No Boundaries

The 502 Bar & Bistro finds success without limitations

By Mandy Wolf Detwiler
Photos by Kathryn Harrington

Choosing a place to dine can be difficult. One person wants Asian cuisine, another doesn’t like heavy Italian dishes and still a third is vegetarian. The answer? The 502 Bar & Bistro in Norton Commons, an upscale eatery helmed by Executive Chef and Partner Ming Pu.

Pu originally hails from Taiwan (he is also fluent in Mandarin) but moved to Vancouver BC at age six. He eventually landed in Louisville and served as the sous chef for Asiatique and The Village Anchor before helping proprietors Scott and Jennifer Cheatham launch their new concept in their very own backyard. Not only do they own a business in the planned community – they live there, too.

“We started working on this project in late 2015 and broke ground January of 2016,” Pu says. The restaurant opened in July of that year. “They wanted to do a neighborhood spot that people could come hang out at but also a place for upscale, casual dining – somewhere someone could go on a date (but) kind of keep people in the neighborhood.”

If you’re thinking of TV’s “Cheers,” think again. With 5,500 square feet and seating for 220 including the patio, this isn’t your average smoky local bar. An eclectic menu that changes seasonally affords Pu creative license to ensure The 502 maintains an edge as Norton Commons continues to grow. He gets inspired by his Pan-Asian and Southern cuisine backgrounds. Items range from Texas-style chili to fish tacos, sliders and shrimp and grits.

“Occasionally, I will put my Taiwanese touch on certain dishes, but I try to keep it Neo-American with Southern influences,” Pu adds. He uses local farms for produce and proteins as much as possible.

Staple sellers are the Verlasso salmon, served with miso glaze, cannellini beans and broccoli ($27); shrimp & grits – cheddar grits, red-eye gravy, cremini and oyster mushrooms and cherry tomato ($23); and the bistro Hanger steak served with fingerling potatoes, broccoli and a peppercorn cream sauce ($27). The stunning Cuban sandwich is created with Mojo pork, black forest ham, Swiss cheese, pickles and traditional yellow mustard ($15). Another favorite includes the goat cheese fritters – the tangy fried Capriole Farm goat cheese is served with a chili glaze ($12) and the baked goat cheese appetizer is served with truffle oil ($13). Also popular is the Brussels sprouts side ($7) topped with chili, honey and pecans.

“I switch the set (on staple dishes) every season,” Pu says. “I’ve been trying to change items every month and a half to two months. That way the transition is easier because not everything comes into season at once. With tomatoes, it’s middle or late summer. We definitely change four times a year. A good example is springtime when ramps (wild onions) come in season. It’s such a short season. I’ll buy as much as I can, and we’ll put something on the menu based off of that.”

Sophisticated palates demand eclectic menus, and Pu is happy to oblige. “There are always people who know what they want before they get here – a burger or meat and

 potatoes, but there’s also part of the clientele that comes in and wants that excitement. I feel like Louisville is that way, too.”

The 502 competes not only in the city’s independent dining scene but also amongst the excellent choices in Norton Commons. “Weekdays are mostly local in the neighborhood but weekends, we’re a destination for people coming from outside,” Pu says.

The restaurant is open for dinner Tuesdays through Sundays, with lunch also served on Saturdays and Sundays. A full bar with an impressive bourbon list is available, and The 502 has a beverage director who has created a signature cocktail menu to complement Pu’s creative menus.

“We’re making everything from scratch,” Pu says. “Minimal canned products, minimal bottled products. At one time, I had probably 95 percent of everything made in-house.

“We try to be as progressive as possible when we get the opportunity,” he adds. “Back in December, a friend of mine from California drove in, and he was a sous chef at a Michelin three-star restaurant. We did a private seven-course dinner here. It was a ticketed event. And quarterly we try to do wine dinners and bring unique people in to encourage repeat dining.

“Here, it’s casual, but it’s not,” Pu says. “You can have a nice meal here or hang out at the bar.” V

The 502 Bar & Bistro is located at 10401 Meeting Street in Prospect. For more information, visit the502barandbistro.com or call 502.742.4772.