Review | Bourbons Bistro excels with flavors
Bourbons Bistro pours more than 100 bourbons, many of collector-status. It may be a haven, and close to heaven, for bourbon aficionados, and a delightful tasting ground for novice bourbon drinkers who want to explore Kentucky's signature spirit. Thinking only in those terms is unfairly condensing the character of Bourbons Bistro.
Chef Jeff Bridges' high-powered kitchen could be outranked by pedigreed spirits. That doesn't come close to happening. His menu is a pageantry of flavors and is grounded in a balance of boldness and subtlety. The menu is plainspoken enough that one doesn't need to squirrel away a glossary of culinary terms to understand it, but in taste there's nothing plain about it. He adroitly creates dishes that have a complexity about them but aren't so elaborate that they're befuddling.
Creamy and crunchy partner with fruity and smoky in Brussels sprouts and kale salad ($8). The vegetables are lightly tossed in apple cider vinaigrette and are punctuated by Gorgonzola, applewood smoked-bacon and black walnuts.
Repeating apple-smoked bacon in the grilled corn pudding and crab salad ($12) wasn't an overboard gesture of bacon, at least not in my mind. The corn was sweet, the crab was sweet and the peppers were sweet. I'm not an ardent fan of sweet unless we're talking dessert, but that particular trio? Magic. A touch of bourbon was conspicuous, and delectably so, in the vinaigrette.
Before I get to the Berkshire pork belly ($11), and before you think both Bridges and I are overly nuts about pork (I won't even mention the prosciutto in the Caesar salad, $8), Bourbons Bistro has some non-pork starters such as strawberries and balsamic ($8) with candied pecans and goat cheese. The chef knows when he's on a goat cheese-roll. He combines it with blue cheese, sweet peppers and roasted garlic before he serves it with French bread ($9).
A few months ago I vowed to not review fried oysters, at least for awhile. Although I haven't stopped ordering them, I have kept the vow, at least for now, if for no other reason than I have tired of the question, "Do you never tire of them?" "Obviously, no, I don't, nor can I imagine how anyone could." It's not as if you've had one, you've had them all. Ceding to those who feel they've have been regaled with one too many oysters, I gave a thumbs-down to ordering spicy fried oysters ($13) even though they lured with Parmesan grits, pimentón aioli and pickled Fresno chiles. If you're one of the oyster-weary readers, I hope you're drooling over what you and I missed.
Skipping back to the pork belly, I suggest that you do, too. Sitting on a buttermilk biscuit, the pork belly is topped with a sunny-side-up egg and spiced sorghum ($11). The appetizer may max out your daily allotment of guilty pleasures, but put aside the guilt. Being laden with food guilt cannot possibly be good for your health.
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Twenty-five dollars tasted like a small price to pay for the duck breast with Caprese panzanella and roasted oyster mushrooms. The tomato, mozzarella and basil bread salad was surprisingly light (for being bread salad) and married well with the perfectly prepared duck and the earthiness of the mushrooms.
Steak frites ($30) is a dish with which you'll leave your troubles behind. Ricotta gnocchi was little puffs of cheesiness that, strangely enough, didn't seem burdened by the truffle oil-pommes frites. Yes, it is an extremely rich dish that's offset somewhat by very fresh asparagus. Of course, the asparagus was offset somewhat by pork belly confit. No, I'm not kidding, more pork belly. Hey, life is full of choices. Not every choice I make has pork belly, but when I go for it, I go for it in a big way.
There are several other main courses, including filet au poivre with mushroom ragout and Swiss chard ($32); chicken duo ($24) of a fried thigh, bacon-wrapped breast, white beans and collard greens; pork chop with sweet potato purée and braised kale ($28); grilled Scottish salmon with Parmesan grits, crab salad, bacon and bourbon vinaigrette ($26); and the Bourbons Burger ($15) with horseradish Cheddar and tomato jam.
The dessert menu changes daily but often features bourbon balls ($8), house-made ice cream ($8) and bourbon bread pudding with meringue, cherries and bourbon caramel sauce ($8).
Address: 2255 Frankfort Avenue
Telephone: (502) 894-8838
Alcohol: Full bar
Price range: Expensive
Credit cards: American Express, Visa, MasterCard, Discover
Children's menu: Will accommodate
Smoking: On patio
Access: The restaurant appears to be fully accessible for people using wheelchairs without assistance.