To stand out in a restaurant scene as variegated and yummy as Louisvilleâ€™s, you have to jettison the status quo. Thatâ€™s precisely what Come Back Inn has been doing for years.
The little Italian-American pub sits on the lackluster corner of Breckinridge and Swan streets, where residential and industrial buildings bestrew the northwest end of Germantown. Itâ€™s the perfect place for an eatery that, in both atmosphere and fare, doesnâ€™t quite fit any of the trite categories where restaurants tend to settle.
â€œItâ€™s homestyle Italian,â€ said owner Cathy Able-Zachari. â€œItâ€™s big bowls of pasta like you would get on a Sunday afternoon if youâ€™re at momâ€™s house.â€
By 2011, Able-Zachari had already been working at Come Back Inn for 10 years. And she loved it. So when the owners retired, she bought the restaurant and took charge of its day-to-day operations.
Youâ€™ll find her tending the bar every night.
So when I sat at the bar to try some dishes, Able-Zachari was in her element.
â€œNow this was the one that I said just smells insanely good,â€ she said as I dove in.
The ample serving of linguine with pancetta owes its great smells to a creative blend of red pepper flakes, Chianti red wine, and olive oil, all excellently jiving with delicious tomatoes and onions.
The special that day was the Florentine, a hearty bowl of linguine tossed with grilled chicken, mushrooms, sweet red peppers and baby spinach in a white wine cream sauce. The entree had the signature qualities of a glass of Pinot Grigio â€“ the wine cooked into the sauce â€“ spirited, yet wonderfully calming.
Both entrees were topped with grated parmesan and served with a breadstick.
â€œIâ€™m surprised how many people that are on airplanes that are flying here that tell me theyâ€™ve sat next to somebody, and this is where they told them to come and eat,â€ Able-Zachari said.
In my hurry to try the pasta dishes, I had skipped over the house salad ($5.25). But circling back to it, I found a perfectly fresh bed of mesclun and romaine lettuce topped with slivered red onions, black olives and grated parmesan. It was served with a pleasingly piquant sundried tomato vinaigrette.
â€œWe also do a gorgonzola dressing that is to-die-for,â€ Able-Zachari said.
The menu at Come Back Inn also features gyros, antipasto wontons, clams, pizza and a wide array of sandwiches.
Sitting there enjoying the cuisine, I was impressed with its seemingly contradictory qualities: light and delicate â€“ not heavy or overly rich â€“ yet abundantly filling. It was like eating white tablecloth food at a rugged, straight-shooting pizza joint; the portions youâ€™d expect at a country cookinâ€™ diner, yet the delicacy and subtlety of flavor youâ€™d expect at a fine bistro.
And Able-Zachari always keeps some Lazzaroni Sambuca on hand. After your meal, sheâ€™ll be happy to offer you a complimentary sample of the authentic Italian liqueur.
Able-Zachari isnâ€™t the only one who seems to have fallen in love with the little pub.
Five out of the six cooks have been working there more than 15 years.
â€œTheyâ€™re all very creative,â€ she said. â€œWe all make up specials.â€
And most of the servers have been there more than 10 years.
â€œWeâ€™ve just always been known for huge quantity of food, great quality of food, at a really fair price,â€ Able-Zachari said.
Thatâ€™s why a steady following of regulars stop in at least once a week. And when you try Come Back Inn, chances are, youâ€™ll be coming back too.
Come Back Inn is located at 909 Swan St. For more information, call 502.627.1777 or visit www.comebackinn.net.