With the hit show Top Chef’s recent residence in Louisville and new restaurants opening at a steady clip, it would seem that the city’s goal of becoming a bonafide culinary destination is within reach. Not all restaurants are created equal, however, and few of the latest and greatest eateries set Louisville apart.
Enter bar Vetti.
An Italian concept with southern roots, bar Vetti only legitimizes our city. The talents of Executive Chef Andrew McCabe are worthy of a restaurant in an already established major culinary market. The nuanced yet approachable dishes coming out of his kitchen are all his own and add distinction and credibility to Louisville’s rising culinary star.
It does not disappoint.
Making its home at the edge of Old Louisville on the ground level of the 800 Building, bar Vetti embraces a hip tone. The decor is clean, save select impact pieces, like the hot pink neon fixture spelling out the restaurant’s moniker along a tall, marble wall. The dining space is intimate and, in addition to generous bar seating, can only accommodate a small crowd.
A handful of servers float through the crisply decorated room and it doesn’t take long to notice there is a ‘team effort’ approach to their service structure. This isn’t by accident. bar Vetti is one of the few restaurants embracing a new ‘no-tipping’ business model — the service fees are already wrapped into the price of each dish, in an effort to pay all members of their team a living wage.
Considering the quality of ingredients and mastery of their preparation, I find bar Vetti to be of great value for the money.
That said, the service during my various meals at bar Vetti has been hit or miss.
Always friendly, one dinner found us waiting an extended amount of time for plates to be cleared and water to be refreshed. A drink order was forgotten as well. Other meals went off without a hitch — the service both engaging and prompt. For a restaurant in it’s freshman year, these small inconsistencies are not unexpected nor should be viewed through too harsh a lens.
View some of the delicioius dishes bar Vetti has to offer.
But then, there's the food.
Chef McCabe strikes the tricky balance of crafting plates that are both intriguing and delicious. One has the sense they are eating the food he most enjoys, such as the crispy pork parm sandwich ($10), a daily brunch offering. The paper thin chop spans the plate with a super crisp breading making for craggly, at times chewy edges. Dollops of gently melted mozzarella and shaved Parmesan decorate the pork’s surface along with a bright red sauce. It is the pickled peppers, however, that set this classic apart, each lending punch and that extra something to each bite.
Three additional sandwiches are included on the brunch menu as well as a handful of breakfast-friendly items, a selection of crostino and five house pizzas. Like many of the dishes at bar Vetti, the spring vegetable pizza ($17) is rooted in seasonality. It boasts an eye-catching array of pea pods and their tendrils, kale, and thin slices of radish all arranged on the spot on dough and a light schmere of mascarpone. Slivers of preserved lemon are the secret ingredient on this extra fresh pie.
Pizza makes an appearance on the dinner menu as well, along with an assortment of plates both big and small. The Caesar salad ($10/$16) has garnered much praise and is the best riff on this classic I’ve ever encountered. The roasted cauliflower garnished with grapes, raisins and seaweed tonnato ($15) is another impressive compilation while the cast iron fonduta with house focaccia ($10) is simply a must-order.
Three entrees are on hand including Joyce Farms chicken saltimbocca ($27). Several components complete this particular dish, which at first struck me as too complex but managed to come together slowly. The swiss chard and summer squash play well with the country ham butter and irresistible crispy chicken skin.
In the end, it is the pasta that calls me back to bar Vetti. Be it the delicate bucatini ($20) draped in a rich blanket of braised brisket and black garlic, the dill taglierini ($20) loaded with rock shrimp, fermented chilies and boasting a subtle fish essence, or the mind-bogglingly simple yet positively addictive rigatoni cacio e pepe ($18), McCabe has mastered the art of handmade pasta to a degree I’ve yet to experience elsewhere in Louisville.
Airy, sugar dusted Ricotta bomboloni ($10) served with strawberry jam and a selection from bar Vetti’s impressive collection of amaros make for the ideal end to what I am convinced is some of the best food being crafted in Louisville at this moment.
Rating: 4 out of 4 stars
Address: 800 S. 4th St.
Telephone: (502) 883-3331
Cuisine: Italian highlighted by local ingredients
Children’s Menu: No set children’s menu but several child-friendly options are available
Alcohol: Well-curated bar including a selection of craft cocktails and a collection of amaro
Vegetarian: Several vegetarian friendly options are available
Price Range: Expensive
Credit Cards: Yes
Access: Restaurant is handicap accessible
Parking: Street parking
Hours: 5-10 p.m. Monday and Tuesday; 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5-10 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; 10 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday; Closed Sunday