A Grand Pairing, Part One.
By guest columnist Shane Campbell
Shane is an Indiana native (from Pekin) who returned to the area a few years back after a career in the Air Force. We came to each other’s attention via the Louisville Restaurants Forum, and I’m happy to provide a venue for Shane's account of the Louis Le Français beer dinner on Thursday, March 1. Part Two will appear tomorrow.
The flyer said:
Door opens at 5:00 PM … Dinner at 7:00 PM
What does that mean, I wondered?
Will there be a two-hour social period where we will drink and talk excitedly about what we are about to experience? Never having been to Louis Le Francais or any other French restaurant for that matter, I was unsure of what to expect. My only certainty was that I would be going alone. Try as I might, I had been unable to find anyone willing to accompany me on this food and beer adventure.
I wouldn't be sitting alone though. When I'd called the day before the dinner (half hoping they would be booked) I admitted that I would be by myself. The woman asked if I would mind being seated with someone else who had also made a single reservation. Of course - I would save the poor wretch (me) from the ignominy of eating alone. Be glad to do it!
At six I drove slowly past the restaurant, my wife in the passenger seat. Sure enough, the door was open but I could not see inside from the road. “Do you want to pull up and just wait in the car?” Donna asked. Donna had half heartedly offered to go with me to the dinner. Donna doesn't like beer or unfamiliar foods of any kind. I declined. She would pick me up later, though.
As I turned left from Market onto Bank, I peered far down the street trying to spot that red circle emblem painted on the side of my favorite brew pub. I had to go another block and cross over Spring Street before I saw the familiar facade of the Bank Street Brewhouse with its sidewalk seating area in front. Inside the main dining area of the BSB, I find a comfortable mix of muted orange and green walls, gray concrete, and sturdy wood furniture. The ceilings are higher than you'd think and the mechanicals are exposed. I like this neo-industrial meets post-modern speakeasy.
No sooner had I walked up to the bar and asked the bartender for a pint of bitter when I see a tallish fellow with a clean scalp, dressed in a sport coat, marching purposefully past the garage doors and enter the pub. He too walked straight up to the bar. The bartender recognized him and asked if he was eating tonight: “No I'm going to the beer thing down the street.”
Ah, my date.
My dinner companion was Steve. We introduce ourselves and establish our particulars. Steve said he was an economics professor at U of L. I said that I had driven past U of L many times to restaurants, working to bolster the economy. Steve revealed that he had recently traveled to Belgium to attend an international econ conference and while there visited several abbeys famous for brewing beer to research the paper he was writing on the economics of beer production.
I countered that I had seen the movie “In Brugge” multiple times and correctly identified that Brugge is, in fact, in Belgium. Steve's wife, also an economics professor, could not attend the evening’s festivities, as she too was researching a paper. My wife also could not attend as she had that “thing” that she had to do. It was apparent Steve and I had much in common; down right eerie really!
A short time later as we strolled companionably down the sidewalk towards a date at the Frenchman's our commonalities continued to manifest. We both liked to drink beer. What are the odds? Comrades with a purpose, we passed over the threshold into the Frenchman's and took it all in. Painted in soft pastels and much larger than I first thought, the Frenchman's restaurant seemed just right. It had old hardwood floors polished so much the grain appeared worn and soft. Along the wall on the left side was a long bar, and sitting in the middle surrounded by a crowd was Roger and his vivacious, red headed wife, Diana. They greeted us with verve and I sort of wished I had come straight in. Then I reminded myself that I might never have discovered my new twin's similarities had our company been diluted by this boisterous crowd. I gave Steve a wink and saw by the strange look on his face that he too was thinking the same. Hell, we'd probably be finishing each other’s sentences by the time the evening was over. The group made room for us and said we still had time for a glass of wine.
We had a glass of red or white wine - I think. I really can't remember which. I was disconcerted by the appearance of our bartender. I tried not to stare at this movie extra from central casting with his hair, mustache, and beard, carefully coiffured in contrasting black with gray streaks. His formal mien radiated dapper and diabolical, simultaneously. Medium tall he wore his dark suit with impeccable grace, yet imposing in an Eastern European mafia sort of way. French? I doubt it. Those dark stormy brows over raptor's beak said Andre or Dimitri or maybe even Vlad to me. When he asked me for my drink order, I stammered “Whatever Steve is having,” while pointing to my companion. Yes, I had white or red wine, I'm sure of it! It was time to take our seats.
At last, Steve and I moved away from the bar to our four top wedged into a small alcove just to the left of the front door. The restaurant, split nearly in two by a wall down the middle was three quarters full. We were on the bar side and there was a long table set up for eight directly behind us. This table was now occupied by a single couple only and I wondered if there would be some no-shows. Later I would wish there had been. Then, Roger Baylor stood up near the back of the restaurant by the kitchen and began to tell us about his involvement and the beer we would be sampling.
I had heard Roger speak before and now, as then, he spoke confidently, without notes in a smoothly timbered orator's voice that plainly hid an edge of steel. Roger told us that the beer we would be drinking would be French or otherwise inspired by beers from the French Alsace region. While France is nearly synonymous with wine, this region on the Rhine is bordered by Germany and is known for beers informed by both German and Belgium influences. The French beer was being sourced from Starlight Distribution, owned by Tim and Stacy Eads. Tim was also on hand and spoke briefly after Roger. He later provided information at table-side as he came around and poured some of the beers himself. Two of the beers came from the nearby NABC brewery and were of the style. As Roger and Tim finished their opening comments a vision came to me at my table and I took no further notice.
“Would you like bread?” she asked. Her halting English made heartbreakingly beautiful by her accent and musical tone. Such a creature with her pure sweet voice, either angel or siren, could inspire strong men to do terrible things, defy fearsome gods, and abandon all reason without question or regret. In the presence of such feminine perfection, men such as I, melt in abject hopelessness and wish we were better men. Yes please! I would gladly eat bread and only bread if it meant I could linger in the gentle warmth of her presence all evening.
Both she and the Slav bartender provided service at our table several times throughout the evening. There may be blank spots in my recollection which no doubt coincide with her visits. I'm sure my own responses to her gentle queries were given in no less broken English than hers, yet she only smiled sweetly each time. It never occurred to me to ask her name but the dulcet tones of her voice conveyed rhythm to the evening, which I now recall more as a feeling than memory. Merci.