Joe’s OK Bayou claims to be “da best Cajun,” but there’s also a humility to the enterprise—starting with the playful name and extending to decor that alludes to a low-country shack with a sheet-metal awning and rough wooden walls. Home-style cooking comes naturally to owner Joe Wheatley, whose father farmed grain and raised hogs before opening similarly rustic restaurant The Feed Mill with other members of the family in a former feed-storage building.
Since 1995, Joe and his team have striven to introduce Louisiana flavors to a northern audience, seasoning crawfish étouffée and chicken-and-sausage gumbo with spices that are bold but not painfully hot. Visiting in 2008, the Courier-Journal’s Marty Rosen found that this mission succeeded, with “bold, accessible flavors, friendly, quick service and extremely affordable prices.” He also found oysters “big and glossy with fine, firm textures—as fresh-tasting as any I've eaten along the Louisiana or Alabama coasts” on the menu’s wide selection of simply prepared coastal creatures—fried gator tails, catfish filets, and frog legs among them. Abita beers, the star of the drinks menu, hail appropriately from Louisiana, and join wines and other domestic and imported brews at the full bar.
Regatta Seafood and Grille sates seafaring tongue buds with its lunch and dinner menus of oceanic offerings and its nautically themed charm. Take a relaxing seafood tour sans dimwitted skipper and buzz-killing professor with bites of jumbo fried oysters ($9.99) or succulent tridentfuls of grilled swordfish florentine with dollops of bacon-infused creamed spinach and mashed potatoes ($19.99). Pasta patrons can twirl up fiery forkfuls of seafood fra diablo, a linguine-based concoction mingled with shrimp, scallops, mussels, and calamari and glazed with a spicy red sauce ($18.99), and wee eaters can gulp down kid-appropriate orders of filet mignon (8.95) or fish ‘n’ chips (4.95).
Housed within the restored 1893 Fletcher House, The Bistro honors the spirit of Bowling Green's Fountain Square and historic downtown with a menu of refined American cuisine. However, in the American tradition, the chefs also look abroad for culinary inspiration, finding room for lots of dishes from Italy and other parts of the Mediterranean. Those influences shine through in dishes such as the chicken piccata and the lobster ravioli with champagne-leek cream sauce. Hand-cut rib eye steaks and herb-marinated pork chops represent a classic supper-club spirit, while beignets stuffed with crabmeat and shrimp and grits spiked with bloody-mary sauce celebrate The Bistro's Southern roots.
Walls of moss-green brick surround the rich cherry wood tables and chairs that fill the ground-level dining room, lit by glowing pendant lamps. A piano invites occasional live music, which drifts upstairs to a more intimate private dining space. Behind a rustic wooden bar lies a worldly collection of wines, which includes bottles from California and Oregon as well as France, Argentina, Australia, Italy, and Atlantis.
Pangea Cafe's owner and chef Justin Crandall strives to locally source the ingredients for his palate-pleasing, culture-crossing menu. Supper selections shine with entrees such as the parmesan-rosemary chicken, pan-seared and flanked by a red-pepper-and-mozzarella infused risotto cake ($14.99), and the tortilla-crusted shrimp, doused in chipotle marinara ($11.25 lunch; $13.99 dinner). The Asian flavors of napa cabbage, crisp carrots, and tasty noodles tossed with soy vinaigrette come in a range of culinary incarnations, from a lunch salad ($7.54) or a wrap ($7.35) to a succinctly satisfying supper salad ($8.29). A zesty roster of pizzas ($10.99–$14.99) emerges from the oven garnished with traditional toppings such as pepperoni and mushroom, as well as more adventurous adornments including banana peppers, jalapeños, and GI Joes.
Executive chef Otis Myer and his team prepare Cajun and American cuisine until midnight each night at Behle Street Cafe, a vibrant spot that pairs sumptuous food and drinks with live music. Choose from specialties such as shepherd's pie or the Steak Shawn—a tender filet mignon topped with gorgonzola cheese, grilled tiger shrimp, and a balsamic reduction sauce—or opt for lighter dishes such as whole-wheat capellini pasta. Sundays bring brunch classics such as belgian waffles, eggs benedict with marinated steak, and bloody marys spiced with white pepper, dill pickle and olive juice, and other seasonings.
Overlooking 400 acres of farmland and vineyards, the Acres of Land restaurant pairs well-crafted wine with hearty dishes that fuse fine dining and traditional country fare. Seasoned crab cakes seared in pans and dipped in roasted-red-pepper rémoulade prove just as amenable to new mouth and stomach habitats ($10). Dinner debaters can point to hand-cut, bacon-wrapped filet mignon topped with garlic-herb butter to show that beef, like monumental architecture, tastes better when enveloped in bacon ($26).