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Thursday, December 31,2009

Huckleberry lives up to the hype

By Clay Fong

While Louisville’s Huckleberry serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as afternoon tea, arguably its most popular meal is weekend brunch. At least that was my impression after waiting 45 minutes for a table on a recent late Sunday morning. Friend Tertia and I used the time to catch up before being ushered to a sunny window-side two-top in a room that’s a more contemporary take on the country kitchen. Think a little less Holly Hobbie and a little more David Hockney, and you’ll get the picture.

As it should be, the menu isn’t terribly surprising, with the expected assortment of pancakes, breakfast burritos and egg dishes. Standbys like chicken-fried steak and biscuits and gravy lend a Southern feel, while lunches consist of such stalwarts as burgers, Reuben sandwiches and macaroni and cheese. Homemade baked goods, namely fruit pies and cakes, also occupy pride of place here.

We ordered a $5.25 starter of fried green tomatoes off the lunch menu, which becomes available at 11 a.m. While we puzzled over how the Huckleberry was able to find green tomatoes this time of year, we found the quality far less ambiguous. These thick, silver dollar-sized items featured a crisp and piping hot breading encasing a subtly tart and velvety tomato slice. The balanced tartness was similar to that of a well-executed vinaigrette, and the creamy qualities of the accompanying lemony tartar sauce provided a tasteful contrast.

Tertia’s main course of a $9.25 chicken pot pie, another lunch item, came sided with lightly roasted tomatoes. This preparation exceeded Marie Callender or frozen Swanson’s versions by a country mile. It consisted of tender morsels of poultry in a light but bright-tasting — free of a surplus of flour or cornstarch — gravy redolent with sage. The classic vegetable trio of onion, carrot, and celery were also present, thoroughly cooked, but retaining some firmness. Surprisingly, the whole affair didn’t come confined in a bowl, and the only vessel containing this pie was the crust itself. Despite the crust’s obvious architectural heft, it was still light and flaky with decidedly buttery notes.

Light and flaky aren’t necessarily positive qualities in potato pancakes, and I found the $8.75 latkes with chicken sausage and eggs were dense and serious.

These deliciously filling patties possessed an endearingly crisp crust and appealingly hot and fluffy interiors. Garnishes included sour cream and apple compote, which had the pleasant effect of resembling a not-too-sweet piefilling.

Speaking of pie, we couldn’t pass up $3.95 pie slices for dessert. Tertia ordered the cherry, while I went for a combination of huckleberry and peach. We restrained ourselves by bypassing the la mode option, and simply requested that our desserts be heated, which helped bring out the fruit flavor. It took a while for our pie to arrive, although it was worth the wait.

The cherry was a reminder of how proper pie should taste, with a subtle tartness amidst a backdrop of pleasingly flaky crust. The huckleberry flavor resembled that of a blueberry and tempered the peaches’ sugar in an exemplary blend of sour and honeyed sweetness. One might say that the Huckleberry is just the huckleberry, particularly for baked goods such as the fruit pies. Although wait times may be long, it lives up to its weekend brunch reputation.

Clay’s Obscurity Corner:
Huckleberries in Hollywood

Perhaps the greatest moment in 1990s B-movie history involving huckleberries took place in Tombstone, the 1993 historical Western epic. In one of the film’s climactic moments, outlaw Johnny Ringo (played by Michael Biehn, best known for his portrayal of Kyle Reese in The Terminator and as a Navy SEAL in every film with Navy SEALs) expects to meet up with Kurt “Captain Ron” Russell’s Wyatt Earp for a put-up-or-shut-up duel. Unfortunately for Ringo, Val Kilmer’s Doc Holliday (a more accomplished gunfighter than Earp) shows up in his place, announcing his presence with an ominous, “I’m your huckleberry.”

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