an introduction on the back.

“You should know the following about us:

First, we enjoy things ourselves around here. We bake our own breads, fillet
our own fish, butcher and cure our own meats and press our own juices.

Second, food is our community. Our menus change daily thanks to our network of farmers, artisans, purveyors and the Rye staff. We strive to include the most fresh and inspired ingredients from anywhere, everyday. Trust us that when you dine at Rye, our eyes and hands have met every ingredient of every bite and sip.

Third, everything we do is with purpose. From the size of your glass to the curated soundtrack, we’re inviting you to experience the Rye community. We put a lot of thought into your experience so please feel free to share your thoughts and ask any questions. We love your feedback – it helps us grow.”

While this isn't the first time I've read something like this from a restaurant, but I've never seen so much menu space devoted to it. It may sound a little hokey, possibly a bit sanctimonious, but I find a small measure of comfort when a restaurant takes care in every step of the dining process. Of course, not every place can live up to their guidelines, so how did Rye hold up to theirs?

With promises of house cured meats echoing in my mind, the first thing that was brought to my table was an aptly named meat place.
From left to right, guanciale, chorizo, and a cup of chicken liver mousse.
Certainly some of the fattiest pork jowls I’ve encountered, these slices of guanciale were silky and rich with a condensed pork flavor punctuated by a bright taste of black pepper.  This guanciale was almost as fatty as lardo, but in a sinfully delicious way.
A necessary interlude between pork portions, the pickles at Rye were something spectacular. These thick slices cut through richness of the chorizo and guanciale like a scythe leaving only a trail of chili and vinegar pungency.
Speaking of the chorizo, this hard, cured sausage was a smoky, deep red with a taste to match.
Last in the meat plate was the chicken liver mousse and I wasn't prepared for a chicken liver mousse like this.
Beneath that madeira gelee was an insanely thick mousse that I almost mistook it for chicken liver fudge.
Even spread on a toast point, this mousse was denser, creamier, smoother, and thicker than any I've had before and it was all done without any overbearing taste of iron. I was later told that the livers had been cooked, ground, and pushed through a chinois, and while that may account for the texture, I think I’ll struggle to find another chicken liver mousse like the one at Rye.

Before I spend too much time lavishing praise on the quality of Rye’s cured meats, I’ll move on to the entrée, but first a look at a market side.
May very well could be the wrong time of year for latkes and crème fraiche, but I’ll be hard pressed to turn down this Chanukah treat, especially when I don’t have to grate and wring the potatoes.
Thick and crispy on the edges, these latkes were a hearty side dish that, while quite well prepared, were in need of a little salt.  Even with a dollop of the thick crème fraiche, the need for salt prevailed.

Things came to a head when the Rye burger arrived at my table.
Thickly (1/2 inch) cut and double fried, the fries were a stellar side to the burger.
It’s hard to find well-cooked fries, but with a lightly salted, crisp exterior and pillow fluff interior, Rye was up to the task.
Whenever I see a burger topped with an egg, I know it can go one of two ways.
Either the egg is overcooked and drags a burger down or it’s a runny eye and a delightful mess.
 As the wobbly, sunny side up egg gave way, it was a rush of yolk that only reinforced the picture perfect medium rare texture of the burger. With a stellar patty to bun ratio, artfully melted cheddar and 50% chuck 50% brisket patty, Rye produced a well-seasoned, beefy, and all around excellent burger.
I may have missed the deep crust from cooking on a cast iron skillet, but there are few faults to be found with the Rye burger.

When I stopped in Louisville for lunch, I was expecting to find a decent meal in an interesting part of town. I can’t say that I imagined I’d find a restaurant that would completely upstage St. Elmo’s later that night. It seems that in the past few years, the south has become rife with farm to table restaurants that celebrate house made products and a local approach to eating and I couldn't be happier. Rye far and away exceeded my expectations and I can only feel ashamed that I didn't stop in Louisville sooner.

Rye Address & Information
Rye on Urbanspoon

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