Nancy Miller notes the Bristol Bar & Grille on Bardstown Road has been open since September 1977, the same month as the last broadcast of the Mary Tyler Moore show ("one of the funniest and most beloved television programs ever"). The disco-era Bristol introduced Louisville "to a new wave of contemporary dining," which may be the last "new wave" Nancy Miller enjoyed since MTM departed and Tony Manero began strutting down 86th Street in Bay Ridge:
Since , the Bristol has become a local icon. It's not uncommon to hear the opinion that it's a near dinosaur that's resting much too comfortably on its iconic status. Nor is it uncommon to hear "Let's just go to the Bristol" from diners who consider it a default spot they can depend on when they're too weary to consider the myriad newer, perhaps more innovative, restaurants in town.Miller says she's dined at all six Bristol locations "over the last couple of years," but writes that "last week's dinner … proved to me why the Bristol has staying power and why I keep returning."
The Bristol's there-since-'77 green chili wontons "never fail" to be Miller's first order at the restaurant. She sneers at those who would "dismiss … the oozing Monterey Jack and green chills as pedestrian," saying "I loved them years ago and I love them now." She does not enjoy the more recently added truffle fries, which she finds "limp, oily disappointments." She also disdains the Bristol's Hot Brown Soup, describing it as basically "a cup of melted cheese with teeny, uniform chunks of turkey and ham." But she does seem to like bourbon and cognac.
"Bourbon braising" gets Miller's attention for her main course, as well as cognac:
On the menu, a bourbon braised pork shoulder nestled in place between Thai chicken stir fry and bistro chicken. Bourbon braising, that got my attention. It was an exceptional dish I hope chef Chris Ross will soon be moving from the menu's Chef's Specialties to Classics. Side dishes are too often slighted, and I have no intention of slighting the sides of mashed potatoes and collard greens. They were delicious partners to the pork. The mashed potatoes made a second appearance with the steak au poivre, but to be honest, they were merely an accessory to the entree. Steak au poivre isn't an easy dish to pull off. Too often, the cognac overpowers the beef, making the dish about the sauce, not about meat that is accentuated by the sauce. Ross demonstrates that he knows the difference.After detailing some other menu items, which "may vary among the various Bristol locations," Miller tries to portray the Bristol as some sort of normcore vanguard:
There's nothing dazzling about the Bristol's decor, and I like that. …Some restaurants are magnets for people who want to be seen by people who want to be seen. That's not the Bristol. Nor is the Bristol the place to go for a menu that's so arcanely "progressive" that you need a dictionary to decipher it. …The Bristol is a survivor because it's good in a predictable way. It's comfortable and that makes us feel comfortable.In what may possibly be a clue as to why Nancy Miller has yet to visit any of the newer restaurants in town, she ends with the thought that "the Bristol is old enough that it doesn't have to worry about being hot and trendy. That's pretty cool." Sure it is, Nancy. Sure it is.
· At 37, Bristol Bar remains savvy, successful [Courier-Journal]
· Bristol Bar & Grille [Official Site]
· All Eater Week in Reviews [-ELOU-]