The Blind Pig

First published in The New York Times on August 8, 2010. Read the original here.

At the Blind Pig, Joseph Frase, the chef and an owner, smokes his own sausage in the backyard — appropriate for a restaurant in Louisville’s Butchertown neighborhood. His menu reflects the working-class history of the area, with upscale renditions of pan-European peasant fare like spaghetti alla putanesca and shepherd’s pie. Unlike their humble ancestors, however, the dishes at the Blind Pig use simple preparations to highlight the strong, natural flavors of the ingredients.

“We pay a little more attention to the more traditional qualities of food,” Mr. Frase said, “instead of trying to do something new or inventive.”

And, indeed, “housemade” and “fresh” are two of the restaurant’s primary bywords. “The only thing in our freezer is ice cream,” our waiter told us joyfully during a recent visit, before explaining how best to sample the housemade bitters (including flavors like celery and coffee). The drinks menu highlighted classic cocktails like a French 75, but also featured a strong list of beers whose regions of origin are listed as well.

Before opening in March, Mr. Frase and Michael Grider, a co-owner, gutted the space. The floor joists found new life as tables, while the building’s original facade was rescued from the basement and the reclaimed wood was transformed into a bar. The art on the walls is by the assistant manager. This sense of place and pride — of craftsmanship and quality — is at the heart of the Blind Pig’s deceptive simplicity.

The most prominent medium for the attention-to-tradition philosophy is meat — more specifically, pork. Indeed, the (literally) strong of heart can eat an entire meal of it. Start with a smooth, dense ramekin of pork rillettes topped with a thick layer of duck fat; follow that up with a heaping portion of sausage, duck and white bean cassoulet; finish with a dessert of vanilla ice cream fritters and pecan-bacon brittle; and wash it all down with a bacon-infused Manhattan. (Is it possible to have a pork hangover?)

For the less piggishly inclined, the lamb-and-bison shepherd’s pie is well spiced and topped with a crisp layer of creamy mashed potatoes. The chicken bouillabaisse fell a little flat, its light flavor too delicate to compete with the hearty savoriness of the other dishes. But, then again, who orders chicken at a place called the Blind Pig?

The Blind Pig, 1076 East Washington Street, Louisville, Ky.; (502) 618-0600; An average meal for two, without drinks or tip, is about $60.