The fast, casual restaurant is underway at Butcherblock Properties, a nine-building complex from Andy Blieden at 1009–1019 East Main Street.
The traditionally made broth and noodle soup – called pho – will be the star attraction. Founding partners Mimi Ha (managing partner of August Moon) and Jessica Mach have spent months perfecting the recipe, said partner Stewart Davis, who’s engaged to Mach.
“Our first purchase was a 60-gallon kettle,” Davis said. “It takes 10-12 hours to make [the broth] properly using beef and knuckle bones on a low, slow boil. It was really one of the original street foods, because of the way it was served. Once you make the broth, it serves very quickly so it lends itself very well to fast casual.”
The pho will be served in a 32-ounce bowl, with either beef, chicken, or in a vegetarian broth with tofu, along with traditional herbs and sauces.
Their second purchase was an oven for baking baguettes for the banh mi, Davis said. The sandwiches will feature chargrilled pork or chicken.
“Jessica has been working with her mom on the marinade of lemongrass, fish sauce, and garlic,” Davis said, along with what he calls an amazing combination of flavors. “You get the light, crunchy bread, the freshness of vegetables, the sweetness and heat of marinade.”
Cucumbers, pickled carrots, daikon, cilantro and mayonnaise join the protein along with a traditional French pate made with cognac that Mach soaks in milk to bring down the strong flavor, Davis explains.
Traditional Vietnamese sweet iced coffee, Imperial rolls, spring rolls and a variety of rice and noodle bowls along with a curry, shaken beef dish and a cabbage salad will round out the offerings.
“It’s a very specific menu,” Davis said, driven by what’s common in the Vietnamese household. “These are all staples – they aren’t exotic dishes in Vietnam.”
The family collaboration gets a nod in the restaurant’s name. Ba means mother or Mrs., Davis said, and, “Luu is Jessica’s mother’s family name. It’s to honor her mother.” It’s also a shout-out to Louisville.
Plans for Pho Ba Luu have been underway for a couple of years, Davis said, while they looked for the right space. The 2,200 square foot space at Butchertown Properties, formerly a garage, will feature an open kitchen, with fresh vegetables and the broth on view as diners enter, seating for 75 inside, and another 40 on the patio.
The cinderblock building will sport a fresh, clean look, he notes.
“Honestly, you’d never know it was an Asian restaurant other than the food,” he said.
Construction has just begun, and they expect to open this summer. Stay tuned with the restaurant’s developments at www.facebook.com/phobaluulouisville.