It is nice to see someone’s dream come true. For Sarah Kinser that moment happened tonight as Julep, her restaurant idea, opened to a full house of smiles on Madison’s near east-side.
The opening of this restaurant was a long time in coming. She is originally from southern Kentucky, moving to Madison in 2004. I came to know her as a server at the Weary Traveler, a great place for food in my neighborhood. I still recall the night in March 2014 when her idea was presented to the local neighborhood association and as I expected her proposal found favorable nods from the board members. Tonight after months of uncertainty, which is common for this type of business, a most impressive restaurant opened. It is located in what was the former Lussier Teen Center on East Washington Avenue.
I will be candid with my readers and say from the start I have been thrilled with this concept and have had only the best hopes for its completion. When there were reports that getting the final financing hurdle needed to be cleared I just knew that something positive would happen as the proposed menu items reached out and yearned to be plated and severed. My grandmother grew up in the south, and my Mom was born there and spent much of her formative years knowing a certain style of southern eating. I just knew Madison deserved a place like what was designed by Kinser.
My partner James and I were very happy to be a part of the opening night.
James ordered a mint julep which was served in the traditional steel cup, with a mound of shaved ice, rather like a snow cone. The bourbon and the mint were lovely compliments to one another.
Once seated the first thing I noticed was the weight of the glasses. I like a substantive feel to a glass once picked up. It may be a strange thing to be particular about but it is not often that I find the type of glass that Julep had poured my truly sour and authentic lemonade into.
The mood music was at just the right volume to give ambiance but in no way overshadowed conversations. The use of wood lathes made for a warm entrance just steps from being allowed to look into the kitchen and see the crew all busy and creative in their own way. It made for a homey touch that I found very special.
James enjoyed the “Farro Rissoto” made of farro, or hulled emmer wheat grain, winter squash, mascarpone cheese and sunflower seeds with a few Brussels sprouts. The dish, while small, was unctuously creamy and nicely seasoned; the cheese added the nice Wisconsin touch to the otherwise perfect Tuscan side dish.
I ordered the more substantive and truly spectacular pot roast that was able to be pulled apart with a fork. Served in a soup plate with pureed potatoes and root vegetables in a bourbon glaze made for simply one of the best restaurant delights I have had in a long time.
I will be honest and say that the meal could have been one better had each entrée been served with warm cornbread or a to-die-for flaky Southern biscuit. I am certain the menu items will grow and a couple of those southern niceties will be more a common touch as time passes.
This was the first night of serving food and staff were working out how to make everything operate smoothly. Since everyone was trying to make for a success we had several waiters stop at our table as they were not sure if anyone else had waited on us. Each was pleasant, helpful, and conversational.
If I had one disappointment it was when I asked what they served as dessert. There was only one thing on my mind, that being Sweet Potato Pie. The woman who is one of the financial backers of the restaurant told me that no such desserts were available yet, but that the previous evening they had tested out the pie and the flaky crust was stunning. I could even smell the dessert as she detailed it for me.
I understand that opening nights have up and downs. Even with none of the pie that the south is famous for James and I had a very delightful evening.
I might add that for Kinser, she missed it. After putting in so many weeks and intense hours to get it so that all of us could enjoy her dream she was under the weather.
I really felt bad about that but also know she can rest contentedly knowing that making a dream come true is never easy. Few ever get to achieve that ending. But she did! In a day or two she will see what I did tonight.
A lot of smiling faces dining on the food she knew needed to be prepared and served in Madison.