Back in the mid to late ’90s my Friday night ritual was to take my wife’s grocery list in one hand and my son’s hand in another for an evening of grocery shopping at the now defunct Bigg’s super shopping center in Middletown, Ky. Before that, though, we would hit a cheap place to eat like Dairy Queen or Pizza Hut or Hometown Pizza in Middletown or Subway or some buffet or some franchise/chain spaghetti place that I’ve forgotten the name of, and so on.
My memory is filled with dusk-lit Friday nights of eating at restaurants with my little boy.
One night, though, none of these cheap eats sounded appealing so I decided to splurge and take my boy over to Ferd Grisanti’s Restaurant in Jeffersontown, Ky., for a pricey (but still affordable) plate of spaghetti and a side plate of breadsticks. In our shorts and t-shirts we were not really dressed for the place, but the waiter seemed glad to see us in the somewhat sparsely populated dining room. I’d been to this place a few years before with my wife, and the simple elegance hadn’t changed.
On June 8, 2008, Grisanti closed the doors of this institution, which opened in 1972 and continued on after the death of its patriarch, Ferd, in 1993. That leaves Louisville Grisanti-less for the first time since 1959. That was the year that the flagship fine-dining Casa Grisanti opened on the east quandrant of Liberty Street and set the high bar for fare and service until its closing in 1991. The cheaper, family fare oriented Mama Grisanti kept going in Dupont Circle until the mid-1990s. I never made it to Casa, but went to Mama Grisanti’s several times, where I noticed the lower-bar standard resulted in less consistency of quality, but the fare was always reasonably priced.
I’ve been saddened lately at the number of Louisville eatery institutions biting the dust. The closing of Ferd Grisanti comes close on the heels of the demise of Azalea, which morphed from La Paloma in 1994 and before that from Bauer’s—a longtime institution. This location on Brownsboro Road, which has to be part of the psyche of the city, is now being threatened with demolition, though there are efforts under way to save it. I had once taken a date to Bauer’s and later my wife to La Paloma where we had a nice salmon steak, as I recall.
Not too long before, the J.P. Kayrouz restaurant in St. Matthews—which, in my opinion, had one of the most inviting and appealing interiors of all of Louisville’s restaurants—closed in 2003 and was demolished, to my everlasting chagrin. The food there was OK, though the soups were often memorable, but it was that simple, tanned wood interior that I found so beguiling. There was an unforced simplicity in that interior ambiance that so many more consciously designed restaurants—in their desperate striving for “atmosphere—fail to achieve.
So add these to Lentini’s on Bardstown Road (also closed in 2008 for the last time after several incarnations), Hasenour’s (1934–1996), New Orleans East (closed in the 90s I think) and some others, and you have a lamentable trend for those who like traditional dining in Louisville. (I forgot to mention the old Colonial Gardens across from Iroquois Park, also an institution and also threatened with demolition.)
Post comments about your own experiences at these and other classic, defunct Louisville restaurants.
The forums over at louisvillehotbytes.com also provide a sounding board for these memories.
Another casualty of the Bush Economic Miracle: Baer Fabrics, a Louisville institution, closed after 103 years of continuous business on July 19, 2008. (Courier-Journal / Business First / Examiner / WHAS)
Jeffersontown’s Ferd Grisanti Closes After Business Declines (Courier-Journal)
Article about Kayrouz memories and the newest version of the Kayrouz family dining at:
Article about Bauer’s and the pending fate of its location (from the Voice-Tribune):
Discussion thread (from of Louisville eateries that no longer around):