Gary’s Serves Fine Food in a Fresh Setting

Chef Harold's Award Winning Meatballs.

Chef Harold’s Award Winning Meatballs.

Casual fine dining is an aspiration held by many a restaurant, especially in Louisville, but Gary’s on Spring might just be one of the few to actually achieve it. The term may have a condescending connotation to it as often food critics and patrons alike ascribe it to restaurants that missed the mark on true fine dining. In the case of Gary’s on Spring, that couldn’t be further from the truth. The food is beyond exceptional, the service — even while tasting during off hours — impeccably attentive and the overall ambiance was more akin to eating in a nicely furnished friend’s home as opposed to a museum or dining room in Versailles.

On its cream-colored walls, Gary’s hangs Louisville-centric photographs and canvas paintings. Dark wood flooring and soft lighting work together to add a layer of sophistication to the intimate space that really works.

I began tasting as one traditionally does – with an appetizer. I chose Chef Harold’s Award-Winning Meatballs because, with a name like that, how could I resist? It is worth noting that while succulent and delicious, the meatballs have a bit of a Mediterranean flair as opposed to an Italian or Swedish one. They are absolutely worth trying and served as a luscious prelude for what was to come.

Potato encrusted grouper.

Potato encrusted grouper.

Soup and salad arrived next, and this specific course provided lobster bisque and an organic salad. The bisque – sherry, creme fraiche and a lobster garnish – was delightful and creamy. I could have eaten bowl after bowl of the soup alone and been more than satisfied. The organic salad changes every week or so, but this one was so good that any patron should be sad to see it go. It featured candied walnuts, bleu cheese crumbles, spiced pear and a Korbel champagne vinaigrette all over a bed of aquaponic spinach.

And finally the main course. I had the chance to sample two at this visit, and I would be hard-pressed to choose between the two in the future. First was the potato encrusted grouper. Consisting of grouper, Idaho potatoes, Dijon cream sauce, sauteed Brussels sprouts and fried leeks, the real star of the dish were – believe it or not – the Brussels sprouts. Nothing against the perfectly cooked grouper, but anything that leaves me singing the praises of Brussels sprouts must be exceptional. I also had the chance to taste the chicken Francese, which offered scallopini of chicken, Parmesan flour, blueberry reduction, the vegetable du jour – in my case, some perfectly balanced mixed greens and carrots – and roasted cornbread polenta. The chicken was tender and lightly breaded, nicely complemented by the sweet reduction sauce. The greens and polenta also kept things from feeling too decadent. As much as I’d like to try other things on the menu at future visits, I know I’ll always have a favorite to fall back on.

Chicken Francese.

Chicken Francese.

As spectacular as the food and service was, having the opportunity to see the rest of the restaurant was just as captivating. The kitchen and storage areas are the cleanest and most meticulously organized I’ve ever seen, and the upstairs bar area should be a model for modern restaurants. The exposed brick adds an urban edge to the spacious and comfortable furniture. Manager Greg Fearing has a musical background and is something of a craftsman. A guitar hand-made from bourbon barrels by Fearing can be seen on the second floor. “It will be my retirement package,” he explains sheepishly. Along with the original decor, the impressive patio area also features live music near and dear to Fearing’s heart on Thursdays, adding some fun and modern nuance to the already exquisite atmosphere.

Fearing is also a big fan of the hit TV show “Justified.” So much so that the bar offers a signature cocktail named after the show. The Justified is inspired by a Manhattan and features Buffalo Trace, Frangelico, sweet vermouth, bitters, orange and cherry. The sweetness of the drink doesn’t offset the bourbon, which is the cocktail’s greatest asset. The bar is fully stocked, and its tender is knowledgeable. Whether you care to try a Justified or not, make sure to get yourself a cocktail at your visit.

In fact, that’s all this hidden gem of a restaurant is missing: you. “We have some of the best clientele in the world. On any given day, we’ll have an evening of regular guests; we may have an evening of guests who are trying our restaurant for the first time, and sometimes, we have a mix of the two. Anyway, we’re grateful for them because we wouldn’t be able to deliver the quality that we do without them,” says Fearing.

And thanks to its loyal regulars, Gary’s is on the brink of celebrating its fifth anniversary! Stop by for $5 specials anytime between February 15-20. But for any occasion, Gary’s is just the place for you with its fine-dining quality food and comfortable and superbly friendly ambiance. VT

Gary’s on Spring is located at 204 S. Spring St., 40206. 502.584.5533. garysonspring.com.