The spot across from the Bristol Bar & Grille in the Highlands has seen several concepts come and go in recent years, from Bobby J’s to Avalon to, most recently, El Camino. Now, 1314 Bardstown Road is home to The Eagle.
Part of a Cincinnati-based restaurant group, The Eagle represents the small, multi-concept group’s foray into Louisville, with a focus on beer, bourbon and fried chicken. In fact, the one-page, two-sided menu at The Eagle spends much more time on booze offerings than it does on the food, which puts its fried chicken and sides at center stage.
I stopped in recently during a slow early lunch period, figuring on having an easy time deciding on food to see me through the day, but instead got stuck deciding between a handful of items. That’s probably a good sign, and truth be told, I walked away from The Eagle feeling like it was a concept that would endure in a competitive Highlands corridor.
The heart of the menu, as noted, basically asks the question, “How much chicken do you want?” Whole chicken? Eight pieces of dark? Half? Quarter dark or quarter light? Or maybe the family style dinner at $16 per person?
Sides are extra (except with the dinner special, obviously), and a few snacks, salads, soups and sandwiches fill out the rest of the menu, although it’s clear from the word “go” what The Eagle hangs its hat on.
I went in hell-bent on trying the fried chicken until the friendly bartender, Austtinn (that’s how he spells his name) talked up the fried chicken sandwich topped with house slaw, spicy mayo and house pickles. I hemmed and hawed, and finally decided to grab a snack while I made up my mind, in the form of brown sugar bacon.
The medium-thick bacon slices numbered five, and it basically just came coated in a brown sugar glaze and sprinkled with a touch of cayenne pepper for spice. Served in a shaker glass wrapped with red-checkered parchment paper, it was simply five slices of bacon, cooked crisp at the edges but still mostly chewy and fatty, for $4.
Fancy? No. Nothing at The Eagle is fancy. But I must say, it was just like when, as a kid, I would have pancakes with bacon on the side, and I would dip the bacon in the syrup. For that alone it was worth trying, if only for a conversation starter, or the feeling you’re 8 years old again. Share it with a partner and you’ll be good to start your meal, which in all likelihood will involve chicken.
I ended up sticking to my original plan with a quarter-chicken, white meat, adding five-cheese macaroni as a side, despite the difficulty of passing up sides like collard greens, succotash (made with edamame), horseradish mashed potatoes, spoon bread, white cheddar grits and others, all priced between $3 and $5.
It took maybe 10 minutes for my food to arrive, and my eyes were happy. The chicken was of ample size, and the mac and cheese was served in a mini cast-iron skillet, topped with garlic breadcrumbs and a spoon to dip the stuff out.
Of course, the spoon is there to emphasize the creaminess of the cheese sauce — which Austtinn told me was made with white and yellow cheddar, havarti, gouda and blue cheese — which may have been oversold, but was appreciated nevertheless.
On the side, was a spicy honey that the server who brought my food warned me about.
“It’s hot,” she said, “so be careful.”
I started with the wing portion of the chicken, which was already separated from the breast, and applied a fair amount of honey to the reddish-brown crust. I took a couple of bites and was surprised to find that, indeed, the honey blend was a lot spicier than I’d bargained for, not to mention quite a nice accompaniment.
The chicken itself actually had a mild peppery kick with a bit of cayenne in the blend. Outside, it was crispy and not overly greasy, with plenty of classic Southern-style flavor, and inside it was meaty and nicely prepared. Basically, it was what you’d always expect out of a good fried chicken dinner. It halfway made me want some white gravy, which is what my grandmother used to serve with her fried chicken.
The macaroni and cheese was a winner as well, with that five-cheese blend creating a rich flavor with plenty of depth — to the point it was almost smoky. Made with cellentani pasta, a longer, curlier version of the standard “elbow” macaroni, it was hearty and a nice companion to the chicken.
It was also a pretty big serving, meaning that if you go with a buddy, it will be easy to split sides to get more variety.
Will The Eagle survive? Impossible to say at this moment, but it isn’t overly pricey, and the food, service and atmosphere (which underwent a renovation after El Camino moved on) are all quality.
There is a decent bourbon list, a few signature cocktails and a craft beer list that is trying hard and should evolve, not to mention the daily special of an 18-ounce chalice of Miller High Life for just $3.
Shouldn’t all that be enough, even in a competitive spot? We’ll see. The Eagle is open daily, 11 a.m. to midnight.