It’s easy to forget that Ditto’s Grill was founded by two of Louisville’s pre-eminent chefs. The place pulses to a whimsical beat.
A sculpted mermaid seems to emerge from one of the exposed brick walls; folk art by Louisville master Marvin Finn is scattered about; seating is a casual mix of banquettes, booths, tables and bar stools; beer signs glimmer here and there; between the open ceiling trusses and the readily visible televisions, it can be tough to tell whether you’ve wandered into a post-modern bistro or a sports bar.
If you’re distracted by a brisk conversation, you might not even notice the professionalism of the servers or the sophisticated flavors on your plate.
My advice: Pay attention.
The Ditto’s menu is conventional enough. It sports a hot roast beef sandwich with smashed potatoes ($7.29); a loaded baked potato with a house salad ($8.99); an assortment of dips, wings and soups and salads; pizzas ($7.99 and up); and a variety of sandwiches, entrees that run into the midteens.
But there’s nothing conventional about the execution of these dishes.
Chef-owners Dominic Serratore and Frank Yang see to that. Both are graduates of prestigious culinary programs (the Culinary Institute of America and Johnson & Wales, respectively), and both started their Louisville careers a quarter-century ago as part of the legendary Grisanti-family restaurants, Casa Grisanti and Sixth Avenue.
And though the focus at Ditto’s is affordable family-style dining, this is family-style dining at its best.
It may not be imaginative in conception, but it’s efficient, inexpensive and meticulously prepared.
But the highlight of the Ditto’s menu — and a strong incentive to return regularly — is the list of monthly specials — dishes where chef Serratore expresses his seasonal whims.
This month, two of those dishes are delightful. The Christmas Eve seafood dinner ($15.99, including a salad) evokes Serratore’s Italian heritage.
The foundation is a red-gold broth that looks like the soupy equivalent of a Christmas ornament; it tastes of saffron and tomatoes and contains just enough grains of white rice to add some heft and texture. Floating in that broth are tender chunks of bass, creamy scallops and a few cooked shrimp — as crisp and tender as a shrimp can be.
Then comes the crowning glory: a pair of dense, crunchy croutons cloaked in a pink remoulade so spicy-hot that it will interrupt any conversation. As soon as I tasted it, I said to my wife, Mary, “You have to try this. Right. Now.” It turns out Serratore uses some sort of Chinese hot pepper sauce in that remoulade — and the result is a blaze of tasty glory.
If you’re weary of stiff, dried-up crème brûlée, the Ditto’s version ($4.79/$3.29), a cool, loose custard with the requisite torched top, will come as sweet relief.
And if you hanker for an intense fix of berries, the strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and cherries in this month’s pie special — always homemade by the chef himself — Merry Merry Berry Pie ($4.79) — will pucker your tongue.