Wednesday, April 16, 2014

louisville love: hilltop tavern

Today we're very excited to kick off our new feature, Louisville Love, with a profile on one our favorite restaurants, Hilltop Tavern. Housed in a building whose previous tenants took the idea of a themed restaurant a little too far, Hilltop likes to keep things simple. No-frills decor, fun touches like board games and ping pong, and good old-fashioned pub grub. Really, really good pub grub. Owned by brothers John and Mike Skelton, Hilltop has been doing brisk business since New Year's Eve of 2011. The two brothers are seasoned in Louisville's restaurant scene, boasting nearly 30 years of combined experience. They wanted Hilltop to be a comfortable, relaxed environment for people to hang out and enjoy themselves without breaking the bank. As John puts it, "If Hilltop had a motto, it would be 'come as you are.'"

Pub classics like burgers and barbecue get a gourmet twist thanks to John's time in some of Louisville's most prestigious kitchens. Wings smoked in house, amazing original sauces and unique dishes like mac and cheese fritters make Hilltop stand out. We sat down with John to enjoy some drinks and talk about starting and running a successful restaurant in Louisville.

What inspired you to start your own restaurant?

It was always something that my brother and I had wanted to do. We had talked about it for a long time but it was always on the back burner. Then the opportunity arose and this building opened up and we decided to just go for it.

What restaurants did you work at before Hilltop?

I've been at Seviche, Porcini, North End Café, Z's Oyster Bar... a lot of places. I always worked in the front of house until Seviche came along. There I started working in the kitchen to keep the challenge going because front of house was getting a little stale.

Hilltop is so different from other restaurants where you've worked. Tell us about developing the concept for Hilltop.

When we first started off we'd do family dinners with barbecue every week so it was kind of inspired by that. A lot more barbecue places have opened up since we started talking about it. But back when the restaurant was just an idea there weren't really a whole lot so it was a really good concept. Our goal was to have the nicest dive bar in town. We wanted to be bright and clean and fun but also be a place where you didn't have to break the bank to go. We really wanted more of a neighborhood sort of vibe, a place where people could go and just be themselves and relax.

Beer Cheese Pretzel Burger

Did you all run into any roadblocks or challenges along the way?

Oh yeah, the place that was here before... it was a hot mess. We pretty much had to start from scratch. Clean every square inch and redo everything. We built a lot of the elements of the restaurant. It was pretty much an empty shell and the space hadn't really been used correctly. As we worked we just found more and more problems along the way. But it helped, starting from scratch. Gave us a feel for the building. It was a little overwhelming at first but you just have to put your head down and keep working and eventually you get there.

So what's it like working with your brother? You're business partners and you're also siblings. Does that ever get in the way?

It helps to be honest with each other, especially since we split the responsibilities. He does front of house, I do back of house. We are definitely co-owners. We give each other suggestions and feed off of each other and it's a good way to run the place. We really don't fight a lot, we got that out of the way early on in life. It's good, you know, because it's family. We'll always have each other's backs. We switch between being brothers and being business owners but it's a nice balance. It's about the only way I'd want to do it. There are bigger things at stake so we don't let the small stuff get in the way of our work.

What does the future hold for Hilltop?

We want to keep adapting. Now we do more craft beers- we've changed a little bit. We used to be more music oriented but that got shut down against our will. We've definitely become more of a neighborhood sports bar. But I really like that different people can come here and do different things and get their own kick out of it. We want to be available to everybody and let people be who they want to be when they come here. We just want everybody to be comfortable. For the future, we're not done creating new dishes and stuff, we're always working on something. We keep it low key but we're always trying new things, keeping it interesting.

West Sixth Mac 'n' Cheese Fritters

What are your favorite things on the menu?

The pulled pork will always be dear to me, since that's what we used to do before we opened and that's what got us wanting to open a place. I love the burgers that are made from scratch with my own seasoning. I also really love the tacos. They're simple but really good with the mango habañero sauce. And of course, the sauces. Those are all made in-house so they have my own flair.

Is anything you do at Hilltop inspired by what you learned in the kitchen at Seviche?

Definitely, that's really where I learned everything. One of the great things about working in such a flawless and professional kitchen is that you're bound to pick up some things along the way. They taught me so much- everything from making sure my knife technique was good to just really caring about the quality of the food. There's definitely a little bit of what I picked up in Seviche in everything I do here. Our concept is definitely simpler though, more pub grub, and we definitely put our stamp on it. It's very us. Another thing we wanted for Hilltop was for it to be for the people who work in restaurants. That's really who we wanted our customer base to be. We wanted them to get off work and have a place to grab a bite and leave all that behind, which is why we keep the kitchen open as late as we do. I'm glad that we have such an involved dining scene here in town, but I'll let everybody else do the fancy stuff, I'm ok with that.

Were you and Mike surprised by Hilltop's success?

Well, we're glad everybody likes it, that's for sure. And that's what we wanted to strive for. We want people to be as comfortable as they can here. And it was actually like a snowball, turning into an avalanche--the response has been great. We love it that people love coming here, and we try to do our best to keep up; you know, we are limited in space--I have a very small kitchen, but I think we do a pretty good job with it and we're just always striving for that. We're very happy that people like us! You never know at first, but it works out. And we really want to give back as much as we can, with the local artists that we feature and everything that we do here, so we're incredibly thankful that people like it so much. When we were growing up, we always had people at the house--we were the house that everyone went to, so we kind of had that same idea to make Hilltop the place where everyone went to have a good time.

Which you all have pulled off really well.

(Laughs) Yeah, it's not bad.

Jumbo Smoked Whole Wings

What are some of your other favorite local businesses?

Definitely Seviche. It will always be near and dear to my heart, and I think it's the best restaurant in town. I also really enjoy going out to eat on Sundays, and typically it's Vietnam Kitchen, Dakshin, Kashmir, oh, and can't forget a shout out to the Hammerheads crew, because we all worked together at Seviche, and it just shows you that there's excellence coming out of there. Stevens & Stevens and Karem's, those are my two delis. I definitely choose to shop at ValuMarket; I like to keep it local, I'm not a chain guy. Some other favorites are Nachbar, Monkey Wrench, and Ramsi's.

What are your favorite things about living and working in Louisville?

The 4 a.m. liquor license is nice. (Laughs)
I like the people a lot. I imagine it could be tough coming into Louisville, trying to immigrate, because everybody really knows everybody... But I like that aspect of it. I think Louisvillians are great people. You know, we'll tell you how it is sometimes; we're clever and hilarious, we have our own style. I love this city. I wish there wasn't so much winter, but you gotta take what you can get.

Visit Hilltop Tavern at 1800 Frankfort Avenue. Their hours are 5 pm to 4 am Tuesday through Sunday, and the kitchen is open until 12 am during the week and 3 am on Friday and Saturday nights. Check out Hilltop's website or see the daily specials on Facebook.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

cucumber cooler

Kathleen and I are both big fans of a good gin and tonic. When I saw this Effen cucumber vodka at the liquor store, I instantly thought of a gin and tonic with a refreshing hint of cucumber. After some experimenting, I came up with a combination that goes light on the gin and has soda water instead of tonic water (so this will satisfy even those who think gin and tonic tastes like a dirty pine tree.) Crisp, clean, and light, this beverage is perfect for spring and summer, or anytime you're in need of a cold, refreshing drink. You can also chill the ingredients ahead of time and serve in a large pitcher or drink dispenser with ice on the side for get-togethers.

makes 1

  2 lime wedges
  2 teaspoons sugar
  1 ounce gin
  1 ounce cucumber vodka
  club soda

Muddle lime wedges and sugar in the bottom of a cocktail shaker with a splash of club soda. Add gin and vodka and shake vigorously. Pour over ice in a rocks glass and top with club soda. Garnish with a slice of cucumber and enjoy!

Monday, April 14, 2014

make it: concrete + copper candleholders

This project combines three things that we both love: copperconcrete, and colorful taper candles. This is the perfect project for a warm weekend and it's easy to customize. You can make all of the candleholders the same height, leave the wooden block uncut and drill several holes for one long candleholder, or mix and match with different colors of candles. These candleholders will look great as a dining room table centerpiece, on a patio table, or on a mantle.


- 1 3"x3"x30" wood block
- 3/4" copper coupling without stops (we used 8)
- painter's tape
- E6000 adhesive
- 1.5" and 3" plastic putty knives (sold in a multi pack at Home Depot)
- FeatherFinish skimcoat concrete
- 2 qt. plastic bucket and several plastic spoons for mixing
- drill
- 1" hole saw
- miter saw (not pictured)
- 100 grit sandpaper (not pictured)

Carefully cut your wooden block into several pieces with a miter saw. We cut ours into 8 pieces varying from 1.5" to 6" tall. Sand down rough edges with 100 grit sandpaper.

Measure and mark the center of each block and carefully position hole saw center on mark. Pulse the drill several times to start the center hole. Make sure the drill is straight. Slowly cut a hole about 1/8" deep.

Tape copper couplings about 1/4" from edge with painter's tape. Fill hole in block with glue and place copper coupling inside. Let the glue dry for 2-3 hours.

We found that it worked best to mix two batches for each coat because the concrete mixture dries out very quickly. Thoroughly mix 1 cup concrete with 1/2 cup water in bucket. Working with one wooden block at a time, apply a thin layer of concrete (about 1/8 thick) to sides with the 3" putty knife and to the top with the 1.5" putty knife. (we highly recommend trying this on a scrap piece of wood first to get a feel for it) Mix another batch and apply to remaining candleholders. Quickly wash bucket and putty knives after applying concrete. Let the first coat dry for about 20-30 minutes (maximum 1 hour).

When the first coat is dry, sand all sides until smooth with 100 grit sandpaper. Apply a second coat if necessary following the instructions for the first coat. Remove tape and clean any errant concrete from copper coupling if necessary. Apply a concrete sealer or water-based acrylic coat if desired. We loved the look of the raw concrete so we didn't treat ours but be advised that wax drippings can stain the concrete.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

grapefruit ginger sparkle

Nothing compares to slowly sipping a tall, icy drink on a blistering summer night. Even though it's far from summer here, the little hint of spring in the air has me craving just that. This drink combines bright grapefruit with spicy ginger and lots of crushed ice to make the perfect warm- weather beverage.

For this drink, I tried infusing vodka with ginger. To make your own ginger-infused vodka, peel and grate a piece of ginger that is about 4-6 inches long and add it to a 750 ml bottle of vodka. Let it sit for 3-4 days minimum. You can strain out the ginger or leave it in when it's done infusing.

grapefruit ginger sparkle
makes 1

5-6 drops orange bitters
1 ounce grapefruit ginger simple syrup (recipe follows)
2 ounces ginger vodka
1 ounce Cointreau
4 ounces grapefruit juice
4 ounces club soda
crushed ice

Add bitters, simple syrup, vodka, Cointreau, and grapefruit juice to a cocktail shaker and shake for several seconds. Fill a 16 ounce glass almost to the top with crushed ice. Pour shaken mixture over ice and top with club soda. Add a straw and enjoy!

grapefruit ginger simple syrup

1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
zest of one grapefruit

In a small saucepan, stir together water and sugar over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Stir in the ginger and grapefruit zest. Once the mixture boils, remove from heat and allow to steep for 10 minutes. Strain out the solids and store in an airtight container in the fridge.

Monday, March 31, 2014

et cetera

perfect breakfast: avocado toast with poached eggs and salsa
Henrietta being adorable
favorite things on my dresser 
Howard Moon's very first raisin treat

Monday, March 24, 2014

et cetera

painting, painting, and more painting
unwelcome (but pretty) snowfall
celebrating our dad's birthday
awesome weekend craigslist finds
 We've been hard at work on home projects so we won't be posting a whole lot this week. We're super excited about some projects we'll be posting in the next few weeks, including makeovers of some of these great things we scored this weekend! Have a great week!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

march beauty favorites: kathleen

1). There are bath people, and there are people who think baths are gross. I'm a bath person. I probably won't convert you if you're in the anti-bath camp, but adding this Burt's Bees Baby Bee Calming Shampoo & Wash to a bath just might. The earthy lavender scent is perfect and actually soothing, and it's slightly moisturizing. And if there's no way you'll take a bath, it makes a great body wash, too.

2). I'm an obsessive hand moisturizer, so I've tried a lot of different hand creams. Neutrogena Norwegian Formula Hand Cream will always be my favorite, though. It's pretty no frills (I prefer the fragrance free) but it means business. It takes a little effort to rub it in, but once you do, it erases any sign of dryness without leaving any sign of greasiness. (Note: there is a fast-absorbing version of this product. Some prefer it over the original, but I find it to actually be drying.)

3). I am a big fan of the Tarina Tarantino beauty collection, which I didn't really expect. The products are beautiful, high quality, and the packaging is great. My favorite pencil eyeliner of all time is probably Tarina Tarantino Eye Dream Hyperliner in Tommy Jet. The color is an intense black, it glides on really smoothly, and this stuff is fade- and waterproof. One thing: it doesn't work with all sharpeners, including the double-opening Revlon one. I use it with my MAC sharper, and it works perfectly.

4). When Sephora stopped carrying Tarina Tarantino a little over a year ago, I stocked up. (At 40% off of something I'd gladly purchase at full price, of course I did.) One item I picked up on a whim was Tarina Tarantino Eye Dream Hyperliner in Ultraviolet. This shade is a metallic blackened purple. I like it on its own for something a little different, but it also looks good layered over black for a more subtle look.

5). Revlon Super Lustrous Lipstick in Stormy Pink (Matte) is a new addition to my lipstick lineup, and it's in heavy rotation. The pink is somehow bright and subtle at the same time, and it isn't at all drying. It is less pigmented than Really Red, another favorite, but also a little more truly matte. I never see the matte shades at Target, but Walgreens carries them; I ordered mine from

6). The Maybelline Color Sensational line is underrated, in my opinion. The packaging isn't great, but the selection, wear, and price point make it pretty great. I love the Vivids line, especially Maybelline Color Sensational Vivids Lipstick in Vivid Rose. (It's one of Tamsen's favorites, too!) It's a bright pink with an opaque cream finish.

7). A lot of contouring how-tos suggest using bronzer as the contour shade. When your skin is as pale as mine, that is really a better tip for how to look ridiculous. NYX Blush in Taupe is a better option.  It's a subtle color that really does look shadowy and natural. I haven't seen this shade at Ulta or Targets that carry NYX, but I recommend ordering from (whose customer service is incredible, by the way).

8). I'd been wanting to try Klorane Gentle Dry Shampoo with Oat Milk Non-Aerosol for a while, so when I ran out of my previous favorite dry shampoo, it was time. This stuff is really a loose powder, but it comes in a bottle that you squeeze to get a puff of the dry shampoo (so it's hard to get to much in one area). It can actually be pretty messy if you're not mindful (be sure to twist the cap to close after using, and really be sure the cap is closed before shaking it), and it can feel a little gritty on the hands and your hairbrush, but I promise it's amazing. Even better, it doesn't leave a white cast once you rub it all in, and it gives tons of volume.

9). I admire those whose cat-eye liner always looks so perfect that it seems they were born with it, but mine is never quite that flawless. Most liquid formulas are too messy, and felt-tip applicators get floppy after a few uses, sacrificing precision. Luckily for me, there is Rimmel Scandaleyes Waterproof Gel Eyeliner in Black. The short, firm bristles of the brush-in-cap and the smooth gel solve most of my problems, and the stuff really does stay put.