It sounds like I’m a total asshole braggart to say, but I’ve had some truly exceptional meals. Like, “before Instagram was a thing and we all photographed every bite,” good. I’ve had Sean Brock spoon “psychedelic” sauce over my meat and ate whatever Paul Qui put in front of me (before he, you know, destroyed his Austin goodwill). I’ve gone to food festivals galore. So, it takes a lot to impress me. But, that doesn’t mean I want pretense or bullshit foams and amuse bouches so tiny everyone pretends it’s art. No. Just give me a great meal that makes sense from start to finish.
SO. When I booked my flight to Louisville, Kentucky, I knew I wanted to eat at an Edward Lee restaurant. I adored him on Top Chef and absolutely loved his Mind of a Chef season. Plus, I’ve cooked out of his Smoke & Pickles cookbook and had just finished his cookbook/travel/memoir/short story collection Buttermilk Graffiti. Needless to say, I’m a fan. Although Lee has opened a couple of restaurants in Louisville by now—including what’s supposed to be an amazing hamburger/whiskey joint, Whiskey Dry—I decided for my one big, fancy schmancy meal in KY it was going to be at 610 Magnolia, which is named for the street address of the homey restaurant in the heart of Old Louisville (a neighborhood known for its giant Victorian homes).
There’s no menu online for 610 Magnolia, and you have to email or call to make reservations. It’s only open Wednesday through Saturday from 6 to 9 p.m. Basically, you get what Lee wants to serve you. (Obvs within reason, of course. After I emailed to request reservations, they did ask me if I had any dietary restrictions. Although I’ve recently given up eating pork, I politely said, “nah.” I mean, I was going to Kentucky—I was GOING to eat pork. Duh.)
The interiors of 610 Magnolia are super cozy. It’s a pretty small restaurant, but everyone is pretty spaced out in the open dining room. Basically, there’s a four-course or six-course option, but our waiter suggested one of us get each so that we could just split the extra two courses. During our meal, they had a pasta course on the six-course menu, so I’m SO glad we went big.
Although it says four or six courses, it’s a total sham. First of all, there was a mini BLT grilled cheese-type amuse bouche with foie and jam and maybe some other things on it? There there was a bread course with some type of butter I don’t quite remember but was SO good. And, since it was my birthday, they brought out special dessert bites, which I also don’t quite remember—we had a lot to drink in Kentucky, okay?
But, luckily I took a photo of the menu so I would remember the six courses—all of which were incredible. Honestly, there wasn’t a misstep in the whole meal, which is a total rarity. This thoughtful Southern-meets Italian-meets Asian cuisine is hard to define, but everything pairs so delicately and beautifully together. Every dish was well-balanced and almost dainty—even the heartier dishes.
Here are my highlights:
Chawanmushi, king crab, furikake in an egg shell: This was a light and airy custard with some pickled crab and just enough texture to not be mushy. Wonderful way to start off the meal.
Mushroom tart with shiitake, golden enoki, chanterelles, beech, and maitake mushrooms, and cured egg yolk: If I had to choose a favorite course, this would be it. I LOVE mushrooms, and this was like a mushroom explosion in my mouth. The tart crust was flaky, the pickled mushrooms were packed with flavor, and it was so unique.
Tortellini en brodo with collard greens, potlikker consomme, and Calico Sea Island peas: It may be the fact I hadn’t eaten pork in a while, but this pasta was SO meaty and delicious and the broth was so balanced.
Wagyu beef tongue with daikon pancake, sauerkraut kimchi, gochujang: Read that description and tell me all of that doesn’t sound incredible? This leaned more Asian than Southern, but it still complemented all the other courses. The meat was so thinly sliced that people who think they hate beef tongue wouldn’t have known otherwise.
Bourbon aficionado with drunken banana cake, butterscotch, chocolate Pappy maple syrup, corn, brown butter ice cream, and smoke: Straight up this dessert is insane. It comes smokey in a glass, and it’s basically all the components of bourbon in one incredible dessert. Every bite was delicious on its own, but mixed together it created a symphony of flavors. Who knew corn in dessert is a real thing?