High Standards, Adventurous Tastes

Lamb and cous cous.

Lamb and cous cous.

Lilly’s Bistro is the definition of the spirit of the Highlands. A several decades long outpost for cooking that uses local ingredients but, featuring a global slant. With a loyal following owing to the vision of chef and owner Kathy Cary, Lilly’s has become a byword for a fine neighborhood eatery. We stopped by to sample some of the latest additions to their new year menu, and find out what tasty changes Cary and her team have introduced to the menu.

The first real treat was sampling the vegetable board that’s been on the menu since the first day of the year and is of real pride for Cary. As always the focus is on local ingredients and finding the best way to make those ingredients appear, and taste, a way that they don’t at other establishments. Hence, the centerpiece of fried eggplant garnished with a drizzle of honey and rosemary is a phenomenal idea. Soaked in milk and then fried, it’s a perfect accompaniment to the homemade hummus and roasted garlic, also on the plate. For those who like to combine sweet flavors, then the addition of a quince jam works perfectly with Kenny’s rose cheese and bread baked in-house. While right now exclusively on the dinner menu, Cary is quick to point out that those who desire it for lunch can be easily accommodated.

Poblano and Kenny’s Cheese empanada.

Poblano and Kenny’s Cheese empanada.

In fact, another welcome and peerless addition to the menu is an empanada-like dish that Cary based off a Turkish recipe. A pastry shell encases Cary’s twist on pimento cheese using poblano peppers and Kenny’s white cheddar. Served on a bed of crisp and crunchy sorel from Grateful Greens (local, of course) and a side of adobo sauce that incorporates a smoked pork jus, it is one of the city’s best dishes for sharing.

“The pastry is made with yogurt and it’s a recipe I am hooked on now,” beams Cary. “It just melts in your mouth. Empanada dough is tougher because it’s got lard in it, but this is yogurt so it’s very soft.”

The tenderness of the dough was a delight and the flavors were rich and subtle, with the sauce adding only the slightest of kicks, imparting a savoriness needed to cut through the richness of the cheese.

As an entree we tried the seared scallops – another dish full of color and ingredients that contrasted well with each other perfectly. The scallops came with a lobster risotto and mussels. The risotto was perfectly cooked, a distant mile from being stodgy like so many others. But the real treat was the saffron and curry sauce drizzled over the mussels. The saffron, as expected, gave color and aroma, while the curry instantly threw an Indian element into what is otherwise a straight ahead Italian dish. The fresh pomegranate seeds, though, were the real smart touch, adding a fresh juicy tartness to a rich dish. Superb.   

“I’m a big curry fan, and I love that colors are popping out here,” explained Cary “And with pomegranate it makes you think of winter time. ”

Two other unquestionable stellar examples of Cary’s kitchen was the mahi (sustainable, naturally) served with royal red prawns, and served with a prosciutto risotto cake encircled with an English pea puree and an orange and sage Sherry sauce based on a shellfish stock. The other was the meatiest of entrees in the form of local lamb (from Field 51 in Goshen) and served with a rich and zesty tomato sauce, and a grating of parmesan cheese for chalky texture and sharpness. A fried papadum accompanies the dish to help with scooping the sauce.

The dishes are emblematic of Lilly’s – they’re full of color, flavor and enough of a twist on the traditional route of cooking that you want to take bite after bite to figure out the layered flavors on offer. Brilliant.

Banana toffee pudding.

Banana toffee pudding.

For dessert came a banana toffee pudding. Those with an especially sweet tooth will not be disappointed with the dulce de leche filling that’s sweet and rich, but cut through by the light bourbon chantilly cream.

“It’s kind of a comfort food,” explains Cary. “Especially with something like dulce de leche that sticks to your ribs for winter. Also, being where we’re from we had to have the bourbon.”   

The key for Cary is for people to always remember that while the reputation of Lilly’s has always rested on award winning food, it’s also a place for all occasions. Gone are the days of paying pilgrimage to the historic culinary outpost for special occasions.

“We don’t want to be a place where people only go once a year for a birthday or anniversary,” adds Cary. “We’ve been really successful at attracting the younger crowd while also maintaining our old loyal customer base.”

One way in which Lily’s has been able to do this is by working hard at developing their lunch menu, a selection of dishes that Cary is proud to say rotates close to every six weeks and changes weekly at lunch. For $19 guests can enjoy a salad, an  entree and dessert.

So if you want to be treated to food that will take your taste buds to far off places but using the finest ingredients from right on your doorstep then look no further than Lilly’s. A treat for all occasions.

“I have a lot of creative staff here,” concludes Cary. “We put our heads together and do a lot of reading and thinking outside the box. We’re always thinking about what we can add to make something a Lily’s dish. We’re always rotating, changing, and that’s been our intention since the get-go.” VT

Lilly’s Bistro is located at 1147 Bardstown Road. For more information visit www.lillyslapeche.com or call 502.451.0447.

Photos by Chris Humphreys | The Voice-Tribune