The team of Fernando, Christina and Yaniel Martinez (husband, wife and cousin, respectively) who gave Louisville Guaca Mole last year, will open their second restaurant, Mussel & Burger Bar, 9200 Taylorsville Rd. in Jeffersontown on Feb. 4.
Those who remember the site – just east of Hurstbourne Parkway in the middle of J-town’s retail cluster – as the short-lived Caffé Perusa will recall it as an upscale spot, impeccably furnished and big enough for duck hunting. (Click here for interior photos.)
Expect a much more understated restaurant this time around, said Fernando Martinez, who calls the new spot “our idea of an American bistro.”
“We wanted a bistro type of place with burgers and mussels—bar food but not bar food,” he said. “We definitely want people to know it is not upscale, it’s a casual place.”
Only with hardwood floors, chandeliers and massive, cushy banquettes. Only two rooms (what used to Caffé Perusa’s main dining room and bar) are used in the building. Its spacious banquet area and intended-to-be-wine cellar will remain unused.
“The seating in the dining room is the same amount of seats I have at Guaca Mole,” said Martinez, who admitted that settling on décor casual was a challenge. “But I think we did a good job overall. On the walls we have butcher charts of pigs and cows, butcher paper on the tables, and in the bar mason jar lights.”
The bar also features a massive black board on which the day’s specials will be written along with the wine and beer menus.
“I really think of this place as almost like a classic American bar,” Martinez said, adding that the bar boasts a large American flag. “We want it to look like an American bistro, and I think we’ve done that.”
The menu is another matter and reflects Martinez’s travels throughout France, the Caribbean and the United States. It is a collage of ingredients, flavors and cuisines, but highly approachable and adventurous.
What’s obvious is Martinez’s flair for improvisation in dishes like Guajillo Wings (Guajillo chile sauce, pickled celery, ranch or blue cheese), Moules Basquaise (mussels with chorizo, olive oil, lobster sofrito broth, piquillo peppers, Piment d’Espelette and onions) and the Spanish Blue burger (La Peral Spanish blue cheese, pepper crest, fig marmalade, which comes with sweet potato fries with smoked pineapple dipping sauce).
Overall, there are 12 appetizer choices, eight dishes of mussels, 12 choices of burgers (which includes a lump crab burger and a fried green tomato burger), four sandwiches and five substantial entrees that include fish and steak. (Click here for lots of food photos.) And dessert, you ask? Four, including maple-bacon glazed donuts.
He agreed that the menu may seem diverse to some, but he said a carefully chosen list of ingredients is used in multiple ways to simplify prep work.
Expect “combos” including sandwiches, side items, beers and wine, as well as pitchers of house-made sippers such as bourbon iced tea and vodka lemonade.
“We’ll have 25 different wines and a mix of beers,” Martinez said. “We’ll have local beers from BBC and NABC, plus several good imported ones.”
While many have questioned the trio’s choice of the Caffé Perusa site because of its size and somewhat difficult-to-see road presence, Martinez said the high traffic at restaurants nearby has shown them there’s great demand in the area.
“On a Friday night at 10:30, Old Chicago was still on a 15-minute wait,” he said. “Most of the restaurants around there are chains, too, so it will be good to have a local one.”
At the outset, the restaurant will open for dinner only Monday-Thursday from 4-10 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 4-11 p.m. It eventually will open on Sundays and after that, add lunch.
“We did the same thing with Guaca Mole: started slow to make sure we did it well,” Martinez said. “I think when people finally see it, they’re going to be really surprised.”