When I heard that Marriott was opening a luxury hotel in Jeffersontown, Ky. – a bourbon-themed hotel, no less, with a destination restaurant and bar – I must say I was skeptical. True, Marriott was spending $22 million to renovate the former Park Inn. But the location of the property – on the edge of an industrial park in the middle of Hurstbourne Parkway Suburban Chain Wonderland – did not seem promising.
From the outside, it still doesn’t. To get to the Marriott Louisville East, you take Bluegrass Parkway and turn into what looks like the CarMax parking lot. But do keep going, and keep the faith past the hotel’s unremarkable exterior, because what is inside is pretty special, from décor to dessert.
With a nod to the natural elements that go into making bourbon, hotel decorators used lots of wood and limestone, warmed with rich, deep colors and punctuated with clever nods to specific bourbon brands, such as the sculptural red roses that adorn one wall near the conference rooms.
The dramatic lobby opens up to the plush seating and bourbon-centric bar of the Charr’d Bourbon Kitchen & Lounge. Food and beverage director Kris Thomas, below, who grew up near Distillery Row in Shively and who opened BLU at the downtown Marriott, had a very specific goal for the bar. “We had 50 bourbons at BLU,” he said; since the minimum bottling proof for bourbon is 80 proof, “we decided that we will carry at least 80 bourbons at all times” at Charr’d. There were 85 when I visited.
The name Charr’d plays both on the char inside bourbon barrels and on the finish of a great steak. “I hope people don’t think ‘burned food,’” Kris said with a laugh, “but I think they’ll get it.”
Executive Chef Ryan Montgomery formerly worked at Masa’s in San Francisco and most recently at Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse at Belterra Casino.
Many of the dishes on the menu incorporate bourbon, and the meats are smoked in a smoker made with wood from used bourbon barrels. The menu is divided by dates connected to Prohibition: appetizers are listed under “before 1920,” salads are listed under “Prohibition” (“because it’s what you should do, but it’s not that much fun,” Kris said) and entrees are “after 1933.” Side dishes are called “side cars.”
While many of the restaurant’s customers will be travelers, Kris intends for Charr’d to become a standalone restaurant that will draw local bourbon lovers as well. “We want to be a destination restaurant,” he said, citing two other suburban examples on the Urban Bourbon Trail: Limestone Restaurant and Bourbons Bistro.
Charr’d is planning a grand opening in September. I was invited to sample the menu during the current soft opening (note that the menu was still evolving, so some choices may differ). My Maker’s 46 Manhattan was expertly mixed. At Kris’ suggestion, I followed it with a blackberry Manhattan that incorporated Red Stag that was also quite tasty (pictured at top).
The food was uniformly good. We started with the Barrel Wings, which are smoked over the bourbon-barrel wood and then fried. The sweet bourbon barbecue sauce was the perfect balance between sweet and spicy; it also enhanced an entree portion of the Maker’s Mark Bourbon ribs to smoky, savory effect. The cheddar biscuits in the bread basket were accompanied by a pat of sweet bourbon butter.
My pork chop was thick and juicy, but the real revelation was the shredded cooked cabbage on the side. I don’t even particularly like cabbage, but I ate every single bite. Dessert was cheesecake atop with bourbon-soaked berries, below.
Now that I’ve visited, I think Charr’d’s location could very well work in its favor, giving bourbon lovers a full-service option that isn’t downtown. “There is nothing like this out this way,” says bartender Len Hayes. “We want to appeal to people who wouldn’t normally go to a hotel lobby bar.”
Charr’d is at 1903 Embassy Square Blvd. and is open seven days a week for breakfast, lunch and dinner. For more information, click here.