Marty Rosen begins his third-to-last installment as Courier-Journal restaurant reviewer by declaring "I've never had a dull meal at Hillbilly Tea." He continues:
That's something I can say about only a handful of restaurants. Oh, I've had dishes that I didn't like. And I've had dishes that struck me as heroic failures — usually because they involved an extreme focus on bold concept. But dull? Never.Rosen speaks to both Chef Arpad "Arpi" Lengyel (who's back from China) and his partner, "erudite tea expert" Karter Louis, who both express amazement that their oddball combination of tea and cheffed-up twists on Appalachian food would be so well received both in Louisville and in Shanghai. Writing that Lengyel's return "has infused the [Hillbilly Tea] kitchen with plenty of energy," Rosen also has praise for co-managers Casey Schwamb and Guy Sizemore, who create an atmosphere of "bustling cheer and comprehensive knowledge that you might expect to find in a classic Manhattan cafe." He gives the restaurant four out of four stars, and believes it is worth visiting just for their carrot soup:
a dish so bright that Van Gogh might have positioned it as a sun hovering over a field of sunflowers … captures the satisfying essence of carrot, and does so with nary a hint of residual sweetness.We reveal more of what Rosen likes about Hillbilly Tea after the jump.
Rosen relates his springtime visit in the autumn of his reviewing career, the highlights being:
[A] salad built from greens and herbs, stalks of celery sliced thin on a severe bias, wedges of apple and a hard-cooked tea egg marinated and coated in a powdery dark grind, all dressed with a vinaigrette that carried the dark, earthy sweetness of sorghum.
[S]moked catfish … [f]inished to a very light pale gold, the flesh is lightly smoky with a delicate, refined texture you might never expect to find in catfish. Slivers of radish salad serve as a fine foil for the fish.
[I]f it's past time for breakfast, sample the Billy Goat Burger. Most times it's made from locally raised and processed goat, but when the supply runs low, the kitchen substitutes ground duck — and the finished product, either way, is a full-flavored patty with dramatic griddle marks, a lozenge of creamy goat cheese, pickles and onion cream on a big, tender biscuit ($15).