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June 2015




February 2007

Turkey and Apple Sandwich (To Go)
Blue Dog Bakery & Cafe
2868 Frankfort Ave.

In a lower corner of the refrigerated case by the register nearest the bread rack, a few wrapped sandwiches quietly join other Blue Dog temptations. Get one and you’ll find yourself with one of the best take-out eats in town — the turkey and Granny Smith sandwich ($7.75). It’s nothing complicated — slices of turkey breast, smoked bacon and apples with a light complement of tender greens and tarragon mayonnaise. But of course, being a Blue Dog sandwich, what really makes this "cheap eat" is the bread. The crust is a delicate yet firm shell encasing a light, resilient interior that holds the ingredients in a tender embrace. Its flavor is subtle and refined, but still adds richness to the interplay of turkey, bacon, apple and tarragon mayonnaise without surrendering to sogginess, so you can eat the sandwich — even while driving — without fear of splatter. Just save the wheatberry salad until you reach your destination. — Stephen Hacker

Stuffed Eggplant
Oriental House
4302 Shelbyville Road

While Chinese food is not known primarily for its visual beauty, there are exceptions to the rule. Once in a while a dish comes along that is as pleasing to look upon as it is to dig into. A case in point is the stuffed eggplant from the Chinese only (i.e., not Chinese-American) menu at the Oriental House, a decades-old establishment on Shelbyville Road that recently changed hands, if not ambience. Technically from the dim-sum portion of the menu, though available around the clock, this little slab of eggplant, cut on the diagonal and left encased in its deep purple peel, is cleverly fried and folded over a thin slice of firm-fleshed fish. In fact, it looks not unlike some wee mythical sea creature — so pretty you want to admire it rather than dig right into it. Yet the aroma renders you unable to resist doing so. And why should you resist? At two bucks a pop, and with two specimens per order, you can afford to order several. Or order it alongside any one of the plentiful entrées, and you’ll have a satisfying meal for well under $10. — Mary Welp

Clark Street Hot Dog
Lonnie’s Best Taste of Chicago
121 St. Matthews Ave.

For starters, Lonnie’s is not the kind of eatery you expect to come across in the heart of St. Matthews. Situated directly behind Trinity High School, it’s a squat little building lit by harsh fluorescent light and amplified by the alternating sounds of yammery TV talk shows or R&B blasting from the stereo speakers. But the staff is so friendly, the service so efficient and the hot dogs so toothsome that you can put up with just about anything, including over-capacity lunchtime crowds, to get yours. Lonnie’s hot dogs are named after various Chicago streets. In addition to dogs named after Congress, Rush, Wabash and State, you’ll find various sorts of sausage, beef and chicken dishes, along with daily blue plate specials. But the standout is the Clark Street Hot Dog. Like all the others, it begins with a kosher beef dog served on a poppyseed bun that is then topped with mustard, piccalilli relish, fresh chopped onions, tomato and cucumber wedges, hot peppers and, finally, a dash of celery salt. All for a mere $2.89. With side dishes running 89 cents, you could treat the entire extended family — if only the tables weren’t so small. The poppyseed buns alone are so tasty that vegetarians have been known to order them dogless. A tip: On weekdays, you’ll have much better luck finding a table if you go before noon or after 1 p.m. Otherwise, the line goes out the door and around the back of the building. — MW

Cold Sesame Noodles
13823 English Villa Drive

Prepare to become an addict. Even if nutty noodles have gotten to be one of your staples in Asian restaurants, or you’re so gaga for them you feel compelled to make them at home at least once per week, you haven’t known sesame noodles till you’ve tasted the version served at Jasmine. While certain flavors in the sauce are readily identifiable (garlic, for instance, along with ginger, soy, rice vinegar, pepper, sugar and, of course, sesame), there’s some secret ingredient that the owner-chef absolutely will not fess up to. She once claimed that it was Sichuan peppercorns, technically illegal to purchase in the United States. But subsequent experiments at home with Sichuan peppercorns proved fruitless in duplicating the precise taste of Jasmine’s sesame noodles. It doesn’t matter. Even if you knew all of the ingredients, these noodles are not to be imitated. Anywhere. They have the power to lift you out of a bad mood. They can cure bronchitis. They will make you forgive anyone anything. If you’re trying to woo someone, take that person to Jasmine and order the sesame noodles. A gigantic bowl of them is $4.95. Order it with any of the myriad other appetizers (the supreme complement being the cold cucumber salad for $3.95), and you’ll have a bountiful meal for two. — MW

Fish Taco
Seafood Connection
3922 Chenoweth Square

Step inside the Seafood Connection and let the immediate smell of all things crustacean and fin-fish embrace you. The Connection sells fresh seafood, and lots of it, but don’t pass up its appealing lunch menu. The San Diego Fish Taco ($3.50 regular size, $6.50 jumbo) would make the street vendors of San Diego (where the fish taco originated) proud. This collection of cool, crispy and crunchy all folded together may fill you up but won’t put a hole in your wallet. A toasted flour tortilla smothered in a white sour cream-based sauce and spices wraps around a thick piece of battered cod topped with shredded lettuce, citrus pico de gallo and fried capers. The crispy fillet crunches on the outside and remains succulent inside. Tanginess is provided by the sauce and capers, while the pico and lettuce offer some refreshing coolness. If you arrive early enough you may still find a seat at the stainless-steel lunch counter where you can watch your taco being freshly prepared. — Melanie Wolkoff Wachsman

Pork Rib Dinner
Bake’s Bar-B-Que
5427 Valley Station Road

A sign inside Bake’s Bar-B-Que reads, "We’re not in Kansas anymore," but close your eyes and your mouth will never know the difference. The placard sits among farm implements and other homages to the owners’ home state of Kansas, whose barbecue techniques have been pleasing Louisville palates for five years now. Located in far southwest Jefferson County, it may seem like a long way to go for those living in the heart of the city, but any smokehouse aficionado will tell you it’s well worth the trip. One particularly enjoyable (and classic) choice is the rib dinner ($6/ $10 for a half-slab). The pork is hickory-smoked for up to 17 hours in an outdoor smoker behind the eatery, giving the meat a pink tint and succulent, fall-off-the-bone tenderness. The dry rub and hickory provide enough flavor to almost forget the sauce, but don’t. Bake’s spent a year perfecting the recipe, which adds a bit of sweetness while letting the meat’s savoriness shine through. The dinner comes with a choice of sides — go for the baked beans, whose onion and barbecue flavors give them a nice kick, setting them apart from blander versions found elsewhere. — Katie Brown

Saag and Aloo Mattar
Shalimar Restaurant
1820 S. Hurstbourne Pkwy.

The vegetarian section of the Shalimar entrée menu yields a number of commendable dishes at under $10, two of the most distinctive being saag and aloo mattar, both served with light and flavorful basmati rice. The saag offerings ($9), made of creamed spinach and mustard greens with Indian spices, come with your choice of paneer (a type of farmer cheese), mushrooms, aloo (potatoes), or chana (chick peas). Paneer and chana are the most complementary choices, as their mild flavors don’t interfere with the richness of the saag. The sauce in the aloo mattar ($8; potatoes and peas have never tasted this good) is heavily laced with a potent garam masala blend so tasty that you’ll want to spoon the excess in a to-go box and serve it over that tilapia you’re fixing to make tomorrow. — KB

Big Pattie
Taste of Jamaica
2017 Brownsboro Road

To help escape the winter blahs I journey to Taste of Jamaica and indulge in its Big Pattie. A popular Jamaican fast-food item, the pattie resembles a turnover or empanada. It’s traditionally filled with beef, but this eatery also offers cocktail-size patties filled with jerk chicken, curry chicken or vegetables, as well as beef (three for $2). I prefer a sole Big Pattie (available in beef). This irregularly shaped yellow square dons a light, doughy pastry shell exterior, which envelops a mound of minced beef peppered with spices. I like how the spice slightly warms the back of my mouth but doesn’t overwhelm my palate. The best part is that it’s only $2. My favorite table condiment is the Walkerswood Zesty Carribean One Stop Savory Sauce. Just a dab of this brown hot sauce turns the pattie’s heat level up a notch. I’ve been told that Jamaicans often eat patties for breakfast. I’m not entirely sold on that idea, but for a quick bite the Big Pattie definitely fits my budget and fills my stomach. — MWW

Jack’s Burger
Jack Fry’s
1007 Bardstown Road

All right — an $8.75 cheeseburger doesn’t normally fit into the scheme of cheap eats. But this baby, which easily stands three full inches high on the plate (you have to remove the tomato slice to get it in your mouth), is far from normal. And it’s not just its hugeness that puts it on another level. The grilled-to-your-liking Black Angus patty comes on a toasted roll, smothered with caramelized onions and your choice of Swiss, Cheddar or bacon and is accompanied by the best steak fries in town — fried in peanut oil and seasoned with mild sea salt and fresh-ground pepper. If you’re going to order the burger, fight the urge to gobble a few slices of the scrumptiously sweet lemon soda bread your server will bring beforehand. Your stomach’s going to need all the room you can give it. — Jack Welch

Country Chicken Salad
The Cafe at the Louisville Antique Mall
900 Goss Ave.

This lunch restaurant’s gargantuan dining room could accommodate a Louisville Orchestra Coffee Concert, and that’s a good thing because hordes of (mostly) female Louisvillians — mall shoppers or not — queue up there each day when the clock strikes half past 11. They come for traditionally prepared, amply portioned goodies like this signature salad ($7.45): two scoops of diced baked-on-the-premises chicken breast, apples, celery and pecans bound by a rich mayo dressing laced with lemon juice and cider vinegar and sprinkled with Italian herbs. Propped on a shelf of leaf lettuce and accompanied by small piles of grapes and apple slices, this is a salad the world’s home-cooking grandmothers would wholeheartedly endorse. — JW

Feta Panini
Caffe Classico
2144 Frankfort Ave.

Not only does Caffe Classico brew up a really good cappuccino, but the espresso boutique and cafe has turned panini pressing into an art form, yielding standout grilled paninis at $7 each. They’re served piping hot, arriving straight off the press;

it’s best to wait a few minutes for the sandwich to cool before indulging. You can munch on the kettle chips and small salad of delicate mixed greens that accompany the panini. Your patience will be rewarded. After you bite into the crisped, grill-marked Italian cibatta bread, you’ll taste the warm ingredients melded joyfully together in your mouth. The best-selling Feta Panini combines feta, pesto, sun-dried tomatoes, mozzarella and spinach. The salty feta and pesto mingle subtly with the mild and creamy mozzarella. The sun-dried tomatoes add a touch of tart sweetness. For something a bit heartier, try the Panini de Pavo, which combines smoked turkey, Swiss and tomato, bringing a standard sandwich combination up to an exceptional level. For $7, not only do you get a great sandwich, but an entire meal. Ciao! — MWW

Buffalo Chicken Pizza
Sportstime Pizza,
Rich O’s Public House
3312 Plaza Drive, New Albany

Many a brewpub has built its menu on the yeast common denominator: a proper dose for the ale and another for the pizza crust. At this New Albany hangout with a side-by-side restaurant and pub, the pizza that rises to the top of many lists is the buffalo chicken. It’s not for the bland of tongue, but then neither is Rich O’s, where Budweiser and Miller are seen as pale imitations of the bold, sometimes audacious brews on tap or in bottles. This piquant pie is constructed on Sportstime’s excellent, slightly chewy homemade crust, which is brushed with spicy Open Pit barbecue sauce and then topped with celery, chicken from the outdoor smoker cut up into chunks, and a cheese mixture of mozzarella and provolone. Concentric rings of blue-cheese dressing complete the presentation. Priced at $4.50 for a six-inch personal size and $9 for an 11-inch pizza for two, it’s a controlled riot of spicy and sharp sauces, the crunch of celery, slightly smoky chicken and the satisfying texture of the crust — a perfect foil for brew explorations of the highest order. Some taste-explorers go a step beyond, adding chopped roasted garlic to the mix.— Bruce Allar

Tortellini Graciella
Ramsi’s Cafe on the World
1293 Bardstown Road

Owner-chef Ramsi Kamar may not be Italian, but he ate like one at times during his childhood in Jerusalem — most memorably when his mother, who was raised in an orphanage operated by Italian nuns, made him tortellini. Her name, Graciella (which is shared by Kamar’s daughter), is on this immensely satisfying dish at Ramsi’s, a multi-cuisine bistro in the Highlands. A long-standing and top-selling menu staple, this generously served recipe begins with tricolored pasta — spinach and tomato in addition to standard off-white — which adds some flavor and a great deal of plate appeal. Ramsi’s thins its cream sauce with vegetable broth and adds garlic, fresh basil, a bit of tomato and pesto. Cheeses, typically Romano and Parmesan, provide body, as do fresh mushrooms and broccoli. For $10, it’s a flavorful and filling feast, and there’ll be enough left over for lunch the next day. And here’s an insider’s tip: Each tortellini dish is made separately in its own skillet, so you can request a lighter olive oil-based or marinara sauce or a change-up in cheeses or veggies (think asparagus). Cheap and made to order — magnifico! — BA

Boulder Creek Quesadilla
Napa River Grill
3938 Dupont Circle

Quesadilla, literally translated from the Spanish, means "little cheesy thing." And there certainly are many, many cheesy renditions of this dish. But some can actually rise above the tortilla pack and give you an interesting meal. One of them is Napa River Grill’s Boulder Creek Quesadilla. Instead of generic salsa, the Napa ’dilla gets one featured as "cilantro-lime." But what really sets this one apart is its oak-grilled chicken. Slices of breast meat meld with Cheddar and Monterey Jack cheeses, red onion and poblano chile, and their singular taste and texture sets the tone for the entire dish. The oak grilling turns usually mild-mannered chicken breast into an assertively flavored meat that is comparable to a perfectly roasted pork loin. Offered as an entrée for lunch ($7), but trying to hide as a starter at dinner, Napa River Grill’s Boulder Creek Quesadilla can make a meal anytime — proving that, for under 10 bucks, the "value menu" is open at Dupont Circle. — SH

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