Nancy Miller / courier-journal.com

Ninth Street has been the red line restaurateurs and diners were loath to cross.

(Photo: Sam Upshaw Jr.; the C-J)
(Photo: Sam Upshaw Jr.; the C-J)

It’s a street that literally and figuratively divided Louisville. Never mind that it’s within crawling distance of Museum Row (Frazier History Museum, Louisville Slugger Museum, Kentucky Science Center, Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft), restaurants and 21c Museum Hotel.

What matters is that it is the edge of Portland, a faraway land of … well, who knew? What was actually there or not there is beside the point. The impression was that whatever it was should be avoided.

Portland has its own history, and an interesting one at that. The area has declined but is on an upswing.

What’s on the other side of 9th Street is a kind of new frontier. (Residents and business owners in Portland have been trying for years to convince people of its potential for revitalization but no one would listen, let alone check it out.)

South 10th Street between Market and Main streets now has become a hot block of food, beer and wine. What’s happening there didn’t simply spring up. It’s a concerted effort of a few enterprising individuals who can taste the  potential that lies beyond 9th Street.

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Griffin Paulin is a smart, experienced chef. He could have opened his new restaurant, Over the 9, in an area already teeming with restaurants. It would have been much less of a risk in a business that’s riddled with risks.

 

Instead, he set his sights on 120 S. 10th Street, next to Falls City Brewing Companyand Old 502 Winery.

The bar/dining room is a large space with exposed ductwork, old wood beams and brick walls. An interior window overlooks the Falls City Brewing Company bottling operation. There was no bottling going on while we had dinner, but it would be fun to watch.

Sharp chef that he is, Paulin started out with a manageable pub grub (Paulin’s words, not mine) menu of small plates, burgers, sandwiches and a few sides. If you start with the lamb nachos ($10), you may want to spend the night begging for more. Chimichurri, smoked mustard, beer cheese and pico de gallo add wicked wallops of flavor to the juicy lamb.

Lamb fat aioli for dipping was the clincher for me when I spotted the meatball platter ($10) on the menu. Even now, a couple of weeks later, just thinking about the plate of meatballs (bison, chorizo, lamb and Angus) makes me weak in the knees.

Paulin proved himself a master of meatballs, so why wouldn’t I trust him to do the same with mashed potato balls ($8)? Go, go, go to Over the 9 for the mashed potato balls before the fat patrol (well-intentioned but such downers) forms a picket line in front of the place. Mashed potatoes are mixed with bacon and cheddar cheese before they’re deep-fried. If you go that far, be greedy and spoon up every bit of gravy that’s on top.

The Scotch egg ($12) is better than finding money inside a plastic egg during an Easter egg hunt. Chorizo and bison encase a duck egg that’s dipped and fried, then served with scallion aioli and ligonberry jelly. It’s a sweet and
savory way to eat an egg.samupshawjr2

Any of the burgers — Angus, chorizo, tuna, bison or lamb — may be ordered with only lettuce, tomato, pickled onion and mayo ($6 to $9), but that would be a wasted trip to Over the 9 as long as the different burgers are enhanced with teriyaki glaze, fig jam, Anaheim chili aioli and chimichurri. The chorizo burger ($10) was topped with avocado purée, salsa verde and a sunnyside egg, all tasty enough to rival the burger itself, which was grilled exactly as ordered, medium rare.

Sandwich offerings include the grimanti (pastrami with coleslaw and Swiss cheese, $9), Porchetta (pork belly and provolone, $10) and bison meatball with marinara ($9).

Paulin and Sous Chef Scott Hoppel will debut an expanded menu in a couple of weeks. In the queue are dishes such as beef cheek wontons, kielbasa, pork sliders, duck nachos, goat tongue and goat cheese ravioli, shepherd’s pie, Cornish hen with risotto and a New York strip. Several of the current dishes will carry over to the new menu.

For the past few weeks the chefs have been testing themselves and teasing us with their talent. I’m primed for whatever comes next.

You can email freelance restaurant critic Nancy Miller at millermadison@aol.com. Follow @WhatNancyThinks on Twitter.