Restaurant Roundup: Flaynaticism, Royals’ pain, fish fake, new ‘cue in Lou

Superstar chef Bobby Flay speaks with Gov. Steve Beshear and First Lady Jane Beshear at the 2015 Breeders Cup. | Photo by Steve Coomes

Superstar chef Bobby Flay speaks with Gov. Steve Beshear and First Lady Jane Beshear at the 2015 Breeders Cup. | Photo by Steve Coomes

“Flaynaticism” is for naught: Bobby Flay was in Lexington last week for the Breeders Cup.

So was I, though he didn’t know it. Or care.

Still, we crossed paths at Keeneland in the Kentucky Governor’s Chalet last Friday, where Flay stopped to schmooze with Gov. Steve Beshear and First Lady Jane Beshear. (No, not bragging about breathing that rare air. I was an invited guest, and such lucky folk should never brag about good fortune they can’t generate. I’m only setting the scene to add credibility to my story.)

So Flay saunters in and tries to make a bee-line for the Beshears, but he’s stopped along the way by some Flaynatics who “own all your cookbooks and love your shows,” etc. and squeeze in for pictures with a superstar chef who never seems to smile. (I’ve talked to dozens of chefs and restaurant industry reporters about the guy, and no one has ever said he’s much fun to be around. If he was having fun last Friday, his mood didn’t notify his face.)

Once he gets to the Beshears, they start jawing about Flay’s plans for a restaurant in Louisville. Flay never specified Louisville in his replies, rather he said Kentucky at least twice, telling the governor, “I want to be here because I love the horse industry. And if you want to be in horses, you have to be in Kentucky, right?”

No mention of Louisville that I heard from just a few feet away, though perhaps it was assumed.

When Flay cracked wise about hearing “You have to be a resident of Kentucky to own a business here,” Gov. Beshear replied, “I think I can make that happen quickly. Just give me a call.”

They shook hands, Flay gave his best wishes to Lady Jane, and the schmooze ended.

Call me a cynic, but I say he has no plans for a restaurant anywhere in Kentucky. He clearly loves horse racing because it’s the sport of kings, not the job of kings. I mean, why would any despot ruin the good time he’s having by muddling it with business? “Let the peasants cook my food!” say he.

And if he did want to own a restaurant in Kentucky because he loves horses, why would he put it in Louisville when the investment part of the horse business happens at horse farms and posh sale barns in the Lexington area?

I think he’s enjoying getting people excited by blowing smoke and loving the ego boost of hearing Louisville is just dying to have him here. He’s certainly welcome if he does come here, but wouldn’t you think a guy like Flay has the money and business acumen to be a little more decisive about it? Mere restaurant mortals wait for the right site for their restaurants, but superstars pick their place and move in. So far, Flay’s just talked and balked.

Superstar restaurateurs also tease about opening in premier markets like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, etc., not mid-markets like Louisville. Major press outlets won’t raise an eyebrow over a story about Flay flirting with the idea of coming to ol’ Kaintuck — at least until it’s done, and only then, just maybe.

NuLu site a royal pain for Royals Hot Chicken owner: Ryan Rogers loves the character of old buildings as much as the next guy, but he hates the surprises uncovered in the process of turning them into restaurants.

The site of his new venture, Royals Hot Chicken (736 E. Market St.), last was Taco Punk, where then-owner Gabe Sowder spent a ton of money turning the space into a restaurant. Sowder’s own mission was delayed a couple years ago by the installation of a pricey new grease trap. Rogers, like many, figured Sowder’s investment would benefit the conversion of Taco Punk to Royals, but he said that hasn’t happened.

Royals Chicken LogoLast month, construction crews discovered a crawl space below the building’s main floor, which, when inspected, showed some unanticipated structural stress on its support columns.

“That was a surprise,” Rogers said flatly. “Repairs like this are expensive, and they’re never in your estimate for starting a new restaurant.”

Long story short, Royals’ opening won’t be today or tomorrow or next week, and Rogers doesn’t want to estimate when. As expected, he said, “It can’t happen soon enough.”

(Oh, that he could finish Royals Chicken as fast as the Kansas City Royals finished the New York Mets!)

And since we’re talking hot chicken, I asked Bistro 1860 chef Michael Crouch about his proposed venture, Joe & Larry’s Chicken Shack, but got no response.

FWIW: After Taco Punk’s closing, Gabe Sowder landed at Wiltshire Pantry Catering. Great company and a great place to work. How did I learn that?

The people you see and the beer you drink at a bourbon distillery: Last Wednesday, I had dinner on the grounds of Heaven Hill Distillery in Bardstown, Ky., where guests tasted some of Goose Island Brewery’s bourbon barrel-aged beers. (The dinner was catered by Wiltshire, which is how I bumped into Sowder. Per usual, he was his kind self, and Wiltshire hit it out of the park.)

The Chicago brewery makes a solid stout, and the portion of it that winds up in bourbon barrels each year typically is aged for nine to 12 months. But this year’s release was special, for the bourbon barrels used were 35-year-old Heaven Hill casks that were so dry, brewer Eric Ponce had to moisten them from the outside so the barrel staves would reseal tightly. Even more impressive was the beer was aged two years in a warehouse without climate control. (Most bourbon barrel aging of beer is done under climate control for about a few months.)

Goose Island 2015 Rare Bourbon Barrel Stout. This is about as close as you'll get to it. | Photo courtesy of Goose Island Brewing

Goose Island 2015 Rare Bourbon Barrel Stout. This is about as close as you’ll get to it. | Courtesy of Goose Island Brewing

The release was dubbed 2015 Goose Island Rare Bourbon County Stout, and it’s an amazingly complex beer replete with notes of chocolate, fruit cake, raspberry, dried cherry and, of course, lots of bourbon. Final ABV is a whopping 14 percent, and the beer is so rich that the 3-4-ounce pour we got was like eating two desserts.

The bad news is it’s super pricey (around $60 per 16-ounce bottle) and super limited. According to Ponce, other annual releases of this beer have gotten the Pappy treatment, meaning people line up for it and suck up most of the stock in 24 hours.

That doesn’t mean you’ll not find it anywhere, so keep your eyes peeled. If you don’t find it, I’d get a bottle of Goose Island stout and add an ounce (or more) of high-proof bourbon to mimic it some.

Hey, chefs, call off the fish fake! A handful of Louisville restaurants are making false claims that the fish they serve is so fresh, it was swimming only 24 hours before. This isn’t puffery, it’s a lie that should stop. Customers deserve truth in advertising.

Until the trade publication SeaFood Business magazine closed earlier this year, I was one of its contributing editors for four years. During that time, I interviewed dozens of fishermen, processors and shippers about how long it takes to catch and deliver fish to restaurant kitchens. The average time given was anywhere from a few days (and that was just to coastal restaurants) to about one week. Day boat fishermen can do it in a day, but again, that’s just to the coastline.

Long-line-caught fish, such as swordfish, take at least two weeks to bring to shore because boats have to go out so far from shore to harvest those reduced stocks. (If you’ve never read “Perfect Storm,” Sebastian Junger explains this reality in vivid detail.) The fastest claim I’ve heard was 36 hours from Honolulu Seafood in Hawaii, and you can imagine the restaurant is paying a fortune for it.

Oh, and that widely used claim that Louisville gets some of the freshest fish anywhere because the UPS hub — that’s exaggerated, too. It helps, but not everyone here gets their fish via UPS. Heck, I’ve heard chefs make the UPS claim, yet their fish is procured via other shippers.

Is the seafood we’re getting here fresh? Yeah, it is, especially for an inland market. It’s so good that the guys I used to cook with all cringe when recalling the fish we sold as “fresh” 30 years ago. It wasn’t even close to the quality we now get, and that change is due to improvements in distribution.

Still, diner beware: It’s one thing for a restaurant to call its fish fresh, but when it claims that fish is anything less than a few days old, question it. It’s likely the exorbitant price that restaurant is charging isn’t justified either.

City Barbeque opening here in November: Here’s something lots of Louisvillians have known for a long time: Our marketplace can stand more good barbecue, and now outside chains see the opportunity. Anyone who doesn’t think ‘cue demand is high here should see the line snake out the door at Feast BBQ during lunchtime.City Barbecue logo

To narrow that void, City Barbecue, an 11-unit chain from Dublin, Ohio, will open its first Louisville unit on Nov. 20 at 329 Whittington Pkwy. According to a news release, it’ll serve an array of smoked meats including pulled pork, brisket, pulled chicken, St. Louis-cut ribs and sausage. And, like every almost every other restaurant in town, they’re hiring.

Lilly’s is gettin’ spacy with it! Lilly’s Bistro and La Peche are conducting their annual (g)Astronomical fundraiser to support the University of Louisville’s portable planetarium at Bloom Elementary.

On Thursday, Nov. 19, both places are serving special “space menus” that include prix fixe lunch ($19, two courses) and dinner menus ($45, three courses) and a special cocktail menu. (Click here to see the details.) A portion of the proceeds that day will be donated to the planetarium.