I ate an $8 grilled cheese sandwich at Atlantic No. 5. Was it worth it?

The inside of Atlantic No. 5 on Main Street.
The inside of Atlantic No. 5 on Main Street.

Cold weather and a long line outside of The Main Eatery prompted my first visit to Atlantic No. 5, a new restaurant on Main Street in downtown Louisville.

Last Friday, I had my heart set on a tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwich from The Main Eatery. It was the first cold Friday of the fall, so the line for other seekers of that legendary soup-and-sandwich combo was out the door and to the corner of the block.

It was 12:15. I didn’t have time for that.

Atlantic No. 5 was just a few doors down. I glanced inside and saw that the line was contained to the warm interior of the bistro. Customers hovered over cups of soup as they skimmed newspapers. A server walked around the counter with something that could pass for a grilled cheese. That was enough for me to give this restaurant a try.

Atlantic No. 5, named after those old-school lunch boxes that blue collar workers carried back in the day, comes from the mind of the same folks behind Rye on Market. From Insider Louisville:

Located at 605 W. Main Street, the new restaurant will be “very bistro like,” according to Michael Trager-Kusman, who said he and his partners sought to create a relaxed concept.

“We want it to be a place you come and go, stop and have a snack, a light dinner, a beer or a glass of wine,” said Trager-Kusman, who’s also seeking a full liquor license.

The dishes offer fresh takes on traditional Southern ingredients by pairing regional favorites with Eastern-inspired additions, such as a golden beet and couscous salad or the marble potato salad with turmeric-pickled cipollini. The rotisserie pork and beef meatball sandwiches also get a creative splash with the addition of broccoli rabe and carrot-cumin tomato sauce, respectively.

But is this a place where I can get a great soup and grilled cheese?

Sort of.

The menu items at Atlantic No. 5 are a la carte, which is French for, “We don’t do value meals here.” Sandwiches are $6 to $9, and a cup of soup (rustic tomato or coconut squash) is $5. I wasn’t on a $10 Challenge, but my bank account wasn’t in the mood for a $14 lunch. So I compromised with a grilled cheese sandwich ($8) and a bag of potato chips ($1.50).

A grilled cheese sandwich, all snug in a nice to-go box.
A grilled cheese sandwich, all snug in a nice to-go box.

The sandwich was made up of white cheddar, fontina and goat cheeses on country French bread with a balsamic-onion marmalade. Three creamy cheeses on one sandwich are good; a tart onion spread to cut some of the richness is even better. What the small sandwich lacked in size, it made up for in decadent ingredients.

The sandwich, and I imagine the rest of Atlantic No. 5’s menu, is something that I would order when it’s time to treat myself to a little bit of fancy to break up a work day. The price and size of the meal, however, will keep me from making this new downtown restaurant a regular lunchtime stop.

Atlantic No. 5

605 W. Main Street, Louisville

www.atlanticno5.com

Run to Aldi to get some gourmet cheeses and other fun food for the New Year

Still have some entertaining left to do? Need to bring some goodies to the office? Or do you just have a bone-crushing love of cheese but a disproportionate budget?

Get your butt to one of my favorite stores, Aldi.

For the past few weeks, the discount grocery chain has busted out seasonal specials. These are foodstuffs that Aldi holds back until special occasions, kind of like nice china or lacy underwear.

Anyhoo, with the year drawing to a close, I expect that these items will disappear, along with bundles of ugly Christmas sweaters, until next holiday season, so it’s time to stock up.

A big portion of their winter seasonal items is made up of “gourmet” cheeses. I’m sure there are cheese snobs out there who will turn their noses up at discount dairy, but I can’t turn down 4-ounce logs of goat cheese for $1.99 (in fact, I bought three logs during one visit). Here are some other items on sale:

  • Brie or havarti cheese: $2.99
  • A box of six-cracker assortment: $2.49
  • Brown-and-serve rolls: 99 cents
  • Red or green sprinkles: 99 cents
  • Queen Anne’s Chocolate-Covered Cherries: $1.19
  • Golden raisins: $2.29

For a complete list of seasonal sales, click here.

 

The $10 Challenge: Bunz Burgerz

A bison burger, fries and a side of Bunz sauce at Bunz Burgerz.

The only thing more aggravating than replacing a perfectly good “s” with a “z” in a restaurant name is waiting for an hour for your food at aforementioned burger restaurant.

Unfortunately, these are the things that I remember the most about my first visit to Bunz Burgerz on Baxter Avenue. My burger, though it was indeed delicious, wasn’t tasty enough make me forget all of the kinks that dampened my inaugural trip to a place voted “Best of Louisville” burger.

Groupon introduced me to Bunz Burgerz with a deal that allowed participants to buy $10 worth of food at the restaurant for just five bucks. I can’t miss a deal like that in my current economic state, so I purchased the Groupon and planned a Saturday lunch trip with two of my friends.

I was prepared to indulge in a good ol’ American burger made of local ingredients. Autumn, one of my dining companions, bought the maximum three Groupons to Bunz Burgerz because she liked it so much. And some online menu studying revealed that this restaurant provided many options to jazz up any hamburger.

Bunz Burgerz offers a list of Gourmet Bunz starting at $4.99. This portion of the menu features the restaurant’s original creations, such as the Blue State Bunz with two patties, blue cheese, pickles and Bunz sauce ($6.79) and the Highland Bunz with a single patty, feta cheese, fried capers, chopped olive blend and mayo.

The control freaks can build their own burgers with a variety of veggies, sauces and cheeses. And Bunz Burgerz tries to please lots of diets with a Portabella Bunz ($4.89), Salmon Bunz ($5.79) or Turkey Bunz ($5.89).

(Side note: My left pinky is about to go numb from reaching down for the “z” button so much.)

I decided what I wanted before I arrived at Bunz Burgerz. A Saturday lunch rush in a tiny eatery is not the ideal time or place for contemplating a menu’s options.

Bunz Burgerz is a four-tables-and-two-counters-sized joint. When I arrived at about 1 p.m., the dining area was filled with a line of people waiting to order, folks chomping away at delicious-looking burgers and onion rings at the few coveted tables, and individuals tucked in tiny places with their arms crossed waiting for their order.

After I ordered a Bison Bunz ($5.99) with pepperjack cheese (49 cents), lettuce and tomato, fries and a drink ($2.89), my two friends and I squeezed to a window-side counter with no chairs to wait for our order. Between teaching one another about our new Android phones, we table stalked, aka stared at patrons eating at other tables grasping for signs that they will leave soon. Eventually, we migrated to a table with only two chairs as the previous eaters were throwing away their trash. Then, after seeing that one member of our trio was left without a seat, a woman who just finished our meal offered us her soon-to-be-empty three-top.

An hour passed, and my friends and I were still burger-less. A trickle of hungry patrons went to the counter to ask about the progress of their order. Bunz Burgerz only had two people working at the restaurant – the cook and the cashier. They were generous with their apologies, but this duo wasn’t enough to effectively serve a busy Saturday lunch crowd in one of the most happening corridors in town.

About 70 minutes into my visit to Bunz Burgerz, bison burger was in hand, then in mouth.

My first eager bite.

The upside to waiting at the restaurant is that each burger is made to order. My bison burger, a leaner take on a traditional beef patty, was piping hot, as were the heap of fries beneath it. My patty was slightly pink in the center, which kept the burger from drying out. The bison appeared to be pre-patted, as opposed to the freshly formed patties of my friends’ beef burgers. But it was still a dang good burger without a lot of bells and whistles. And pepperjack is always a good road to take to Burgertown if the option is available. All this was perched on a soft sesame seed bun that was buttered and toasted.

The Bunz sauce, which I got in a container on the side, really spiced up my burger. It’s a mayo-based condiment with chipotle seasoning, which gave it a pink hue and a spicy kick. It was also good for fry dipping.

My buddies, who ordered the Red State Bunz (two patties, spicy pickles, pepperjack cheese, grilled jalapenos, grilled onions, hot sauce and mayo, $6.69) and a Single Bunz ($3.89), were just as pleased with their meals, if not more. The beef patties were juicy and thick. But waiting an hour for some meat between two pieces of bread is asking a lot from me.

Will I return to Bunz Burgerz? Probably so. My burger was good. My fries were crispy. My dipping sauce was delicious.

A restaurant is allowed to have off days. I believe in such things as an overwhelmed staff and doling out second chances. But I also believe that going to Bunz Burgerz on a weekday is the way to go.

Notes on Bunz Burgerz

  • When you enter the restaurant, a partial menu is located straight ahead on the lower part of the counter. Laminated copies of the full menu are on the counter. If you don’t know what you want, please step to the side or step outside – space is tight.
  • The restaurant offers Bunz of the Day, which can get pretty interesting. The special on my visit was a burger with chili and sour cream, among other toppings.

Bunz Burgerz, 969 1/2 Baxter Ave., Louisville, Ky.

  • Bison Bunz: $5.99
  • Pepperjack cheese: 49 cents
  • Lettuce, tomato, Bunz sauce: Free
  • Combo (addition of fries and a drink): $2.89
  • Total (with tax): $9.33
  • Groupon Total: $5
Mission: Accomplished

The $10 Challenge: Lil Cheezers Gourmet Grilled Cheesemobile

The Pizza Grilled Cheese (front) and Caprese Grilled Cheese from Lil Cheezers.

It’s a shame that I discovered Lil Cheezers during one of the hottest spring months on record in Louisville.

Eating hot food in hot weather does not a happy Ashlee make.

Lil Cheezers, a self-described gourmet grilled cheesemobile, is one of a handful of food trucks that have recently sprouted across Louisville. They are restaurants on wheels, like the mature cousin of the ice cream truck. Where there is a crowd, there is a truck. By their mobile nature, food trucks require customers to eat outside, perhaps on a nearby bench, or take the food elsewhere.

I first encountered Lil Cheezers at the Abbey Road on the River festival on Memorial Day. It was a scorcher of a day – the sun bounced off the Ohio River onto the Belvedere like a mirror, and humidity hung in the air like damp laundry. It was the type of day during which no man, woman or child should be without an ice cream cone in their hand.

But my excitement over a truck selling grilled cheese sandwiches, my favorite comfort food, prompted me to abandon the notion of finding a cold treat and buy a piping-hot lunch from Lil Cheezers.

It was hard not to get excited over the variety of cheese and fillings that Lil Cheezers offers on their menu. There are nine types of cheeses, seven different vegetables and nine protein selections (including a vegan burger). The truck takes a dish that can be rather plain and make it more interesting.

Lil Cheezers customers can choose two ways to create a sandwich. A basic grilled cheese with your choice of fromage starts at $6, and you can add your choice of vegetables (50 cents each) and/or protein ($2 each). Like gouda, carmelized onions and ham? How about swiss, tomatoes and turkey? Or pepperjack, sautéed green peppers and pepperoni? The combinations keep going from there.

If you aren’t feeling creative, you can select a sandwich from Lil Cheezers’ specialty grilled cheeses menu for $8. There are only seven sandwiches on this menu, but this is where the food truck pulls out the creativity big guns. I wanted to order the Fancy Pants Grilled Cheese, a concoction of Granny Smith apples, carmelized onions, walnuts and brie, but the truck was fresh out. A classic Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato Grilled Cheese also sounded delicious. But the S’more, which is made up of chocolate, marshmallow and graham cracker crumbs grilled between two pieces of bread, was too adventurous for me.

I selected one of the heavier options on the menu for my Abbey Road lunch – the Pizza Grilled Cheese with pepperoni, salami, tomatoes and mozzarella. My companion of the day, Fiance Rob, ordered the Caprese Grilled Cheese with mozzarella, tomato, basil and a drizzle of balsamic reduction. We decided to trade sandwich halves so we could each sample each other’s meal.

Now, I was sweating before I even began to eat my Pizza sandwich. It was hard to find a place to eat at the crowded festival, so Rob and I ended up next to a garbage can in a rare sliver of shade.

The sandwich was a good substitute for a real slice of pizza. Two thick slices of wheatberry bread stood in for a pizza crust. The tomato was a less-messy substitute for pizza sauce. But the toppings, or filling in this instance, were just like on something you would order at home. The meat was pretty salty, as it should be. The mozzarella was gooey, thick and stringy, just like a piece of pizza.

Rob’s Caprese was similar to my sandwich, but had the wonderful addition of the balsamic reduction. The sauce put a little extra twang in each bite. What is twang? It’s the little kick of flavor that takes you by surprise mid-bite. Yum.

I sweated profusely as I munched on a the still-hot pepperoni and salami slices and warm hand-cut potato chips that were fried inside the truck and come with each sandwich. Between two different sandwich halves and a mountain of salty, thick potato chips, my stomach was quickly filled with carbs and cheese. I felt as big as a parade float. Next time, I’ll take half a sandwich home for dinner.

I try to stay away from adding any additional bulk in hot weather, as I did with my Lil Cheezers lunch. But the quirky selections and cheap prices were worth all the sweat.

Notes about Lil Cheezers

  • Follow Lil Cheezers on Twitter take a peek at the calendar on the business’s website to find out where the truck will be parked.
  • Lil Cheezers also caters private events.
  • Get to the truck early before they start to run out of some ingredients. You can’t expect a truck to hold restaurant-size quantities of food.
The Stats:
Lil Cheezers Gourmet Grilled Cheesemobile, parking throughout Louisville, Ky.
  • Pizza Grilled Cheese with chips: $8
  • Caprese Grilled Cheese with chips: $8
  • One bottle of Rooibee Red Tea: $3
  • Tip: $1
  • Total: $20
  • Total (for each person): $10
Mission: Accomplished

Time for some last-minute Super Bowl recipes

Photo courtesy of boo_licious via Flickr.

I’m not a big sports fan, but I can appreciate an event like the Super Bowl. Any event that brings people together and involves food can’t be all bad.

The big event is just a couple of days away. Here’s a few quick dishes that you can whip up if you still haven’t figured out what you’re going to feed the crowd.

Fruit dip –  Blend a package of softened strawberry cream cheese and a jar of marshmallow cream. Serve with your favorite fruits. (All Recipes)

Nachos – Heat a jar of picante sauce, a can of nacho cheese soup and some chopped jalapeno peppers on the stove. Stir often. Serve with chips.

Sliders – Mix a package of ground beef with two cap fulls of Mrs. Dash seasoning (or the store-brand equivalent, which is cheaper and tastes the same). Form into small patties. Grill in a medium pan. Top with slices of pepperjack cheese, and serve on King’s Hawaiian Rolls.

Potato wedges – Bake a bag of frozen potato wedges according to package instructions. Right after you take them out of the oven, sprinkle with salt, pepper and paprika. Serve with ketchup spiked with Frank’s Hot Sauce.

Pizza – Top pita bread with pasta sauce, spinach and mozzarella cheese. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until cheese is melted.

S’mores – Top a graham cracker with a piece of chocolate and marshmallow. Put another graham cracker on top. Repeat with as many times as you like. Heat in microwave for 10 seconds. (Food Network)

The $10 Challenge: Bearno’s Pizza*

*The Better-Late-Than-Never Edition

Ordering your own pizza is a display of equal parts independence and self-reliance with a pinch of gluttony.

“Look at me,” I often tell myself while perusing online pizza menus as I plot the night’s meal. “I can order any combo of toppings I wish. I need consultation from no one. Take that, cruel world.”

I reserve this treat for the long days when nothing is going right, and the smallest joy can make you feel like you’re back on top. On a recent crappy day, I relaxed with a Golden Girls DVD, some leftover Dragon King’s Daughter sake and my own medium pizza from Bearno’s Pizza.

Continue reading “The $10 Challenge: Bearno’s Pizza*”