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    Eat & Swig

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    I could wax on and on about Fernando Martinez’s Ole Restaurant Group and the myriad of top-notch restaurants they’ve opened in Louisville: but I’ve already done that. So let’s get down to the meat of the matter: the newest Martinez restaurant, Mercato Italiano Trattoria and Market opens to the public tonight (February 1), at 5 p.m. at 10640 Meeting St. in Norton Commons. Here’s what you should order:

    Start your night with a cocktail: Mercato has a spacious bar area sure to attract an after-work crowd. The Ducati ($9) with vodka, Arancitata Rossa, grilled calabresa syrup and honey is a spicy concotions, sure to wake up your taste buds. The Old Fashioned ($10) at Mercato is top-notch, and since a good Old Fashioned is really the backbone of any great Louisville bar program, Mercato’s putting the best flavor foot forward.

    While you’re ordering drinks, just go ahead and also order a cheese and charcuterie plate. Get the chef’s choice formaggio e salumi ($22) and try not to devour the whole thing—save room for the next course(s). Keep in mind that the portion sizes at Mercato are positively monstrous and pace yourself accordingly. 

    Mercato is in some ways offspring of Cena Italian Trattoria, Martinez’s Italian restaurant in the basement of Mussel & Burger Bar in Jeffersontown, which closed in November 2015. Martinez felt that Cena (and The Place Downstairs, which preceded it in the basement) never quite caught on because of its location, and that Norton Commons would undoubtedly be a better setting for an upscale Italian restaurant.

    Formaggio di capra ($9, fried balls of goat cheese with basil pesto, truffle honey and pine nuts) is a carry-over dish from the Cena menu and one well worth sampling. Imagine the best mozzarella sticks you ever had. Now imagine a beautifully nuanced and high-quality culinary version of those mozzarella sticks. That's a good idea about how delicious these fried goat cheese balls really are.

    Fried pickled vegetables? It totally works at Mercato, so make sure you order the di verdures ($7) with lemon aioli: the sour tang, the light crust and the zing of lemon aioli all complement the earthy vegetable roots of the dish.

    There’s plenty of pizza and pasta on the menu: the cacio e pepe ($13) is a simple black pepper spaghetti with an unexpected nuance of flavor. But for your main course, you must, must, must try the constoletta di maiale ($29), a hefty chunk of tender pork wrapped in prosciutto and stuffed with melty Scamorza cheese. This entrée easily feed two, so plan on sharing.

    You’ll get a side dish with the constoletta: go for the cauliflower with Fontina fondue, raisins and cipollini ($6 if a la carte) or the broccoli salad ($5 if ordered a la carte) for something lighter.

    Mercato Italian Trattoria opens tonight, February 1, at 5 p.m. at 10640 Meeting St. in Norton Commons. Follow the restaurant on Facebook or check the website for updated hours and information. Mercato will open first only for dinner, but there are plans to add lunch and brunch in the future.

    Cover image: Mercato Italian Trattoria; all other images: Elizabeth Myers

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    About Elizabeth Myers

    Big fan of bacon and bourbon, deep fried anything, sweet tea and sweet nothings.

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