In light of my personal recession, I’ve started giving friends the gift of food – specifically, taking a loved one out for a birthday dinner.
This was the case this week when my buddy Samantha and I took our friend and roommate, Susie, to Café Lou Lou on Bardstown Road to celebrate another year of being awesome. Fortunately for me, Susie is a big supporter of Ashlee Eats and was excited that her birthday meal could be the subject of a $10 Challenge. This one’s for you, Suz.
I had never visited Café Lou Lou until friend and reporter Joe Lord wrote about the restaurant in Velocity, the weekly Louisville tabloid for which he writes. In the article, Joe discussed his love of the chicken portabello wrap, a “rich and tangy” dish that is “big enough for two — a great deal at $10.25.”
You had me at “great deal,” Joe.
The restaurant’s menu offers an unusual but successful blend of Italian fare and Southern favorites with deep Cajun influences. The appetizer menu alone bounces from New Orleans (shrimp and grits for $8.50) to the Mediterranean (hummus and pita for $6.50; a platter of hummus, plaki, bruschetta and muhummara for $10) and back again (chicken wings with hot sauce or Jamaican-style for $8).
The variety is inspired by chef-owner Clay Wallace time in New Orleans (Lou Lou = Louisville/Louisiana), according to food writer Robin Garr at Louisville Hot Bytes.
Thank goodness the chef made his way back to the River City.
Wallace takes classic dishes and shakes them up, exposing diners to food that is simultaneously comforting and new. The gourmet pizza menu ($12 for a 10-inch pizza, $17.50 for a 14-inch pie) includes a potato pizza with rosemary spuds and Italian sausage, a smoked salmon variety with goat cheese and capers, and a Hot Brown pizza, a play on a native Louisville dish that includes turkey, tomatoes, bacon and Mornay sauce. The fun creations continue over on the pasta page, where selections include a black bean lasagna ($11) and four-cheese ravioli with shrimp and shitake mushrooms ($11/$15 depending on portion size) that seemed to call my name.
Because I was conducting a $10 Challenge, I kept my eyes on the sandwich menu, which offers sandwiches and rolls with the choice of Cajun crisps, pasta salad, or sautéed vegetables for $9.50. On my first visit to Café Lou Lou, I had the chicken portabello wrap, which was as good as Joe said it was. It was stuffed with tomatoes, spinach, feta cheese, mozzarella cheese (yay for double cheeses) and a spicy roasted red pepper sauce and wrapped in a housemade lavash flatbread.
But on this visit, I wanted to try something new. I narrowed down my decision to the meatball sandwich with roasted garlic aioli (I love that stuff) or a chicken parmesan sandwich. I asked the waiter which he would pick, and the question threw him into an internal debate of Sophie’s Choice caliber. I took this as a sign that I would be happy with either dish, so I went with the meatball sandwich with an order of Cajun crisps.
The meatballs were cut in half so they would remain stationary, which was one of the smartest tweaks to a recipe I have ever seen. Hunks of meat rested on top of rich marinara sauce and gooey mozzarella cheese. Two thick slices of housemade focaccia bread sprinkled with fresh Italian herbs held the whole thing together. It was delicious. Add the Cajun fries, aka waffle fries with some kicked-up spices, and you have yourself a filling, hearty meal that sticks to your bones.
Had I been smart, I would have wrapped up half of the massive sandwich and taken it home. But I attempted to eat the entire thing in my euphoria over the flavors. Next time, I’ll get a to-go box before I begin to eat to easily stretch the meal to two sittings.
Notes about Café Lou Lou:
- The restaurant has two locations, one in the Highlands (the location of this week’s Challenge) and the other St. Matthews. If you go to the Bardstown location, it’s easy to miss. If you’re driving away from downtown, you’ll make a right on Dundee Road, but you need to immediately make a left down the little street next to the Heine Brothers to get to the restaurant. This makes no sense now, but it will when you get there.
- There’s a small parking lot behind the building that houses the Highlands location of the restaurant. If you park there, you’ll end up going in through the back of the building, so you need to walk to the front of the restaurant to be seated.
- Bottles of wine are half off every Wednesday.
- The apparently famous scallops and orzo dish is available on Tuesdays.
- Café Lou Lou, 2216 Dundee Road, Louisville, Ky. (also located at 106 Sears Avenue, Louisville, Ky.)
- Meatball sandwich with order of Cajun crisps: $9.50
- Total (with tax and tip): $12
Mission: Failed (but worth it)