By Simon Isham–
Sipping a tall, ice-cold lemonade in a southern garage seems like a pastime for hillbillies, not yuppies. But Garage Bar has been serving up this experience in downtown Louisville for over a year now.
The restaurant is housed in a converted auto shop, and is decorated accordingly, with shelved tires, repurposed road signs, and an antique gas pump out front. Also of note in the realm of ornamentation is the blue-and-white mosaicked, birch-burning, Italian pizza oven. Overhead, pleasant indie tracks mingle well with the conversations of the mixed clientele: red-faced older men in suits, bespectacled youth with Helvetica tattoos and ironic moustaches and middle-aged women in scandalously low-cut dresses. Or at least, such were my fellow diners at around six o’clock on hump day.
I would be remiss in analyzing the restaurant’s cuisine without first offering this disclaimer: if you are a hardcore suburbanite who prefers Texas-sized servings, you will not be pleased with any one thing on the menu at Garage Bar—at least not if you’re looking to spend less than $15 per plate. However, if a lighter fare with local flavors appeals to you, the Garage might just be up your alley.
The idea that this might qualify as just a nosh rather than a complete feast occurred to me when the waiter set the Heirloom Tomato “Salad” ($8) down on my table. I place “salad” in quotation marks because it consists of eight (admittedly sizable) slices of red-and-gold tomato, drizzled in balsamic vinegar, topped with basil, mozzarella and “bread crumbs” (read: full-on croutons). While the tomatoes were much more flavorful than the anemic variety common at grocery stores, the salad was decidedly unsubstantial as a meal.
In the hopes of satiating my hunger, I blurted out an order of Sweet Corn Pizza ($15), which had been recommended to me as a must-try dish by a friend whom I had thought was a vegan. When the pie arrived on the table, tiny bits of bacon stared up at me. I made the decision to forgo kashrut for the sake of this review and picked up a slice, but as I did, all of the toppings slid off of the crust and onto my plate. Undeterred, I scooped them onto my fork and into my mouth. What ensued was very satisfying indeed. The cream, mozzarella and basil formed a perfect four-point blend with the sweet corn. And a note on the bacon: it was not your household variety, breakfast staple. It was tender and greaseless, rich and well seasoned. To put it simply, it was exactly the kind of bacon one would expect from a restaurant that prides itself on having a Ham Bar. If pork is your bag, the Sweet Corn pizza-pie is recommended.
In the end, between intermittent sips of my refreshing Lavender Lemonade ($4) and finishing off far too many slices of the pizza, I did leave the restaurant feeling reasonably full—that is, no midnight fridge-raiding was in order. The estaff was perky and knowledgeable, and their service was surprisingly prompt for a boutique diner. The most rewarding element of the whole evening, though, was the pervading aura of a good time from every one of the establishment’s patrons.
Photos: Caitlin Williams/The Louisville Cardinal