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Restaurant Review

business meetings servicesThere's no place in Louisville quite like Mike Linnig's
by Marty Rosen

Consider the scallion: an elegant green sleeve shooting up from a gently swelling bulb as white and fragile as pearls. A neatly trimmed green onion looks like a vegetable taken straight from a William Carlos Williams poem, as pure in color and form as a red wheelbarrow or a few plums filched from the fridge.

And on a recent summer night, I was lucky enough to sit at a picnic table at Mike Linnig's Place crunching on an order of green onions ($1.45) while kids scampered nearby, playing on swings, and grownups lounged in shirtsleeves, sipping beer from sweating longneck bottles. Away from Mike Linnig's, the night was searing hot, but Linnig's sits under a stately canopy of old oak trees, and we were as comfortable as can be.

There's no place in Louisville quite like Mike Linnig's. For that matter, there are few places in America that can hold a candle to it. Some nights it's as noisy and festive as a summer carnival, as garish and surreal as the USO scene from "Apocalypse Now." Other nights, at twilight, when lanterns glow and stars begin to flicker, it takes on a languorous calm as mellow as sorghum molasses, as reassuringly American as a Norman Rockwell painting. It's one of those places that displaced Louisvillians remember wistfully, and one of those places that any out-of-towner has to see to believe.

More to the point, it also remains an excellent restaurant - and an excellent bargain to boot. Diners can choose to eat inside; on a rainy night, the glass-enclosed dining areas might make a good choice. But otherwise, even in the worst heat, it's better to sit outside at the whitewashed picnic tables set on concrete blocks or the wooden picnic tables. Or better yet to stake out one of the small screened-in private dining rooms scattered about like little cabanas.

And diners can walk inside, order directly from the kitchen counter and pick their food up when it's ready, or they can just have a seat, catch the attention of one of the scurrying servers and have their order delivered. We sat outside and asked a server to take care of us, which he did with speed and good cheer.

We started with a quarter pound of peel & eat shrimp ($3.65; also available in larger portions: a full pound runs $11.10). The shrimp, more than a dozen, made for an auspicious beginning. Served on a paper tray, they'd been steamed and chilled and were crisply fresh, served with lemon wedges and containers of a slightly bland cocktail sauce (next time, I'll ask for a dish of horseradish; I'm sure they have some lying around the kitchen). Other possible starters include clam chowder ($2.10), oyster stew ($4.20) and turtle soup ($2.90, $3.95).

My wife Mary ordered the reliable fish sandwich. ($4.65; $7.55 as a plate with fries and slaw) and added a combination garden salad ($1.95). Dressings come in plastic containers. Over the years, I've eaten far more than my share of fish sandwiches at Mike Linnig's, and I've never been disappointed (well, that's not strictly true; I always visit the Mike Linnig's tent during the Kentucky State Fair, and the incredible rush there sometimes leads to subpar performances). It's one of those gargantuan whitefish sandwiches enveloped in a tender, crunchy batter and seems to require accompaniment by either ketchup or a tartar sauce, which mixes equal parts mayonnaise and sweet pickles. This one was true to form, a fish sandwich classic.

Other dinner options include grilled, marinated swordfish steaks ($10.95), snow crab legs ($11.95 for a pound), frog legs ($8.45; $11.35 for a plate), a variety of fried seafoods, oysters, clams, shrimp, pan fried oysters, broiled fish, fish nuggets, scallops and the like, at prices ranging from $4.65 for an a la carte order to $11.75 with the standard slaw and fries accompaniment. For those uninterested in seafood, T-bone and strip steaks can be had ($12.25); fried and baked chicken, chicken livers, gizzards and the like run $3.85 to $8.35 in various permutations. Sandwiches include pork tenderloins, burgers and the old standby: the grilled cheese sandwich ($1.95).

On the advice of our server, I ordered a whole catfish plate ($6.70 per order; $9.60 for the plate). It was masterful. Three good-sized farm-raised catfish on the bone had been treated to a well-seasoned cornmeal batter, then fried to a brick-hard crunch that shattered blissfully under the fork. The meat was a sweet, moist foil for the peppery and salty, crunchy batter. You could travel far and wide and not find such catfish. Or you could camp out with a few old friends along a Kentucky stream and fry up a mess yourself. Or you could just take a ride out to Cane Run Road, about 10 miles south of Louisville, and let the folks at Mike Linnig's fry it up for you.

Mike Linnig's is located at 9308 Cane Run Road. Hours are Sunday and Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. - 10 p.m.; Friday through Saturday, 11 a.m. - 11 p.m.; closed Mondays. There are a variety of seating options; non-smokers should have no difficulty finding a smoke-free area. The restaurant appeared to be completely accessible. Call 937-9888 or 937-1235 for more information.

Contact the writer at toquedeville@hotmail.com

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