February 6, 2013

Taste Bud: Dishcrawling down Frankfort Avenue

It was damn near foodie nirvana. Last week, I set out on a “Dishcrawl” with 20 or so others down Frankfort Avenue with one mission: to dine it up right, try some new stuff, and socialize a bit. Four stops later, I ended up with a stuffed gut and a big smile.

Organizer Leslie Erwin scouted out four stops, all within easy walking distance: Bourbon’s Bistro, Cubana, the Grape Leaf and Comfy Cow. It’s like a pub crawl, except without the wanton drunkenness — we tied one on, foodie style, sampling all manner of cuisine. In the end, I have to say the pigs won.

Perhaps I should explain.

At Bourbon’s, we were seated and presented with three samples of the menu: local feta cheese on toast, shrimp and grits, and Berkshire pork belly. The cheese was mouth-watering, and the jumbo shrimp atop a scoop of smooth grits was also tasty.

But the pork belly stood out — the tender, marinated pork belly was thick and flavorful, served over white truffle grits with pickled onions and arugula. Part of the fun of the first stop was trying to figure out what everything was as we sampled it.

Of the white truffle grits, my girlfriend Cynthia remarked that they could be “something au gratin.” Regardless, round one goes to the pig.

At Cubana, it was an entirely different experience. Chef Mariolis Mora and her staff served up about 10 dishes for us to sample, buffet style. It was tough to decide where to begin. From simple rice and beans to plantain chips to fresh guacamole, there was a bit of everything.

Being a carnivore, I naturally gravitated toward three main dishes: vaca frita (shredded beef, grilled with bell peppers and onions), what I believe was fricasse de pollo (chicken and potatoes slow-cooked in Creole sauce) and puerco asado con mojo (slow-roasted pork). And the pigs win again.

Actually, all the meat entrees were tasty, but that pork roast was off-the-charts tender and had a flavor burst that was almost disarming. According to the menu, the meat is marinated in citrus juices, garlic and Cuban spices, and then slow-roasted for a number of hours. Mmm.

I will say that at Cubana, they didn’t seem to be quite ready for us; the wait was unusually long, but we passed the time chatting with another Dishcrawler, a retired U.S. Air Force and UPS pilot named Bob. He turned in his flight jacket four years ago, grew a ponytail from his thick gray hair, and now seems to be a Dishcrawl regular.

By the way — the maduros (fried sweet plantains) at Cubana should not be skipped, either. Holy cow, they’re good.

Onto the Grape Leaf, where we were greeted by extraordinarily friendly service and plenty of Greek and Mediterranean dishes, from delicious hummus to chicken kabab, rice, chicken biryani and more.

Bob noted that the biryani — a thick, stew-like dish made with potatoes — tasted a bit minty, and I think he was right. I was busy enjoying the chicken kabob cubes, charred at the edges but still plenty moist, with the Grape Leaf’s creamy tzatziki sauce. I can’t stand cucumbers, but I’ll eat the cucumber-based tzatziki all day long. Go figure.

Finally, the fun evening ended with dessert. The Comfy Cow invited us in for samples of cookies, cheesecake and brownies, and then let everyone go through the line and taste any or all of the 28 flavors available, followed by a scoop of your favorite. Talk about a nightcap.

“My glucose is afraid,” Cynthia said, as she perused the flavor board.

I’m not a big dessert guy, so I shared Cynthia’s scoop of Cow Tracks, which essentially tasted like a Reese’s Cup on steroids. Comfy Cow is a decadent orgy of ice cream. If only they had pig-flavored ice cream, the experience would have been truly complete.

So, with that, we called it a night. Everyone on the mini-tour seemed satisfied; the Dishcrawl costs $45 per person, which includes four stops and a very full belly. Best of all, each crawl is different. You can find out more at dishcrawl.com/Louisville.

Burp. (Excuse me.)