Five bowls to thaw the Polar Vortex off your bones

Thank you, Louisville, for not asking, “Is it cold enough for you?” during this Polar Vortex madness. 

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Fortunately, this cold snap will be gone by the end of the week. Now, it’s time to shake the ice off and get back to school and work. What better way to warm up than a nice, hot bowl of soup or chili?

Here are a few of my favorite cold-weather foods that will make this week bearable. Added bonus: not only does soup magically warm the insides, all of these bowls are less than eight bucks and hearty enough to be their own meals.

1. Tomato bisque soup, The Main Eatery, 643 W. Main Street, Louisville

Grilled cheese and tomato bisque from The Main Eatery.
Grilled cheese and tomato bisque from The Main Eatery.

This downtown lunch spot has a rotating medley of soups, but the tomato bisque is by far the best. The creamy concoction is dotted with hunts of tomato, but still manages to go down smooth. This soup is only available on Fridays, and it would be a shame if you don’t order it with the other Friday special — a grilled cheese sandwich. Make sure you get to the Main Eatery a little before noon, or you’ll face a line out the door.

2. Hot and sour soup, Annie Café, 308 W. Woodlawn Avenue, Louisville

Don't stare too closely. The heat might singe your eyebrows.
Don’t stare too closely. The heat might singe your eyebrows.

This soup should come with a warning label. The bowl from this Vietnamese restaurant in South Louisville is filled with vegetables, tofu, and the hottest broth I’ve ever tried. Have a tissue or two ready, because this is bound to clear the nostrils.

3. Chili con Frijoles, The Silver Dollar, 1761 Frankfort Ave., Louisville

A coaster at The Silver Dollar.
A coaster at The Silver Dollar.

I don’t have a picture of the bowl of chili at The Silver Dollar. Why? Because I DEMOLISHED that bowl before I could take photographic evidence. Take my word for it, this is a meal fit for a cowboy — meat, beans, no noodles, all business. And you can’t beat a big bowl of that for only $6.

4. Chicken noodle soup, Wagner’s Pharmacy, 3113 S. Fourth Street, Louisville

That's a mighty big noodle.
That’s a mighty big noodle.

Wagner’s Pharmacy, located right across the street from Churchill Downs, has served the horse industry and the rest of Louisville since 1922. Decades of experience has made this lunch counter a hot spot for a down-home breakfast and lunch. Slide into this often crowded diner and pray that you made it in there when the chicken noodle is the soup of the day.

5. Black beans, Havana Rumba, multiple locations, Louisville

Forget the main dish, I'm talking about the side.
Forget the main dish, I’m talking about the side.

Everything is delicious at Havana Rumba, but the side dish of black beans never gets enough play as the restaurant’s more exciting entrees. You can get a whole bowl of black beans, simmered to a perfect consistency that’s not quite a soup, and leave more than satisfied.

What are some of your favorite soups, stews and chili bowls in the Louisville area?

The $10 Challenge: Mussel & Burger Bar

 

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(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.

MusselBurgertaquitos2

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