By ROBIN GARR
Looking for ramps in season? Garlic scapes? Fancy purple kale? Or maybe a tasty omelet fashioned from just-laid, free-range eggs? Youâ€™ll find it all at Bardstown Road Farmersâ€™ Market, where Ivor Chodkowskiâ€™s Family Field Days Farm booth is the place to go for whatâ€™s arguably the fanciest produce on the premises.
Chodkowski is a leader in the regionâ€™s burgeoning small-farm and locavore movement; he runs a community-supported agriculture operation, has been involved in the Community Farm Alliance, and set up Grasshoppers Distribution, which creates markets for local small farmers by connecting them with local restaurants.
So it should come as no suprise to see Chodkowski at the helm of Harvest, a new restaurant in lavishly restored quarters on East Market, an eatery thatâ€™s a virtual celebration of all thatâ€™s flavorful, natural and local.
Harvest pledges to keep its bill of fare at least 80 percent from local farmers. Youâ€™ll spot many of them, indeed, in sepia portraits on Harvestâ€™s walls, and an intriguing â€œfoodshedâ€ map of central Kentucky and Southern Indiana spotlights the farmers who supply the restaurant and pinpoints their farms.
Talk about the elements for success: Take sustainably-produced food from regional farmers. Add a warm, comfortable (if somewhat noisy) environment that has converted the old Mayan Gypsy location (later a short-lived restaurant â€œincubatorâ€ which endowed the space with an oversize modern kitchen). Plug in an all-star kitchen team (at the top of the batting order, Chef Coby Ming, formerly at Wiltshire on Market; Chef Josh Lehman, from Bank Street Brewhouse); and in the front of the house (where Cassandra Hobbic, Proof on Mainâ€™s first maitre dâ€™, now presides). This is an impressive combination, and it yields a high-scoring product.
The menu changes frequently to accommodate the seasons and the quantity and supply issues that accompany working with small, local farms. Fear not, itâ€™s consistently good. On the night of our visit, the menu featured lots of arugula and spring greens, asparagus, chicken, pork and beef. Appetizers were all under $10; prices for eight main courses ranged from $8 (for a spicy chicken salad sandwich) to $19 (for fried chicken, sourced, I believe, from Rhodelia, Ky., farmer Adam Barr, whose chickens are the best Iâ€™ve tasted this side of Franceâ€™s poulet de Bresse).
Wine, beer and cocktail lists are short but creative, well chosen and fairly priced. Wines arenâ€™t local, and frankly Iâ€™m just as glad. To the dismay of obligate locavores, neither the Ohio River Valleyâ€™s climate nor its tradition are suited to the production of world-class wines. This isnâ€™t Napa, folks. We made do with a California favorite, Au Bon Climat 2009 Santa Barbara Pinot Noir ($41), served in quality stemless wine tumblers, and were well pleased.
Our friend Lucinda joined Mary and me for dinner, and we cut a considerable swath through the menu, following our usual happy practice of ordering three of each course and sharing it all. We judged the food very good to outstanding throughout, and service never missed a beat.
The chard and green garlic hummus ($9) was a spectacular presentation, a footlong wooden board bearing at one end a generous mound of pale-green, textured hummus flavored with aromatic greens; at the other several crunchy, thin-sliced grilled pretzel crostini, and in-between a colorful mini-salad of leaf lettuces.
A cold asparagus-and-sorrel soup ($6) was absolutely delicious, a thin puree carrying the vegetal spring flavor of asparagus lifted by the tart, almost sour lemony twang of sorrel and decorated with what looked like chive oil. A silken, sweet dairy quenelle floated in the bowl. It was the kind of dish that could lower the heat index on a summer night by at least 10 degrees.
Perhaps the best of three good apps was the smoked goat cheese lasagnette ($8), a pair of thin pasta rounds sandwiched around an aromatic herb pesto and plated on an intense, earthy smooth roasted-mushroom jus, with a crunchy garlic crouton perched on top.
Main courses were all fine, reminding us that real flavor hasnâ€™t departed from 21st century meat and poultry, only that itâ€™s a lot easier to find from artisan farmers than industrial feedlots.
A breast portion of a smallish Barr Farm chicken ($19) was richly flavored, crisply buttermilk-battered and fried, then stylishly plated with a thick coat of smoked-peppercorn white gravy and served with a bouquet of fresh arugula and a tender biscuit hoecake. It was a far cry from the Colonelâ€™s, and I say that as high praise. An optional side, kaffir lime spinach slaw ($3) got Maryâ€™s two thumbs up.
My pick, the smoky bourbon BBQ pulled pork ($17) was deeply flavored if a bit idiosyncratic; tender, intense locavore pork was subtly smoked and sweetly sauced with a dark, piquant bourbon sauce. An oblong of smoky, sweet bacon bread pudding kicked it up a notch, as did a ration of grilled spring vegetable slaw.
Lucindaâ€™s choice, ricotta-herb gnocchi ($16) may have been the hit of the evening. Tender pale-green gnocchi (say â€œNâ€™yoke-keyâ€ three times fast) swam in a remarkable Bolognese-style broth accented with crispy ground pork; it was edibly decorated with crisp, paper-thin seeded lavash bread.
We couldnâ€™t handle three desserts but kept up the pattern by summoning three spoons to share a sweet, dense bourbon bread pudding with pecans and caramel ($6).
An outstanding dinner for three, including the wine, was $130.04, and service earned a $26 tip. The share for two without wine would have come in around $55, a fair price indeed.