Remy Sisk /

There’s no question it was a risk to open Over the 9. Located in the same building as Old 502 Winery and Falls City Brewery, the restaurant sits on 10th Street between Main and Market, and, as Executive Chef Griffin Paulin puts it, the eatery is “sort of a welcome stop to Portland.”

There is certainly a stigma to the Portland neighborhood that deters Louisvillians from heading west and exploring. However, a handful of business and developers are looking to change that, and Over the 9 is one of the first onboard. “We really want to revitalize Portland as opposed to completely change Portland, which wouldn’t help anybody,” Paulin asserts.

Over the 9 is a raw yet upscale restaurant with raw wooden tables and a beautiful concrete bar. Though Paulin resists calling the place a gastropub, that is indeed what it is – and an excellent one at that. “We just want people to be comfortable here,” he contends. “We’re not fussy. There are no tablecloths; we’re not resetting your silverware; we’re not standing in the corner watching your every move. But that’s cool; there’s a place for that. It’s just not what we’re trying to do.”

The restaurant was founded with the central concept operating around the wine and beer created in the building. “They really wanted to do food that paired well with the wine and beer,” Paulin says of Over the 9’s development. “Rather than tailor the wine and beer to the food, they wanted to do it the other way.”

The menu features what Paulin describes as pub grub, but upscale pub grub that highlights either the wine or beer or both. “Every dish that comes out of the kitchen incorporates Falls City beer or Old 502 wine in some way,” he says. “Whether it’s being braised in the red wine or we’re doing a reduction, there’s one of their products in every dish.”

DSC_0376-800x530For example, they offer nachos, but they’re lamb nachos with a thick and savory beer cheese blended w
ith lamb and lamb chicharrones and topped with chimicurri and pico de gallo with fried wontons – in place of tortilla chips – piled atop a smear of smoked mustard on the side. And the beer that makes the cheese beer cheese?   None other than one of Falls City’s brews.

The nachos are absolutely incredible, as was the chef’s bison burger, which was served on a brioche bun and topped with fig jam, lamb fat aioli, white cheddar and lettuce and tomato. The jam made the burger delightfully sweet, while the aioli added a tasty rich finish.

DSC_0406-800x530The emerging signature item, however, is the Grimanti, a take on the Primanti Brothers’ sandwich of Pittsburgh. The sandwich piles housemade pastrami, Swiss cheese, lamb fat aioli, red cabbage slaw, arugula, roasted garlic, Serrano peppers and house-shaved French fries on ciabatta bread. Tangy and savory, the sandwich is deliciously imaginative, bursting with flavor from the myriad of components that each add their own unique zing.

The bar program is also top-notch. In addition to the Old 502 wines and Falls City beers, the libations are creative and enticing. The Bourbon Barrel Sangria is a local take on a classic, mixing Old 502 Bourbon Barrel Red with Copper & Kings Aged Brandy, strawberries, cherries and blueberries. Meanwhile, the Through the Roots is perfectly refreshing. It blends vodka with muddled cucumber, purple heirloom carrots, mint and a syrup made from seaweed, cucumber and cayenne.

It’s hard to imagine the menu getting much better, but that’s just what Paulin plans to do. In the next month or so, he’ll be rolling out a menu that keeps the aforementioned favorites but adds even more unusual yet delectable dishes. He looks forward to unveiling a ravioli dish with bison tongue and goat cheese, for example. He’s also been experimenting with curing meats, and if the spicy and savory capicola I was able to try is any indication, he can look forward to much success in that endeavor.

Beyond the upcoming new menu, Paulin just hopes more people will give a place west of Ninth Street a chance. He admits it’s been hard getting people through the door since the July opening but that business has consistently been improving over the past two months. “Hopefully we just continue to get busier and people keep coming in to check out what we’re doing,” he expresses. “And hopefully, we can bring the neighborhood up with us.”

Yes, Over the 9 was a risk. Is the city ready to open its mind to the more western blocks? I, for one, certainly hope so as Over the 9’s laid-back atmosphere and unbelievable food has proved it to be a risk that was worth taking. VT