By IGOR GURYASHKIN
The first thing we ate at Buckâ€™s Restaurant & Bar in the heart of Old Louisville was the crab cakes.
No ordinary crab cakes.
Rather they were two jumbo, flaky and tender crab patties that sandwiched a crisp and crunchy fried green tomato that had been pre-soaked in buttermilk, then breaded and gently smothered in a mornay sauce, drizzled with white truffle oil, garnished with bourbon-soaked, applewood-smoked bacon. If that was not enough, flakes of parmesan graced the pinnacle of the dish.
The sight of these crustacean wonders looked insurmountably heavy â€“ perhaps requiring a Herculean effort to finish off. But in fact the polar opposite was true. This seafood ensemble was light, airy, textured and the perfect precursor to the most delicious and not so ordinary of appetizers.
But this was perhaps fitting for a not so ordinary restaurant.
Foodies are often tireless in their pursuit to pigeonhole cuisine, a chef or an eatery. So describe Buckâ€™s as New American and you would be doing a disservice to the years Executive Chef Andrew Welenken spent training in the Italian kitchen of Volare. Call it Italian and youâ€™d be turning a blind-eye to Welenkenâ€™s penchant for throwing Southern-style curveballs.
Just take a gander at the second appetizer of the meal â€“ a re-imagining of the culinary classic â€“ Oysters Rockefeller. Bread crumbs? A rich sauce? So far all normal. But when you see that the Gulf Coast oysters delivered fresh from New Orleans come slathered in a spinach mornay thatâ€™s flavored with a sweet ouzo, seasoned with salt, pepper, garlic as well as green onion and parsley, you see the southern flair come through, while the tastes remain deliciously schizophrenic in nature.
â€œI try to do three menu changes a year,â€ explains Welenken, whoâ€™s been at Buckâ€™s for five years. â€œMy sous chef is a farmer and his dad owns a farm too â€“ that and we have the farmerâ€™s market on Deer Creek. So we get a lot of local produce thatâ€™s seasonal, and we try to base a lot of our food on that.â€
As an entree, we were treated to chunky yet tender diver scallops that were presented over a sweet corn puree, elevated with a sousant of smoked paprika, chili powder, sugar and salt. If that wasnâ€™t enough, that was placed atop of a bed of couscous encircled in a balsamic reduction with a roast red pepper coulis. Country ham as well as arugula and a citronette added acidity and sharpness to an otherwise softly sweet meal. Beyond delicious.
â€œThere is lot of fusion, a lot of southern flair. But since I came from Volare and I learnt a lot from Josh (Moore, head-chef at Volare), I do have a lot of Italian too but with country twists. Iâ€™m really lucky that I have a lot of chefs in that kitchen who could be head chefs anywhere else too.â€
Welenken was keen to describe another dish that encapsulates his fusion philosophy.
â€œI have a dish where we have quail stuffed with homemade sausage stuffing, then deep-fried, soaked in buttermilk. We serve that with a bourbon peppercorn gravy and sauteed spinach and topped with truffle oil. Itâ€™s one of our biggest sellers.â€
If bourbon is your thing, then Kentuckyâ€™s favorite form of libation pervades the menu repeatedly. Buckâ€™s is part of the Urban Bourbon trail, a scheme that seeks to educate and introduce residents and tourists alike to the wide variety of bourbons available in the city. The catch? Stock plenty of bourbons and use bourbon in a certain number of dishes. This was perhaps perfectly encapsulated with the final entree of the feast â€“ a pork chop. A not so simple one at that.
A bone end, 14 ounce pork chop is one thing, a crowning point of any traditional meal. But when itâ€™s served glazed in a bourbon and maple syrup reduction it becomes a microcosm of Buckâ€™s philosophy. Added to the fact that it was accompanied with a sweet potato syrup, with cream butter, infused with cinnamon, a pinch of cayenne, and was injected with smoked gouda while being chaperoned by fingerling potatoes, itâ€™s simply irresistible.
A dessert of bread pudding with raisins, cinnamon, nutmeg, and a bourbon glaze was a simple and effective period to an endless stream of delicious commas. Nameless but dangerously delicious cocktails from the talented bartender AJ were very much the proverbial cherry atop a fine dining experience.
Bucks In The Mayflower
425 W. Ormsby St.
Lunch: Monday – Friday 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Dinner: Monday – Thursday 5 p.m. – 10 p.m.
Friday & Saturday 5 p.m. – 11 p.m.
Photos By CHRIS HUMPHREYS | Chief Photographer