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    Shawn Ward sits at the Ward 426 bar on a recent afternoon, having just rushed in from tending to his sick four-year-old. The longtime chef, 47, is aproned up, and a pair of glasses sits on his bald-buzzed head. Last year, after an 18-year stint at Jack Fry’s and wanting something to call his own, Ward partnered with restaurateur Dean Corbett (Corbett’s, Equus/Jack’s Lounge) and former Corbett’s GM Nirmesh Agrawal, and the three took over the Brewery on Baxter Avenue, which in the past decade had flipped from the Blue Martini to Big Blue Country to the Brewery. Agrawal, who introduces himself as “the other guy,” says they tried to keep it pub-style and “do bar food” but that people came in expecting the fine dining for which Ward and Corbett are known. The partners changed the menu to upscale food, but that didn’t mesh well with the atmosphere. “We kind of lost our identity,” Ward says.

    They closed late last June for a planned 12-day renovation that turned into a five-month overhaul. The kitchen expanded from 750 to 1,600 square feet, the previous one having been largely dominated by a walk-in cooler put in during the ’70s. Now it includes all new equipment that Ward likens to a laboratory and a 12-stone floor that’s antibacterial and water resistant. “If I plug up the drains and close the doors, I could literally have a pool,” Ward says. The 5,000-pound bar came out of the original Kunz’s downtown and includes stained glass and a beer fridge. Bittners designed the space, from the reclaimed wood and antique tile floors to the brick exterior, which shed its dated awnings.

            

    Ward got his start at Jack Fry’s as a dishwasher at age 17. There, he moved up to lunch chef, working under Rick Torres (now owner of the Longshot Lobsta food truck), who taught him kitchen camaraderie. “Anyone can cook a great dish,” Ward says, “but cooking a great dish with a lot of people involved, and for a lot of people, is very different.” Ward then attended culinary school at Johnson and Wales in Charleston, South Carolina, and later landed a job with chef Louis Osteen, nationally known since the 1980s for his Southern cuisine. Ward came back to Louisville during Derby in the mid-’90s and realized how much he missed it. Soon after, he ran into Susan Seiller, who owned Jack Fry’s at the time. She offered him the executive chef position. Now his name is painted across his own building.

    The seasons dictate the upscale Southern menu, which in the winter means dishes such as filet with bourguignon vegetables and pork belly, and pork tenderloin with spaghetti squash, pears and port wine. “When I was down the street (at Jack Fry’s), there were so many items on the menu that became staples, which is a good thing,” Ward says. “But it got so hard because you couldn’t change anything. That’s why with this menu I want it to always be changing.” The chef is equal parts shocked and giddy when a farmer tells him that he’ll be getting red peppers, potatoes and arugula in the beginning of February. “All this stuff is grown in the dirt. I was like, Are you kidding me?” he says. And product availability isn’t limited to vegetables. “Let’s say you have the salmon,” he says. “Wild salmon is only available for a very short time of the year, so during that time when it’s not available, you’re using an inferior product.”

    Agrawal says that, come summer, it’ll be hard to sell a 20-ounce steak when it’s 90 degrees outside, so they’re fixing up the patio and installing a la Caja China roasting box, which works similar to a charcoal grill except the meat cooks underneath the coals. Last summer, Ward’s friend and fellow chef Fernando Martinez taught the guys how to roast a pig in the box. “We fed 400 people,” Ward says. “We can expand on that and do lamb, we can do goat, we can do lots of things. But having the box built isn’t an easy task. There’s really no set plan for a la Caja China box in the ground.”

    Photo courtesy of Chris Witzke.

    This article is courtesy of Louisville Magazine's March issue. To subscribe to Louisville Magazine, click here. 

     

    Mary Chellis Nelson's picture

    About Mary Chellis Nelson

    Mary Chellis Nelson is the managing editor of Louisville Magazine.

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