Get ready: The next big restaurant-in-Louisville-you-have-to-go-to might have arrived. That restaurant would be Fontleroy’s.
Fresh, upscale American food in a modern, trendy atmosphere will get them every time, and Fontleroy’s, named in honor of Louisville Mayor James Fontleroy Grinstead, has it in spades. For a relatively new restaurant — it opened softly a few weeks back at 2011 Grinstead Drive in the former home of Uncle Maddio’s Pizza Joint — it was slammed on Thursday night. Tables were at a premium in the bright space, and even the bar top was full.
Luckily, there happened to be a table available for me and my girlfriend Cynthia when we arrived around 7:30. Immediately we were impressed, even if the noise in the place made it difficult to hear our server and vice versa. We quickly were presented with water, and our friendly server Liz — who was impressively on point pretty much all night, even with the crowd — began by telling us what the restaurant had run out of.
Apparently, it was the first big day for Fontleroy’s, so a few menu items were already gone. Sadly, one of them happened to be the one thing I really had looked forward to trying, and that was the lamb ribs with hot pepper jelly glaze. But we pressed on, and I ordered half a dozen Connecticut Blue Point oysters (they had run out of the Malpeque), while Cynthia ordered a bacon and egg salad as a starter, and we decided we would just freelance from there.
The oysters were classic Blue Point and seemed as fresh as any I’ve had this far from the coast. They were medium-sized and had the classic mild, briny-meets-salty flavor one expects from an East Coast oyster. The finish on these was especially clean, and they were served with plenty of lemon, chopped horseradish, cocktail sauce, hot sauce and a cucumber mignonette. It all went well with my Brooklyn Pilsner (there’s a craft beer list and full bar).
And while Cynthia’s salad may sound simple, it actually was a combination of spicy mixed greens, chunks of bacon, fried potato slices and green goddess dressing, topped with a poached egg. Of course, the fun is when the egg breaks, it becomes part of the dressing and blends its warmth with the cool greens. Delicious, and a perfect starter for only $5.
As we peered about the room, decorated with cream-colored walls, cream tiles and bricks on the bar and floor, and a Fontleroy’s logo mosaic on the back wall, we also couldn’t help seeing other diners’ food come out. Let’s just say the fried green tomatoes are a target for a future visit, and the steak and egg burger looked pretty amazing, too. But Cynthia became infatuated with something off the “Garden” menu — Fontleroy’s selections are ordered under headings like “Snacks,” “First Courses,” “Meat,” etc. — in the form of pan-roasted corn.
So, we decided to split that and pair it with the Country Ham Board. The corn came out still sizzling in a small cast iron pan, with the crisp kernels browned on the edges and sharing space with hunks of Benton’s bacon. The ham board, meanwhile, was a beautiful array of delicious ham, toasted bread, dry cheese, olives, almonds, stone ground mustard and a spicy pepper slaw.
The corn was delicious. Hey, it’s corn. But Fontleroy’s found a way to present it in a unique way that brought a comfort-food feel into the meal. It also paired nicely with the ham. The fun of the ham board was pairing the different ingredients to enjoy various flavor combinations. Honestly, I never thought I would enjoy almonds with mustard so much.
And the ham was a delicious, smooth, almost buttery pork that had us both in awe. Cynthia cracked that it tasted like “sushi-grade ham,” which actually wasn’t far off the mark. Paired with the cheese (asiago, I think, but I’m not totally sure and I forgot to ask our server) with a dab of mustard, it was heaven-sent.
The only bad part of the meal was that we eventually got full. I was determined to try at least one more dish, so I opted for a Gulf Shrimp Cocktail. Of all the items we ordered, it was the most plain in terms of presentation. In fact, it didn’t look much more appetizing than one of those Kroger shrimp rings, with five healthy-sized prawns hanging over the side of a white bowl containing cocktail sauce.
Ah, but the bland presentation didn’t do justice to the fresh, delicious flavor and texture of the shrimp. And the cocktail sauce was nicely spiced for an unexpected kick that complemented the shrimp. These were so far above the stuff imported from Thailand and other locations, with the lightly sweet and briny flavor profile and a fuller flavor in general. I could eat 100 of those things.
There’s plenty more on the menu that I’m eager to try. There’s a clams and pork belly dish that intrigues me, a scallops with bacon and corn chowder, short ribs with pickled chile and mustard seeds, and even duck and waffles (although they were out of duck the night I went). Another nice touch on the Fontleroy’s menu is that the only item under the “Pasta” heading is mac ‘n’ cheese, made with Tillamook cheddar and goat cheese.
Visit Fontleroy’s with friends (many of the dishes are built for sharing) or on a date night. Let’s just say there’s not a kids’ menu, and you should probably prepare to spend a little dough if you want to do it up right, at least for dinner (there is a slightly contracted lunch menu as well). But if our visit was any indication, you’ll have an experience that will be well worth it. (I say that because, in my notes, I scribbled, “This is not just a meal, it’s an experience.”)
Hat’s off to Chef Allan Rosenberg (formerly of Papalinos Pizza) for this one. He and his staff are going to be busy for a long, long time.