Warning: This is long. And you could walk away hungry.
Every now and then, you come across a meal that is so good, you know that if you were to walk outside the restaurant and get hit by a bus, you could die happy. Yesterday, I had such a meal.
I was in Louisville to meet up with my long-time good friend, Jessica Bratcher. We were without our husbands and I decided to introduce her to the magic creations of taste that are the meals at Sari Sari, a Filipino restaurant, on Frankfort Avenue.
Derek and I have eaten at Sari Sari several times and the food is always great, the service fantastic and we often leave wondering how on earth we got away with such great food for such reasonable prices.
Don't bother asking me what's good, my response is the same: EVERYTHING! The menu itself offers up some exquisitely tasty food (from Pork Adobo, my husband's favorite, to the Butterfish Inoong-Onan, my favorite). But each day, Sari Sari also has dinner specials that will, I promise you, knock your socks off, they're so damned good.
Last night's specials:
1) Combo Plate: Grilled Chicken Fajita, Shrimp Chipotle Adobo Taco, Sweet Corn and Cheese Quesadilla with Rice, Beans and Lemongrass Mung Bean Soup.
2) Ginger Seafood Sitr-Fry: Shrimp, fish, calamari and scallop with Rice, Beans and Spicy Chicken Soup.
3) Lemon Fried Fish Filet of Sole with Vegetable Fried Rice and Beansprout Coconut Spinach Soup.
Lourdes - the food magician in a very tiny kitchen - also routinely offers different takes on her Pinatubo Pancake, and last night it was the Pancake with Shrimp. There are no flour, sugar and milk involved here. This is a specialty of Lourdes' involving bean sprouts, walnuts and eggs, among other things. We ordered one before we even sat down.
Are you drooling yet? You should be!
The Combo Plate was my pick for the night, betraying my normal order of the Butterfish. Jess opted for the pork adobo. We both had the ginger lemonade (a must have - not to sweet, not too sour, and the perfect palate cleanser).
Jess was enamored as soon as she took a bite of the pancake (which came with homemade lime soy sauce), declaring it a meal in and of itself (she's right). Then came my soup, followed quickly by my plate.
When the waiter, Tony, brought out my plate (pictured above), I declared myself the winner of the night. Jess' pork adobo looked almost whimpy in comparison, but don't let appearances decieve you - her dish was great. It was tough to know just where to start on my own plate... so I started in the 12 o'clock position with the sweet corn and cheese quesadilla.
I savored that first bite - the corn was fresh, sweet, delicate. The tortilla surrounding it was crisp and light. Surely, the rest of the plate couldn't be as good as that first bite of quesadilla. Jess took a bite. "WOW!" was all she could say.
I was wrong, by the way. I moved next to the Shrimp Chipotle Adobo Taco (on soft corn tortilla). Nope, nope, THIS was the best bite on the whole plate. I offered some of the filling to Jess, who at this point had swiped a piece of the quesadilla ("I can reheat this at home,"she said, gesturing to her pork. "But THIS," waving the piece of quesadilla, "I can't reheat this one."). "WOW!" The taco was gone in short order, and I dipped it alternately in the chipotle sauce and salsa cups that accompanied the meal. While they added to the flavor, the taco was just fine on its own without any additional sauce. Now it was time to tackle the fajita.
Rolled almost like a burrito, I thought surely this can't be as good as the taco. I took a bite. I was wrong again. In fact, I damn near fell out of the chair onto the floor in a full blown food-gasm. I was officially having a love affair with my food, and I didn't care who knew it. This thing was out of this world good. While I reveled, Jess stole a piece of the chicken, and entered a similar state of semi-conciousness. "WOW!"
Though both of us were rapidly approaching the "stuffed" stage (we sped right by pleasantly full), we ordered desert. The pineapple flan sounded particularly interesting - we overheard Tony describe it to a family seated by the window: "It's got pineapple on top, but bits of pineapple in the flan itself, too." SOLD!
For the first time in a very long time, I talked to my food. Tony brought out the flan, and I had to force myself to put the fajita down. "I'm sorry," I told the fajita, "But I have GOT to stop eating you now. There's flan!" Even Tony joked about me not wanting to give up the fajita for the flan, as I hugged my plate closer to me to make room for the desert.
The desert was fantastic and not quite the kind of flan you're used to. It wasn't the smooth single cup stuff they bring you at Mexican restaurants. It was baked in a rectangular pan, and was solid, with, as promised, bits of pineapple laced throughout. We lost ourselves in the flan's custardy goodness, and Tony brought the carryout boxes. There would be no trip home for the flan - we devoured it.
As I transferred what remained of my dinner (enough for another dinner, I should say), I apologized to my soup. "I'm sorry, I didn't get a chance to eat you. There were quesadillas!" I offered joint custody of the remains of the pancake to Jess, who politely declined and granted me full custody.
Rarely does a meal make me want to run back to the kitchen and hug the genius who created it. Last night was such a night. Each time Tony came by to ask us how the food was, we gushed. Finally, I told him it was the best meal I'd had there, though the food is always good. A couple came in, having spotted the tiny restaurant from the street (there might be four or five table tops inside, making it quite crowded when the place is full, plus a couple of tables outside).
I praised the joys of the Combo Plate to them, saying that as a regular, I considered it the best meal I'd ever had. Jess told them she was a first time and that everything she tasted so far was amazing. They stuck around, and had their dinner on one of the outside tables.
We packaged up our carry-out, marveled at how we got such great food (and so much of it!) at such reasonable prices. As we strolled down Frankfort Avenue back to my truck, I contemplated taking a nap on the train tracks. I could die on the spot, and I'd be happy, with the best food I've ever eaten in my stomach. Though I ate entirely too much food, I didn't care. I'd happily gorge myself on that feast again. We're coming up on 18 hours after the experience, and aside from finishing off the chicken fajita somewhere around 11 p.m. (it was almost as good cold as it was hot), I'm still not hungry.
Though I've prattled on here for quite awhile, words simply cannot do this meal, or the restaurant, justice. Sari Sari has, I think, the best food in Louisville, period. It's simple, it's fresh, it's wholesome. Lourdes works with spices the way a painter works with shading. The flavors she creates are incredible.
Please go. The hours are somewhat limited, and when you go, go hungry (and in comfortable, expandable clothing!) and take your time to savor every bite. Be prepared to leave with leftovers. If it's particularly busy, it might take awhile to get your food. Be patient, it's well worth the wait. It's also worth whatever drive you have to make to get there.
This, my friends, is soul food.
Sari Sari is located at 2339 Frankfort Avenue in Louisville.