Karter Louis at Hillbilly Tea. (Photo by Terry Boyd for Insider Louisville. Click to enlarge)

A Louisville tradition that many have come to treasure will fade into the night this weekend when Hillbilly Tea holds its last tea dinner.

The Last Tea Dinner is Sat., Oct. 1 at 7:30 p.m.

Hillbilly Tea owner Karter Louis says the communal event, in which about 50 people gather and dine together in one of the city’s hottest restaurants, will no longer be practical once the restaurant expands to an upper level and adds roughly 100 seats.

The ability to choreograph the intimate event, seating and serving everyone at once, will be lost.

“It’s a magical thing,” says Louis, “a pairing of food and tea and conversation.”

Louis began the tradition in San Francisco, putting three or four on the yearly calendar, each with a theme. “So we had a Harvest dinner in the fall, a Holiday dinner at Christmas and a Vegan dinner in the spring,” he says. And the theme of this one?

“It’s the Last Tea Dinner,” he said with a wistful laugh. “It’s a thank you to all our customers who have embraced us.”

To commemorate the passing, Louis invited some of his favorite chefs from around Louisville to join his own Chef Arpad Lengyel in creating the menu. Participants are chefs David Scales of Lilly’s, Bobby Benjamin of the Oakroom, Claudia DeLatorre of Cake Flour and Jeff Bridges of Jack Fry’s.

The cooperation of chefs is one of the aspects of Louisville that Louis finds so attractive. “There’s not this intense competition that you have in so many other cities,” says the Louisville native who has lived in most of the urban capitals around the world, from New York and Chicago to London and Shanghai. “We all get along and support each other.”

He admits that he lunches often at Jack Fry’s, celebrates his birthdays at the Oakroom and was excited when Chef Bridges came to Louisville from Washington, D.C. “I love working in a city where professionals all get along and are friends.”

Price for the tea dinner is $45 per person and there’s still seating available.

Hillbilly Tea is at 120 S. First St. Call 502-587-7350 for a seat at the table.

The menu for the Last Tea Dinner

Chef Jeff Bridges, Jack Fry’s: Spiced waffle & seared duck breast w/ butternut squash & cherry gastrique

Chef David Scales, Lilly’s: Tea-seared scallop w/ bourbon apple sauce, beet demi-glaze & Brussel sprout confetti

Chef Bobby Benjamin, Oak Room: Collard green hushpuppy on a collard green aioli w/ Nancy Newsom’s country ham chip, pot-liquor shooter & ham froth

Chef Arpi, Hillbilly Tea: Stuffed roasted quail w/ apple sage dressing, oyster mushroom gravy & smoked tomato-arugula salad

Chef Claudia DeLatorre: Cake Flour: Sorghum trio: float – apple soda & sorghum ice cream, apple tart w/ sorghum caramel & a sorghum truffle

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Steve Kaufman
Steve Kaufman has been writing professionally since the Johnson administration (Lyndon, not Andrew) on all manner of subjects, from sports to city hall to sales and marketing to running a medical practice to designing stores. His journey has taken him from Chicago to Buffalo to New York to Atlanta to Cincinnati, before landing, finally, in Louisville.

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