Diner: Identity Crisis

Louisville restaurateurs lost something on the way up I-71 to Crestview Hills

Dec 14, 2005 at 2:06 pm

When Jim Gerhardt and Mike Cunha left the Oakroom at the Seelbach Hotel in Louisville in the autumn of 2003 to open Limestone, the Oakroom was a four-star dining experience, and Gerhardt and Cunha got much of the credit for its success. That formed my expectations for Mike and Jimmy's Chop House, their new venture in Crestview Hills. Mall dining aside, this was going to be great!

What hit the Chop House on its way up I-71? Was it a wayward semi? Was it the corporate restaurant consultant from hell? Was it some wacky idea that casual is the new black? What went wrong with the Chop House? What didn't?

I called at about 2 p.m. to get a table on what was clearly not the restaurant's number — probably the manager's cell phone.

Whoever it was explained that although the restaurant doesn't take reservations, you can call one hour ahead to be added to the waitlist. Great. When I called back at 6:30, the person who answered the phone said, "We don't do that." A squeaky, adolescent voice. A bad omen — at that moment I wanted to say, "Let me talk to your mom, missy."

We arrived at 7:45 p.m. on a Saturday night in horrid weather, and were told, by four gum-chewing cuties in shrug sweaters stuffed behind the hostess stand, that there might be a 20- to 30-minute wait. So we took our vibrating pager to a table near the window that had been cleared but not wiped. I watched my husband transform from reluctant companion to intransigent curmudgeon as he arranged his elbows strategically around bits of sticky lettuce.

Then came the ignoring. Ten minutes of people striding past us with their heads averted, trying not to make eye contact. Then, abruptly, one of the Barbies finally appeared to inform us that the tables were only for the Chosen, and we had to stand near the bar. I had to break hubby's leg at that point to keep him from bolting out into the ice storm.

So we ordered glasses of wine while we stood, clutching our coats, at the bar of banishment. Was it good? My friend and I, true aficionados of, say, martinis, drank it. The wine lover nearly spit it on the floor. Luckily, the beeper vibrated and we headed for the elusive table.

While we were in the bar area, there were several TVs showing college football games, and the noise level was high. Imagine my dismay when it was even louder at our dinner table! And there were TVs playing the game there, too! Is this a restaurant or a sports bar? The decibel level was higher than that of a New York subway. The footballers slogged intrepidly across the screen, and my ears rang from the noise like the bells of Notre Dame.

We were surrounded by 25 to 35 year olds, all white, mostly couples, many with an infant in a car seat. I asked myself what would these people be doing if they weren't here? Maybe they grew up on McDonalds, graduated to TGI Fridays, and now expected TV with their pommes Lyonnaise.

I saw a roomful of people rhythmically moving their jaws, seeming to enjoy a meal that, to me, was utterly dreadful. The staff could not have been nicer or more sincere. Except for the Barbie dolls staffing the hostess station, there were some talented, professional people here. The bartender, an evacuee from New Orleans, was a nice man.

So why did the house wine ($6.75) taste like yacht varnish? Our waiter? He could not have been any more sincere. So why was my ribeye ($22.95) too gristly to cut with a knife? He knew we hated our food, and brought over the manager who comped two of our three entrées — at our protest. They wanted to make it right, they said, so we would come back again.

In fairness, the Chop House has been open for just a few weeks. We visited on a busy Saturday night. But I felt confused by the whole identity crisis — TV in the dining room with $23 entrées?

There were a few highlights. Hubby's French onion soup ($4.95) benefited from the innovative addition of asiago cheese. Though the salad was a bit too beige, the house dressing was good. The aforementioned potatoes — pommes Lyonnaise sur la menu — were limp, while my friend's Seared Corvina (white fish) ($16.95) was served over grits that had the correct texture, and even a little bit of flavor. Hubby's "Airline Chicken" ($14.95) (they gave it that cruel name, not me!) was tasteless, but the manager assured us that it is being dropped from the menu. We turned to chocolate for solace. Alas, the Brownie Sundae ($5.95) tasted like it was baked from a mix. And isn't a brownie sundae a bit pedestrian, anyway?

If I were to offer advice, I'd say unplug the televisions. Work on the acoustics. Train the Barbies to greet customers as though they actually care — or replace them with someone who actually does. And drive carefully back along I-71 to see what happened to the fine reputation for good food that Gerhardt and Cunha had in Louisville. Catch it, and bring it to Crestview Hills. ©

Mike & Jimmy's Chop House
Go: 2809 Dixie Hwy., Crestview Hills

Call: 859-344-0444

Hours: 4-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 4-11 p.m. Friday, noon-11 p.m. Saturday-Sunday

Prices: Expensive

Payment: Major credit cards

Red Meat Alternatives: Chicken and seafood, vegetable side dishes

Credit Cards: All major

Accessibility: Yes

Grade: D