It was our last Friday night at our house off Bardstown Rd. We would be moving the next Wednesday(aka the day before yesterday) to a place where stepping out your back door and into the front door of a bar wasn't going to be feasible. We decided to find a walkable place to dine that evening, and finish off our Highlands stay with some good 'ol fashioned bar hopping.
I was looking for a fun place to eat. I was looking for quirky and interesting food. Having just bought a house, the hubby was looking for cheap. Holy Grale looked to be a good choice. The website boasted a good beer selection and unique(and inexpensive) bar bites.
We arrived at an extremely nondescript location. It was a building like many on Bardstown, and I would not have known it was a dining/bar establishment had I not street-viewed it on Google-maps earlier that day.
Inside, the place was bustling. Every bar stool was filled. Every two top was taken. We ordered two beers from the "order here" section of the bar and although we feared we might have to start bar hopping on empty stomachs, we were able to swoop in and grab some seats. Note: there are no reservations and tables are first come first serve
The beer selection was, as I stated in the title, quite heavenly. The variety was wonderful. The prices were fair. Each beer was served in it's appropriate glass.
We perused the menu while we enjoyed our beer.
I shouldn't go any further without mentioning that there really isn't wait service "proper" here. If you want to order anything(beer, food) you have to do so at that "order here" section of the bar. So every time you want a new beer or snack you have to get up and wait in line. Then you sit down and wait for them to bring it to you. Perhaps in theory this was a good idea, but in practice all you get is a group of people standing in the middle of the restaurant waiting in "line" to order. From what I could tell, many others shared my dislike for this process.
For the food....First things first...we had to order the poutine. Nick and I have had some damn good poutine in our day. In Montreal poutine is a celebrated dish, and let me tell you, good poutine is certainly something worth celebrating. Perfectly crispy fries topped with a mound of cheese curd and bathed in brown gravy. The texture/flavor combo is amazing........if done right that is.
At Holy Grale the poutine($6) was simply not done right. The fries were disappointingly un-crispy. The "gravy" was alright, certainly not traditional, but alright, if not a bit overpowering. The thing that really killed the dish was the cheese. Shredded Mozzarella? Really Holy Grale? It made the dish feel like something that was created out of leftovers. Poutine is made with cheese curd for a reason. I mean, I typically have no problem with artistic license if it works, but taking the cheese curd out of this dish and replacing it with flavorless shredded cheese(that didn't even melt properly) did not work.
Next we tried the Fiedler Farm Beer Brat($5). It was served with sauerkraut and mustard on a pretzel bun. The brat itself was tasty. Putting it on an over-salted pretzel bun is where they went wrong. The salt just killed the dish. And this time it's not just my opinion. While waiting in line to pay I saw two other people at separate tables scraping the salt off their pretzel bun. Over-salting something sounds minor, but it can ruin a dish.
Last AND certainly least we ordered a daily special. Chorizo, beef and goat cheese meatballs($4) in a spicy sauce. In my experience you can almost never go wrong by ordering the special...almost.
The meatballs were over-seasoned to the point of almost being inedible. Nick and I went back and forth trying to figure out where it all went wrong. We came to the conclusion that they were 1.) Too greasy from the chorizo, and so, unable to stay together without crumbling 2.) Over-seasoned with clashing flavors 3.) Spicy for the sake of being spicy...basically the spice didn't add flavor, it just burned your mouth.
At this point we threw in the towel. Though we would have loved to keep eating we weren't about to do it there.
The beer was a different story.
I have to say that each and every beer we had was amazing. I even took notes on them because they were, well, literally noteworthy.
I had a Bells Lager of the Lake($5.50) and a Chateau Rogue Dirtoir black lager($6). Both were excellent...the Bells lager was light and refreshing...the black lager was my favorite...rich, nutty, almost chocolate like.
Nick had the Monks Cafe Flemish red($6.75) and the Blaugies Moneuse($6.75). Both were excellent as well...the red was sour, as many Flemish reds are, with a refreshing bite...the Blaugies was a strong Belgian ale and was packed with flavor
To me, Holy Grale looks good on paper but fails to execute. The idea of a great beer-centric bar with inventive and affordable bar snacks is a great one. But when the place is packed and the only chef is also the waiter, you're going to have some issues. When the bartenders(2 of them) are also working the "order here" station, pouring beer, delivering beer, trying to answer questions about beer, ringing up tabs, hopping on one foot, patting their heads and rubbing their bellies...you're going to have some issues.
I'd like to believe that the chef could deliver better food if he had some help. The menu looked interesting and beer friendly.
I'd also like to believe that they can iron out the front of house issues and start running like a well oiled machine. The decor was inviting and the staff was as friendly as could be expected considering they were in the weeds for what seemed like the entire night.
I'm not, however, going to return to see if either of these things can be fixed. Dining out shouldn't be exhausting. Standing in a packed line every time you want a bite to eat or a beer isn't my idea of a good time.
Louisville diners might disagree with me. I can see how the place could be charming to some. It's new and different. But for me, personally, that just doesn't cut it.