The $10 Challenge: Franco’s Restaurant and Catering

A two-piece chicken meal with macaroni and cheese and collard greens.

Folks have a lot of different definitions for what dishes can be correctly labeled as “soul food.”

For some, it’s about the race of the cook (I know plenty of people who think only blacks can cook soul food). For others, it’s the region of the dish’s origin — if it ain’t from the South, it ain’t got no soul.

For me, it’s all about the taste.

You’ll know soul food as soon as it hits your tongue.

Soul food is the taste that makes you exclaim, “Somebody’s put their foot in this!” Soul food the traces of meat fat that flavor every vegetable on your plate. Soul food is the grease on your lips and the smile on your face.

Franco’s Restaurant and Catering indeed fits the bill for genuine soul food. This descendent of the now-closed Jay’s Cafeteria in the West End provides food that comforts and fills empty bellies.

You won’t find Franco’s in one of Louisville’s popular restaurant rows. Instead, you will need to venture to my neck of the woods — “Lively” Shively, specifically, Dixie Highway.

Franco’s is the place you go to if you’re Southern, homesick or just needing food that will stick to your bones without emptying your wallet. The dinner menu reads like a Sunday post-church spread at grandma’s house: chicken and dressing ($7.14), beef shoulder roast with potatoes ($8.24), and meatloaf ($8.24), just to name a few. Then there are the types of dishes that only true Southern-food connoisseurs like my dad can enjoy, such as pig feet ($7.22) and baked ribs and kraut ($8.70).

It’s hard to pick just one main dish and two sides when it’s time to order at Franco’s. All the food, from salisbury steak to macaroni to peach cobbler, is kept in warming dishes cafeteria-style behind a clear partition. About three employees are stationed at the counter to scoop food into to-go boxes or onto plates. When all that goodness is in front of you, it’s hard to narrow things down.

Eventually, I settle on a two-piece fried chicken meal with macaroni and cheese and collard greens as my two sides ($7.14). The meal also came with your choice of a roll or cornbread (I choose a roll).

I took the meal to-go, which was a bit of a shame because the chicken was cold by the time I made it to my mom’s house. I hope it was just the travel time, and not that the meat had been sitting out. But whatever the case, the fried chicken was simple, yet tasty. No frills or fuss. And the skin was audibly crunchy, a great trait in fried chicken.

The sides were fantastic. The mac and cheese had that yellow-orange tint that I’ve seen on many a Sunday at my family’s kitchen table — there’s some cheese product in that dish, and I like it. The macaroni was creamy and cheesy and fantastic. As soon as I took a bite of the greens, I realized I should have bought a side of deviled eggs ($1.39), my favorite accompaniment to this vegetable. A splash of Frank’s Hot Sauce took the greens over the top.

Franco’s is a bright spot in Shively and for the rest of the city, as well. The restaurant is great for the budget and even better for the need for some comforting soul food.

Franco’s Restaurant and Catering

3300 Dixie Highway, Louisville, KY

  • Two-piece chicken dinner with two sides: $7.14
  • Total with tip: $7.57
Mission: Accomplished

Don’t feel like grilling? Groupon has two deals at Louisville BBQ joints this weekend

I don’t feel like barbecuing this Fourth of July weekend.

I’m up to my eyeballs in moving boxes. I’ve got no time for grilling out.

If you’re feeling just as disenchanted with the thought of firing up a grill as I am, Groupon is offering a couple of holiday weekend deals for getting some barbecue without all of the necessary labor.

FireFresh BBQ, a past $10 Challenge subject, is offering a $7 Groupon that will get you $15 worth of food. And Bootleg Bar-B-Q is offering $16 worth of food for an $8 Groupon.

Sound interesting? Then get on over to Groupon in a hurry, because you only have a little more than 24 hours to get in on these Louisville deals.



Get an ice cream cone for 25 cents Saturday at Homemade Ice Cream and Pie Kitchen

Got a quarter and some free time this weekend?

Swing on down to one of nine Homemade Ice Cream and Pie Kitchen locations for Quarter Day this Saturday, June 18. From noon to 5 p.m., customers can get a one-scoop ice cream cone for 25 cents.


The dessert shop has 32 flavors of ice cream from which to choose, so I would study up before you go to avoid being “that guy” (or gal) holding up the line with indecision. I’ve narrowed my selections to either butter pecan or strawberry shortcake. Or I might go crazy and spend an extra 25 cents for two cones. You only live once, amirite?

Click here to find your nearest Pie Kitchen. And if you see me munching on the melty end of a sugar cone, don’t be afraid to say hi.

Here are places where you can get a free doughnut for National Doughnut Day

Today is National Doughnut Day, a day when our country can come together in celebration of fried rings of dough.

Here are some places where you can get a free doughnut today. Know of another freebie? Help us all out and put it in the comments.

It’s not too late to take part in Fleur De Licious, a showcase of downtown restaurants

Photo courtesy Fleur De Licious.

To eat at some nicer restaurants, I sometimes have to wait for a good deal or promotion.

Enter Fleur De Licious.

During this event, which ends Saturday, May 21, participating restaurants in the downtown Louisville area are offering a “prix-fixe menu highlighting specialties from their standard menu,” according to the Louisville Downtown Management District.

Translation – participating restaurants will have three-course meals for $30 per person. It might seem kind of pricey, but that’s a steal at some of these places.

Here are just a few participating restaurants:

Click here for a complete list of restaurants where the Fleur De Licious deal applies.

The $10 Challenge: FireFresh BBQ

The chicken tender special from FireFresh BBQ. There are chicken tenders under there, I promise.

I try to be a leader.

But when it comes to food, I am just a sheep following something shiny.

My latest $10 Challenge at FireFresh BBQ is a prime example of this follower-not-leader phenomenon that only strikes when I’m hungry.

I recently went to FireFresh’s downtown Louisville franchise, which is located on a Challenge-friendly block that includes Dish on Market and Chop Shop Salads.

FireFresh’s menu offers a lot of ‘cue. Specifically, a lot of meat. There’s pulled pork, pulled chicken, marinated pork, brisket, rib tips and ribs. Not into ‘cue? Then there’s fish and chicken tenders. You can get your meat on a salad (pulled pork or pulled chicken salad, $6.49; chicken tender salad, $6.99). You can get it on a sandwich, which comes in three sizes – rookie, regular and Big Bruce (starting at $3.49). And there’s enough sampler platters, combos and dinners to satisfy your hunger no matter what time of the day and level of hunger you might have. On top of all this meat, there’s 11 different side dishes that range from green beans to mac and cheese to cinnamon apples. The selection makes it easy for everyone to find something to love.

Conventional wisdom told me to order something, well, barbecued. If there’s a specific food or drink mentioned in the name of a restaurant, it’s wise to order just that (see Hillbilly Tea).

Instead, I did exactly as the customer in front of me — I ordered the chicken tender plate, the special of the day that included tenders, two sides, Texas toast and a drink for $6.99. This dish is one of the few things on FireFresh’s menu that isn’t barbecued, which seems like a bad decision to make at a barbecue joint.

Fortunately, my choice to follow a leader led to a delicious, filling lunch.

When I got back to the office to eat lunch, I opened my container and was greeted with a bounty of skinny fries that hid most of the chicken tenders. I’m usually opposed to such thin fries that demand to be eaten in bunches, but these were spicy and hot, so I quickly forgave their waif-like figures. When I first bit into one of the fries, my eyes widened and I said to no one in particular, “Hel-looo.” They were that good, y’all.

The country coleslaw that was my second side was very creamy as the cashier said it would be. The slaw had a tasty, sweet flavor to it, but the sauce that covered the cabbage was too thick for my taste. Next time, I might try the sweet vinegar coleslaw, which the cashier said is a lot lighter.

The Texas toast had a thick layer of butter in its center that overpowered the bread. This much butter would probably earn the Paula Deen seal of approval, but I could do without it.

Eventually, I got to the chicken tenders buried beneath the fries. The dinner only came with three tenders, but each were thick-cut breast meat that were battered and fried. The tenders were juicy and covered with just a thin coat of batter, a huge improvement from the tenders I’ve had from fast-food restaurants that taste more like flour than chicken. They were just spicy enough to be interesting, but basic enough to please a lot of folks.

My meal came with two to-go containers of the barbecue sauce of my choice, the Sweet and Tangy, in which I dipped the chicken and fries. I can imagine buying a bottle of that stuff and putting it on everything I own.

I was glad that I followed the woman in front of me in ordering the special. I got a lot of food for little money, and for the most part, it was pretty darn good. Others seemed to prefer following, as well – the guy behind me in line ordered the special, too.

Notes about FireFresh BBQ

  • The restaurant offers specials throughout the week. Follow them on Twitter to see the daily specials.
  • FireFresh sells bottles of their various barbecue sauces in the restaurant.
  • If you go to the downtown location, avoid the crowds by visiting closer to 1 p.m. when the lunch crowd begins to thin.

The Stats

FireFresh BBQ, 211 S. 5th Street, Louisville, Ky. (two other locations at 8610 Dixie Highway, Louisville, Ky. and 81 Jeanie Drive, Shelbyville, Ky.)

  • Chicken tender plate with soft drink, seasoned fries, coleslaw and Texas toast: $6.99
  • Total (with tax): $7.41

Mission: Accomplished

The $10 Challenge: Papalinos NY Pizzeria

A big ol' slice of Papalinos.

(Blogger’s note: No one guessed this location. Let’s try again this week.)

I received a firm affirmation that Rob is The One when we stopped in Papalinos NY Pizzeria for a quick dinner.

I wolfed down a slice of pizza with the speed and vigor of a teenage boy while my better half shook his head and stared in amazement instead of fleeing down Baxter Avenue.

I had eaten at Papalinos once before with a group of girlfriends before Catholic trivia night (we party hard, y’all). This was a situation in which the company overshadowed the food, and I was more focused on giggling with the girls than taking note of the nuances of pizza. So I decided to return to Papalinos with my normal partner-in-food, who is willing to forgo dinner conversation so I could stuff my face and take notes about it.

A rotating and sometimes surprising list of toppings and straight-from-the-oven freshness have made Papalinos, a relative newcomer to the Louisville pizza scene, a place that is worth going to more than once.

At a glance, Papalinos doesn’t seem so different from other places serving up New York-style pizza, a genre characterized by gigantic slices served on a paper plate. But Papalinos adds its own touch to this familar category of pizza. The restaurant makes many of its toppings in house, such as Italian sausage, meatballs, cured bacon and roasted red peppers. The crust is crisper than its more malleable counterparts (such as Spinelli’s), which makes folding the slice in half more difficult but holds up well under the weight of hearty toppings.

Papalinos puts most of its energy into its pizza, therefore only offers a few additions to the menu — breadsticks ($5), salads ($6), calzones ($10), canoli ($3) or Italian ice ($2). But with such good pizza, there’s really no need to dress up the menu. Stick with what you know, I say.

A slice of pizza begins at a budget-friendly $3. Veggies are an addition 50 cents each, and meat toppings are 75 cents apiece. Papalinos also offers toppings of the day, which can range from sauteed peppers and onions to roasted squash to blackened shrimp. The possibilities of topping combinations can make it difficult to place an order. On both visits to Papalinos, I was the person who let other people cut line while I studied the menu.

For the Challenge, I selected a slice of pizza with roasted red peppers, spinach and green peppers. Because each slice is made to order, I had to wait about 10 minutes for my pizza. It was well worth the wait. The red peppers, which are roasted in-house, were juicy and tangy and were my favorite topping of the three I selected. The spinach and green peppers were tasty, as well. The whole thing was piping hot, which forced me to eat the slice with my mouth half open to let  in some cool air. It wasn’t a pretty scene. Sure, I could have waited for the pizza to cool off, but my belly wasn’t having the wait.

One slice of Papalinos pizza is a very sufficient meal that will leave you with some spare dollars for a beer or fountain drink. And the pizza is good enough to justify gobbling it down in a hurry – even if it is embarassing to loved ones.

Notes about Papalinos:

  • Follow Papalinos on Twitter to find out what the restaurant is offering as the toppings of the day (or TOTD as the pizzeria refers to them).
  • The dining area of this narrow restaurant can get crowded quickly. On a nice day, eat outside so you have a bit more elbow room. Or have a seat at a counter, a great place to people watch on Baxter. But stay close enough so you can hear your order called.
  • The restaurant is open until 5 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, and it delivers to you folks in the Highlands (lucky).
  • Papalinos recently introduced a frequent buyer’s card. Present this at the counter, and you get a hole punch for each slice you buy. After five slices, your sixth one is free.

The Facts:

Papalinos NY Pizzeria, 947-949 Baxter Avenue, Louisville, Ky.

One slice of pizza: $3

Red peppers, spinach and green peppers: $1.50 (50 cents each)

Total (with tax): $4.77

Mission: Accomplished (EASILY)

Here’s what I learned about food and money during year of living modestly as a VISTA

I didn't have a lot of this during the past year. Photo courtesy of AMagill via Flickr.

As an AmeriCorps VISTA, I earned a “modest living allowance” while I completed my term of service.

Translate that as you wish.

I was recently hired by the organization where I served as a VISTA for the past year. But the new habits I developed to save money have become a permanent part of my life, even though I make a slightly higher income.

I started this blog as a way to explore how to spend money on good food when I didn’t have much in my wallet. I’ve learned a lot and had fun doing so. But a few food lessons stick out.

  1. There is a huge difference between a need and a want. I need food. That’s a given. But do I need to spend $20 on an entree? Do I need name-brand shredded cheese? Do I need a new slow cooker? Not necessarily. I learned be more thoughtful and strategic in identifying my needs versus my wants and to find an appropriate balance.
  2. Buy more basic ingredients. A stocked pantry full of basics and motivation to cook have helped me survive between visits to the grocery store. For example, I wanted some cornbread to go with some beans I had bubbling in the Crock Pot, but I didn’t have any cornbread mix. I did, however, have a carton of cornmeal, milk, flour, an egg and the Internet. Twenty minutes later, homemade cornbread muffins without having to go out of my wallet. My new favorite staple? Oatmeal.
  3. Cut back on the packaged food. It’s tempting to buy bags of potato chips, granola bars and individual applesauce cups. But convenience items like these get expensive.
  4. Eat more produce. It’s cheap. It’s good for you. Nothing to dislike here. And trips to the farmers’ market are fun.
  5. Cook more. I learned to cook seven years ago when I had my first internship and discovered how expensive eating out is. I revisited my beloved cookbooks (along with plenty of food blogs) and went back to the kitchen to save money.
  6. Shop around. I read Sunday ads religiously to find the best deals around town. If Aldi doesn’t have something at the right price, there’s Kroger. Or Walmart. Or ValuMarket. Be willing to be patient when shopping to find the best deals.

How do you save money on food?

The $10 Challenge: Shah’s Mongolian Grill

(Blogger’s note: I am actively taking recommendations for future $10 Challenge sites. My fiancé, Rob, has been urging me for months to try out the restaurant I featured this week.)

A table of young men began to sing along with the Ke$ha song that blasted through the speakers the other night as I ate a dish full of chicken and veggies at Shah’s Mongolian Grill.

Clearly, this University of Louisville-adjacent restaurant was not the best place for a young woman who has wiped her hands of the college crowd.

It’s hard to discuss Shah’s Mongolian Grill without a thorough description of the restaurant’s atmosphere, which  overtakes the great food offered there. First, a little bit about a Mongolian grill. These restaurants give patrons the opportunity to select meats, veggies and sauces of their choice that an employee collects in a bowl and dumps on a huge, flat grill. Here’s a peek at the selection:

Though the grill is right behind the register in plain sight, it was the sweet smell of flavored tobacco that grabbed my attention when I arrived at Shah’s.

Continue reading “The $10 Challenge: Shah’s Mongolian Grill”