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    The layer of mozzarella on a pizza from Annie’s is so thick you might mistake it for plain cheese — the mozz conceals all toppings. Melted to perfection and ever-so-slightly charred, it cascades down the sides as you lift a slice, like the best pizza you’ve ever seen on Saturday-morning cartoons. On a Wednesday evening in late April, a steady stream of customers pours in, ordering pies and filling the small dining area, where some kids hover around the claw machine.

    Annie’s Pizza opened on Portland Avenue in the late ’80s, taking over the space that had been Brady’s Restaurant, a greasy spoon serving chili and cheeseburgers. “I can’t specifically tell you why (my parents) chose that area,” says current owner Wayne Mayberry, whose mom and dad started Annie’s in Portland, the west Louisville neighborhood with the Ohio River as its northern border. “I think they saw a need down there and saw an opportunity and snatched it.”


    Annie’s Pizza has been a staple on Portland Avenue since the late ’80s.

    Those 30 years have given Annie’s some well-earned battle scars. The red vinyl on the awning over the door is a sun-faded pink. The linoleum squares on the floor are mismatched and chipped. Mayberry is in the process of renovating the space, hopeful the pizzeria can continue to serve the neighborhood for more decades to come. “We’ve been there long enough now that we’ve had kids grow up on Annie’s pizza. Now they’re adults,” he says. “I think that in itself is an accomplishment for a neighborhood pizzeria.”

    Just five years ago, Annie’s was one of four food options in the Portland area — the other three being Subway, McDonald’s and Dairy Queen. But that’s changing. The growth started in 2014: McQuixote Books & Coffee opened in part of the former Tim Faulkner Gallery, serving sandwiches named after books (e.g., the Painted Bird, with turkey, apple butter, rosemary olive oil and Cheddar). When the Table opened in November 2015 with a “pay what you can” or “work for your plate” business model, it garnered a heaping helping of news coverage and positive reviews. Using in-season local ingredients, the menu includes a sandwich of tangy pulled ham and stringy mozzarella, and a salad with strawberries, chia seeds and asparagus.

    The initial excitement about and continued success of the Table (try eating there without a wait) paved the way for the Portland food scene of the past couple years. Cup of Joy, a coffee shop with red velvet cupcakes and savory, flaky puff pastries, opened in summer 2016. (This April, a large construction sign announced a wedding reception at Cup of Joy, inviting anyone in the neighborhood to attend, dinner provided.) Farm to Fork and Porkland BBQ opened in 2018. Mamas Kitchen is now open and serving carryout soul food: overfilled plates of golden fried chicken, squares of dense pound cake and tangy greens. Galan’s Meat Market is like a miniature grocery store, selling canned vegetables, and fresh and non-standard cuts of meat like whole pig’s feet, plus deli sandwiches.


    Farm to Fork's Power Salad.

    And it’s not just restaurants changing the face of the Portland food-beverage scene. Heine Brothers’ has moved its headquarters to the neighborhood. Against the Grain opened its main bottling and canning facility in a nondescript warehouse on Northwestern Parkway in the neighborhood. Co-owner Adam Watson says he hopes Against the Grain eventually puts in a taproom. “Every time we get enough money to do that,” he says, “it seems more sensible to just put in another tank to make more beer.” The small local coffee chain Please & Thank You has its bake house on Duncan Street, churning out those sinful chocolate-chip cookies and other treats. Sustainability nonprofit Louisville Grows has its Healthy House on Portland Avenue, offering cooking classes in the commercial kitchen. Gelato Gilberto, whose store is in Norton Commons, produces its Italian ice cream in the same former firehouse on Portland Avenue as Farm to Fork. Heine Brothers’ co-founder and president Mike Mays says the local coffee chain’s Clifton roastery was “busting at the seams” before it moved to Portland in 2016.

    “The easiest thing would have been to call a realtor, find a place out by the airport at the lowest possible price per square foot,” he says. “That felt like the most soulless way to move I could imagine.” He looked in areas like Smoketown and Germantown before finding the 40,000-square-foot site at 13th and Main streets. Renovations in the old warehouse took twice as long and twice as much money as he’d planned, but Mays says he hasn’t regretted the move and still gets excited when he walks in. He has yet to hire anyone from the neighborhood, as the company’s existing employees moved to the new location and he says he can’t justify opening the cafe space to the public yet, calling demand a “chicken/egg” situation. But it’s a goal in the neighborhood that’s one of the city’s poorest and could use more jobs. Mays says he has made friends with nearby nonprofits that serve the community, though, and they know they can call on him to donate coffee whenever there’s a big meeting.


    Farm to Fork's owner, Sherry Hurley-Magnuson.

    Farm to Fork is wedged between residential houses. Inside, the bottom half of the bricks are glazed green, a remnant of the building’s former days as a firehouse. A wall of plants — green and yellow vines popping out of old Woodford Reserve bottles and ceramic pots — hides massive electrical fuse boxes and gauges. A homey mismatch of tables and chairs fills the dining room, and pieces by Portland artists hang on the far wall. On the menu you’ll find firehouse chili, seasonal quiche slices, vegetarian black-bean wraps, creamy potato salad. In the decked-out kitchen, Farm to Fork runs its catering operation. Besides Friday evenings and special events, the restaurant is open for lunch, and it is quickly becoming a spot for business meals or birthday parties. Portland Now, the neighborhood association, holds monthly meetings in the space. On Friday nights, the doors open so locals can take over the space. Owner Sherry Hurley-Magnuson says Portland Now has “claimed that yellow table for their own. They’re thrilled to be able to go have a beer in their neighborhood with their friends.”

    Hurley-Magnuson, who has lived in Louisville since 2001, originally thought Portland was its own city (which it was until 1837). She learned more about the neighborhood two years later, after becoming involved with the Community Farm Alliance located in Portland. About six years ago, when Farm to Fork was operating as a catering-only business in a small spot at Crittenden Drive and Warnock Street near U of L’s main campus, she took a tour of the old firehouse in Portland. “I was like, ‘I’m not ready for that. I don’t think Portland is ready,’” she says. But when her lease was up a few years later, she remembered the firehouse, which was still available. She says she’d love it to be a late-night or 24-hour diner, but she’s not quite ready to take that step. “I told my staff that this year is a big experiment,” Hurley-Magnuson says. “Not to whether we’re going to be open or closed, but basically to see how the community wants to use this space.”

     

    In August 2015, Shawn and Inga Arvin finished renovating their Portland home and celebrated by throwing a block party with live music, face-painting and 800 of their neighbors. The couple sold their Crescent Hill home to buy one in Portland that had been abandoned for two decades. It had some baggage beyond necessary repairs: It came with the former Boys & Girls Club next door.

    Porkland BBQ owners Shawn and Inga Arvin.

    They turned this into what became Love City, testing out a fish fry in the concession stand next to the complex’s gym. “To help us pay for the lights in the building,” Shawn says. They sold 15 pieces of fish that first Friday. Since that weekend in late 2015, Love City has created a basketball program for kids, hosted summer school and started a Girl Scout troop, tutoring program and preschool. The Arvins have squeezed a greenhouse between two houses, hoping to grow fresh vegetables for neighbors. Love City has grown so quickly that Shawn left his 20-year career in supply-chain logistics to run it. “We came into the community and spent a great amount of our time listening and seeing what the community needed, versus what I could bring to them,” Shawn says.

    Soon, they were up to 400 fish sandwiches each Friday — nearly too many for the cramped, one-room concession stand more suitable for chips and soda. When the former St. Cecilia Church bingo hall went up for sale, the Arvins purchased it, too. About a block away from Love City’s headquarters, the building included a fully equipped commercial kitchen next to a large dining area. Porkland BBQ was born. “We ended up starting that restaurant with $1,600,” Shawn says.

    Bright-blue and green walls stretch through the dining room, adorned with a hand-painted mural of pigs holding hands. An oversized fork hides behind the pick-up counter. An even more enlarged lava lamp stands against a wall next to half of a vintage Volkswagen Beetle, the hood painted with red and yellow flowers. The menu is simple but delicious: hunks of fried fish on sliced rye, messy bologna sandwiches loaded with two types of barbeque sauce and spicy Grippo’s chips, corn on the cob slathered in chili powder, nacho cheese and white barbecue sauce.

    A hefty meal at Porkland costs $10 or less. For those who cannot afford to pay, the restaurant offers a deal similar to the Table’s — patrons can volunteer their time cleaning dishes in the kitchen or running plates to the dining room. The restaurant, which operates five days a week, helps to fund Love City.

    This summer, they’ll renovate the area above the gym to create a “co-share” space for aiding new businesses in marketing, social media and finance. “We’re just some people who said, ‘I’ll move there; how can I help?’” Shawn says. “I don’t really see what we’re doing as radical. I believe anybody can do this. We’re nothing extraordinary. Everybody can love their neighbor.”

    This originally appeared in the June 2019 issue of Louisville Magazine under the headline "Portland's Portion." To subscribe to Louisville Magazineclick here. To find us on newsstands, click here.

    Photos by Jessica Ebelhar, jessicaebelhar.com
    Cover photo: Porkland BBQ's "Pops" steak sandwich

    Jennifer Kiefer's picture

    About Jennifer Kiefer

    Germantown transplant. Louisville native.

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