Grind, La Coop, Ollie’s Trolley and the best Louisville food you ate in 2012

A fine example of a Grind burger.
A fine example of a Grind burger with a cheese crisp and mustard.

I love social media.

What started as a Twitter conversation about good food Louisville folks ate in 2012 got a big enough response to be a blog post.

The following post is a round-up of what readers, Facebook fans and Twitter users said was the best Louisville food they ate in 2012, specifically, the best burger, cocktail, fries and overall dish or restaurant. I’ve identified the commenters by first name and last initial or Twitter handle.

A big thank you goes to blogger Michelle Jones of Consuming Louisville/Menu and Hours app, who started the conversation over Twitter, and everyone who responded to our questions.

  • Best Burger

    • My vote: Beer cheese burger from AP Crafters Kitchen and Bar
    • Grind, by a landslide.” Randi S.
    • @LouisvilleGrind veggie burger is my best burger this year. It is outstanding!” @TattooCharlies
    • Louisville Grind, multiple times. Proof on Main, too.” @dloehr
    • “#1 Grind #2 Jack Fry’s #3 Ollie’s Trolly” “@louisvillegrind The While You Wait is the best Burger on the Planet!” @danmen
    • “best burger, hands down, is at Holy Grale. Chef Josh Lehman is some kind of food wizard.” @GoDigaHole
    • “my two best foodie friends say lamb burger @StChrlesXchange, fries #lacoop and burger AND fries @21cLouisville” @hollygolawly
  • Best Fries
    Dueling fries at AP Crafters.
    Dueling fries at AP Crafters.
    • My vote: AP Crafters Dueling Fries
    • ollie’s. fries. drool.” @shilohwalker
    • Zaytun Tribal Fries” @HereIsMySpout
    • “… hard to beat Bank Street Brewery’s #TechnicallyNotLouisvilleButCloseEnough” @DBonifer
    • “Frites at Holy Grail.” @TeslaRuser
    • “Moules Frites at La Coop.” Christine V.
  • Best Cocktail
    • My vote: Anything at Rye on Market
    • “Oh, best cocktail I had was ‘Smoke Monster’ from @meatlouisville. It was seasonal tho. #RIPSmokeMonster” @bradluttrell
    • “Best cocktail: District 13 at Garage Bar.” Randi S.
  • Best Dish/Restaurant
    Grilled cheese and tomato bisque from The Main Eatery.
    Grilled cheese and tomato bisque from The Main Eatery.
    • My vote: Croque Monsieur at Lilly’s — a Kentucky BistroCafé Lou Lou and Wild Eggs
    • “The Kusheri at Ramsis is phenomenal! I’m calling it my favorite for the year.” @TattooCharlies
    • “sea bass w/ choco mole @TheMayanCafe, walleye w/ green chickpeas @21cCincinnati, b’nut squash salad @ryeonmarket!” @hollygolawly
    • “Can’t remember what it was called, but it was a phenomenal masterpiece from @lacoopbistro.” @jenmooreKY
    • Spring Street Cafe!” @TheBarBelle
    • “lobster bisque from bodega at felice (sadly now closed) and tomato bisque from Main Street Eatery!” @ErinEMenard

The $10 Challenge: AP Crafters Kitchen and Bar

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.

Rob and I usually hunker down in the generous-sized, dimly lit bar area during AP Social Hour. From 3 to 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. to close each day, AP Crafters offers the following specials:

  • AP Crafters beer: $3
  • Wells and wines: $4
  • AP Crafters specialty cocktails: $5
  • Soft pretzels, bruschetta, dueling fries, steak-fried mushrooms, cheddar cheese curds and mini nachos (more on some of these later): $5
Pretzels and beer cheese from AP Crafters.
Pretzels and beer cheese from AP Crafters.

These happy hour specials have saved many a boring evening when we want to get out of the house without spending a lot of cash.

AP Crafters’ house cocktails are inventive, refreshing and seasonal. During the warmer months, I was a fan of the AP Crafters Refresher (Absolut Mandarin, St. Germaine Liquer, fresh basil and orange; $7) and Crafters Mojito (Ten Cane Rum, fresh mint, limes and craft sugar; $8). This winter I’m leaning toward richer drinks like the Smashing Pumpkin (Maker’s Mark bourbon, pumpkin liqueur, Grand Marnier and cream; $8) or the Nuts for Bourbon (Maker’s Mark, macadamia nut liqueur, Godiva Dark Chocolate and cream; $8).

Nuts for Bourbon cocktail at AP Crafters.
Nuts for Bourbon cocktail at AP Crafters.

If I’m at AP Crafters during happy hour, I will usually make a meal by pairing an appetizer with the filling BLT Wedge (iceberg wedge with blue cheese dressing, bacon, tomatoes, chopped boiled egg and blue cheese crumbles; $8). The soft pretzels ($5.50) are closer to breadsticks in appearance, but have the familiar salty, crisp exterior and soft insides that we’re used to with the twisted variety. The pretzels come with a delicious house-made AP Dark beer cheese that is thick and slightly smoky. The special I usually turn to is the quart-sized Dueling Fries ($5), a combination of sweet potato fries and regular French fries. Each type of fry is heavenly on its own, but together they create the sweet-salty combo of which foodies only dream.

Dueling fries at AP Crafters.
Dueling fries at AP Crafters.

The rest of the menu is just as tasty as the appetizers. The group of entrees is a mixed bag that veers from chorizo and pulled pork tacos or fish tacos ($10) to grilled Atlantic salmon ($17). The prices of the entrees are in the high teens and 20s, so I save those dishes for a night of treating myself. Instead, I usually stick with the sandwiches and burgers section of the AP Crafters menu.

God bless the AP Crafters sandwiches and burgers. Seriously. There’s nothing that I don’t love about this selection. AP Crafters takes classic sandwiches and transforms them into something new. For example, the grilled chicken BLT ($11) uses house-smoked pork belly and a fried green tomato in place of the normal bacon and tomato. The roast pork sammy ($10) is a stack of roasted pork, Swiss cheese, red onions, fried pickle chips and bacon jam. BACON JAM. Stop for a second and let that sink in.

A typical night at AP Crafters means I’m ordering the AP Beer Cheese Burger ($11). This burger is make of Kentucky Proud beef, the AP Dark beer cheese, smoked bacon and caramelized onions on a pretzel roll. I usually avoid speaking in absolutes, but this is one of the best cheeseburgers in Louisville. All of the ingredients just roll together in a savory dance that makes my taste buds tingle. The pretzel bun is the best thing to happen to bread since, well, sliced bread – it’s a little toasty on the outside and moist on the inside. The smokiness of the bacon and beer cheese remind me of something you’d get at a summer barbecue, especially with caramelized onions on board. I usually get my hamburger cooked medium to medium well, so some of the juices slide out and mingle with drips of beer cheese. It’s messy, but fantastic.

The sandwiches and burgers come with a choice of French fries, slaw or fresh fruit. I treat myself a bit and opt for an order of the Dueling Fries. It’s an extra $1.50, but when you’re sopping up beer cheese with a pretzel bun and wiping onion bits from your mouth, you need a side order of equal culinary caliber.

Dishes at AP Crafters ring in a little above the $10 Challenge benchmark. But the consistently delicious food makes each visit as good — or better — than the last.

AP Crafters Kitchen & Bar, 1321 Herr Lane, Suite 130, Louisville, Ky.

AP Beer Cheese Burger: $11

Dueling fries (instead of regular fries): $1.50 upcharge

Total (with tax): $13.25

Mission: Failed

Bits and pieces: Happy Meals, colorful cauliflower and other food news from the web, 8.1.11

  • Starting in September, McDonald’s will add a serving of fruit or vegetable and reduce the portion of french fries in Happy Meals. The company is making the changes in response to criticism from health groups and parent organizations about the nutritional value of Happy Meals. When I was a tike, I had a cardboard box full of Happy Meal toys from all the Happy Meals I ate. Yes, I was a chubby kid. (LA Times)
  • A group of scientists say that drinking wine could help prevent sunburn. Like I needed another reason to make a pitcher of sangria. (The Telegraph)
  • One in six people change their order when a fast-food restaurant menu includes calorie count. But folks only reduce their intake by about 44 calories, the equivalent of one McNugget. (MSNBC)
  • A supermarket chain in the United Kingdom is selling cauliflower in colors like purple, yellow and green to get kids to eat more veggies. I don’t care what color you make it — I am a cauliflower hater. Yuck. (Daily Mail)

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

Here I am, talking ’bout taters in the Courier-Journal

Courier-Journal/Velocity reporter Erin Keane recently wrote about a pommes frites trend emerging in Louisville. I got a chance to give my two cents about spuds:

When Clark sees “frites” instead of “fries” on a menu, she thinks two things: “This place might be kind of expensive” and “I bet I’m in for some delicious fries.”

Read the entire article here. Erin did a great job breaking down the big deal with fancy french fries.