Starting a restaurant is not for the fainthearted. Just ask Christopher Seckman, chef and co-owner of North End Cafe (1722 Frankfort Ave., 896-8770; and 2116 Bardstown Road, 690-4161).
Celebrating the restaurant’s 10th anniversary this month gives him a chance to consider what it has taken to survive a decade in the increasingly competitive Louisville restaurant scene.
“Working hard every day almost goes without saying,” Seckman says. “I think one of the main reasons we have been successful is that we have remained focused on what people want to eat. Our menus have continually evolved to keep up with changing dining habits, one being that customers are more concerned about healthy diets. One of our goals is to be able to accommodate anyone’s dietary needs.”
Last year, Seckman and partners Walton and Dr. Whitney Jones decided the time was right to expand the North End Cafe concept and opened the Bardstown Road location. Both restaurants benefit from gardens the North End team has planted in various neighborhoods.
“We used to have gardens in the country, but deer were killing us,” says Seckman. “Walt is the green thumb of the group, but we all help with the gardening.” Growing crops such as tomatoes, okra, peppers, herbs, lettuce and asparagus allows him to showcase seasonal specials, although the restaurants’ volume far exceeds the neighborhood gardens’ supply.
In observance of the 10th anniversary, complimentary cake will be served until April 16. Gifts of coffee mugs will be given to guests as long as the supply lasts. Seckman hints that he has other surprises (perhaps random door prizes) in mind.
Now that he has tasted success for the second time, does he plan to open a third location? “As crazy as it sounds, I hope so,” he says.
Hillbilly goes to China
Hillbilly Tea is expanding in a big way. Last week, the Louisville start-up opened a scaled-down version of its flagship location (120 S. First St., 587-7350) in Shanghai, China.
The idea to branch out came when owner Karter Louis was in China working on another tea concept. “He liked the idea of bringing our cultures together,” says Hillbilly Tea’s Louisville administrative assistant, Mark Corley.
The Shanghai location will focus on tea and small plates, much the way the company started locally, and will have a similar ambience. But the first choice of light bulbs in wire frames for the Shanghai “tea tavern” had to be nixed because a restaurant across the street featured the same lighting. The decision to design lights out of Mason jars presented a solution.
“The decor at both places seems mismatched, but if you look around at the minimalist approach, it all goes together. When we say ‘hillbilly,’ we’re not talking backwoods, red-necky, but mean similar to going into a cabin that doesn’t have a bunch of stuff,” says Corley.
First Louisville, now Shanghai. Where will Hillbilly Tea go next? No one is saying for sure, but three more locations are planned for the near future.
New Castle winery brings home medals
If you’re thinking of taking a trip to U.S. wine country, you may want to forget booking a trip to California. Smith-Berry Winery (855 Drennon Road, New Castle, Ky.) is only 34 miles east of Louisville and has the wine world abuzz.
The winery was awarded six medals at the 2013 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, billed as the largest competition of American wines in the world. More than 60 judges — winemakers, sommeliers, wine educators, bloggers and members of the media — evaluated more than 5,000 wines. We’re not sure how one gets to be one of the lucky 60, but we are willing to give Smith-Berry credit for a Herculean task.
Topping Smith-Berry’s medals were a Double Gold for its blackberry wine and a gold for its cheviot blanc. The Bluegrass Blush and petite sirah garnered silver, and the John Harley and Drennon Creek brought bronze back to Kentucky.
“Since we won the Double Gold, we were in the VIP section,” says Charles Smith, owner and winemaker. “It was wonderful. The biggest wine names were there.”
Although this year’s high place finishes were a slightly heady experience, Smith wasn’t completely new to the San Francisco competition. Last year his winery received one silver and two bronze medals.
Smith-Berry will host an open house April 13 to celebrate the medals. More information: (888) 845-7091.
Just-right juleps at Locust Grove
At Locust Grove’s “Just in Time for Derby — Juleps: Mint & More” on Thursday, mixologist Joy Perrine of Equus & Jack’s Lounge will demonstrate how to wow your Derby guests with the perfect mint julep.
As every good Kentuckian knows, simple syrup is the secret key to a good mint julep. But is there a secret to simple syrup? As a matter of fact, yes, according to Perrine.
“I like a sweet syrup, so I mix two parts sugar to one part boiling water. And I add fresh mint leaves and let it all sit overnight, then strain off the mint leaves,” she says.
The queen of the julep cautions against using peppermint because it’s too spicy. For a real winner with just the right mintiness, she suggests using Kentucky Colonel spearmint.
Susan Reigler, author of “Kentucky Bourbon Country: The Essential Travel Guide,” will host the event that will be held at Locust Grove (561 Blankenbaker Lane) from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Special guest will be Chris Morris, master distiller at Woodford Reserve.
Admission is $30; $20 for Friends of Locust Grove. Reservations: 897-9845.
Nancy Miller is filling in for Dish columnist Dana McMahan. Send your restaurant “dish” to email@example.com