Eddie Merlot’s™ is described as “an upscale contemporary steakhouse” that at once retains, even exceeds, the best that more traditional steakhouses have to offer while enhancing the menus and physical spaces to expand the boundaries of that classic dining experience.
With thirteen locations in several states and two more opening soon, Eddie Merlot’s™ opened in Louisville over nine years ago. Founder and prominent wine connoisseur Bill Humphries named the restaurant after Ed, a fellow board member of a worldwide corporation, who was so taken with the Merlot Bill recommended to him at a corporate dinner. That gentleman is still known as “Eddie Merlot” to this day. “Eddie Merlot’s™ is an homage to the man and his love of a great steak, a great glass of wine and a good story.” In that spirit, guests are welcomed to Eddie Merlot’s™ for nothing but the best in food, wine, ambience, and service.
General Manager George Carpenter started working restaurants in high school and has been in the restaurant business ever since. He came to Eddie Merlot’s™ three years ago. His assistant and Hospitality Manager, Joni Latifi, worked his way up from server in just one year’s time, so impressive was his background, work ethic, and way with guests. Prior to this, Joni studied hospitality and worked in a lounge in his native Albania, and then in restaurants in New York and Martha’s Vineyard. George and Joni have a unique working relationship that has developed into a genuine friendship. They see each other as equals and share a guiding principle that spills over into their work with the rest of the staff, Proverbs 27:17 - “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”
But their leadership dynamic is not the only thing that sets this restaurant apart. The 100% scratch kitchen is run by Executive Chef and Eddie Merlot’s™ Regional Cuisine Chef Terry Davidson, originally from Pittsburgh. All meats and seafood are chef-selected and hand-cut. Beef is USDA Prime, a certification given to only 2% of beef in the United States, and aged for 21 days. The menu is “more chef-driven than a typical steakhouse” and the Louisville location benefits from being home to the Regional Cuisine Chef. In the highly-competitive restaurant business, and among premium steakhouses in particular, Eddie Merlot’s™ boasts unique ingredients and a menu that often surpasses expectations.
Among the multitudes of premium ingredients, Eddie Merlot’s™ exclusive Wagyu beef from the cattle of award-winning Tarpoly Creek Ranch in South Queensland, Australia produces some of the finest steaks in the world with the highest marbling scores. The Wagyu is served as a 5 or 7 ounce MS9+ Filet Mignon and a 16 ounce MS7/8+ Ribeye. But what do these letters and numbers mean? “Australian Marble Score equivalents: USDA Choice = MS 1-2; USDA Prime = MS 3-4; Marble Scores 5 and above do not have an equivalent USDA grade, scoring so much higher than domestic cattle, creating richness and flavor not present in domestic cattle.” When your server says, “Excellent choice!,” they may well be understating the dining experience you are about to have with this Wagyu unique to their brand.
Appropriately enough for Louisville, Kentucky, George and Joni recommend the Prime Bourbon Ribeye - marinated in bourbon, brown sugar, and spices and topped with onion straws. There is a generous list of Enhancements and Sides to accompany your steak, some classics and some “Eddie’s” specials. With their own Maker’s Mark Barrel, this location serves a proprietary Old Fashioned that will pair nicely with the steak of your choice. In fact, their extensive bourbon program rivals any bar or restaurant selection in the state of Kentucky. Oenophiles will rejoice with a bottle chosen from the impressive wine list, 80% of which celebrates so many wonderful California varietals.
In this season of Lent, many Louisvillians turn to seafood on Fridays. There are several pescatarian options on the menu, including three distinct oyster preparations: On the Half Shell, Rockefeller Style, and Charbroiled Style. Or really go all-out with a Chilled Seafood Tower for the table, which is composed of oysters, crab legs, and shrimp cocktail. For an entrée from the Fresh Fish & Seafood selections, George and Joni would have you try the pan-roasted Sea Bass with julienne vegetables, maple apple cider vinaigrette, and balsamic glaze.
Serving up all these delectable dishes are their congenial staff of cooks, bartenders, and servers. George and Joni firmly believe that happy staff equals happy guests. In fact, they prioritize their staff first, certain in their experience that such a pleasant, safe, trusting work environment leads to job satisfaction and a low turnover that directly benefits the guests. They see each member of the staff as a brand ambassador for the company, one who calls guests by name and customizes the experience, “planting seeds” that lead to a “harvest of business”. With an average expenditure of over $100 per individual guest at a seating, they seek to always demonstrate value and validate that price point for the customer.
The sumptuous setting sets Eddie Merlot’s™ apart as well. No heavy, dark enclosed booths here. Instead, the dining room has an open, airy ballroom feel to it, with softer colors and lighting fixtures that give off a warm, amber glow. As George tells us, the space is “purposely designed for everyone to enjoy.” Steakhouses have traditionally catered to a more masculine sensibility, especially in decor, whereas Eddie Merlot’s™ restaurant design is geared to men and women alike. There are also two large, private dining rooms for special events such as business meetings, anniversary or graduation celebrations, birthday or retirement parties, memorial lunches, bridal showers, rehearsal dinners, and wedding receptions. Mixers can be hosted in the bar area. Occasionally, they will cater offsite, but must be very selective of venues due to the particular care necessary for consistent quality in their food preparation and presentation. Private events represent one-quarter of the business. Eddie Merlot’s™ gives back by participating in multiple charity events throughout the year and is represented at Taste of Derby and Taste of Louisville.