“NuLu” is the trendy term for Louisville’s East Market district, currently reigning over Bardstown Road and Frankfort Avenue as the street deemed “Restaurant Row.” (Non-trendy Louisvillians have many more “restaurant row” streets to choose from. Some of them have battling all-you-can-eat buffets.) Before it was “Nu” East Market was more “Ew”—a place of derelict buildings (complete with actual derelicts!), Christian missions and one amazing chef. Bruce Ucán opened Mayan Café on East Market while many people still automatically locked doors and increased speed as they entered his block. One of our favorite dishes even when we were slightly skeeved at the neighborhood was tok-sel lima beans. Smoky, creamy and crunchy with pumpkin seeds and laced with sesame oil, the blackened beans were magic.
This weekend, as we slipped back into Louisville’s seasonal rhythms, we found some nice-looking lima pods at the Bardstown Road market, where we often (embarrassingly often, to Steve’s wishing-to-remain-anonymous restaurant reviewer sensibilities) see Ucán looking over local produce right next to us. We bought a bunch and Michelle sat down for a session of shelling, then made the entire batch into Ucán’s tok-sel creation.
When Steve reviewed Ucán’s restaurant in 2007 he prepared questions about “authentic” Mayan cuisine, including these tok-sel lima beans. The chef said his dishes were simply inspired by his childhood home—the complex sauces and superbly-cooked dishes products of his imagination, not tradition. It was the start of Steve’s attempts to remove “authentic” from his restaurant reviewer vocabulary, and the beginning of a profound awareness of and respect for Ucán’s talents. It’s nice to see “NuLu” becoming a place where people actually want to go, but it’s even better to see Mayan Café being rewarded for sticking it out when others had given up hope.
RECIPE NOTES: The recipe for tok-sel lima beans is on the restaurant’s website. We didn’t change a thing, except to blanch our slightly large limas a little bit longer than the one minute called for. We’ve made the recipe many times with frozen beans, which are almost as good.