Category Archives: The $10 Challenge
July 24, 2015 by Ashlee Clark Thompson
This year, I’ve fallen into a bit of a rut.
I’ve become a creature of habit when it comes to eating out at Louisville-area restaurants. Part of this stagnation is because of (shameless plug alert) my book, Louisville Diners. I was doing nothing but eating at new-to-me restaurants ALL THE TIME while I wrote it last year. When I finally turned in that manuscript at the end of 2014, I happily settled into a restaurant rotation that I haven’t strayed from in what feels like forever.
I also blame my own laziness for my lack of restaurant exploration (and, consequently, a lack of $10 Challenge posts). With grad school and a new job at CNET and a husband and a Roscoe, it’s just easier to pick a restaurant that doesn’t require much planning and anticipation. I think a lot about a restaurant before my first visit, and I’ve just let my daily life tire me out so much that I haven’t had much mental energy to devote to finding new eating places. Is their menu online? How big are their entrees? Is it worth the trip? It takes a lot of work to love food as much as I do.
I know, I know, excuses that I’ve made before. But my new role at CNET has given me a perk I didn’t anticipate: a new work location with new neighborhood restaurants to try. My awesome co-workers have introduced me to some great restaurants in the area, and Thai Noodles on Preston Highway has quickly become one of my favorites.
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January 24, 2015 by Ashlee Clark Thompson
I knew it was time to write about Manny & Merle’s when I panicked over what I thought was the restaurant’s closing. Rob and I happened to be downtown on a Monday evening and we decided to stop by this modern honky-tonk on Main Street. Instead of tacos and country music, we were greeted with a locked door. Dark had settled over the long, narrow restaurant. The tall seats I had climbed onto during some good happy hours were clipped upside down on the table. Was my favorite downtown spot was closed? I took to Twitter for answers to ease what I hoped was just an overreaction. Fortunately, the fine folks behind the Manny & Merle Twitter account let me know they’re closed on Sundays and Mondays, so I just needed to chill the eff out (my words, not theirs). But in that moment of panic, I realized that I had grown to love Manny & Merle.
January 2, 2015 by Ashlee Clark Thompson
Now, I have a college degree under my belt and I’m working on one more. I’m smart enough to know that there is indeed rhyme and reason that explains how the folks at Momma’s Mustard, Pickles & BBQ get the skin of the restaurant’s wings crisp and flavorful while leaving the chicken meat moist and juicy. There’s probably some science to how long to cook their pork before a set of magical hands pulls the tender meat off the bone and onto a Klosterman bun. But I’ve come to believe in a little bit of magic after several visits to Momma’s. It’s the only way to explain how this restaurant produces consistently fantastic food that charms newcomers, pleases regulars and inspires the staff to deliver warm, down-home service that matches the meals they serve.
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January 2, 2015 by Ashlee Clark Thompson
Holy crap, it’s been a long time since I’ve done a $10 Challenge.
It began as procrastination. Then, working on the book kept me from doing much in my free time, let alone write something that wasn’t related to the manuscript. Then, when I finally did have time, I was intimidated to get back into writing the $10 Challenge because I had been gone for so long. My blogging had become sporadic in the back half of 2014, and I was scared that 1) I had lost my $10 Challenge groove, and b) no one would want to hear what I thought about restaurants in the city anymore. A few weeks away from a blog is like an eternity in internet time. How could I make up for lost time?
October 21, 2013 by Ashlee Clark Thompson
(Here’s the first winner of the Readers’ Choice $10 Challenge poll. Since there was a tie for first place, the second location will be featured in two weeks.)
I’ve thrown in a couple of extra bucks when a $10 Challenge isn’t going my way. Sometimes, the food is just so good, and the prices teeter just a smidge above my self-imposed limit, that I’ll fail a Challenge on purpose.
In returning to my frugal roots, I decided to adhere more closely to the terms of the $10 Challenge with one of my favorite restaurants, Mussel & Burger Bar.
Man, was that tough.
Mussel & Burger Bar has been open for less than a year. Yet the same folks who have injected flavor into the Louisville dining scene (think Guaca Mole Cocina Mexicana, Mojito and Havana Rumba) have created a concept around its titular offerings that have garnered much-deserved praise for this Jefferstown restaurant. The mussels are served in sauces such as curry cream or blue cheese beer pancetta that make this seafood more interesting than I thought possible. And the burgers would make the Hamburglar rip off his mask and weep tears of joy. The combinations of toppings transport me across the world and back again:
- Spanish Blue: La Peral Spanish blue cheese and fig marmalade
- Mediterranean: Ground lamb, quince marmalade, tzatziki sauce
- Argentinean: Chorizo Argentino, provaletta, chimichurri sauce
- Southern Bell: Fried green tomatoes, pimento cheese
These are masterpieces presented on wooden cutting boards and wax paper.
The ingredients are house-made and high quality, and the prices reflect these premium ingredients. An appetizer portion of mussels is $9, and an entrée size is $12. And the burgers, including one vegetarian option, start at about $11 (includes fries). For me, this has been fine and dandy. I expect to spend at least $20 on an entrée and cocktail when I visit Mussel & Burger Bar, and I’m treated to a meal and experience well worth the price.
When I limited myself to just spending 10 bucks, I was in a pickle. I had to take to the robust appetizer and side items menus to craft a meal that would fall beneath my price threshold. I had my mind set on the sweet potato fries ($4), but I made a mental note to try the duck fat potatoes (also $4) during my next visit. Choosing an accompaniment to the fries was tricky. Sliders made of either chorizo, Angus beef or soft crab were $8 and would have catapulted me past $10. At that point, it would have made more sense to just order an entrée that would have been about the same price. I also considered the short rib nachos ($8), an appetizer I’ve shared on date night. This dish, served in a small cast iron skillet, is made up of a layer of house-cut, crisp potato chips topped with slow-cooked beef short rib, cheese and guacamole. It’s a little bit of heaven that, unfortunately, would be a little too much money if I paired it with the sweet potato fries.
Since I was sticking to my guns about those fries, I only had two options to fit my budget – beef ($5 for five) or salmon tartare ($6 for five) taquitos. I went with the beef.
Did I squeal with glee when I saw this cute little presentation? YES. I love tiny versions of anything.
The taquitoes are bite-sized, hard-shelled tacos filled (well, as much as you can fill a tiny taco) with ground beef and black bean puree and sprinkled with queso fresco and pickled sweet peppers. The shells were nice and crisp even though a little beef grease had trickled out of the filling. The beef and bean combination was mild and slightly smoky.
I knew that the sweet potato fries would be fantastic, and Mussel & Burger Bar didn’t let me down. Each fry is crisp and peppery on the outside with a healthy filling of sweet potato on the inside. And the accompanying smoky pineapple dipping sauce made me wonder why we, as a nation, haven’t explored more pineapple and sweet potato pairings.
Even though I didn’t have mussels or a burger, I was satisfied with my meal — until I watched my husband, Rob, enjoy his order. I had some extreme burger envy as Rob ate his BBB (Bacon Breakfast Burger, $14), an Angus beef patty topped with white cheddar, caramelized onions, pork belly, a fried egg, and maple-infused aioli. My taquitos seemed abysmal in comparison to that work of culinary art dripping on the butcher’s paper that served as the tablecloth.
It’s possible to finagle the appetizer and side menus to create a few combinations that will leave you with a $10 tab at Mussel & Burger Bar. The entrees, however, are well worth breaking this Challenge’s threshold. Control your spending by ordering just an entrée without an appetizer (portions are generous enough to keep you satisfied) or finding a few friends with whom you can split some dishes. Just don’t leave without at least trying a slider.
Mussel & Burger Bar, 9200 Taylorsville Road, Louisville
Five beef taquitos: $5
Sweet potato fries: $4
Total (without tax and tip): $9
October 14, 2013 by Ashlee Clark Thompson
I’m in a pickle. I don’t know what restaurant to visit for the next $10 Challenge. Granted, this is a wonderful problem to have — there are so many good, interesting and/or new restaurants around Louisville that it’s hard to pick which one to focus on.
So I’ll let you guys make the tough choice for me.
Ashlee Eats readers will pick the next $10 Challenge restaurant. I have some suggestions, and I want you to vote on the one you want to read about. Vote in the poll below through 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 16. I’ll tally the votes and post the $10 Challenge about the winning restaurant Monday, Oct. 21.
Here are the contenders for the first crowd-sourced $10 Challenge:
- Mussel and Burger Bar: This is one of my favorite newer restaurants in the area, but it is indeed a challenge to only spend 10 bucks for hand-crafted deliciousness on a bun (or in a bowl if you get the mussels).
- Proof on Main: I’m not gonna lie — some of the menu descriptions are a little scary (charred octupus?). But this restaurant inside the 21c Museum Hotel has gotten a lot of attention nationwide for its cuisine. Could I find something delicious and inexpensive?
- Simply Thai: I love Thai food, but I’ve yet to make it out to this often-recommended eatery in the East End.
- KFC Eleven: OK, it’s a “concept” dining experience from a corporate fast-food behemoth, so this pushes the boundaries of keeping the $10 Challenge local. But I’m curious to see fried chicken turned fast casual at Baxter Avenue and Bardstown Road.
- Bonnie & Clyde’s Pizza Parlor: I’ve gotta throw in a South-end option. A co-worker was disappointed I hadn’t tried what she called some of the best pizza in town. Should I be the judge of that?
Ready? Let’s do this!
August 26, 2013 by Ashlee Clark Thompson
I’ve embraced the “if not now, when?” motto in 2013. But all this change calls for some things to stay the same. I guess that’s why I refuse to order something new from Addis Bar and Grill.
Maybe the sweet sting of curry I smell when I enter the restaurant puts me into a trance. Maybe the wealth of options makes me panic and I choose something familiar and safe. Or maybe I’ve just found one dish at one restaurant that makes me happy enough to never branch out.
Addis Grill is an Ethiopian and Mediterranean restaurant on Fourth Street about a half a block south of Main Street in downtown Louisville. If provoked, I could probably give exact latitude and longitude coordinates — my day job is within spitting distance to Addis. Yet, it took me more than a year to stop in and try this eatery that is tucked away in the shadows behind concrete pillars. I ignored Addis as I walked several times a week to the more bustling food corridors of downtown Louisville for lunch.
One day, I got sick of the usual line-up of sandwiches, salads, and Mexican-inspired fare that I usually turned to for lunch. A co-worker recommended Addis, a more international option than my usual standbys that was less than a five-minute walk from the office.
June 3, 2013 by Ashlee Clark Thompson
Malls are a gift and a curse.
The convenience is the most redeeming quality of a typical trip to a Louisville shopping mall. In terms of one-stop shopping, I can’t beat having 50-plus retailers at my disposal when it’s time to find some shorts. Everything else, however, is awful – loud corridors filled with oblivious teenagers, pushy sales associates, and racks and racks and racks of clothes that I really don’t even need. I have a headache just thinking about the sensory overload.
To soothe my sensitive psyche, I’ve made more frequent meal-time visits to Oxmoor Center so I can stop by Yang Kee Noodle, a Louisville-grown pan-Asian restaurant in that mall. Yang Kee Noodle is a rarity – a local dining option in a shopping mall. Its location away from Oxmoor’s main corridor (it’s next to Dick’s Sporting Goods) and fast-casual concept make for a nice oasis when I’ve had enough browsing and buying. Plus, the food is tasty, fresh and affordable, especially important when I’ve treated myself a little too well on a shopping trip.
April 1, 2013 by Ashlee Clark Thompson
Two things to remember before you visit The Irish Rover:
- Ten dollars will take you a long way at this Louisville Original, but $15 goes so much further.
- Don’t wear Spanx during your meal.
The Irish Rover delivers food hearty enough to stretch your waistline while your budget remains fairly intact. I say “fairly” because it’s hard not to sample a variety of dishes from a menu bursting with descriptions that make everything sound delicious. And the good (and bad) part about it is that everything lives up to its introductory prose.
The restaurant’s atmosphere is well-worn and humble, thanks in part to its location in a 150-year-old building on Frankfort Avenue. The entrance thrusts patrons directly into the bar area where drinkers mingle with folks just waiting for their table. It got a little cramped during my weeknight visit, but Rob and I were rewarded for our brief wait with a quaint table for two in a dim section of the restaurant. Lots of hardwood? Low lighting? A handsome date? I was a fan.
I quickly snapped out of my romantic lull when the waitress handed me the menu. This is when things got real.
I don’t know much about Irish cooking. But if I use The Irish Rover as my definitive guide, I would say the diet of our friends across the pond is filled with lamb, fish, potatoes and cabbage. In short, stick-to-your-ribs food.
Irish food is more than just Guinness Beef Stew ($6.95), fish and chips (market price) and bangers and mash ($6.95). The Irish Rover takes (what I assume are) traditional Irish ingredients like fish and rabbit and presents it in dishes that make the ingredients more accessible to those not used to this genre of food. For example, the Welsh Rabbit sandwich slides this meat into a grilled cheddar cheese sandwich on sourdough bread (with Irish chips, $6.95); salmon is presented in casserole form with potatoes, cream and Swiss and Parmesan cheeses (smoked salmon and potato gratin, $8.95); prawn are paired with cashews in a light salad ($9.95). I wish I could say something more poetic than, “Everything looked good.” But it was true. Everything on the menu did look good, from the appetizers to the desserts.
I wanted a little taste of everything. We started with the Cordon Bleu Fritters ($4.95), little balls of ham, chicken and Swiss cheese batter and deep fried. They were crunchy, gooey and delightful. I followed with a cup of leek and potato soup ($2.95), a rich soup that was a soothing chaser to the sharpness of the fritters.
I was all set to order the lamb-stuffed cabbage ($12.95) until our nice waitress began to list the evening’s specials. I heard the words “meatloaf,” “stuffed with bleu cheese” and “brown gravy” before I blacked out from disbelief that such flavors could exist in one dish. When I came to, I ordered the bleu-cheese stuff meatloaf with mashed potatoes and gravy ($12.95).
At this point, my abdomen was screaming at the Spanx that was supposed to hold me into my date-night dress. I couldn’t possibly dive into this plate of deliciousness, could I? Oh, yes, I could.
This was a meal for the record books. A rich brown gravy covered two thick slices of meatloaf and hid the mixture of bleu cheese and mushrooms stuffed in the center. The creamy gravy and moist beef balanced the tanginess of the bleu cheese, a wonderful combination I would have never considered without The Irish Rover.
The mashed potatoes were lumpy and filled with onion and hunks of potatoes that escaped the masher. The mashed potatoes’ thick consistency was perfect for constant dipping in the gravy sliding along the edges of my place.
The steamed vegetables were the Michelle Williams of this Destiny’s Child of a dish — an ingredient that rounds out the trio, but you could honestly do without it. But I dutifully ate my vegetables to help balance all the meat and potatoes I put back in the course of my meal.
By the end of the night, I wasn’t sure what I was more excited to do — eat the slice of meatloaf and hunk of potatoes in my to-go box or change into more bloat-friendly sweatpants. I may have regretted my choice in foundation undergarments that evening, but I was happy I went over my $10 benchmark. I left with a second meal that reheated wonderfully and a taste of Ireland.
The Irish Rover, 2319 Frankfort Ave., Louisville
Cordon Bleu Fritters: $4.95
Leek and Potato Soup: $2.95
Bleu Cheese-Stuffed Meatloaf with Mashed Potatoes and Vegetables: $12.95
Total (without tax and tip): $20.85
January 11, 2013 by Ashlee Clark Thompson
A restaurant like Theresa’s doesn’t come along all the time. Neither does its breakfast special.
Theresa’s is a diner in Bowling Green that serves breakfast and lunch Monday through Saturday; Sundays are reserved for the staff to spend time with “the Lord and their families,” the menu says. The smoking section takes up the majority of the restaurant, but the cloud of secondhand smoke inevitably wafts over to a non-smoker’s table as waitresses hustle by with full trays of orders. Because the doors close at 3 in the afternoon, the booths and tables are full of blue-collar workers still in cover-alls looking for breakfast after the first and third shifts.
Breakfast was my favorite thing about Theresa’s. They had this incredible breakfast special that I ordered every time I visited as a Western Kentucky University student. For four dollars and some change, you get biscuits and gravy or toast (but seriously, who chooses toast when biscuits and gravy is an option), your choice of a meat, two eggs any way you want them, and hash browns.
I’ve spent three years trying to find a dinner in Louisville that I love as much as Theresa’s.
Terri Ann’s is pretty close. It’s a diner in southwest Louisville, just down the street from the beauty shop my parents own. Terri Ann’s offers a hearty line-up of meat-centric Southern diner fare that will set you back well less than $10.
My dad comes in most Saturdays with a carry-out box filled to the edges with some kind of breakfast combo he’s picked up from Terri Ann’s.
“You want some of this?” he asks, mouth full of egg and potato.
Yes, Daddy, I indeed want some Terri Ann’s, I decided one Saturday.
Instead of picking out of my dad’s to-go box, I went down to the restaurant after my shampoo and set to enjoy an early lunch with Rob.
The diner lacks some of the charm of Theresa’s (the city’s smoking ban probably has a lot to do with that), but it’s just as unpretentious. Guests seat themselves in vinyl booths or small tables under the dull glow of fluorescent lights. Waitresses don’t wear uniforms – just T-shirts, jeans and a smile.
We started with a couple of mismatched mugs of coffee ($1.50). I wasn’t expecting Starbucks, but I wasn’t expecting the thin beverage I sipped. Even though it was the cheapest coffee I had in weeks, I quickly decided I would stick with just water the next time.
Terri Ann’s food is more robust than its drinks, but take note: this is a restaurant where New Year’s resolutions come to die. All of the appetizers ($3.25-$4.95) are fried or covered in cheese. The only vegetarian option on the lunch sandwich menu is the grilled cheese on Texas toast (served with fries, $3.50). And don’t get me started on the country fried steak. But there’s a certain charm to this disregard providing healthful options. This isn’t a place to count Weight Watchers points. Terri Ann’s is a place to fill your belly on the cheap with some good, greasy, cheap food.
My general rule is to order breakfast whenever a restaurant serves the most important meal of the day all day. Unless you had your heart set on waffles, which aren’t on the menu, Terri Ann’s has just about everything I could ask for in a breakfast menu. I could be full for hours with one of the egg plates, which come with fried potatoes, a biscuit, two eggs and one of seven different meats (ranging from $5.95 for smoked sausage and eggs to $9.95 for steak and eggs). The short stack with meat ($5.35 for two “hot cakes” and your choice of meat) and old-time French toast ($3.50 for three piece made with Texas toast) would satisfy my sweet tooth. And if all else fails, there’s always biscuits and gravy ($3 for two biscuits).
To get a little taste of a lot of food, I ordered the “Two Egg’s & Taters” (sic) that came with two eggs cooked to order (over medium for me), fried potatoes, country gravy and a biscuit ($3.95). Rob went with the Traditional Western omelet and fried potatoes ($8.70).
The meal compensated for my earlier disappointment with the coffee.
The fried potatoes were like the fat cousin of hash browns. The heftier hunks had the crispy edges that I like but more of the potato’s “meat.”
The eggs and biscuit were very good, nothing out of the ordinary, but tasty nonetheless. The country gravy, however, was some of the thickest I had ever had. I only needed to plop couple of heaping spoonfuls onto my biscuit. The gravy was a day away from being the consistency of a Jell-O mold.
If I ever go to Terri Ann’s on an empty stomach, I will get the Western omelet that Rob ordered. The three-egg dish includes bacon, sausage, ham onion, tomato, mushrooms, green peppers and cheddar cheese. It was like someone dumped the toppings of a supreme pizza onto a pile of eggs. This dish is guaranteed to give you a severe case of the itis that you can only remedy with a nap.
Terri Ann’s won’t have the nostalgia that I’ve attached to Theresa’s any time soon. But it is a restaurant where I can afford to make plenty of new memories.
Terri Ann’s, 2605 Rockford Lane, Louisville
- Coffee: $1.50
- Two eggs, fried potatoes and a biscuit with gravy: $3.95
- Total (with tax): $5.78