Bourbons Bistro: A Delectable Destination
By TODD ZIEGLER
Fact (and forgive me for stating the obvious): bourbon is the quintessential Kentucky spirit.
Irony: the history and variety – and thus, complexity – of the bourbon industry is so rich that even broaching the subject can make a newcomer feel like he’s speaking a foreign language.
There is a restaurant in town that distills all that knowledge, dimension and legacy down to the essence of experience, pairs it with a complimentary endeavor into French-American cuisine, and aptly summarizes it in two words that tell you everything: Bourbons Bistro.
Opened in 2005 (the same year this at-the-time bourbon newbie came to town) by John Morrison and Jason Brauner, one of the founders of nearby neighbor Clifton’s Pizza, Bourbons Bistro has made its name with fine authentic French bistro fare and a catalog of bourbon and whiskey so plentiful that it is like a four-star resort along the Urban Bourbon Trail.
Bourbons Bistro’s namesake selection – mostly displayed behind the handbuilt barrel-stave bar – comes in over 130 varieties. The detailed list is available on the restaurant’s website, though for the reserve list, you’ll have to make the trip yourself. Everything from a simple pour from the house brand ($6) for the curious to the most prized of all names in bourbon, the Van Winkle family ($30 for a 12 or 13-year pour, up to $100 for a taste of the 23-year-old batch) is available, with plenty of free assistance from the knowledgeable, friendly staff.
The Bistro side of the business is handled by Jeff Bridges, Executive Chef whose work will be familiar to patrons of Jack Fry’s and Hillbilly Tea. The 26-year-old Bridges, already quite adept at his craft, has recently introduced a seasonally-rotating menu with the winter menu on feature until about Derby time. The restaurant has also introduced a Sunday brunch menu (10 a.m.-2 p.m.) featuring classic selections for the hybrid meal, enhanced by Bridges’ unique touch.
Offered up from the appetizer selections was a plate of pan-seared scallops (two on the appetizer plate, four on the entree menu) on a celeriac puree bed with truffle vinaigrette drizzled on top and fried leeks for garnish. The scallops were perfectly prepared, the thin skin of seared surface breaking away to the chewy, sweet marine morsel. The leeks were a nice crunchy complement, and the combination of vinaigrette and puree combined in just such a way as to mimic mashed potatoes and gravy. It was like Thanksgiving in January.
The Steak Frites entree features a 12 oz. ribeye prepared to order and cut into strips, each more enticing than the last, with truffle aioli drizzled on top (usually served on the side). The ribeye was wonderfully succulent, tender and juicy with just a touch of crispness outside. Creamed spinach was a delicious contrasting companion, and the pomme frites possessed a tanginess that paired well with their salty exterior. An incredible creation.
As delectable as the Streak Frites was, the Soy Braised Short Ribs may present carnivores with a dilemma upon ordering. No knife required; the generous portions of meat peel right away from the bone and pull apart between the teeth for a burst of roasted flavor. Two wings (yes, wings – this dish could take flight) of kale top the dish, coated in soy and possessing an appealing crunch reminiscent of campfire embers crackling off into the night air. The celeriac puree and braised carrots ground the bolder flavors for a fantastic overall composition.
A trio of treats tossed up from the dessert menu were the house-made bourbon balls, three extra-large chocolate truffles of the white, semi-sweet and bittersweet varieties confected with Four Roses Single Barrel. There’s a reason these heavy hitters are restricted to the 21-and-up diners: with 1/8 to 1/4 oz. of bourbon per serving, they pack a kick. A great closer to any dinner crafted from this menu.
For a sneak preview at the brunch offerings, Bridges prepared a dish of Eggs Florentine that would be worth rising early on any weekend. The egg whites were thick and fluffy, armory walls protecting the runny golden yolk within. Thick cut apple-smoke bacon is welcome any morning, and the tastes are so well balanced that the butter on the bedrock english muffin is even present on the palate.
Bourbons Bistro is expanding on its fine dining reputation with premium features for clientele, including a spacious urban loft-style private event room above the dining room and bourbon barrel buys, which they say make great corporate gifts. Even for just a one-and-done dinner, Bourbons Bistro is a premium destination. If you fancy a trip down the Urban Bourbon Trail, embark immediately.