There is a charm to smaller eateries and diners that is almost completely absent from todayâ€™s restaurant scene, a sense of safety and comfort that has nearly evaporated as the â€™50s and â€™60s become smaller and smaller in the rear-view mirror. Bill and Susie Smith have somehow managed to bottle the remnants of these feelings in one place: Shady Lane Cafe.
Located on Brownsboro Road, Shady Lane Cafe, in terms of decor, is fairly straightforward. Equal parts classic diner and antique shop, thereâ€™s a simplicity that belies the establishmentâ€™s outstanding menu. Thereâ€™s a lot to look at in the restaurant, but Susie â€“ the more talkative of Shady Laneâ€™s owners â€“ is quick to say that it isnâ€™t all for show. â€œEverything you see on the walls here is really ours. Or a customerâ€™s. We donâ€™t put anything up just because we think it looks nice. Hopefully it does,â€ she laughs, â€œBut we also want us and our customers to have a real connection to the place.â€
Bill is the creator of Shady Lane Cafe and husband to Susie, whom he brought to the business later. With Bill serving as cook and Susie responsible for dessert and general salesmanship, they are a dynamic duo whose effective partnership is one of the many reasons the cafe is so successful. The biggest reason though? That menu.
Thereâ€™s no other way to say it. Shady Lane Cafeâ€™s menu is huge. And so are the portions. This extensive menu runs the gamut of Southern delectables, featuring several options â€“ each as expertly prepared as the next to a degree that is almost unheard of â€“ such as savory meatloaf, a thick fried balogna sandwich, a fresh salmon burger and one of the best burgers youâ€™ll ever eat. Shady Lane Cafe also features a pimento cheese sandwich and a tasty benedictine bacon wrap that has garnered national attention, placing the restaurant on several â€œBest Diners in Americaâ€ lists.
â€œI donâ€™t really like to use the word diner to describe us,â€ says Bill thoughtfully, â€œEven though weâ€™re in a book that lists us as a diner.â€ Agrees Susie: â€œYes, Iâ€™d say weâ€™re Southern comfort food. More of a mom-and-pop. Weâ€™re kind of the last mom-and-pop, really.â€ That mom-and-pop feel is impossible to ignore. The hours are irregular, the decor quaint and the food unpretentious yet too consistent and good to write-off as a fluke. Most importantly though, the owners are easily accessible, their stories as much on display as anything else.
â€œI studied creative writing, but as much as I loved it, I realized that I couldnâ€™t make a living with it,â€ says Bill. â€œHe still writes four or five poems a day, and he shares them sometimes,â€ asserts Susie, who also happens to be a classically trained singer. â€œTheyâ€™re quite good.â€ The two have stories that make them very real to customers, more than just restaurant owners and almost family. â€œIâ€™ve sung at a few weddings and funerals for our regulars,â€ says Susie. â€œOne of our regulars used to get a fried balogna sandwich every time he came in. After his funeral, his entire family came here, and they each had a fried balogna sandwich for him. We were so happy to provide that for them.â€
This connection to customers, their average priceâ€™s floating around $7-$8 and their high-quality menu have made this venture for Bill and Susie highly successful. Theyâ€™ve even started serving a farm-fresh breakfast from 8:30 to 11:45 a.m. on Saturdays. At the time of this tasting, the restaurant was closed, but that didnâ€™t stop customers attempting to open the front door in dismay several times. Itâ€™s clear the demand for Shady Lane Cafeâ€™s excellence is high, but Susie says that if a customer wants to make a reservation, theyâ€™ve almost always been able to accommodate. Shady Lane Cafe is, perhaps, the last mom-and-pop, and that makes it not-to-be-missed. VT
Shady Lane Cafe is located at 4806 Brownsboro Road, Louisville, KY 40207. For more information call 502.893.5118 or visit their Facebook page.