Look, I get it. It’s that time of year where nothing sounds better than curling up under a blanket and listening to the rain. Does that mean you can’t go out once in a while and treat yourself? Absolutely not. Even if you don’t wanna get a full meal while you’re out on the town, there’s plenty of smaller dishes you can have to satisfy your appetite or indulge your sweet tooth. Over the past month, I’ve tried some of the best food I’ve had in my life, and I can’t wait to share it all with you so you’ll never be out of ideas for where to go. Starting with savory appetizers and ending with sweet desserts, here’s the best of the best.
Collision Brewing Company – Crispy Cauliflower
I wouldn’t call myself much of a car gal, but I still felt strangely at home in the auto-themed Collision Brewing Company. That’s by design, as the family who established the brewery wanted the place to be welcoming to as many people as possible. You want craft beer? They’ve got you. You wanna talk about vintage cars with the bartender? They’ve got you. Do you want good food? Vegetarian and gluten-free options? Trivia nights? Cornhole tournaments? Yoga? They’ve got it all.
I can’t deny how much I loved the atmosphere of the place, but the best part of my visit was still hands down the crispy cauliflower appetizer. Now I know what you’re thinking, “How good can cauliflower be?” Well, if you cook it in house, cover it in a thick korean pepper sauce, and top it off with some green onions and ranch on the side, then the answer is pretty damn good. Get a group of friends together and share a plate, or eat it on your own as a whole meal.
Jungle – Grilled Shrimp Skewers and Wedge Salad
I’m a vegetarian and have been for several years. Hopefully that sentence didn’t immediately make you stop reading because I promise this is going somewhere. I didn’t want to miss out on sampling Jungle’s Grilled Shrimp Skewers, so I brought a friend with me to taste test. While she had the shrimp, I had the Wedge Salad with a poblano buttermilk dressing, pickled beets, and pepitas. The salad was fresh and filling with just the right amount of tang to keep things interesting, but I had a hard time shifting my attention away from the enticing, smoky fragrance of my friend’s grilled shrimp. The butter sauce shimmered in the light while steam rose from the beautifully seasoned shrimps. My friend, who doesn’t even usually like shrimp, said it was some of the best seafood she had ever had. I started bargaining with myself in my head. I mean, the shrimp was already on the plate, and all of it was gonna get eaten either way. When my friend offered me a piece, I tried to say no but ultimately caved.
Jungle’s Grilled Shrimp Skewers: So good it’ll make a vegetarian cheat.
Avanti Food & Beverage – New Yorkese Warm Pretzel
If you’ve walked down Pearl Street within the past few years, you’ve likely passed by Avanti. It’s a big three-story food court with a pretty rooftop patio that’s seemingly always packed. The whole concept of a food court where every restaurant is top-tier and almost every diet is accommodated is enticing to anybody who’s ever had to spend an hour trying to decide where you and your friends should eat on a Friday night. Well, I’m here to tell you to believe the hype.
While you can’t go wrong at Avanti, our pick for this spot is the warm pretzel sold by the East Coast-themed New Yorkese. At the risk of sounding cliché, this pretzel is more than just a pretzel. It’s topped with a parmesan cheese, chili flake, and fennel crust for a brightly seasoned flavor. If you want even more punch in your pretzel, it’s served with a unique mustard dipping sauce that’s somewhere between Dijon and garlic butter. And, of course, how could you forget about the rich buttery inside? It’s hard to say it’s the best thing at Avanti given the staggering amount of options, but it’s absolutely a must eat.
Acreage by Stem Ciders – Patatas Bravas
Where’s your favorite place to watch the sunset? Is it a lookout on the side of US 36? Maybe it’s the roof of your apartment complex. Regardless, if you haven’t seen the view at Acreage, you’re missing out. What’s Acreage? Oh, nothing much. It’s just a delicious farm-to-table comfort food spot/tap room, owned and operated by locally owned craft cider producers Stem Ciders, and located on top of a hill with an absurdly large outdoor seating area that offers a completely unobstructed view of the Rocky Mountains.
If the concept alone doesn’t have you hooked, I’d first recommend you reevaluate your priorities, then I’d also recommend you try out the Patatas Bravas. It’s roasted red potatoes with a crispy exterior, topped off with fresh pico de gallo, adding a welcome explosion of flavor. Pair the dish with some roasted vegetables and your choice of cider, and let your tastebuds enjoy the food while your eyes enjoy the most gorgeous sunset you’ve ever seen.
The Rusty Melon – House Smoked Wings with Honey Sriracha
When you’re eating out, sometimes you want to step out of your comfort zone. Sometimes you want to splurge on some fine dining. But sometimes you just want a friendly staff, a comforting small-town atmosphere, and some damn good wings. If the latter sounds like your kind of place, you need to do yourself a favor and go down to The Rusty Melon.
All wings are house smoked for a backyard barbeque feeling but the taste of a high-end restaurant. I don’t eat meat often (although you can thank Jungle for temporarily breaking my vegetarian streak) and even I know how hard it can be to get that perfect stringy texture that you want out of wings. Thankfully, surprising absolutely nobody, The Rusty Melon pulls that off with flying colors. We recommend ordering them with honey Sriracha sauce and a side of ranch, but I have a hard time thinking you could go wrong with any other sauce.
Moxie Bread Co. – Kouign Amann
Residents of Louisville know Moxie Bread Co. as one of the best places in town for breakfast, lunch, or an afternoon snack. All seating is outdoors, and orders are placed in convenient kitchen windows, making it perfect for sunny weekend days out. But don’t you worry because this bakery is lovely to visit on chilly fall days or snowy winters while walking around the beautiful scenery of downtown Louisville.
Now, I love some good coffee, which Moxie has a great variety of, but the real main event is the pastries. These are probably closer to being dessert-like than any appetizer in this article, but who’s complaining? I tried a sampling of different pastries while there (I couldn’t help myself!), but the showstopper is definitely the kouign amann, a laminated croissant with caramelized sugar. Mine had a refreshing blueberry cream cheese center. Moxie is perfect if you want to treat yourself with food to-go or if you want to take a moment to sit down and admire the craftsmanship that goes into every pastry made here.
Babettes Bakery – Moelleux
Walking into Babettes Bakery immediately gives you everything you could want in a casual morning spot. Plants everywhere, plenty of natural lighting, and of course, the sweet smell of fresh baking. With carefully crafted bread and pastries coming out of the oven every single day, there’s no going wrong on this menu. That being said, anyone with a sweet tooth absolutely needs to try the moelleux. Affectionately referred to by the staff and customers as the “Babettes Brownie,” this unique take on a French classic will satisfy any chocolate lover. Traditionally, a moelleux is a chocolate cake with a molten chocolate center, served directly out of the oven so that the center spills out. But the spot’s founders, husband and wife duo Steve and Catherine Scott, wanted a more compact experience without sacrificing any of the quality. They give the moelleux time to set before serving so that, rather than a liquid mess, the end result is a rich, creamy delight that packs a strong dark chocolate punch, balanced out by the fluffy cake exterior decorated with crisp sugar crystals. Pair this with a nice dark roast coffee for a truly decadent morning kickstart.
Cherry On Top Bakery – 303 Cakes
When you think “green chile,” I’d bet good money that your next thought isn’t “dessert.” Well Cherry On Top Bakery is about to change that with their signature 303 Cakes — cupcakes made with cinnamon, apples, and brown sugar with a roasted green chile filling. If that sounds like a strange combination to you, you’re not alone. But trust me, once you actually try this thing, you’ll be wondering why nobody’s ever put green chile in a cupcake before. Make no mistake, though, despite the savory filling, this is still very much a sweet treat for dessert. The secret is that head chef and owner Tarra Pig doesn’t make the green chile the focal point of the dish. The true showstopper is the apple-cinnamon combo, baked lovingly into a soft cake topped with a rich cream cheese frosting. The green chile is used sparingly, blending in shockingly well with the cake and giving just a pinch of spice that perfectly complements the earthy cinnamon. If you aren’t a believer yet, go ahead and try one and tell me it isn’t one of the best cupcakes you’ve ever had.
The Greenbriar Inn – Peanut Butter Chocolate Mousse
Looking at it from the side of the highway, you wouldn’t guess that the wooden house covered in vines and flowers is actually a decades-old fine dining establishment. To The Greenbriar Inn’s loyal customers, though, that building is the doorway into a fairytale of beautiful scenery and indescribably delicious food. Walking in for the first time is almost overwhelming, as you really do feel like you’re stepping into a medieval inn. Each room is an entirely different dining space, like the fanciest food court you’ve ever been to. Every bit of decoration on the interior and every flower and vine on the exterior gives the entire place a truly ethereal atmosphere.
But what’s the use of good architecture if the food isn’t up to snuff? Thankfully, The Greenbriar Inn offers a spellbinding fine dining experience. Our pick is the peanut butter chocolate mousse, an intricate combination of contrasting flavors and textures that makes for a dessert that is both sweet and earthy, light and dark, and so nice to look at that you almost feel bad for eating it. Almost.
Chocolaterie Stam – Cocoa Truffle
We’ve all had chocolate before, but how many of us have had chocolate that was handcrafted by a master confectioner whose family has passed down their craft for generations? Since its inception, the Chocolaterie Stam has been intrinsically linked with the Stam Family. Every month, Chocolaterie Stam’s owners import a large batch of chocolate from Europe, all of it made by Eric Stam, the current chocolatier extraordinaire of the family. Before him, his father supplied the chocolate, and his father before him. With this much history, one can only wonder if the end result lives up to the hype.
Of course it does. You absolutely cannot go wrong with any of the chocolates available here. Each and every one has a deep flavor that overwhelms the taste buds and makes you wonder how they keep coming up with new ways to make chocolate taste so good. The competition was stiff, but our pick has to be the cocoa truffle. Authentic dark chocolate covered in cocoa powder forms a hard shell that surrounds an impossibly sweet cream filling. Even if you’re not a fan of the bitterness of dark chocolate, the creamy center makes up for it with a candy-sweet explosion.
Morning Glory Farm Fresh Cafe – Flourless Chocolate Cake
It’s rare that a restaurant makes me feel at home. After all, it’s just a restaurant, right? As anybody who has had the pleasure of coming across that perfect balance between hospitality and good food will tell you, sometimes home is where the stomach is. I’ve only been to the Morning Glory Farm Fresh Cafe once, but I already feel at home there. That feeling isn’t an accident, either. The owners of the cafe have focused on inclusion, sustainability, and community aid since day one. All beef is grass fed and locally sourced, independent artists are given plenty of wallspace to display and sell their works, and excess proceeds are often given to charity. Even before I tried the flourless chocolate cake, with its warm brownie-like texture and angelic homemade whipped cream, I was already in love with the place. The fact that the cake was some of the best I’ve had in a long time certainly didn’t hurt, though.
Sushi Zanmai – Strawberry Tempura Ice Cream
It’s refreshing to be in a place where, not only is the food good, it seems like every chef there is dedicated to making it even better, if that’s even possible. Every bit of Sushi Zanmai is carefully constructed to offer an experience that pays heavy homage to the traditions of Japanese dining while providing world-class food created by seasoned professionals. Sit at the bar to talk with chefs while they prepare dishes, and you’ll quickly feel how much passion goes into each meal.
While primarily known for their sushi, they certainly do not disappoint in the dessert department. The Strawberry Tempura Ice Cream is an especially delicious treat for anyone with a sweet tooth and a taste for fresh fruit. A thick ice cream center is deep fried in a cakey breading, then served with fresh strawberries and oranges to balance out the deeper flavors of the fried dessert. You absolutely should try the sushi, but if that’s not your thing, I don’t think anybody would blame you for coming in just to try this decadent delight.