By SOPHIE HOTTINGER
This may be because the last time I set foot in the restaurant was with my Mom, Dad, older brother and baby sister as an excitable kid who thrilled at the prospect of chomping fried frog legs. We enjoyed loud, playful summertime dinners at the picnic tables in the Mike Linnig’s courtyard each time we traveled to Louisville in the early 1990s to visit relatives, and many times after we moved here as well.
Or it may be because it would be difficult for anyone not to notice – and appreciate – the atmosphere of warmth and community cultivated inside the family-owned seafood restaurant, a local institution since it first opened in 1925 on Cane Run Road.
Beginning simply as a small farm and roadside stand selling fresh fruits, vegetables and sandwiches, Mike Linnig’s has evolved considerably over the years, changing buildings, adding rooms and even branching out into catering operations, car shows and fundraising events. What hasn’t changed, however, is the value its owners – now in the third generation – place on honoring the family legacy and continuing to run a business the community loves to frequent. The old-fashioned, mouthwatering recipes haven’t been altered much, either.
As we waited for our lunchtime selections, photographer Chris Humphreys and I toured the restaurant with Nancy Weurth, a granddaughter of the eponymous Mike Linnig who runs the restaurant along with her cousin, John; sister, Theresa; and brother, Bill Linnig. Pointing out familiar faces in the black and white photos that grace nearly every wall, Weurth stopped along the way to chat with customers and share a little family history with whomever was interested. When asked about the various species of stuffed wildlife on display, she shared that her grandfather had loved to hunt – and that over the years several customers had donated their trophies to the restaurant for everyone to enjoy. A giant tortoise shell, blackened by the 1966 fire that destroyed the original restaurant, was salvaged and painted, and continues to hang on the walls of the establishment, as do Native American artifacts such as arrowheads as old as 10,000 years, collected from the nearby Ohio riverbank.
Once our meal arrived, however, Chris and I turned our attention at once to the generous plates of seafood before us. We were barely able to make a dent in the two dishes: the Fish Plate, consisting of two enormous pieces of fried white cod, French fries and coleslaw for $13.25; and the Seafood Plate, which included a whopping two pieces of white fish, four scallops, two hush puppies, four spicy fish nuggets, one crab cake, one frog leg, one shrimp, four fish nuggets, one pan-fried oyster, one piece of salmon, French fries and coleslaw, priced at $23.20. A bargain, considering how much food we had left over to take home!
The fish was savory and just the right consistency, leaving little question as to why the restaurant continues to draw crowds, especially during the Lenten season. The scallops, according to Chris, were perfectly cooked, and the crab cake deliciously seasoned. The hush puppies, my personal favorite seafood side, were incredible, and the coleslaw proved a pleasantly light counterbalance to the breaded and fried fare. I’ll freely admit that I also consumed far more than my fair share of the slightly sweet Mike Linnig’s tartar sauce, which can be purchased by the jar at the restaurant, as well as in several local grocery stores.
But Mike Linnig’s is about far more than simply delicious fare (of which you’ll find plenty). Chances are, you’ve felt the presence of the nationally-recognized restaurant in Louisville even if you’ve never stepped foot inside their building. In addition to an enormous tented dining area at the Kentucky State Fair – a popular fixture on the fairgrounds for what will be 23 years this August – the restaurant proudly hosts regular fundraising events for local charities such as Down Syndrome and Alzheimer’s Disease research and awareness groups. Setting up an expansive outdoor tent that will seat up to 500 people in the parking lot across the street, they also host an annual 6-week outdoor concert event, MusicFest, held from Mother’s Day weekend to Father’s Day.
“The Musicfest started about seven years ago,” shared Weurth. “It was an idea for the firemen to raise money for the Crusade for Children … it’s going to be a big tent across the street where we have bands and dance studios, (and) the firemen come and wait on the tables for Mother’s Day weekend.”
Mike Linnig’s is also known for its car shows, the largest of which – Hot Rod Cruise Night – is held each October and features five- to six hundred show cars, Weurth explained. “They all vie for the top awards, which are pictures in our Hot Rod Calendar, and trophies and things like that.” The calendar, sold year-round at the family restaurant, also benefits the Crusade for Children.
Despite these large-scale events and its extensive grounds, the warm, welcoming local business has still managed to retain its homey feel. Outside, picnic tables, swing sets and even carved wooden sculptures – a fisherman holding a lit lantern and a totem-style portrayal of wildlife – invite passers-by to stop and have a bite to eat. “We’ve been here a long time, we do a lot of things with the community,” Weurth proudly exclaimed. “But we’re still family oriented, a family business that’s still operating that way.”
Mike Linnig’s Place, 9308 Cane Run Road, is open Tuesday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sunday from noon to 9 p.m. For more information call 502.937.9888 or 502.937.1235, or visit www.mikelinnigsrestaurant.com.
Photos by CHRIS HUMPHREYS | The Voice-Tribune