Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Doug Roberts, husband to Spinach Tiger, often known as Mr. ST. Recently he swooned over a new discovery, Proof on Main, a restaurant in Louisville, Kentucky. No wonder. He had a chef hookup. Can’t beat that. Read on and wish you were there just like me.
Proof on Main, located in Louisville, is a farm to plate eatery, casual enough to feel at home, sophisticated enough to set a standard, all the while gazing at art on the walls that spills over from the 21 C Museum hotel gallery. As someone who travels for business, I often dine out alone, and I don’t really mind it, but it is always nice to connect with a friend for dinner. So when I came to Louisville this week, I was pleased to find out my old friend, another Doug, was in town for a worship conference. As I know Doug loves good food as much as I do, I was excited to share my knowledge of the Louisville food scene and take him to one of my favorite spots. However, he turned the tables on me.
There is nothing better for a foodie than to get a hook up with the chef at a great restaurant. This is not a common experience for me since when Mrs. ST and I eat out, we typically don’t announce that we are food bloggers so we don’t get any special treatment. (Of course a good camera taking pictures is often a big give away, but these photos were all taken with an iPhone). What I didn’t know is that Doug’s son is an executive sous chef at The Harbor View hotel on Martha’s Vineyard, and when he found out his dad was in Louisville he said, “You’ve got to go to Proof on Main for dinner. The executive chef is a friend and I’ll get you taken care of.” Did he ever! (Straight away, I can’t promise the same treatment for another diner, but I can promise the quality of exciting food will be the same).
We didn’t have reservations so we just showed up and our table was waiting. The decor was very warm and cozy, yet modern and artsy at the same time. (Note: the interior photos were taken the next morning… they were packed for dinner so reservations are recommended). Proof is in the 21c Museum Hotel, a combination contemporary art museum and boutique hotel. Rotating art exhibits adorn the walls, adding to the cool vibe. To get to the restroom, you walk through the hotel lobby which doubles as an art gallery. Even the restroom itself is something to behold, reminiscent of the Royalton Hotel in Manhattan. These are the only two places where I’ve ever said, “You’ve got to go check out the restroom!”
Immediately after being seated, our server brought an impressive beverage menu with a large selection of original cocktails, bourbons, craft beers, and wines. After some waffling, we decided to get a bottle of wine and I selected Ciacci Piccolom d’Aragona, a Sangiovese Tuscan, that was very earthy and not overly complex.
Chef Levon Wallace came to our table and introduced himself and we had a nice chat about sons, chefs, food blogs and such. He was friendly, charming, and gracious, a man obviously passionate about his food. He went back to the kitchen and within minutes, the food started coming. Oh My!
The first item he sent out was his Roasted Bones appetizer, which was bone marrow served in the bone with pickled farm egg, radish, shorty marmalade, house sriracha and Tuscan toast. I had bone marrow for the first time just recently at Lockland Table in Nashville, and it was good (think meat butter), but what set this apart were the other ingredients. You spread the marrow on the bread then top it with all the deliciousness on the plate and it went from good to amazing. His house made sriracha was so much better than what I am used to having out of a bottle and was the perfect condiment to compliment the marrow.
Next, the chef sent out an off the menu on the spot creation made of pickled shrimp, cucumber, lardo, benedictine, roasted peaches and leek ash. Insanely great!
Then came the Chilled Heirloom Carrot Soup with charmoula, boiled peanuts, salted lime and yogurt, and a Local Mixed Lettuces salad, with roasted grapes, shallots, Manchego and banyuls vinaigrette. I am not a big fan of chilled soups, but I have to admit this was really good. The salad was very good, but nothing to get excited about. I must admit, I am spoiled as Mrs. Spinach Tiger is the salad queen.
They did let us pick our entrees. My dinning companion ordered the Marksbury Farm Bone-In Pork Chop wrapped in country ham, with garden peas, pea shoots, mustard, and rye granola. It was crazy good and large enough to feed a family of four. I never order pork chops in a restaurant, but I would come back and order this.
I will typically order seafood if it looks good, and there were several great options, and in hindsight, that is what I should have done. But instead I ordered the Ricotta Gnocchi with heirloom carrots, Brussels sprouts, shitake mushrooms and carol’s cress. It was delicious, but I was thinking traditional gnocchi with ricotta, not ricotta gnocchi, which was very different. Having just had the best Gnocchi of my life at Harvest, just down the road, I was set up for a let down. It was my own fault for not paying close enough attention to what I was ordering. The portion also seemed small compared to the other entree, but it didn’t matter because I was not leaving hungry.
The chef also sent out two sides, the Crispy Fingerling Potatoes with bone marrow, vinaigrette, fine herbs, and frisee, and the Braised Farm Greens with country bacon, bourbon barrel miso, chili pepper, and malt. Both were amazing. I usually am not a big fan of greens, but these were great, and I could not stop eating the potatoes, probably the best I’ve ever had. There was so much great food on the table, we were eating slow and savoring every bite, enjoying the experience and our good fortune.
Just when I thought I couldn’t eat another bite, out came the Nashville Hot Chicken. If you don’t know about this uniquely Nashville dish, you can read about it here. Chef Wallace’s take was dead on, although mild compared to what I have at home. I suspect this would be considered mild at Hattie B’s. It was served sitting on the traditional white bread with corn relish and bread and butter pickles on top.
We were stuffed and done. We ordered cappuccinos to enjoy while we sat and let our food settle to the point where we could walk again. Then deserts started showing up. Three of them. REALLY?!? I think Chef Wallace wanted us to die happy.
There were Corn Meal Donuts with smoked boubon sugar, lime curd, goats milk caramel and blackberry gelato. Then Goo-Goo Supreme, a milk chocolate mousse with salted pecans, marshmallow fluff, and sorghum caramel, obviously inspired by the Nashville original Goo-Goo Cluster candy. And finally a fresh peach tart with a perfect blend of texture and flavors. I am frequently disappointed with the desserts at fine dinning restaurants because they are not of the same high caliber as the rest of the meal, but not here. All three of the deserts were creative, original, and delicious.
Hats off to Chef Levon Wallace for one of the top dinning experiences of my life, and I’ve had many great ones. I look forward to coming back with Mrs. ST for a special occasion. There is definitely a culinary trip to Louisville in the future, for a visit to Proof on Main.
Proof on Main is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
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