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    Eat & Swig

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    With great precision and little finesse, the Watterson Expressway splits Poplar Level Road’s residential happenings to the north from its uninterrupted industrial habit to the south. Down the slope of the overpass, one plunges into a sturdy land of large trucks, windowless buildings, auto-repair shops, one “exotic” spa and streets with names like “Tile Factory Lane.” The eating, one might conclude, would lean toward burgers, not Korean. And yet, in a country so divided, a rare display of unity in an easy-to-miss strip mall: Kum’s Kafe and Arirang (4544 Poplar Level Road), serving authentic Korean fare on one side and convenience-store-grade fried chicken and trimmings on the other.

    It’s slightly confusing for a first-timer. A Krispy Krunchy Chicken counter greets you. The chain started in Louisiana and often operates inside gas stations and corner stores. The Krispy Krunchy logo: a sun with a bib and fork, licking its chops while peering down at a big red barn. A case of golden chicken and biscuits sits at the ready. I suppose when puzzled faces appear, the owners are accustomed to asking, “Are you here for Korean?” If the answer is yes, a member of the Korean family that owns the restaurant will point to a small, bare dining room with about 10 black and green dining tables.

    The Korean menu offer stews in clay pots, a seafood pancake, bibimbap and other authentic dishes. An older woman pushes a jangling cart delivering traditional Korean side dishes like spicy cucumber salad, sprouts and pickled radish. On a recent rainy afternoon, my table opts for soups all around. I get kimchi jigae with tofu and pork. My friend orders one that she thinks will have sliced beef, sweet potato noodles and scallions but discovers what we believe to be tripe (a cow’s stomach lining) floating in thick, crimped bits. She eyes a neighboring table’s heaping platter of Krispy Krunchy chicken with envy. (You can still order chicken on the Korean side.) When they hear us debating a chicken order, they extend their platter to our table and insist we take a couple chicken wings. It’s a salty, greasy pleaser.

    The spice in my soup sends sinuses draining and, after a three-week cold, I couldn’t be more content. As we finish, our waitress gifts us cold plastic bottles that aren’t much bigger than a shot glass. We peel back the aluminum top and gulp what tastes exactly like a liquid version of Smarties candy. I will later learn it’s a thin yogurt beverage Koreans enjoy after spicy meals. I pay at the chicken counter, satisfied and warmed by my meal, albeit still a bit scrambled by the bipolar-ness of the place. As we drive away, I think: Maybe Arirang means chicken in Korean. But no. Arirang is a popular Korean folk song. Do not strain to dissemble and make sense of this, Anne. Let’s just call it fusion cuisine.

    This originally appeared in the January 2018 issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe to Louisville Magazineclick here. To find us on newsstands, click here.

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