We brunch and booze it up at Hillbilly Tea

May 8, 2013 at 5:00 am
We brunch and booze it up at Hillbilly Tea
Photo by Ron Jasin

Thomas Jefferson said it best: Government should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.

This great American tradition, enshrined in the Constitution, would seem to protect us from governmental intrusion in such deeply personal matters as, for example, enjoying an adult beverage with brunch on Sundays.

So why did it take more than two centuries for us to be able to enjoy the simple pleasure of a bloody mary with a morning repast in Louisville?

I don’t know. But I am delighted, at long last, to raise a hefty mason jar of Hillbilly Tea’s finest tea-infused “moonshine”-based Smokin’ Mary to salute our city parents for getting with the program, even if it took them 224 years to do it.

This enlightened legislation prompted us to head for Hillbilly Tea to enjoy a drink — and some nibbles from its Sunday “bruncheon” menu — well before the Sabbath sun crossed the yardarm.

Hillbilly Tea brings together a cup of hillbilly, a healthy heap of hipster and a pinch of fun to serve up an international blend of country cooking — both the Old Country and the New — with locavore meats and produce and plenty of tongue-in-cheek Appalachian shtick.

The dinner menu tops out at $17 for big Earl’s braised lamb on succotash with charred broccoli. Carnivores may chow down on such delights as smoked rabbit with potato-stuffed dumplings and roasted mountain veggies in forest mushroom cream ($15), while veggivores will feel no guilt over sinking their fangs into a barbecue tofu burger ($10) with garlic mushrooms and horny goat pickles. Yes, that’s what they said.

Nothing on the lunch menu (other than possibly a bottle of wine) will set you back more than 10 bucks, and Sunday “bruncheon” maxes out at $12 (for a Scotch egg, “Hillbilly Brunch” egg-and-pancake platter or a hearty repast of egg-topped “moonshine pork”).

We burned off a few calories clambering up the steep, ancient stairs to Hillbilly Tea’s expansive loft dining room, then enjoyed a hearty brunch that put them back.

White bean and sage fritters ($5) were crunchy, golden brown fried rounds of subtly herb-scented bean puree, and dark mahogany crispy chicken liver bites ($6) were admirably grease-free, too. But the former could have used a little salt, and the latter required it. We hailed a server and liberated S&P from the kitchen.

Bright yellow scrambled eggs brought free-range color and flavor to the “Hillbilly scramble” ($8), but I’d have liked them fluffier. A “smashed” red potato provided starch, and I’d have liked my slice of grilled focaccia left on the grill a little longer. The grilled catfish sandwich ($7) was built on delicious smoked-fish fillets. A side of fresh kale was bright-green and not cooked into submission.

A filling brunch was $37.63, before tip.

Hillbilly Tea recently opened its second property in Shanghai, China, where Hillbilly Tea Tavern (hillbillytea.cn.com) opened March 31 with Mayor Greg Fischer on the scene. They’re reportedly eyeing Harlem and Brooklyn, and maybe a spot in Lexington for further expansion.

Hillbilly Tea
120 S. First St. • 587-7350



Our judge rules Sidebar delicious

Sidebar, the latest about-to-be-hot spot in the Arena Zone, a hip bar and grill with a legal theme, is set to open to the public any day now. This week it’s been serving “VIP” guests in soft openings, something I generally avoid, so I invited HotBytes correspondent Antonia Lindauer to check it out. She likes the looks of the place, and offers us this quick preview:

Wedged into Whiskey Row in the shadow of the Second Street Bridge, Sidebar will specialize in burgers, bourbon and beer. Think upscale burger joint, with a focus on the law. No, really — the first thing you see is the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution splashed across the wall in bold paint. It’s casual, though. While sitting at the luxe cushioned banquette, I had a good view of four large plasma screens showing a baseball game.

The cocktail program appears simple and accessible. The Kentucky Maid (Buffalo Trace bourbon, simple syrup and lime with a mint sprig and cucumber slice) is a refreshing twist on the mint julep. The Good Word was the winner by several lengths. Rittenhouse Rye, lemon juice and simple syrup are punched up with green Chartreuse, and the result is smashing. The draft beer selections, including New Albanian, flow from a neat-looking inverted tap system.

The burgers were everything they should be. All burgers are cooked to medium, and they mean it. I appreciated the burger’s manageable size; I didn’t feel I had to kiss my outfit goodbye when I picked it up.

Burgers range from the basic Sidebar, a dressed cheeseburger ($10), to the Philadelphia Attorney, topped with a braised short rib ($15). The Hung Jury was lovingly layered with bourbon mushrooms, onions and white beer cheese. Zucchini fries arrived in a crispy, slightly truffled heap, with garlic aioli. Also offered: a yellowfin tuna burger, a mushroom-edamame patty and tempting salads. My summary judgment: This place will be packed before and after every arena event. (Sidebar is located at 129 N. Second St.)