I’ve lived in Kentucky over six years without ever going to Jack Fry’s even though it’s within walking distance of my house.
I think I was intimidated. By Jack Fry’s reputation, the understated store front, the lack of advertising, all bespeaking a restaurant that has such a well established clientele, it will never need new customers.
But I checked out the menu, and there seemed to be some things that vegetarians can eat.
“So we’re going to a steak house,” the crime partner said. Not a problem for him. He loves steak.
“Well, is it really, though?” I asked. “They have a vegetarian risotto.”
“Jack Fry’s is a steak house,” he pronounced. End of discussion.
I’m a little wary of steak houses at least in part because of the late great Anthony Bourdain for whom I am still wearing a black ribbon, wound tight around my heart. Best food writer of all time.
That guy could make analogies between food and sex that set my brain on fire.
Bourdain’s contempt for vegetarians was legendary, of course. He softened a little when it came to Asian cuisines, especially Indian. About Hindu vegetarian cuisine, he eventually said something like, “Well, if all vegetarian food were this good, I’d eat more of it.”
I once tried to count the number of sausage sandwiches he ate, over the course of his many different shows, but gave up.
Boudain summed up the culinary attitude of an era: If you don’t eat meat, then you must not care how your food tastes. He bragged openly about gouging people fifty dollars for a plate of last-minute, under-thought stir fry.
So all that was in the back of my mind as I passed through the doors of Jack Fry’s.
I decided we should try it for lunch, first. Toe in the water, you know.
The first thing I noticed was the almost shocking transition from bright, busy, noisy Bardstown Road to the inside of the restaurant. It was quiet, subdued but not dark, classy in the manner of a restaurant in a mid-career Robert De Niro film.
At least one entire wall is covered in framed black and white photos of people and places, some you recognize, others a mystery. Above the windows is a string of awards the restaurant has won over the decades.
Our waiter, who treated us like the most important beings in the universe throughout our meal, explained that the Irish bread is made in house, and the French bread comes from Blue Dog Bakery.
One acid test of a restaurant’s service is whether everyone who walks through the door, no matter how they are dressed, gets treated like a billionaire and a regular. We got that treatment at Jack Fry’s.
“In case it’s that kind of lunch,” our waiter said, discreetly handing us the wine list.”
Well, even if the crime partner hadn’t just been cleared of cancer that very morning, I still would have wanted to see the wine list. It is an impressive one.
We settled on a Spanish Monastrell. It paired really well with the Irish bread. And my sandwich. And dessert. Now that I think of it, a damn good wine really pairs well with everything, doesn’t it?
I ordered the vegetable club sandwich which features roasted red pepper, crispy beets, and avocado with sun-dried tomato pesto, buttermilk-dressed sprouts, and Boursin goat cheese on a warm ciabatta roll.
I took a bite. I looked over at the crime partner’s steak sandwich and did not feel even one bat squeak of envy. That’s a good sign.
The side order of Caprese salad was also carefully crafted of yellow turnip, beets, fresh chopped basil and two different kinds of tomatoes. Both the salad and sandwich have carefully combined and balanced ingredients.
We didn’t need dessert. Really, neither of us needs to eat a dessert ever again. Nevertheless, life is short and, as we were recently reminded, precarious and precious at the same time.
So I didn’t try to stop the crime partner from ordering the lemon bombe. And, though I declared that he was on his own with it, I found myself reaching for the spoon. Wow.
Vegans, I love you, but I could not, for the life of me, get an ingredients list. The lemon bombe recipe is guarded as carefully as a CIA file.
“Lemon,” our waiter informed us, when I kept pressing. I’m pretty sure it has no meat. It was too light, among other things.
So, in conclusion, Jack Fry’s may be a steak house, though I consider the jury still out on that. Our waiter confessed that his favorite thing on the menu is the flounder. Does that sound like a steak house?
Either way, and despite its impressive legacy and historic character, Jack Fry’s has kept up with the culinary times. I got a vegetarian meal that’s every bit as good as a porterhouse.