This article appears in the March 2011 issue of LouisvilleMagazine. To subscribe, please visit loumag.com.
Reviewers, like cockroaches, often prefer quiet, secluded spots in restaurants: a booth in back, a corner table — a place where we can sniff, prod and pick our food apart while, we hope, remaining unnoticed by staff and other diners. That said, while I’m not sure the servers at Mozz knew I was a reviewer, I am sure of one thing: I wasn’t unnoticed. No one is.
This restaurant presents itself as many things — a fine-dining establishment, a jazz venue, the Market Street Bar and the Mozz Bar — all of it sprawled across much of the first floor of the Cobalt Building on the corner of Market and Jackson streets. On my two recent visits, both the Mozz Bar and the dining areas were abuzz with conversations and the clatter of tableware, with a jazz band adding to the overall decibel level. Chef and co-proprietor Mathew Antonovich calls it “culinary theater,” adding that “the audience is part of the play, interacting with chefs, servers and each other.”
At the Mozz Bar, the presiding chef presented my cheese trio ($15) while my energetic server dodged a seemingly constant stream of other staff to retrieve a small plate of charcuterie ($9). I enjoyed comparing paper-thin sliced Benton’s country ham to prosciutto di Parma; it’s an easy way to see the similarities between the two meats. I also enjoyed the trio of bufala, burrata and fior di latte mozzarella, although I wished the condiments that came with the cheeses (I chose marinated mushrooms, caponata and olives) had been served separately so I could have better compared the three varieties of this simple, mild cheese.
The “flower of milk” mozzarella is made in-house from JD’s Country Milk, out of Logan County. I savored a single serving ($12) at my initial meal, finding it firm, mild and milky. The menus at Mozz make a big shout-out to local farmers and produce — but chef Antonovich admitted when I called him after my meals there that in an Italian restaurant, not everything can be “Kentucky Proud.” He said, “We have to import cheese; we have to import other products. We have to use flour from Naples and San Marzano tomatoes to get the right flavor.” He added that charcuterie plans for the summer include cured meats from Marksbury Farm in Lancaster, Ky., and that he’s “continuing to seek and build relations with local farmers.”
The menu changes seasonally, so by the time you read this at least some offerings may be different — along with, I hope, the way your Spaghetti alla Chitarra ($14) will be prepared, should it be available and should you choose it. While I like my pasta al dente, I don’t really want it crunchy in the center, which my thick, house-made noodles certainly were. And while Antonovich proudly told me the meatballs were based on an 80-year-old family recipe and finished in the restaurant’s wood-burning oven, I felt my portion was mushy and bland, with melted mozzarella cheese adding a gloppy bit of excess amid a too-sweet sauce.
I thought the wood oven added a much better touch to the artichoke Parmesan appetizer ($8). Its leaves were poached until soft, then topped with cheese before being toasted into a smoky-sweet and crunchy treat. I also liked my “Tagliata” hanger steak with duck-fat fries ($18). The thin-sliced steak, rubbed with smoked salt and black pepper, was crusty on the outside, while the meat remained tasty and tender — a tough thing to pull off with this particular cut. A butterflied Marksbury Farm chicken ($18) was deliciously marinated and roasted under a hot brick until crusty — but the savory bird suffered by being served on top of some unevenly roasted vegetables, including some red beets that bled unappetizingly into the meat.
I liked the prosciutto di Parma on my Mozz Bar pizza ($17), but the dough seemed a bit underdone and the cheese, fig jam and eggs on top were too cool for my taste. That night the restaurant was fully packed and had only been open a few months, so it may very well be something the chefs may have missed from oven to table. They certainly have lots to do. As Antonovich said, “We make every bread, every dessert in house — each chef has a part in everything we do, from pasta through dessert.”
That multi-tasking may explain why a couple of my desserts, tiramisu ($5) and a Meyer lemon tart ($5), were less than stellar — the tiramisu too boozy and the tart’s crust too soggy. But a local-milk vanilla panna cotta ($7) was very nice. The trembling custard was firm enough to survive a trip home and it was filled with sweet, milky goodness.
While the culinary theater that is Mozz seems to have burst onto the Louisville dining scene in a loud, flashy and quite popular manner, I hope that the kitchen can continue to get its act together — lest its more elaborate creations be upstaged by fresh mozzarella and panna cotta, simple foods that to me are the current show-stealers.
If You Go . . .
Mozz Mozzarella Bar & Enoteca, 445 E. Market St., 690-6699. Open for dinner Sunday through Thursday, 5 p.m.-10 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, 5 p.m.-11 p.m