louisville, kentucky: down-home comfort at hillbilly teaAugust 18th, 2011
you can think of hillbilly tea in louisville as a down-home place for tea, but don’t miss the splashes of sophistication that make it a fun and modern fix. the eclectic composition ranges from bare-bulbed light fixtures hanging from the high black ceiling, and rush chairs with seats that have seen better days… to genuine silver tableware and a menu more nouveau than country.
you’ll feel quite comfortable in this 15-month-old establishment as you settle into a wooden booth and find a tiny bouquet of button mums. right away, music sets the mood, with a great mix of blues, house, creedence clearwater revival, grateful dead and van morrison. artfully arranged are antiques, an old rocker with a colorful afghan, and primitive farm implements. the centerpiece, though, is a wood-and-glass retail display – an antique the owner found nearby at architectural salvage and repurposed into a beautiful bar.
on the glass shelves of the bar are black paint cans that hold teas with names such as big earl’s and smokey mountain chai. there are more of the cans displayed against rustic walls. and lest you forget that hillbilly tea is all about tea, a full page of the menu is dedicated to it. you can enjoy it hot… or served in ball canning jars, chock-full of ice and possibly topped with some locally grown mint.
local is, in fact, an important part of the concept, and the kitchen ingredients are sourced from seven area farms and gardens. there are vegetarian and vegan items on the menu and a number of items that made it difficult to choose. we were tempted by the local cheese and honey, the grilled duck with spicy green salad, the bbq pork pie and the corn-fried smoked tofu. we were also intrigued by the standard tea platter. (we considered it pretty non-standard compared to the typical three-tier tea tower, but one that seemed like an interesting alternative to scones and lemon curd with its smoked chicken salad on corn pone, benedictine spread on stale bread, tomato biscuit, candied nuts and a trio of tea cookies.)
with four iced teas of the day, we chose a green mint and a white peach. our server, matt, brought out our drinks in the supersized jars of 24 ounces or so (and later showed us that he could balance three drinks at once). for our late afternoon snack, he made a few suggestions, and we chose a lovely chilled strawberry soup, smoked catfish with lemon tartar sauce, pit-roasted sweet potatoes, and old-fashioned corn pone. the catfish was light and delicious, and the lemon tartar sauce was so wonderful that we couldn’t resist dipping the sweet potatoes and corn pone, as well. the unsweetened iced teas paired perfectly with our selections.
many menu items include tea, such as earl grey chocolate torte, forest berry layer cake, matcha or chamomile cupcakes, and chocolate chip-chai cookies. soon there will be tea cocktails on the menu. but the piece de resistance was the bourbon bread pudding, a treat that won our kudos to the chef. the large custardy square was covered with a thick layer of fondant icing, and caramel-colored bourbon sauce added drama to the presentation of this sweet creation.
yes, the “moonshine” is very fine tea at hillbilly tea. but If there’s anything here that should be illegal, that bourbon bread pudding would be it.
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