When I was an adorable little kid, my siblings and I loved to visit our aunt and uncle in Louisville, Kentucky. We got to do all sorts of fun stuff, like ride horses, watch HBO's prison drama OZ, and not brush our teeth. Nothing was better than what we got to eat, though: candy by the fistful and peanut butter & chocolate chip sandwiches. We would spend our precious few days there shoving all the sugar and fat into our bodies that we could.
After not visiting for nearly ten years, I finally made my way back a few weeks ago and hoped to eat something that would bring me the gluttonous joy I was so fond of as a youngster.
I knew I'd be eating at Seviche, my uncle's favorite restaurant, but I was left to decide the other meal. It was tough. Proof on Main and 610 Magnolia both come with high praise, but I just wasn't feeling the more upscale vibe. Some St. Louis chefs came to my rescue by recommending Top Chef alum Edward Lee and chef Kevin Ashworth's Milkwood restaurant, self described as "Southern cuisine with influences and spices from a global vocabulary".
We started things off with two cocktails: the alcoholic iced tea "Sweet Ruby" and the chartreuse-heavy Milkwood. The Sweet Ruby was the clear winner in my book, but who doesn't love sweet tea that gets you drunk?
The appetizer I was least excited for ended up being the my favorite. Milkwood's Vietnamese Lamb Sausage was almost a salad, but not quite. Slightly charred aromatic sausage was served with lettuce, outstanding fried green tomatoes, pickled fresno chilies and a green goddess dressing--as well as pan drippings. I loved the way the dish was balanced, really straddling the line between southern food and Asian food (as well as the line between healthy and not).
We knew right away we'd be ordering the octopus bacon, even before we knew what the dish was. Unfortunately, I found the dish's main ingredient--smoked octopus--to be a bit of a let down. There as nothing technically wrong with it; it was tender and smokey, as you'd expect, just not the most flavorful I've had. And I also imagined there would be actual bacon in the dish, which there wasn't. The rest of the dish's components were better, I thought: smashed potatoes, sour cream, kalamata olives and a jalapeño puree.
One of the nearby tables had the burger with cracklins, so we begged and pleaded to get some as a side. They were nice enough to let us try them and they did not disappoint. I mean, they're just cracklins topped with togarashi, a spicy Japanese chili powder; most spicy & crunchy pork products are tasty.
These chicken wings were fucking amazing, plain and simple. They were an off the menu special for the evening and are apparently available for their Sunday brunch. They're up there as one of the best wings I've ever had. I don't even know what they were seasoned with! There was sesame, green onions and much, much more. Just as important as their seasoning, they had a crunchy exterior and super juicy meat. I need these in my life more often.
Picking out entrees for the evening was not easy. There were so many intriguing dishes: the not-so-common surf and turf of smoked turkey & scallops, brisket & grilled mortadella and a butternut take on Chinese staple mapo tofu.
My aunt decided to go for the mountain of fork-tender braised oxtail. I rarely go for beef, but I would for sure order this dish again. Beneath the mountain's shredded meat peak was a dolmades-like cabbage wrap hiding more meat inside, resting atop a fried rice and black bean cake. Hominy was scattered about the dish and horseradish was shaved on top. After eating this, I immediately wanted to go home and make a giant vat of braised beef.
It was a tough decision, but ultimately I went with the pork shoulder. The pork wasn't fall apart tender like I was expecting, but it was moist and well seasoned, sitting on top of my some of the softest, most delicious coconut rice I've ever had. Coconut rice--nasi lemak in Singapore--is one of my addictions. Combine that with roasted okra, curry oil and OMG the black BBQ sauce. The sauce is somewhere between a Korean BBQ and your typical American BBQ, yet the first thing it reminded me of was a really fantastic Mexican mole. I was confused, I was surprised, I was in love.
I found Chef Edward Lee's recipe for it here; it looks like a mix of all my favorite things. Bourbon, coffee, jalapeños, soy, black bean paste. It's smokey, sweet, spicy and all around fantastic.
At this point we were beyond stuffed, but things got even more out of hand. We got dessert. All the desserts. That's what you do when you can't decide what to get. First up was the sorghum and grits ice cream with a torn up croissant, coffee syrup, coconut cake and fresh berries.
Then came the peanut butter pot-du-creme with chocolate ganache, black sesame crackers and bourbon cherries. It was around this time my stomach began to compress other vital organs.
The green tea beignets, topped with pears and almonds, rested on nutella and condensed milk. Drools.
Finally, we had the togarashi cheesecake complete with peanut sea salt, miso caramel and blackened pineapple. I'm not normally a cheesecake eater, but this may have been my favorite dessert of the night. It was creamy and crunchy; salty and spicy.
I loved Milkwood, and if I lived in Louisville, I'd be there far too often. It's easy to get to in downtown Louisville, plus it has a parking garage connected to it. While not every dish was incredible, the highs were enough to make this one to the better meals I've had all year.
316 W. Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202