Not So Naive

Fledgling Concept Brings ‘Vegetable Driven’ Food To Butchertown

Story by Mandy Detwiler

Photos by Josh Keown

The Louisville epicurean scene has steadily gained pace over the last decade as Kentuckians began to appreciate quality over quantity. But can a “vegetable-driven” concept thrive in a town built on meat and potatoes? Catherine “Cat” Mac Dowall and her husband Michael Kerrigan believe so. Their restaurant, Butchertown-based Naive, hit the scene in April and could change the way Louisvillians think about dining.

Catherine “Cat” Mac Dowall.

Mac Dowall has been in the restaurant industry since her teens and paid her way through George Washington University by working in restaurants. After graduation and with a business degree in hand, she found herself working for a large restaurant corporation. She knew she didn’t want to work there forever, so she and her husband relocated to Kentucky, where Kerrigan had extended family.

“We ended up loving the city and the people, and we decided to open a restaurant,” she says. “But before that, we really just wanted to achieve (one of) our goals in life, which was to impact the earth in a positive way. We weren’t sure how we were going do that, but that’s what we set out to do.”

Spanish garlic shrimp with sweet potato caponata, romanesco sauce and sprouted bread ($13).
Charred carrot with muhammara, quinoa, whipped goat cheese, cucumbers and a chili lime extract ($9).

With an engineering background, Kerrigan excels at operations, allowing Mac Dowall to stick with what she knows. She says, “The restaurant industry itself is so comfortable to me that I didn’t want to segue off into another career path.”

Staying the course, Mac Dowall and Kerrigan opened the doors of Naive in April. The farm-to-table counter-service concept isn’t groundbreaking in larger cities, but in Louisville – where most residents cut their teeth on fried chicken, cornbread and other comfort foods – it is one that has taken a little educating. Naive’s concept is built around sustainability. “(We’re) really focused on highlighting micro-farmers, giving back to the community,” Mac Dowall says. “How can we start a restaurant without having this tremendous carbon footprint? What can we do about the waste within the business?

Mediterranean roasted chicken with whipped baba ganoush, eggplant and tomato pepper salad ($16).

“That’s how we got our name,” she continues. “People thought we were crazy trying to achieve all these goals and still open a restaurant and still have an affordable price point – which we do – so we called ourselves ‘Naive’ and we hit the ground running.”

Mac Dowall says Louisville is the perfect home for their concept because Kentucky is home to hundreds of micro-farmers, a fact that isn’t discussed often or understood by consumers. They first started their concept at pop-up markets. Naive was so well received that they sought out a brick-and-mortar space, eventually landing in Butchertown. The local residents have welcomed the restaurant with open arms, creating instant regulars and a strong following.

Naive is a counter-service concept, which reduces the need for full-service staff and allows its owners to pay their employees a higher living wage. Under the tutelage of executive chef Alan Henry, who himself had worked for a number of Michelin-star restaurants in the NYC area, the menu is certainly “vegetable driven,” Mac Dowall says. They use no cream or butter but sustainable meats are a staple of their seasonally evolving menu.

Finding a location with enough room for a garden was imperative, and their Butchertown location (bordering NuLu) has a 5,000-square-foot lot behind it with enough room to seasonally rotate their garden.

“We wanted to grow our own vegetables and we wanted to source our own food simultaneously while still incorporating farmers and just really bring in a lifestyle,” Mac Dowall says.

Naive is open for brunch, lunch and dinner.

“We change our menu seasonally, and we change it with what the farmer has available,” Mac Dowall says. “We really try to showcase their products.”

The General Tso’s Cauliflower features a green bean slaw, crisp kale and puffed rice ($9). The beet marinated ocean trout ($16) is plated with roasted turnips, melted leeks, Italian cauliflower, pickled ramps and sorrel pesto.

The summer season menu features an activated charcoal pasta with sweet potato egg yolk ($14) and a stunning watermelon poke ($12) that is infused watermelon served with guacamole, seasonal vegetables and served on aguachile negro.

“We didn’t want to compromise flavor,” Mac Dowall says. “We wanted to go toe-to-toe with the best restaurants in town, but offer something a little bit cleaner, a little bit healthier and fresher.”

Even the full bar includes sustainably sourced spirits, beer, wine and mixed drinks featuring fresh-squeezed juices and sustainable coffee products. “We didn’t want to stop where our food left off,” Mac Dowall adds. “It was a ton of leg work. We’re not just in business to be in business. All of our employees truly believe in our mission and they want to further impact the earth in a positive way. … It’s more than job.” V


Naive 

1001 E. Washington St.    Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday

Reservations not accepted    eatnaive.com    502.749.7856