Category Archives: The $10 Challenge
December 3, 2012 by Ashlee Clark Thompson
Proximity drew me to AP Crafters Kitchen & Bar, a gastropub in the Westport Village shopping complex — I live right across the street. The imaginative versions of traditional comfort and bar food, generous happy hour specials and slick atmosphere have made me a regular, that elite status I’ve been searching for since my South-Central Louisville days.
AP Crafters is a place where you can watch a game and cheer loudly or take a date for a cozy evening; trust me, I’ve done both. The bar occupies the right side of the restaurant and the traditional dining area of booths and tables is on the left. Each of these areas, along with an enclosed patio complete with a fire pit, are separate enough to provide an enjoyable evening no matter your intentions.
November 12, 2012 by Ashlee Clark Thompson
I’ve discovered my own little quantum of solace at The Main Eatery. This lunch spot is my destination on the …
October 15, 2012 by Ashlee Clark Thompson
I’m in the second row of a small, empty theater. To my left, six actors stand in a circle doing vocal warm-ups. To my right, a full glass of white wine.
The wine is celebratory. One of the actors on the stage is my husband.
I am at The Bard’s Town, a restaurant and theater venue on Bardstown Road. It is a night full of firsts. This is my first time at The Bard’s Town. This is Rob’s debut in The Halloween Trilogy of Radio Plays (more on that later). And this is the first time I’ve started writing The $10 Challenge while still in the place where I ate my meal.
The Bard’s Town is unique in its ability to cater to a diverse audience. The restaurant portion of The Bard’s Town has a full menu of tasty items for the foodie like me. The second-floor theater houses a rotating schedule of performances by local theater companies for arts lovers like my husband. And there’s a full bar with flat screen TVs, and that pleases everyone. How can you not have a good time when your belly is full, your head’s fuzzy from the crafts on tap, and you’re supporting local theater?
If you hadn’t noticed from the name or the fetching fellow in the restaurant’s logo, The Bard’s Town tips its hat to playwright and all-around good guy William Shakespeare. The names of menu items are plays on the titles of or lines from famous works by B. Shakes (let’s start calling him that). I’m a sucker for puns, so I giggled as I scanned the menu, which is organized like the outline of a play. Here are some of my favorites:
- Parting is Such Sweet Potato — sweet potato fries with cheese, bacon, salsa, sour cream and jalapenos ($8.99)
- To Bean, or Not to Bean — black bean burger with red pepper aioli ($7.99)
- The Shrimpest — grilled shrimp with lemon ($7.99)
Eventually, I had to stop laughing and decide what to eat. Rob, who had previously eaten at The Bard’s Town, recommended the pulled pork sandwich called My Kingdom for Some Pork! ($9.99). I added a side of coleslaw.
If this whole theater thing doesn’t work out, The Bard’s Town folks should set up a barbecue pit on the street. It’s hard to find good barbecue, and I would have never guessed I’d find it under Act Two, Scene One of The Bard’s Town menu. The pork is loaded onto a toasted bun, and the people in the kitchen made the wise decision to put the barbecue sauce on the side rather than coating the meat in it. That way, you can taste the peppery smokiness of the swine, which tasted like it had been lovingly smoked for hours. I started by pulling pieces of the juicy pork with my fingers and dipping it into the tangy, tomato-based sauce. Then I drizzled the sauce on the sandwich and went to town. It was fantastic.
I always try to give coleslaw a chance at a restaurant, but the results often fall short of my expectations. Though The Bard’s Town adds a spicy kick to this cabbage dish, it was missing the pizzazz that I hoped for.
Next time, I’m going for the sweet potato fries, which I swiped from Rob’s plate throughout the evening. I dipped these crisp suckers in my barbecue sauce, which turned out to be a perfect combination of sweet and spice.
I capped my evening with a glass of white wine ($4 during happy hour) and a climb to the second floor to see Rob perform. I’m thankful that Rob introduced me to The Bard’s Town, not only for the food, but for the well-rounded evening that this venue gave me. I’m rooting for The Bard’s Town and everything it promotes — a good meal, a good drink and good times with local entertainment.
Notes about The Bard’s Town
- A Trio of Halloween Radio Plays, the show in which Rob performs at The Bard’s Town, has shows at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 18, 19, and 20. The show is presented by the Coffee Cup Theatre Company and is performed in the style of old radio plays. The actors perform The Canterville Ghost, The Cask of Amontillado and The Monkey’s Paw. Tickets are $15, $10 for students and seniors.
- My Kingdom for Some Pork! with a side of spicy coleslaw: $9.99
- Glass of house white wine: $4 (happy hour price)
- Total (w/tax): $14.83
September 28, 2012 by Ashlee Clark Thompson
Ever been to the Qdoba Mexican Grill on Fourth and Jefferson streets at noon on a weekday?
It’s a mad house.
The line often snakes at least 20 people from the cash register to the door, a daunting prospect to a hungry corporate employee with only an hour to eat.
Yes, Qdoba offers up some tasty, Mexican-inspired grub — I have a rewards card to prove my appreciation. Lately, I’ve skipped the rush and gone with an even better, local option right around the corner, Bazo’s Fresh Mexican Grill.
I’d noticed Bazo’s before on the corner of Market and Fifth streets, a lunch-friendly intersection (the restaurant’s neighbors include Dish on Market, Chop Shop Salads and FireFresh BBQ). But I usually bypassed Bazo’s in favor of the familiar Qdoba.
A business lunch changed my ways.
My companions for that meal suggested Bazo’s. That was about a month ago. Since then, I’ve been back three times.
Bazo’s has a menu that will be familiar to folks accustomed to Qdoba, Chipotle Mexican Grill and other Mexican-style, fast-casual dining, but provides a wider selection at a comparable cost with a much shorter wait time.
There are no surprises in selections like the nachos (from $5.79) or the assortment of burritos, such as the Fajita Burrito with meat, cheddar-jack cheese, grilled peppers and onions, rice, sour cream and salsa (from $6.29). There’s even a Tostada Salad, a taco salad in a flour tortilla bowl ($6.59) that will look familiar to a Qdoba regular.
But Bazo’s offers choices and menu items that the chains are missing. Let’s start with dessert. Signs on the tables in Bazo’s advertise $1.59 churros, a fried-dough dish popular in Spanish-speaking countries. There there is a salsa bar with four to five different salsa options and tiny cups for you to try as many as you want. Bazo’s also has economical combination choices that start with one to three of tacos of your choice, a small side of chili-lime chips and a choice of sides depending on the combination you choose (starts at $6.29).
And speaking of the tacos, the highlight of Bazo’s menu is the variety of fillings you can choose for your tacos, which start at $2.39. There’s the usual chicken, carne asada (steak) and bean, but the restaurant also adds barbacoa (shredded beef), carnitas (pork), shrimp, and, my favorite, fish.
The fish made me a Bazo’s convert. The first dish I tried with this ingredient was a fish burrito ($6.99). The burrito was filled with a grilled fillet, black beans, salsa fresca, shredded cabbage, cheddar-jack cheese and baja sauce.
For the $10 Challenge, however, I decided to change it up and order a combination with three fish tacos, a dish that was featured in several framed newspaper and magazine article near the register ($8.49). It took about five minutes for my order to come up, the average wait time I’ve experienced at Bazo’s. It’s just enough time to fill your salsa cups and water cup.
When I picked up my plate, the mounds of white, crunchy cabbage on top of the tacos threw me for a loop. Don’t get me wrong, I love cabbage, but not when I can’t even see the dish it is supposed to accompany. I scooped about a cup of cabbage off to the side of my platter before I dug into my tacos.
The tortillas seemed delicate enough to be homemade. They were soft and not sturdy enough to hold the slices of fish in each taco. I’m not sure where Bazo’s gets their fish (I hope not the Ohio River), but it tasted out-of-the-water fresh. The grilled fish was succulent and well-seasoned, but not too spicy. I’m curious to see if the taste of the fish holds up if it’s battered and fried or blackened, two other options available.
After taco number two, I realized how much value I had gotten in my meal and how much I had overestimated my appetite. There is about half of a fish filet in each taco, so I got really full really fast. I had also created a cabbage salad of sorts with a squirt of lime and a drizzle of the creamy baja sauce that dripped from my tacos. My impromptu side dish, the side of crunchy seasoned chips, and those little tacos packed an unexpected punch to the gut. Next time, I’ll go with the Two Taco Combo that comes with rice and beans (from $6.29).
I’m a bit ashamed that I had always passed up a little guy like Bazo’s in favor of a Big Boy Chain. Now, it’s good to know that I can get a good taco at a great price without the long wait.
Notes about Bazo’s
- The price for the taco combos and some of the burritos increases depending on the type of meat you choose. Seafood is the most expensive option.
Bazo’s Fresh Mexican Grill, 428 W. Market Street, Louisville (two other locations in Louisville)
- Three Taco Combo with fish: $8.49
- Water: $0
- Total (with tax): $9.00
September 14, 2012 by Ashlee Clark Thompson
First, an apology to Lilly’s — A Kentucky Bistro.
I had dismissed this upscale Highlands restaurant long before my first visit this week.
Lilly’s evaded my list of future blog subjects because of my prejudices against the more tony qualities of this establishment — crisp tablecloths, reservations recommended, even an endorsement from Emeril Lagasse. This type of fine dining seemed out of my reach. I had resigned myself to the fact that my budget is more suited toward casual eateries, diners and cafés.
Lilly’s lunch menu, however, revived my faith that fine dining at affordable prices is attainable in Louisville — as long as you have time for lunch.
A midday meal is a gateway into the fancier side of eating in our fair city. Check out the lunch menus of some of the big-name restaurants — Proof on Main, Bristol Bar and Grille, and Equus & Jack’s Lounge, to name a few. A $10 bill goes a long way between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.
Lilly’s is no exception. The restaurant provides a respectable selection of food on its lunch menu that will please the dollar-conscious diner and provide an accurate impression of what evening meals there have to offer.
The prix fixe lunch alone is a frugal way to sample a selection of Lilly’s cuisine. During my lunch this week, the prix fixe included vichyssoise, seared ruby red trout on eggplant and sherry salad topped with gremolata, and dulce de leche cheesecake. This is three courses of food I’ve only seen on Top Chef, and it was just $16.
The prix fixe and other lunch menu items combine Southern tastes with French staples. I was tempted to try the Kentucky pulled pork barbecue sandwich made with local pork piled on a pretzel bun ($9) or the crepes ($9), a savory dish of sautéed spinach, mushrooms, Gruyere cheese and shrimp.
After a chewing on a couple of slices of warm bread (it was so good, my friends and I ate two plates of it), I settled on the grilled croque-monsieur with Gruyere cheese, Béchamel sauce, Preacher Ham, caramelized onions and bacon ($8). In $10 Challenge terms, this was a fancy, hot, ham-and-cheese sandwich, a dish that began with as proudly French and ended in down-home Southern charm thanks to the addition of Kentucky ham and onions.
The taste of the croque-monsieur lingered on my mind and tongue for the rest of the work day. My infatuation began with the bread, two crunchy slices thick enough to hold the pile of pork and dairy. Then there was the salty bacon, thick cut and perfectly fatty. And the ham, salty hunks that were carefully arranged. And the onions, sweet rings of brown delight. And finally, the Bechamel, the sticky sauce that married the ingredients together into the best sandwich I’ve ever tasted. The Béchamel combined with the Gruyere and oozed from the corners of the bread and coated my mouth as I chewed. Its creaminess balanced the rough texture of the ham and bacon and took the sandwich to a level of perfection I had never experienced at lunch.
The croque-monsieur was a dream.
Unfortunately, my camera on my phone froze before I could take a picture of my dish. But no worries — I will return to Lilly’s, and I will have the croque-monsiuer again.
It turns out that I can afford another lunchtime trip. I just hope Lilly’s accepts my apology.
Lilly’s — An American Bistro, 1147 Bardstown Road, Louisville
Grilled croque-monsieur: $8
Total (with tax): $8.48
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September 7, 2012 by Ashlee Clark Thompson
The promise of cheap food close to my home was the only thing that could get me in Joe’s Older Than Dirt, a tavern in Lyndon.
Framed, autographed headshots of visiting country singers and a couple of deer heads filled a wood-paneled wall where I ate my dinner. A cornhole game was assembling in the expansive outdoor patio as I headed home. And there’s plenty of cheap beer on tap, which seemed to be the main attraction that brought patrons to Joe’s.
I don’t know much about country music (though I love me some Johnny Cash). I know less about cornhole. And I can name on one hand the beers I can tolerate.
Fortunately, stepping out of my comfort zone paid off. There’s a lot more to Joe’s than a few good drinks. This is a bar with hearty platters of food with prices that compliment the beer specials.
Joe’s has been around since 1937, when Joe Keal opened a tavern near what is now the corners of Lyndon Lane and New LaGrange Road, according to the information on Joe’s menu. His clientele was passengers from the nearby railway station that he sometimes picked up with a horse and buggy.
Times have changed, and so has Joe’s. The tavern was expanded over the years, so patrons can have a drink, watch some ESPN on several flatscreens and a projector, play a little cornhole outside or enjoy some karaoke or a live performer depending on the day of the week.
And then there’s the food.
January 27, 2012 by Ashlee Clark Thompson
I’m not a big drinker. And I hate going out to the bars. A night with a bar stool up my …
November 14, 2011 by Ashlee Clark Thompson
It’s hard to find a place where everybody knows your name when you’re a vagabond. I’ve lived in seven different …
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October 7, 2011 by Ashlee Clark Thompson
(Blogger’s note: This is Ashlee Eats’ first guest $10 Challenge from reader Matt Ruben. Want to get in on the …
September 9, 2011 by Ashlee Clark Thompson
Lately, I’ve been doing less of this: And more of this: I’m getting married in less than a month. Preparation …