Our Louisville restaurant scene is forever keeping up with the Jones, looking for the next creative concept, striving to provide a unique experience and an unforgettable night for patrons. Be it a five-course meal infused with hemp, or a pop-up holiday-themed cocktail bar inhabiting an existing bar for only December (see also: “Miracle” inside Rye on Market), the Derby City has a bountiful harvest of creatives filling our hearts and tummies with joy on the regular. The latest weekly concept I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy is that of our very own Louisville culinary celeb, Edward Lee, and his Dim Sum Sundays at MilkWood. A plethora of mouth-watering small plates showcasing varying themes from week to week in a sexy, cave-like ambiance under Actor’s Theatre of Louisville is what you’ll find on Sundays at MilkWood, with a delightfully unique cocktail list to match. And, for my friends and me, bourbon, of course. Lots of bourbon.
Think dim sum, and you may envision its original and commonly-replicated version, created in imperial Cantonese tea houses and served on carts laden with small steamer baskets. The Chinese created dim sum-style meals hundreds of years ago as an intended brunch teatime accompaniment with various steamed buns and dumplings, etc. These dishes and flavors have transcended time, with restaurants still serving it (Jade Palace in Westport Village, for example, does stellar traditional dim sum daily).
While MilkWood doesn’t exactly employ a server to push a cart around the restaurant and allow patrons to pick their small plates amongst a myriad of precooked morsels, they do employ talent in their kitchen and behind the bar stick, serving up delicious dim sum. The theme of the evening my friends and I decided to eat dim sum was, to our delight, all vegetarian. As we saddled up to the dimly-lit bar — all 12 of us, to be exact — bartender Dane handed us the dim sum menus and small pencils. Designed much like a sushi menu, as the intention is to mark your choices with the pencil, MilkWood’s menu boasted roasted sunchokes, coconut chapati, xiao long bao soup dumplings, and more. Three dim sum items for $20 is the deal, so we knew among the lot of us, we’d get a few of everything. I was getting thirsty as General Manager Stacie Stewart approached, stirring up some sort of concoction in a mixer. She likely knew that I have an adventurous palate when it comes to libations, and she asked, “Do you want to try something funky?!” I obliged excitedly, of course, and she poured me an enoki mushroom-infused brandy Sazerac. Funky was right, as this cocktail was delightfully pungent, mildly sweet and perfectly bitter. Stacie and her bar staff are often infusing spirits with Asian and southern flavors — MilkWood’s milieu — and even make their own vermouths and other alcoholic accompaniments.
The dim sum small plates began pouring out of the kitchen in waves, as we’d all take a bite and moan with pleasure, passing that dish on to the next comrade. My friend Madeleine let me sample her “Smoke & Pickle” cocktail (scotch, sherry, vermouth and pickle brine), and I passed around my (quite-possibly new-favorite libation in the city) “Big in Bangkok” (Four Roses bourbon, peanut butter, lime and Thai bitters), and I watched as my friends tasted, processed what was happening in their mouths and then nodded with shocked approval. Peanut butter and bourbon? Yep, it works swimmingly.
While Stacie claimed that Sunday dim sum is “really all about the food,” she usually tries to curate a cocktail or beer special to go with the menu’s theme. On a previous Sunday, my friend Sam and I enjoyed a Tom kha mushroom broth and coconut milk cocktail, if that piques your curiosity regarding her creations. And the creations are bountiful at dim sum night, as themes have included “4th of July cookout” and “State Fair,” during which chefs take nostalgic dishes and transform them into their own MilkWooded glory. Said Stacie: “Everything is plated in the small to medium size to encourage sharing — our goal behind Southern Style Dim Sum was to foster an environment of community and fellowship centered around dinner.” And sharing is caring, y’all. I’ll see you next Sunday.