Kenny Jeanette got his first taste of Italian food while visiting his Sicilian-born grandmother Pauline Anselmo. “I was born and raised in Louisville, but our summers were spent going up to New Jersey with my mom’s side of the family,” he says. “That was our vacation.”
Decades later, after a career as a plumbing company owner, property developer and salesman, Jeanette returned home to where his heart was: his grandmother’s cooking. Taking her name as well as her recipes for meatballs and lasagna, he opened Anselmo’s Bistro & Bar in May of 2011.
Despite a lack of restaurant experience beyond a teenage busing job, Jeanette knew exactly what he wanted in a restaurant. “I’ve been to a lot of restaurants around Louisville and I’ve never been impressed,” he says. But re-creating what did impress him at a young age came slowly. “I didn’t really learn to cook from my grandmother,” Jeanette admits. “My wife does most of it.” He describes Grandma Pauline presiding over the preparations for his son’s first birthday party, with wife Jennifer learning the craft by working alongside her all day in the kitchen. “The main meal was meatballs, because that’s what everybody wanted,” he says. “My grandmother lived to be in her mid-90s and got to see several great-grandchildren. Even though it was a long distance relationship, we did see each other often.”
Now, with their two sons grown and the super-casual restaurant just a stone’s throw from Eastern Parkway on Bardstown Road, the couple are free to serve up those meatballs to the masses every night – and Jeanette says they’re still what people want. “Our number-one seller is our meatballs,” he says. “Even people who don’t like meatballs like them.” Again, Jeanette credits Grandma Pauline’s culinary secrets for their specialness. “You can go anywhere and get ‘a ball of meat.’ It’s the ingredients that go into it, then the way they’re cooked. The key is simmering them in meat sauce.” Lasagna and rattlesnake pasta are the next biggest sellers. And, for the meatless crowd, Jennifer created a vegetarian lasagna.
Since not everyone shares Jeanette’s enthusiasm for Italian food, he and Jennifer offer American and international fare as well, including hummus, wings and a Hot Brown that Jeanette says challenges the one from Fourth and Broadway. Of course, there’s also the pizza – and one that Grandma Pauline may not have imagined is the “Italian Inferno,” a pie with a (secret) sauce so spicy that servers are required to say, “Seriously, folks, this is hot.” Consider yourself warned.
When things cool down at night, Anselmo’s joins the list of establishments catering to Bardstown Road revelers. “We started karaoke because some of our customers wanted something to do late at night,” says Jeanette, who is happy with the laid-back, 21-to-80 crowd that, if so moved, may be found singing Sinatra, some nights until four in the morning.
The Jeanettes live in Fern Creek but can be found at the restaurant most of the time, where Jeanette holds court in the front of the house like a proud papa. “It’s true Italian food,” he says. Buon appetito.
Anselmo’s Bistro & Bar is located at 1511 Bardstown Road. Parking is available behind the building. For more information, including menus, visit www.anselmosbistroandbar.com.