May 23, 2006

LEO’s Eat ’n’ Blog with Louisville HotBytes: Fish story

It’s a long and winding trail, assuming you take the scenic route. Hike along a babbling brook, watching fish darting just beneath the surface (don’t throw in any coins, please ... it’s not good for the fish). Hang a left near the waterfall, where a looming glass wall frames an aquarium significantly larger than the biggest that the Louisville Zoo has to offer. Climb the stone mountain — oh, all right, the three flights of stairs — marveling as you pass antelopes, mountain goats, even a family of black bears, oh my. When you see a giant blue lamprey dangling from the ceiling, you’re there; and so what if the animals are stuffed and the lamprey shiny plastic and the scene straight out of Disney. There’s nothing in this town that can top Islamorada Fish Company for sheer exuberance. Call it “hunter-and-fisher gothic,” if you will; snobs might judge it tacky, but I find it hard to behold this vista without breaking into a goofy grin.  Islamorada Fish Company951 E. Lewis & Clark ParkwayClarksville, Ind.(812) 218-5300Rating: 72 pointsIt’s a long climb up (but elevators are also available) to Islamorada Fish Company, which is on the third floor of Clarksville’s gigantic Bass Pro Shop. This cavernous fishing- and outdoor-supplies emporium opened last winter, taking over almost the entire space that had formerly housed River Falls Mall. The 280,000-square-foot facility is the bass chain’s second-largest, and it’s a tourist attraction in its own right, with a staff of 300 standing ready to sell you anything from a fly rod to a bass lure to a yacht.But we came to eat fish, not to catch them, and Islamorada offers an impressive selection. It’s named after a beachside marina eatery in the Florida Keys (pronounced “Eye-lah-mah-rah-dah”) that’s the grandpappy of the growing chain, which has tie-in locations at many of the 30 Bass Pro Shops around the nation.Done up in faux beach-shack decor with a driftwood theme, hanging lanterns and schools of plastic fish dangling from the low ceilings, the restaurant also features a NASCAR arena with stadium seating overlooking a wall-size bank of television screens. Most of the tables, though, are situated for gazing down at the cavernous bass shop, which is said to be “as large as seven football fields,” pretty much dwarfing the controversial proposed U of L arena. (Curiously, the mall-to-bass-shop conversion cost a reported $30 million, about one-eighth of the most conservative estimate for the arena. Go figure.)The original Islamorada Fish Company in the Keys, as I recall, was a very casual place indeed, specializing in fried-fish sandwiches and ice-cold libations. The Clarksville eatery is quite a bit fancier, offering an expansive menu of seafood and fish (including, but not limited to, fried goodies) plus meatier selections for landlubbers. A couple of dozen dinner main dishes range in price from $11.25 (for a fried calamari platter) to $21.75 (for an 8-ounce tenderloin filet or a farm-raised elk steak). Pasta dishes and an assortment of sandwiches are available for lighter eaters, and a somewhat abbreviated lunch menu offers soups, salads and entrees priced a few bucks less than the dinners. There’s a full bar including a short wine list.You’d think an eatery that’s this much fun would be a delightful place to dine, but ... well ... to be frank, it’s difficult to rate our experiences here much above lackluster. Tuna steak wasabi ($12.95 on the lunch menu) was all too typical. A triangular block of fish was covered with sesame seeds, seared and served with drizzles of white wasabi-scented cream and an unidentifiable pink substance in a crisscross pattern that made the dish look surprisingly like an iced scone. It was cooked rare as ordered, but the fish, billed as “sushi-grade yellowfin tuna,” was very strange indeed, mushy and flavorless and colored a bizarre neon pink that I’ve never before seen in nature, although it did bear some resemblance to a plastic flamingo.Hoping for better luck with a more traditional item, I tried the “World Famous” Islamorada fish sandwich ($10.75 for lunch), billed as “the sandwich that started it all.” It’s available with your choice of grouper or mahi-mahi, grilled or fried. I went with fried grouper and got a sizable fillet, served on a pedestrian white bun and dressed with sauteed onions and a dollop of bright orange stuff that bore a frightening resemblance to Cheez Whiz. The breading was great, thick and crunchy, golden-brown and delicious, but a quick dissection revealed less admirable grouper, mushy and glistening and not quite fresh.A side order of bacon cheese grits (95 cents with a meal) was generous in quantity, seductive with bacon flavor but heavy and greasy.With iced tea and a soft drink, an uninspiring lunch for two came to a little more than $30 plus tip; service was first-rate and so was the wacky scene, but the food’s not good enough to bring me back for more. You scream, I scream ...Speaking of the Sunny Side, here’s very good news: The Widow’s Walk is open again under new ownership.This lovable little Victorian house on the north bank of the Ohio, just west of the Clark Memorial Bridge, with its charming patios and great view of the downtown skyline, had housed the reincarnation of Louisville’s old Quonset Hut ice-cream shop for a couple of years, but previous owner BJ McRoy, who had built the house as a fond replica of Ernest Hemingway’s Key West home with a few Down East touches, closed the business last winter.It reopened May 5, new owner Cheryl Youssif tells us, with partners Bryan Fraley and Joseph Alford dispensing 20 flavors of Trauth’s ice cream and, before long, a café-style menu including sandwiches, soups and salads. It will be open year-round, with hot dishes during the winter season.It’s a great place to enjoy a dish, a cone or a shake under the trees, watching the mighty river roll by. Our choices, caramel pie ice cream ($2.50 for a dish) and grass-green mint chocolate chip ($3 in a chocolate-dipped cone) were both creamy and cold, decent if not quite hand-crafted ice cream.Widow’s Walk Café  and Ice Creamery415 E. Riverside DriveClarksville, Ind.(812) 280-7564Today’s oxymoron: healthy brunchWe wouldn’t want to declare any excellent meal “unhealthy,” exactly, but let’s just say that when most of us contemplate the idea of an expansive Sunday brunch, we’re thinking more of indulgence than austerity.Even so, Eat’N’Blog correspondent KIM MASSEY tells us it’s possible to enjoy a brunch adventure at Limestone, one of the region’s most stellar dining rooms, without entirely falling off one’s diet. Here’s her report:The fact that I am as familiar with the FDA food pyramid as I am the back of my hand arguably qualifies me as something of a health nut and food freak. That said, I am not above a splurge, especially when it comes to Sunday brunch. Louisville’s restaurant community offers countless ways to add a few pounds to your body mass during such a repast. But what to do when you are living one of those carb-conscious, fat-phobic, sodium-sensitive moments and your dining companion just doesn’t want to share it? Thanks anyway! What are the options for the diner who defines “good” fare as “virtuously healthy” who’s brunching with one who thinks of “good” vittles as “rib sticking” or even “slumber-inducing”? Can the twain ever meet? With these thoughts in mind, I ventured forth to try a recent addition to the Sunday brunch scene: the Southern brunch buffet at Limestone. Limestone can accommodate the heartiest of appetites, with well prepared offerings such as fried chicken, peppered beef, salmon en croute, sausages, bacon, gorgeous fluffy warm biscuits, gravy, broccoli casserole and mashed potatoes, all available in abundance, not to mention the made-to-order omelet station! Then, if your calorific intake hasn’t quite reached the stratospheric level that you hoped it would, you can always redress the deficit with a trip to the dessert section, with its sweet delights such as pecan or pumpkin pie, cookies, brownies, cheesecake, gateau and a wonderful bread pudding with bourbon-infused sour-cream topping. An equally satisfying route to a sugar high can be traveled via freshly made bourbon mash pancakes and the fixings, syrups and toppings that go along. But must a trip to Limestone mean wholesale abandonment of healthy eating principles ... or hours in repentance on the treadmill? No! You’ll find a respectable set of lighter options: micro-greens and potato, pasta, green bean and fruit salads. A small raw bar offers oysters, shrimp, scallops and platters of smoked salmon. The beauty and the challenge of buffets lies not only in their variety but in portion control, which is very much in the hands of the plate holder.With a little imagination and the help of a friendly chef, I was able to construct a satisfying and healthy meal consisting of a smoked-salmon omelet, green salad and a selection of fruits and vegetables. This exercise in self-control might have resulted in a dietary triumph, if only the biscuits and bread pudding hadn’t been so darn good. You have been warned!Limestone10001 Forest Green Blvd.426-7477www.LimestoneRestaurant.comEarly sightingsToo soon for review but well worth noting are several recent arrivals on the metro fine-dining scene:  • Nio’s at 917, the namesake Baxter Avenue restaurant of former Jicama Grill partner Jun Eugenio, opened before Derby in the beautifully renovated turn-of-the-last century theater building that once housed Jupiter Grill and most recently @mosphere. Eugenio wisely chose not to offer a Jicama clone (although there’s an impressive-looking lobster seviche on the starter menu) but brings us something entirely different, and welcome: A menu based primarily on small plates, both hot and cold, allowing diners the choice of a light meal or splendid evening of grazing. Extra credit for an imposing bar and fine wine list.• Another evocative old building, the historic McCullough house at 318 W. Lewis & Clark Parkway in Clarksville, now houses Stratto’s, an impressive Italian restaurant that goes well beyond spaghetti and meatballs to offer an imposing array of upscale Northern Italian fare.• Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse, Louisville’s glitzy new outpost from a name-brand Cincinnati restaurateur, opens this week in Waterfront Plaza, 325 W. Main St.; and in yet another fine-dining development on the Sunny Side, we’re delighted to see New Albany Bistro back on track. It opened last month and is already earning applause from Hoosiers and Kentuckians. NibblesRanking right up there with black helicopters and the man on the grassy knoll comes this portentous news release: “Global warming threatens more than arctic ice. It also threatens one of America’s favorite uses for ice — in a glass of Kentucky bourbon.” Wha’? It’s true, insist the flacks for OnEarth, an environmental mag published by the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council. No, rising summer heat doesn’t yet threaten the Kentucky corn crop. But, scientists say, a forecast rise of Kentucky’s average annual temperature of 3 degrees F could spell smaller variations between summer and winter, altering the all-critical movement of the maturing bluegrass dew as it matures in its barrels. Without this temperature-driven circulation, the white-coated gurus warn, we might lose the characteristic amber color and charred-oak flavor that makes bourbon special. Could be. We at LEO take global climate change seriously. But we’re not putting on our tinfoil hats just yet.Whether you’re rooting for Team USA or just love to hear that announcer yell “Goooallll!,” it’s not too early to be thinking about a venue — with a soccer-savvy attitude and appropriate beverages — before the quadrennial World Cup games begin on June 10. We’re thinking about Molly Malone’s Irish Pub, which has declared itself Louisville’s World Cup viewing headquarters and promises to have all the games on satellite sports TV. To make things a little more interesting, BBC Brewing will offer an incentive for fans watching the USA games at Molly’s (USA vs. Czech Republic at midnight June 12, USA vs. Italy at midnight June 17, and USA vs. Ghana on June 22). Every time the Americans score a goal, BBC Brewing will buy a round for the house. Check the Molly Malone’s Web site — www.mollymalonesirishpub.com/ — for information on a World Cup Bracket Competition. (You can get the bracket form online, but you’ll have to print it out and fill it in the old-fashioned way and bring it in by June 2.) Contact Robin Garr at rgarr@louisvillehotbytes.com