The $10 Challenge: Mussel & Burger Bar




(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
The Spanish Blue.
The Spanish Blue.

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.

Short rib nachos.
Short rib nachos.

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.

Taquitos and sweet potato fries.
Taquitos and sweet potato fries.

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

Mission: Accomplished

For pork’s sake – Louisville will celebrate bacon at fundraiser this weekend

In the famous words of Emeril, pork fat rules. Photo courtesy Lara604 via Flickr.

Louisville bacon lovers, rejoice.

This weekend, there is a whole event dedicated to your favorite pork product.

The Louisville Visual Arts Association is throwing a Bacon Ball from 6-10 p.m. Saturday at The Historic Water Tower.

Here’s a blurb about the event from Greater Louisville Inc.:

The event includes tastings of many signature bacon dishes (including Fakin’ Bacon) from local chefs, and made with locally sourced pork. To clean your palate, enjoy fine craft beer provided by BBC, and make sure to bring some cash to try out some of the beverages and spirits at the cash bar.

Want to go? Buy your tickets today — Try It Local (a Groupon-like service that focuses on local businesses), is offering a 50-percent discount on tickets. You get two tickets for $25 instead of $50. Click here for more information on the deal.

Still not convinced? Your money will go toward a good cause. Proceeds from Bacon Ball will benefit the Art Supply Fund for Jefferson County Public School students, Children’s Fine Art Classes & Open Doors programs, as well as LVAA’s newest program, Artebella Daily.

Read more about the event and the local bacon scene (including some pecan bacon peanut brittle) in the Courier-Journal.

Until next year: the 2010 Kentucky State Fair in pictures

This year’s Kentucky State Fair saw a decline in the number of attendees, but I couldn’t tell.

I was having too much of a good time.

I spent a weekday afternoon with one of my roommates, Samantha, perusing the exhibits and gorging myself on grease and glaze.

It was the first time I went to the fair for the exhibits and food instead of the rickety rides on the midway. It was amazing to see the diversity and talent of my state on display. I gained a new appreciation of where my food comes from, especially after I saw a piglet, a hog and then sampled some fried ham. The circle of life doesn’t get more complete than that.

Here’s a look at the sights of this year’s fair. I apologize in advance if I have misidentified an animal. I grew up in the ‘burbs, and the only time I went to a farm was on a first-grade field trip.

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Bits and pieces: The Blind Pig, Guy Fieri and other food news from the web, 8.16.10

Cutest. Pig. Ever. Too bad I like bacon so much.
  • The Blind Pig, a gastropub in the Butchertown neighborhood of Louisville, earned itself a nice mention in the New York Times recently. I haven’t visited the Blind Pig, touted as “Butchertown’s premier swine dining establishment,” but with dishes like vanilla ice cream fritters and pecan-bacon brittle, I’ll have to visit soon.
  • Tyson Foods and singer Neil Young will work together to help relieve hunger along the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of the BP oil spill, according to an article from the Associated Press via Bloomberg Businessweek. Tyson will donate 100,000 pounds of chicken products in conjunction with special concerts Young has planned in late September in Mobile, Ala.; Panama City and Pensacola, Fla.; and Biloxi, Miss. Young and Tyson are also asking concert-goers to bring non-perishable food to donate to the effort.
  • I’m just going to quote straight from the Guardian in the UK for this item:

Artificial meat grown in vats may be needed if the 9 billion people expected to be alive in 2050 are to be adequately fed without destroying the earth, some of the world’s leading scientists report today.

That’s right folks. Meat grown in vats. This is an interesting article that explores some real issues we will face sooner than we expect.

  • The New York Times profiled one of my favorite Food Network personalities, Guy Fieri, in an article that compares the chef to Sarah Palin (in a surprisingly accurate, non-offense way, if you can believe that). My dream is to have my own version of his show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives in which I travel across the country and eat at local places.

Picture courtesy of be_khe via Flickr

Bits and pieces: Bacon vodka, picky eaters and other food news from the web, 7.8.10

The entire process of moving has quickly taken the top spot on my List of Things I Loathe. That collection includes:

  • When my socks get wet inside my tennis shoes
  • Adam Sandler in dramatic roles
  • Squash (the food, not the sport)

I’m still unpacking my new Old Louisville apartment, but my return to my hometown is complete, and the Internet is up and running. So, onward with the news.

  • Just what competitive eating needed — a bitter former champ led away in handcuffs. Takeru Kobayashi, a six-time winner of Nathan’s Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest, crashed the stage of the competition moments after his biggest rival, Joey “Jaws” Chestnut, won the challenge, according to a story in the Guardian. Kobayashi was subsequently arrested.
  • Has your Starbucks barista ever forgotten to put a protective sleeve on your drink? It happened to New York mom Villona Maryash and now she’s suing the super-chain after she accidentally burned her 5-month-old son, according to the New York Post. Maryash ordered tea, picked up the cup and dropped it because it was so hot, which made the beverage spill on her son, causing “serious injuries,” the article says.
  • I love bacon as much as the next gal, but this is a bit much — a company in Seattle has created a bacon-flavored vodka, according to the Chicago Tribune. Unlike its porky counterpart, this beverage is vegan AND fat-free. That statement was almost worthy of an exclamation mark.
  • Picky eating could be more than a quirky trait, according to some mental health specialists. To learn more about adults who are picky eaters, researchers at Duke University and the University of Pittsburgh have launched the first national public registry of picky eating that allows people to log in and report on their unusual eating preferences and habits, according to the Wall Street Journal. Doctors also hope the effort will prompt the development of improved treatment techniques for adult picky eaters. According to the article:

A taskforce studying how to categorize eating disorders for the new version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, due out in 2013, is considering recognizing for the first time a disorder to be called “selective eating” that could apply to adults as well as children.