Sunday, November 08, 2015
Nipping and nibbling at BBC St. Matthews, Akasha and Over the 9.
I’d have preferred the subway. Shall we savagely tax cars to build one?
On Saturday, Bluegrass Brewing Company was celebrating its 22nd anniversary in St. Matthews, a locale that began as a rural village crossroads, then served as a staging point of sorts for post-war suburbanization. Now the area is closer to downtown in both distance and urban attitude than the vast sprawling cookie-cutter acreage just beyond it to the east.
There always were taverns nearby, probably more like roadhouse in days of yore, but most of the old-school places like Dutch’s have long since yielded to more moderately upscale ventures like Mellow Mushroom, Boombozz and Drake’s. Real beer abounds, though I still prefer the places where it is brewed.
More than two decades after BBC’s creation, I sat in precisely the same barroom quadrant as on “soft opening” night in 1993. In 2015, my own life couldn’t be any more different, Chef Atkins is long gone, and neither the Pilsner nor duck ravioli are available, although a Helles is in the works, the inimitable Mikki Rice was working the kitchen, and an anniversary evening special of fried oysters, shrimp and grits filled the bill nicely.
Founding brewmaster David Pierce has returned to home base, and his SOB’s ESB is a “revive-ale” based on a recipe by “Bossman Pat” (Hagan) – restrained and delicious at 5.5% abv. The brewery has been serviced and scrubbed, and I’m looking forward to classic album cuts and a few new songs as the months go past. It's like a reunion tour all over again.
Next stop was newborn (we’re counting in weeks, folks) Akasha Brewing Company in Louisville’s NuLu, a district that might be described as an ongoing gentrification start-up generator still in its capitalization phase.
This isn’t the same Akasha Brewing located in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, which is what turned up on Google Maps when plotting a route from BBC, and seemed too far afield for a light evening's drinking.
Akasha lies five miles west of St. Matthews in a downtown Louisville area that remained moribund throughout the period of BBC’s inception and growth. Until ten or so years ago, the stockyards still operated a few hundred yards from Akasha’s front door, and as we know, livestock dung can depress property values.
Akasha is a taproom only, sans kitchen; the wildly popular Feast BBQ is mere steps away, and Grind Burger Kitchen soon will be taking up residence next door. It is striking how taprooms have a purpose and ambiance all their own, existing as multi-purpose gathering spots for transitional beers, carry-out draft and package, or for packing in picnics from nearby eateries and making a night of it.
Taprooms deserve closer study.
There were five house beers on tap at Akasha, along with another six guests. After sampling Oatmeal Stout, Gose and a yummy Smoked Porter, we bought a Belgian-style “house glass” with to-go “howler” (half-growler) of Saison, the character of which took me back to semi-conscious Wallonian bicycle refueling stops during the early Noughties. As if on cue, I began craving mussels.
Our last stop: One block north to Main, two miles west, and a left on 10th Street. It’s a longer story than I have time to tell at present, so the compact version: It’s the Old 502 Winery and new-age version of the century-old Falls City Brewing, sharing bricks and mortar with a brand new eatery and bar called Over the 9.
I like them all. We’d stopped in once before, and while having come to detest the word “gastropub,” it’s probably appropriate for the casual setting. The food’s great; the menu has lots of burgers, bacon and marrow bones, the nachos feature lamb and a dollop of mustard, and the food is accompanied by solid beers and wines. The flagship beers are brewed elsewhere, but there's a full roster of house brews worth trying.
Much has been made of Over the 9’s positioning as “gateway” to the evolving Portland neighborhood. For non-Louisvillian readers, note only that urban planners from the 1950s forward consciously plotted Ninth Street as the downtown racial divide, tossing in working class Portland as part of the social-economic Machiavellian “bargain” of separation.
This has little to do with Over the 9 itself, but the social engineering gambit prefacing it being viewed as “on the other side” may or may not be unraveling as money finally finds its way into undervalued territory. We’ll have to wait and see how things pan out for the people already living west of 10th Street before rendering a verdict.
Meanwhile, last night I enjoyed Over the 9's Grimanti sandwich, which deploys smoky homemade pastrami on ciabatta with a sweet ‘n’ sour slaw of sorts slathered on it. It is a brilliant notion, and brewer Greenwood’s mildly hoppy Harvest Ale was an appropriate match.
The history and etymology of pastrami are fascinating, too. The word itself originates in Turkey and comes to us via Jewish immigrants from Romania. In essence, pastrami began as a way of brining, smoking and steaming less desirable cuts of meat as a means of preservation. Beef’s the usual target flesh. Louisville largely missed out on deli culture, but there’s always time to learn.
One evening, three establishments and a range of neighborhoods and possibilities. It was a welcome break from my recently concluded foray into New Albany politics, which largely served to underscore the need to take frequent breaks from New Albany.
Over the 9