Monday, August 16, 2004

Suburban Dining: Come See What All the Fuss is About!
One of the greatest aspects of Louisville is the dynamic energy that comes from its fast-growing suburbs. All around us, gleaming cities are taking the place of once-tedious natural landscapes. And perhaps the most exciting feature of this vibrant upsurge is the plethora of innovative dining establishments that are springing up around us. If you've been stuck in the city, dining on the wearisome fare of locally owned establishments, take a break from monotony by experiencing the unique cuisine at some of these delightful suburban bistros, all of which I can enthusiastically recommend:

At first, my dining companion and I were a bit confused because O'Charley's advertisements located them "At the Corner of Good Food and Good Times," when in fact the restaurant turned out to be located at Springhust Towne Center, which we eventually found after a two-hour search. However, that turned out to be the evening's only miscue and soon we were dining on this Irish-themed restaurant's unique cuisine, including "Chicken O'Tenders" and "O'Thentic Spinach and Artichoke Dip." How Irish is that?! After our appetizer course, I chose the Classic Caesar Salad, which included both cheese and croutons. Each bite was like a dream about softly kissing an attractive-but-non-stuck-up Hollywood movie star; perhaps Salma Hayek (but not as Frida Kahlo). My companion opted for the Three Cheese Bacon Steakburger, which was featured on the restaurant's Low-Carb menu. It was fantastic, especially considering how healthy it was! Of course, what Irish dinner would be complete without beer? We washed down our inventive meal with a couple of pints of Budweiser Light, which is a refreshing beer with no aftertaste whatsoever. As if that weren't enough, the restaurant also offers an extensive seafood menu of both grilled shrimp and fried shrimp.

As soon as we took one look at the menu at Applebee's at 9201 Hurstbourne Lane, we knew we'd never seen anything like it before. The menu features quirky dishes like Chicken "Fingers," "Buffalo" Wings, and the Bacon Cheeseburger, which cleverly combines bacon, cheese and a hamburger for a unique taste sensation. When you consider that the menu also includes such diverse dishes as Chicken Alfredo and Nachos Nuevos, you realize you are on a virtual tour of world cuisine. It's almost like being at Epcot! Feeling daring, I chose the Chicken Caesar Salad but decided to put the kitchen to the test by ordering it without chicken. My dining companion ordered the Bacon Cheeseburger, which was one of the many options available on Applebee's healthy Weight Watchers menu. The kitchen deftly served my salad sans chicken but accidentally included sliced steak instead. (No matter: my dining companion graciously offered to eat the steak!) Garlic croutons more than made up for the minor slipup. Each bite of that salad was like winning the Powerball with 12 friends, but then getting to keep all the money when the others are gunned down by a disgruntled co-worker. An extensive seafood menu includes salmon. Tip: If you're a former smoker, ask for a non-smoking table near the bar. You'll get all the benefits of smoking six packs of cigarettes with none of the guilt or expense!

For a totally original dining experience, consider Rafferty's at 988 Breckenridge Lane. In addition to an ambitious array of appetizers, salads, and entrees, this pleasant eatery features a festive outdoor patio overlooking the parking lot. On a recent evening, my dining companion and I sampled Rafferty's inventive Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad and the Half Pound Backyard Burger, which comes topped with smoked bacon. Each bite of my salad was like getting released from the asylum on a crisp autumn morning that eventually gives way to a sunny afternoon warm enough to reawaken the mosquitoes. Zesty appetizers include Chicken "Fingers" and "Buffalo-Style Hot Fingers." An extensive "Fresh from the Docks" menu includes both grilled and "blackened" fish, which our server explained is a "Cajun" method of preparing food. Delicious AND exotic! We enjoyed our fine meal with an amusing, nay, droll house zinfandel, which nicely complemented my salad's seasoned croutons. Chicken Alfredo and Deep Dish Lasagna add international flair to this outstanding restaurant's menu.

Just when you think you've seen it all on the idiosyncratic suburban dining scene, along comes Cheddar's Casual Cafe, at 10403 Westport Road. Right away, you'll notice that the staff at Cheddar's is top notch. From the charming hostesses attired in a prostitution theme to the mildly retarded busboys, everyone at Cheddar's is determined to entertain and serve you. On a recent weekend evening, my dining companion and I sampled some of Cheddar's extensive menu, including the appetizer menu's Chicken Tenders (and their spicy cousins, the Cajun Tenders) and such entrees as the innovative Classic Caesar Salad and the "World Class Bacon Cheeseburger." The latter includes four slices of bacon and two slices of cheese, but if you're not watching your weight your server will be glad to bring you extra from an astonishing array of cheeses: American, Jack, or the namesake Cheddar. Each bite of my Caesar Salad was like being under the influence of a prescription drug that deadens pain and makes Shaker furniture comfortable. An extensive seafood menu features both shrimp and salmon. There's even an intercontinental touch: the smoke wafting into the dining room from the bar will make you think you're in a nightclub in Casablanca or a coffee house in Amsterdam!

Max & Erma's
Adventurous diners won't want to miss Max & Erma's on Timber Ridge Drive in Prospect. Just take one look at the charming, sports-themed wall decorations, and you know you're in for F U N fun! But the magic isn't just hanging from the walls. It's in the kitchen, too, where Max & Erma's talented chefs are working some culinary wonderment. Take for instance the Chicken "Finger" Dinner, which comes not with French fries like you might expect, but with Mashed Potatoes. How's that for original? Even better, when my dining companion asked to substitute fries for the mashed potatoes, Max & Erma's cheerfully made the substitution for a nominal fee. That's service with a smile! I ordered the Caesar Salad, which is available with either chicken or -- for an exotic taste treat -- salmon. Each bite of salad was like having a sniper shoot at your vehicle from an overpass but miss. But that's not all Max & Erma's has up its sleeve: The menu also features a Burger Stack for the health nuts in the crowd. The Burger Stack features two burgers topped with melted cheddar and Swiss cheese and crispy bacon and it packs only 5 carbs! How do they do it? After such a healthy meal, who could blame you for indulging in dessert? Don't miss Max & Erma's whimsical build-your-own sundae bar, built right into an antique bathtub. [Editor's note: The sundae bar was temporarily unavailable on our visit because a confused youngster mistook the bathtub for a real bathtub, took off his clothes and climbed in.]

Beef O'Brady's
How could a restaurant that pokes fun at the drunken Irish and the scrumptiousness of beef NOT be fun? This delightful restaurant at 239 Blankenbaker Parkway is truly unique, with its clever sports-themed wall decor and its abundance of televisions hanging from every nook and cranny. (TVs are even in the restrooms, adjacent to the toilets and above the urinals! How's that for attention to detail?) But there's more than ESPN on the menu at Beef O'Brady's. On a recent evening, my dining companion and I started off our evening with a basket of Beef O'Brady's signature Chicken "Fingers," which were perfectly deep-fried and seasoned with just a hint of Krispy Kremes and a subtle flavor that suggested the phlegm of teenagers. For our main course, I decided to go with the Chicken Caesar Salad, which is available with grilled, fried, or "buffalo" chicken. (I ordered mine without chicken, which our charming server reluctantly allowed, but not without a friendly rolling of her eyes.) My companion's Bacon O'Brady Burger was seasoned with shavings from the freeze-dried soul of Barry Williams, the actor who played Greg Brady on the 70s sitcom "The Brady Bunch." According to my dining companion, each bite was like Christmas-morning cunnilingus. As a toast to the inebriation of the Irish, we washed it all down with Killian's Red, a dapper brew with a third-world finish.

Ruby Tuesday
When you're in the mood for something completely outrageous, try Ruby Tuesday at 11701 Bluegrass Pkwy. From the wacky signs on the walls to the versatile menu, you'll know you're in for a change of pace. My dining companion and I certainly ate something out of the ordinary when we bit into Ruby Tuesday's "Chicken Tenders." Succulent tenders of chicken were deep fried in a batter reminiscent of the Three Stooges episode in which Moe ran Shemp's hair through a meat grinder. For our entrees, my dining companion ordered the Bacon Cheeseburger, which sensuously melted in her mouth, ran down her chin, and dripped onto her fries, which were as fluffy on the inside and crunchy on the outside as a pregnant cockroach. I went with the low-carb (no croutons!) Caesar Salad. Each bite was like finding out that the mysterious new lump inside your scrotum is just scar tissue from your vasectomy. We washed it all down with frosty mugs of an effervescent little beer called Miller Genuine Draft, which had the tang of eggshells bathed in stagnant water.

TGI Friday's
As soon as you step inside TGI Friday's at 9990 Linn Station Road you'll ask yourself, "Why did I come here?" And you'll answer yourself, "Because it's so hip!" Friday's cleverly adorns its brick walls with athletic memorabilia and its plates with a variety of exciting fare, such as Sesame Jack Chicken "Strips," Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad, and the Bacon Cheeseburger. The delightful "strips" were coated in sesame seeds (which were easily scraped off later), expertly French fried, and served with Jack Daniel's dipping sauce (which we avoided so as not to besmirch the integrity of the "strips"). For dinner, my dining companion's Bacon Cheeseburger sent her into a paroxysm of near-Anna-Nichole-Smith proportions, while my Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad was infused with the aroma and insouciance of a Paris plumber. Each bite of Romaine was like spying your ex-lover's crumpled Taurus at the end of a long traffic jam. We washed down our delectable meal with Coors Light, a haughty-yet-grouchy concoction with a fine milquetoast finish. Your date will never drive you to mind-numbing boredom at Friday's: They've conveniently placed televisions throughout the restaurant making sure that intimate conversation is strictly optional. An extensive seafood menu includes both fish and chips and shrimp and chips.

That's just a sampling of the incredible array of dining options available in Louisville's eclectic suburbs. Unfortunately, there are far too many restaurants to cover here. Clearly, there's more to Louisville's suburbs than spacious homes on large lots, dazzling discount department stores, and immense churches. So come out to the suburbs and find out what all the fuss is about!

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