*UPDATE WITH WINNER* The $10 Challenge: The Irish Rover (and an app giveaway)

Congratulations to commenter number four, Jake! Check your email for information about your free download of the Menu and Hours app.

Blogger’s note: Irish Rover is featured in the Menu and Hours app, so Michelle Jones and I would like to give away a copy of the app for free! Just leave a comment on this post by Wednesday at 11:59 p.m. that answers the following question: What is your favorite Irish food?

The fish and chips from The Irish Rover.
The fish and chips from The Irish Rover.

Two things to remember before you visit The Irish Rover:

      1. Ten dollars will take you a long way at this Louisville Original, but $15 goes so much further.
      2. Don’t wear Spanx during your meal.

The Irish Rover delivers food hearty enough to stretch your waistline while your budget remains fairly intact. I say “fairly” because it’s hard not to sample a variety of dishes from a menu bursting with descriptions that make everything sound delicious. And the good (and bad) part about it is that everything lives up to its introductory prose.

The restaurant’s atmosphere is well-worn and humble, thanks in part to its location in a 150-year-old building on Frankfort Avenue. The entrance thrusts patrons directly into the bar area where drinkers mingle with folks just waiting for their table. It got a little cramped during my weeknight visit, but Rob and I were rewarded for our brief wait with a quaint table for two in a dim section of the restaurant. Lots of hardwood? Low lighting? A handsome date? I was a fan.

I quickly snapped out of my romantic lull when the waitress handed me the menu. This is when things got real.

I don’t know much about Irish cooking. But if I use The Irish Rover as my definitive guide, I would say the diet of our friends across the pond is filled with lamb, fish, potatoes and cabbage. In short, stick-to-your-ribs food.

Irish food is more than just Guinness Beef Stew ($6.95), fish and chips (market price) and bangers and mash ($6.95). The Irish Rover takes (what I assume are) traditional Irish ingredients like fish and rabbit and presents it in dishes that make the ingredients more accessible to those not used to this genre of food. For example, the Welsh Rabbit sandwich slides this meat into a grilled cheddar cheese sandwich on sourdough bread (totally mistaken about the Welsh rabbit, y’all) (with Irish chips, $6.95); salmon is presented
in casserole form with potatoes, cream and Swiss and Parmesan cheeses (smoked salmon and potato gratin, $8.95); prawn are paired with cashews in a light salad ($9.95). I wish I could say something more poetic than, “Everything looked good.” But it was true. Everything on the menu did look good, from the appetizers to the desserts.

I wanted a little taste of everything. We started with the Cordon Bleu Fritters ($4.95), little balls of ham, chicken and Swiss cheese batter and deep fried. They were crunchy, gooey and delightful. I followed with a cup of leek and potato soup ($2.95), a rich soup that was a soothing chaser to the sharpness of the fritters.

I was all set to order the lamb-stuffed cabbage ($12.95) until our nice waitress began to list the evening’s specials. I heard the words “meatloaf,” “stuffed with bleu cheese” and “brown gravy” before I blacked out from disbelief that such flavors could exist in one dish. When I came to, I ordered the bleu-cheese stuff meatloaf with mashed potatoes and gravy ($12.95).

The meatloaf special at The Irish Rover.
The meatloaf special at The Irish Rover.

At this point, my abdomen was screaming at the Spanx that was supposed to hold me into my date-night dress. I couldn’t possibly dive into this plate of deliciousness, could I? Oh, yes, I could.

This was a meal for the record books. A rich brown gravy covered two thick slices of meatloaf and hid the mixture of bleu cheese and mushrooms stuffed in the center. The creamy gravy and moist beef balanced the tanginess of the bleu cheese, a wonderful combination I would have never considered without The Irish Rover.

The mashed potatoes were lumpy and filled with onion and hunks of potatoes that escaped the masher. The mashed potatoes’ thick consistency was perfect for constant dipping in the gravy sliding along the edges of my place.

The steamed vegetables were the Michelle Williams of this Destiny’s Child of a dish — an ingredient that rounds out the trio, but you could honestly do without it. But I dutifully ate my vegetables to help balance all the meat and potatoes I put back in the course of my meal.

By the end of the night, I wasn’t sure what I was more excited to do — eat the slice of meatloaf and hunk of potatoes in my to-go box or change into more bloat-friendly sweatpants. I may have regretted my choice in foundation undergarments that evening, but I was happy I went over my $10 benchmark. I left with a second meal that reheated wonderfully and a taste of Ireland.

The Irish Rover, 2319 Frankfort Ave., Louisville

Cordon Bleu Fritters: $4.95

Leek and Potato Soup: $2.95

Bleu Cheese-Stuffed Meatloaf with Mashed Potatoes and Vegetables: $12.95

Total (without tax and tip): $20.85

Mission: Failed

Treat Yo’ Self: The Crab Shack, Tybee Island, Ga. (Part 2 of 2)

(Blogger’s note: Click here to read part one of this series highlighting a couple of blog-worthy restaurants I visited while on my honeymoon last month. Click here to read more about the new Treat Yo’ Self feature.)

Me and The Mister at The Crab Shack, Tybee Island, Ga.

Rob and I have discovered a phenomenon that happens when we share an outstanding meal.

At some point, let’s say between bites 49 and 50, we glance across the table at one another.

“Why aren’t we saying anything?” one of us will ask.

The chewing stops for a moment. Then our mouths get busy again.

The answer to the question is understood. The food is so good that conversation is unnecessary and discouraged.

The last meal of our honeymoon trip to Georgia ignited this exchange multiple times. The subject of our marvel was The Shack Specialty at The Crab Shack, a seafood outpost in Tybee Island, Ga.

Tybee Island is a beach town on the Atlantic Ocean about 30 minutes east of Savannah. The road into town is lined with equal parts gift shops and seafood joints. But when dinnertime arrived, Rob and I headed away from the ocean, into a marshland area and through a gravel parking lot to find The Crab Shack.

This restaurant began as “a sleepy little fishing camp with a boat hoist, boat storage, live bait sales and a bar in the ship’s store,” according to The Crab Shack’s website. It’s now a restaurant and bar with a live alligator pit, a gift shop and aviary. And here is what the owners have to say about it now:

The Crab Shack wasn’t a plan. It was a serendipitous happening. But, it has been carefully managed as it morphs and grows so that the ambiance of it’s creek bank location, the lushness of the hundred year old live oaks dotting the property, the freedom of dining al fresco while watching dolphin play in the creek, and the taste of seafood so fresh you want to slap it, will never be lost.

It was hard to see all of the beauty surrounding The Crab Shack for our late-dinner date. But we had ringside seats at a table next to the misty alligator pit and a TV showing Hurricane Isaac coverage.

(And speaking of the seats, the tables at The Crab Shack compliment a big seafood meal. A whole is cut in the middle of the large, round table with a trash can underneath to toss all your shells. Your tray of food is placed on a raised platform above the garbage can. If that’s not genius engineering, I don’t know what is.)

After a round of drinks (beer for The Mister, frozen margarita for the lady) and a chat with the waitress (a recent Tybee transplant from Kentucky), Rob and I ordered The Shack Specialty for two ($39.99), “a platter piled high with an assortment of tasty shellfish that are in season with corn, potatoes and sausage.” That night’s selection included king crab legs, shrimp, crawfish and mussels, all fresh from the water and steamed with a generous dousing of Old Bay-like seasoning.

Before.
After.

We sprang into action, devouring the poor little crustaceans while they were still steaming. Conversation stopped, but the noises picked up. We cracked shells to get to fleshy meat inside. We licked butter off our fingers. We sucked the crawfish heads, for goodness’ sake. It was the most disgusting display that I, lifetime meat-eater, had ever been a part of. And it was the most fun meal I’ve ever had.

The waitress had mentioned something about a to-go box. By the time we finished, only a few empty shells, lemon wedges and crawfish arms dotted a platter that arrived full a half hour earlier.

Rob and I eventually slid out of our chairs, washed the buttery goo from our fingers and headed toward our rental sedan. We were empty-handed and still pretty awestruck by what we just experienced. But we left The Crab Shack full, fat and happy.

 

The Crab Shack, 40 Estill Hammock Road, Tybee Island, Ga.

thecrabshack.com

 

Mark your calendars: The Rumble at the River, a Seafood Chowder Throwdown, 3.21.11

The folks over at Louisville Hot Bytes are hosting a chowder competition to benefit autistic children.

The Rumble at the River, a Seafood Chowder Throwdown, which will take place March 21, 2011, at Captain’s Quarters, will pit some of Louisville’s best chefs against one another to find the best chowder in the city. Proceeds of the event will go toward The Hope Center for Growth, an organization that runs a summer camp for autistic youth.

Some participants in the competition include: Theatre Square Market Place, Equus/Jack’s, Dish on Market, NA Exchange and Lilly’s. Tickets are $15 per person.

 

The Rumble at the River, a Seafood Chowder Throwdown

When: 6:30 p.m., March 21, 2011

Where: Captain’s Quarters, 5700 Captain’s Quarters Road, Harrods Creek, Ky.

Cost: $15 with proceeds going toward The Hope Center for Growth

A year of being cheap: Readers’ picks for top five $10 Challenges of 2010

(Blogger’s note: This is the first in a few posts that will reflect on 2010 or look ahead at the coming year. Because who doesn’t love a few good year-end countdowns and listicles?)
Readers loved Hillbilly Tea.

The bundle of take-out menus on my freezer door reveal a year full of food – good, bad and mediocre.

The $10 Challenges have given me a great chance to rediscover my hometown. I’ve learned a lot about the city and how to eat well on a tight budget.

Judging from my blog stats, you guys seem to really enjoy it, too.

$10 Challenges are the most popular posts on this blog. And some of you have made some great suggestions of places I should visit. Please keep the tips coming.

Here are the top five most-viewed $10 Challenges of 2010:

  1. Hillbilly Tea: This restaurant provides a gourmet take on Southern food. At first glance, the smaller portions and neat presentation can be intimidating to a casual diner. But the taste is down-home. Pair a meal with a Mason jar full of tea, and you are all set for a tasty restaurant experience.
  2. Burger Boy: Everyone needs their favorite greasy spoon to call home. This restaurant is mine. Burger Boy is open 24 hours, and serves breakfast all day. On nice days, it’s great to grab a table outside and chat with the regulars over coffee.
  3. Los Aztecas Mexican Restaurant: The dish I had during this particular Challenge wasn’t my favorite, but I’ve been going to Los Aztecas for years and will continue to do so for their wide selection of Mexican staples. If you’re willing to spend a couple of extra bucks, go for the quesadilla fajitas with a margarita. Thank me later.
  4. Annie’s Pizza: This is one of my favorite overlooked restaurants in Louisville. With only three locations, it’s hard to get if you don’t live in Shively or Portland, but it’s worth a trip across town for their hot, over-stuffed sandwiches.
  5. Moby Dick: This fish joint with locations sprinkled throughout the metro area is an old favorite from when I was a kid. Moby Dick is a reliable standby to keep on your favorite restaurant list. The food is always hot and tasty. And have fun ripping open that greasy brown bag.

Bits and pieces: Carnival Splendor Spam, Martha Stewart and other food news from the web, 11.15.10

  • It’s been a few days since the Carnival Splendor cruise ship stuck at sea was towed into San Diego. But did the cruise line offer Spam to its stranded passengers? The company says no, but passengers disagree, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times. Whatever the case, lots of cruise guests were peeved during their 72 hours stranded off the coast of Mexico following a fire in the ship’s engine room. Some passengers reported waiting in food lines for two hours for delicacies such as hot dog salad, green bean sandwiches and Pop-Tarts.

 

  • A nutrition professor at Kansas State University ate only convenience food items for two months – and lost 27 pounds in the process, according a piece by NPR. Mark Haub limited his intake to 1,800 calories a day, which is why he lost weight despite downing a diet of Doritos, Twinkies and Little Debbie Snacks. From NPR:

“I kind of took the stance that … let’s say we reduce obesity, reduce body weight, move somebody — me — from overweight to healthy weight, but we do that with foods that aren’t recommended,” (Haub) says. “Is that healthy?”

 

  • The hottest class at Harvard this semester is Science of the Physical Universe 27, also known as Science and Cooking: From Haute Cuisine to Soft Matter Science, according to an article in the Boston Globe. According to the newspaper, the class “uses the culinary arts as a way to explore phases of matter, electrostatics, and other scientific concepts” and is taught by Harvard professors and renowned chefs. I know I’ve graduated, and I’ve never applied to go to Harvard, but can I take this class via satellite?

 

  • Martha Stewart slaughters her own turkeys for Thanksgiving – but she gets the birds sauced on mini bottles of alcohol first. Check out this clip of Her Majesty Stewart cuttin’ it up with Stephen Colbert during a segment on The Colbert Report.

The $10 Challenge: The Fishery


The Fishery was a vendor at the Fork, Cork & Style Festival a few weeks ago.

 

Every few years, I become fixated on a particular dish.

A few years ago, it was cheesecake. I had to have the dessert at every restaurant I visited in an attempt to find the best.

Then there was the Club Sandwich Tour of ’07. Cheddar’s won that battle.

Now, I’m on the hunt for the best fish in Louisville.

It started when I returned to my hometown and started to gorge myself on all the Moby Dick I had missed while I was away. But I discovered that Louisville’s seafood landscape is more vast than I had anticipated.

There’s Mike Linnig’s, which I still need to try. And there’s Hill Street Fish Fry, a surprisingly disappointing entry. And I’ve ordered the fish at non-seafood restaurants.

Then there’s The Fishery.

I’m not finished with my Tour de Fish. But The Fishery has jumped to the top of my list of best places to find a great fish sandwich in Derby City.

Continue reading “The $10 Challenge: The Fishery”

The $10 Challenge: Carly Rae’s

“Don’t call it a comeback – I’ve been here for years…” – LL Cool J


I’ve had my eye on Carly Rae’s since I moved to Old Louisville a few months ago. Unfortunately, the restaurant at First and Oak streets had been shuttered since my arrival.

But this month, the restaurant made a comeback – and it’s like Carly Rae’s had never been closed.

Continue reading “The $10 Challenge: Carly Rae’s”

The $10 Challenge: Cafe Lou Lou

In light of my personal recession, I’ve started giving friends the gift of food – specifically, taking a loved one out for a birthday dinner.

This was the case this week when my buddy Samantha and I took our friend and roommate, Susie, to Café Lou Lou on Bardstown Road to celebrate another year of being awesome. Fortunately for me, Susie is a big supporter of Ashlee Eats and was excited that her birthday meal could be the subject of a $10 Challenge. This one’s for you, Suz.


I had never visited Café Lou Lou until friend and reporter Joe Lord wrote about the restaurant  in Velocity, the weekly Louisville tabloid for which he writes. In the article, Joe discussed his love of the chicken portabello wrap, a “rich and tangy” dish that is “big enough for two — a great deal at $10.25.”

You had me at “great deal,” Joe.

The restaurant’s menu offers an unusual but successful blend of Italian fare and Southern favorites with deep Cajun influences. The appetizer menu alone bounces from New Orleans (shrimp and grits for $8.50) to the Mediterranean (hummus and pita for $6.50; a platter of hummus, plaki, bruschetta and muhummara for $10) and back again (chicken wings with hot sauce or Jamaican-style for $8).

The variety is inspired by chef-owner Clay Wallace time in New Orleans (Lou Lou = Louisville/Louisiana), according to food writer Robin Garr at Louisville Hot Bytes

Thank goodness the chef made his way back to the River City.

Continue reading “The $10 Challenge: Cafe Lou Lou”

Bits and pieces: Frankenfish, fried beer and other food news from the web, 9.7.10

  • Genetically modified salmon is safe to eat and poses little risk to the environment, the Food and Drug Administration said in an analysis the group released last week. According to an article in the New York Times, the FDA’s favorable assessment will make it more likely that this fish will be the first genetically modified animal to enter the American food supply. But “a coalition of 31 consumer, animal welfare, environmental and fisheries groups announced opposition to the approval last week, citing, in particular, concerns that the salmon could escape and possibly outcompete wild salmon for food or mates,” the article stated. I’ll hold off on buying Frankenfish, thankyouverymuch.
  • The Association of Food Journalists announced its list of the best food writers and writing at the group’s annual conference last week, according to the Poynter Institute. I’m searching for the article that won first place for best magazine food feature: “Why America is Addicted to Olive Garden.”
  • This is change I can believe in. White Castle is stepping up their game by testing new concepts in selected restaurants, according to Nation’s Restaurant News. In Lafayette, Ind., WC has introduced Blaze Modern BBQ in one of the company’s existing restaurants. The menu includes seven types of meat, baked beans, corn on the cob and jalapeno cornbread. Down in Lebanon, Tenn., WC is trying a pressed-club-sandwich concept called Deckers that offers 10 sandwiches ranging from PB&J to chicken Cordon Bleu. And there are rumors of a noodle menu at a White Castle in Ohio.
  • Only in Texas can you find beer, club salads and butter that have been battered and submerged in grease. These items are just some of the fried treats at this year’s Texas State Fair, according to the Dallas Morning News. I would eat the Texas Fried Frito Pie – “Chili, accented with a hint of sharp cheddar, encased in Fritos. Battered and fried.”

The $10 Challenge: Hill Street Fish Fry

My dog is a horrible dining companion. 

Yet I’ve become an enabler of Roscoe’s bad habits by including him in another $10 Challenge.  

Since Roscoe enjoyed the Moby Dick Challenge so much, I thought I’d let him be my wingman for this week’s trip to Hill Street Fish Fry. 

The restaurant, located in Old Louisville, boasts that it offers three different kinds of fish (catfish, white fish and perch) and “the best rolled oysters in town” that are served year-round. The menu also offers scallops, shrimp and chicken if the aforementioned proteins don’t appeal to you. 

The fish is either served as a sandwich ($4.79 to $6.29) or a dinner that includes fries, slaw and a hush puppy ($6.79 to $8.49). The oysters and scallops are (understandably) the most expensive items on the menu — oyster and scallop dinners are $10.39 each. 

I called Hill Street Fish Fry to place my order, a practice the restaurant encourages for faster service. I’ve been on a catfish kick lately, so I had been thinking all day about a catfish dinner for $8.49 that I would order. Too bad the restaurant had run out of catfish by about 6:30 p.m. But this is the risk you take when ordering from a small, local diner, so I quickly switched my order to the Cajun-style perch dinner for the same price as the catfish dinner. I added an extra hush puppy for 43 cents since the fried ball of batter is one of Roscoe’s favorites. 

Fifteen minutes later and a short walk with Roscoe later, my order was ready. To say Hill Street Fish Fry is tiny is an understatement. The dining area has a few mismatched tables and chairs squeezed into a room that is arguably the size of my living room. No matter — I was taking my meal home with me. 

I expected to fork over a little under nine bucks at the register. Then a handwritten sign informed me that if I used a debit card, there would be a 50 cent fee (I left my cash at home). Then the man at the register asked me if I wanted tartar sauce, which would be an extra 15 cents (of course, I did). I began to get a little squeamish about whether or not I could meet the Challenge requirements with the last-minutes extras. 

Continue reading “The $10 Challenge: Hill Street Fish Fry”