The Majestic Grille, which chef Patrick Reilly and his wife Deni opened on South Main in 2006, is a comfortable place to adopt if you're a regular Downtown.
Despite the gymnasium-sized space the restaurant occupies — the century-old building was first the site of a grand movie theater, a message its "Hollywood Beaux Arts" facade transmits — it seems intimate because of clever partitioning. It's divided among raised booths along the north wall, a clubby-looking dining area on the ground floor, a major bar, a wall with a large screen at the back that features classic movies in tribute to the room's origins, and a patio that offers contemporary entertainment in the form of pedestrian traffic.
There is plenty of traffic inside as well. As walk-ins one weekday at lunch when it was too cool to dine outside, we were placed in a remote nook by the front windows because all the booths were filled.
Two of us shared a plate of the oversized onion rings to start. Six or seven are stacked on the plate and while you'll admire the skillful frying that allows the kitchen to deliver such a crisp batter when the rings are 3 to 4 inches in diameter and onion strips nearly an inch wide, you'll want at least four people at the table to justify calling the order an appetizer.
The Majestic provides an excellent burger and its flatbreads are topped with such appealing ingredients as duck confit, smoked salmon and grilled artichokes, but we ordered from the list of eight classic salads. The Cobb supplied plenty of tender grilled chicken, as well as the contrasting bacon and blue cheese that give this salad its interest. And the ranch dressing, fortunately, favors sour cream over mayonnaise.
Salmon displaces the traditional tuna or anchovies in the Nicoise salad, which had the usual hard-boiled egg and briny black olives, and plenty of artichokes. At our lunch, the salmon was over-grilled and dry, and everything else in the bowl, including the tomatoes, was delivered not chilled but cold, as if it had come straight from the refrigerator to our table. All of the ingredients would have been much more flavorful at room temperature.
On show nights at the nearby Orpheum theater, the Majestic draws a dinner crowd starting as early as 5:30 p.m., and our request for a booth at 6 on a recent Saturday night took some manipulating of the chart by the accommodating hostess. A rainstorm enhanced the glamour of the setting, and so did our cocktails: the Seelbach, first mixed in Louisville about the same time the building we were seated in was built, and the Sazerac, a concoction devised in New Orleans 150 years ago. The hot spinach and artichoke dip, which had an agreeable hot-pepper-sauce edge, came hot in a casserole dish with a simple breadcrumb crust, and is a perfect match for bourbon and whiskey drinks.
The Majestic's grilled pork with maple cream is a favorite of regulars, but the roasted half chicken was dense and juicy, dazzling in simplicity. It's served with crisp green beans and lush garlic mashed potatoes.
Put "fall-off-the-bone" in your description of barbecued ribs, and I'll bite. The Majestic smokes its ribs in-house and makes a sauce that falls on the sweet side of the scale. As the menu promises, you will not have to struggle to separate this tender meat from its bone.
Desserts come in shot glasses you select from a tray the server brings to the table. The chocolate mousse tasted fine but had the consistency of pudding. The carrot cake was very good, but would have tasted better nonrefrigerated.
The Majestic Grille
Address: 145 S. Main
Hours: Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Reviewer’s choices: Sazerac cocktail ($8); spinach and artichoke dip ($8); roasted garlic chicken ($18); barbecue ribs ($21).
Poor: Zero stars
Good: One star
Very Good: Two stars
Excellent: Three stars
Extraordinary: Four stars