Louisville Magazine

OCT 2014

Louisville Magazine is Louisville's city magazine, covering Louisville people, lifestyles, politics, sports, restaurants, entertainment and homes. Includes a monthly calendar of events.

Issue link: https://loumag.epubxp.com/i/388156

Contents of this Issue


Page 119 of 172

LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 10.14 117 ena, if you're wondering, means the same thing in Spanish and Italian: dinner. Fernando Martinez's current resume (if you're wondering) reads like a must-eat list of Louisville restaurants: He owns Guaca Mole, El Taco Luchador, Coconut Beach Tacos and Cerveza, Mussel and Burger Bar, and Cena. Martinez, who made a name for himself in Louisville at Havana Rumba and Mojito, is chef in some capacity at each of his restaurants. "We understand food," the 41-year-old says. "It doesn't matter if it's southern, Spanish, Cuban, Italian." Te interior of the restaurant hasn't changed much since the space housed the short-lived (but much-praised) Place Downstairs, a fne-dining experiment that opened in March in the basement of Mussel and Burger Bar and transitioned to Cena before August. Martinez is practical about the shift. "We had really high expectations for the Place Downstairs because we thought we were doing something really unique and modern and diferent," he says. "But the people around here, that's not what they want, and people from diferent parts of the city don't come to J-town for fne dining. We were banking on more people coming from upstairs (the wait at Mussel and Burger bar on the weekends is often one or two hours). But it's hard going from burgers to revised steak with bone marrow croquettes. And, you know, you've got to give people what they want." Allan Rosenburg, 38, Cena's chef de cuisine, was part-owner/chef at Papalinos before joining Martinez at the Place Downstairs. Both men are broad-chested and gregarious, with quick, expansive laughs. Martinez and Rosenburg have been friends for 12 years, and it shows in the way they casually praise one another. "Before I worked for Fernando I used to literally eat myself sick at Guaca Mole," Rosenburg says. Rick Moir, manager at Cena, has a diferent theory as to why Rosenburg and Martinez get along so well. "Tey are both obsessed with pork," he says. Te move to Cena was a natural progression, a growth spurt that addressed the woes plaguing the Place Downstairs. "We had nights that we did really well, but we had nights we only did seven covers," Martinez says. Rosenburg adds: "You can't survive on a special-occasion restaurant." Tey wanted to create an atmosphere that was more relaxed, more family-friendly. "People don't want to be stuck in a place eating for two hours any more. It's a reality of the business," Martinez says. Oferings at Cena are southern Italian, what Rosenburg calls "Grandma's farmhouse Italian." Te menu features easily recognizable classics like ravioli ($20), as well as contemporary dishes like goat cheese frittos with verdant basil pesto and homemade trufe honey ($9). "White people love fried cheese," I say. "White people love fried cheese," Martinez says, cracking a huge, dimpled grin. "You said it! Not me! Years ago, I used to work in Sellersburg, Indiana, and I was the only foreigner in the place. It was me and a bunch of rednecks. And I said, 'You guys are a bunch of Yankees! Te only real redneck in this place is me, because it doesn't get more southern than Cuba!'" Cena's portion sizes are hefty, built for sharing. Many of the pastas are made in- house, but Rosenburg says some dishes are traditionally made with dried pasta, like the carbonara used in the spaghetti ($15). "Made the old-school way with bronze dies, which makes it rough, which means it captures the sauce," he says. It's fne dining, without the fne-dining price tag. Rosenburg and Martinez say Cena's already doing "300 percent better" than the Place Downstairs. Martinez attributes his business strategy to one gleaned from author Seth Godin's Purple Cow. "After awhile, you see so many cows they are not diferent any more," Martinez says. "But what happens if all of the sudden you see a purple cow in the middle of the road? You go crazy about her again, right? So I tell myself, 'From now on, every place that I open, it has to be a purple cow. I don't want to be like everybody else.'" C Cena Italian Trattoria 9200 Taylorsville Road 333-0376 Open 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday. The (Italian) Place Downstairs By Elizabeth Myers Photos by Chris Witzke Owner Fernando Martinez (above) and chef de cuisine Allan Rosenburg.

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of Louisville Magazine - OCT 2014