Summer is a great time to visit Wiltshire on Market, where Chef Exum delights us with his interpretation of the seasonal harvest every day. Writer Lindsey McClave reviews this great treasure in NuLu in today’s article. Take it away, Lindsey:
We are blessed beyond measure to live in a town that values local food and celebrates seasonal cooking. Menus change monthly, fluctuating with the farmer’s bounty, chefs regularly trying their hands at the fruits of our Kentucky bluegrass. No one puts the local harvest on such beautiful and varied display, however, like Wiltshire on Market. Forget a monthly menu shift; owner Susan Hershberg and her creative culinary crew begin each week at this NuLu staple with a blank slate, opting for the freshest start possible when they open their doors on Thursday evening. We recently decided to treat ourselves to an early Sunday evening dinner at Wiltshire on Market, curious what Chef Jonathan Exum had in store.
Open Thursday through Sunday evenings, there isn’t a bad night to visit Wiltshire, however there is a best night: Sunday. We entered the wood-framed façade of the restaurant to the low and soothing sounds of Carly Johnson and Craig Wagner, part of a jazz trio who have a standing Sunday night date with Wiltshire’s lucky patrons. We snagged the best seat in the house, a table seemingly made of one solid slice of tree trunk, tucked in the front window of the restaurant. The table itself is a work of art, nearly one foot thick, pale tan in color and smooth as suede. The Wiltshire experience is organic in every sense of the word, the worn plaster on the walls a natural fit with the loosely assembled food presentations, nothing too overdone or too ornamental, just beautifully natural whole and real food, served atop handmade ceramic dishes painted in varying muted tones.
With Carly and Craig serving as our soundtrack for the night, we toasted our impending dinner-to-remember with the French 75 and Kingston Buzz cocktails. A sucker for anything involving sparkling wine, I never shy away from a French 75, and Wiltshire’s spin with savory rosemary and lemon simple syrup did not disappoint. My husband’s selection of the Kingston Buzz was a curious emulsion of rum, grand marnier and cinnamon coffee, proving rich with well-balanced spice, the kick of the coffee a refreshing and tasty departure from our typical pre-dinner libations.
While the offerings at Wiltshire are ever changing, there are a handful of elemental consistencies, one of my favorites of which is the weekly cheese and charcuterie board, served with a plethora of addictive accompaniments. Tonight’s board resembled a painter’s wooden color palette, dollops of golden local honey and matte yellow mustard tucked amongst piles of Kentucky ham, housemade spicy, spreadable chorizo and triple cream, cheddar and bleu cheeses. Housemade bread acted as our brush as we indulged ourselves in this delicious work of art. This could have easily served as my meal, the varying flavors and textures the standard for what every cheese and charcuterie plate should be measured against.
The remainder of the menu was far too tempting to miss, so we soldiered on, ordering a first course of Stone Cross Farm ground brisket sliders, which were topped with Habagardil pickles and BBQ aioli and sandwiched between a Nord’s butter bun. Served with buffalo seasoned waffle fries, these miniburgers were spot on, just greasy enough and unmistakably hand ground. Flecks of bacon incorporated into the grind winked through, hinting at one of the many elements that made each bite of this dish so exceptionally good.
We opted to counter this decidedly decadent dish with a refreshing and colorful salad of local blueberries, gooseberries, basil, feta and mint tossed in a yuzu vinaigrette, a tease of watermelon sprinkled throughout, making me that much more excited for Kentucky’s late summer watermelon patches to bloom.
Mellow tunes continued to fill the air along with a low buzz of chatter from our fellow diners. The vibe at Wiltshire is always just right, busy yet quiet, familiar yet curious. We happily ordered a bottle of Rioja Reserva from the well-curated list and awaited our entrees, the tea-smoked duck breast at the top of our must-eat list for the evening. Set over vegetable fried rice and topped with local kim-chi and pickled daikon radish, we unanimously agreed that this was our winning dish of the night, the duck breast cooked just right, the fat rendered crisp, the rice-kim-chi-radish combo rounding out a perfectly composed plate.
In an effort to sample as many of the menu items as possible, we elected to enjoy both the flatbread and tacos as well, two weekly menu staples, toppings rotating with Chef Exum’s whim. Tonight’s flatbread oozed with mozzarella, charred shishito pepper, crunchy radish and an herbaceous pea pistou.
The tacos were a celebration of summer squash, charred onions, shredded cheddar and flecks of bacon added for good measure. A cool and creamy scallion green goddess dressing brought everything together between the fresh corn tortillas.
Sufficiently stuffed, I was almost distressed to find that they were offering their own twist on a strawberry shortcake for dessert, one of my all-time favorite sweets. We simply couldn’t turn it down and were soon presented with a bowl of freshly macerated local blueberries poured over warm from the-oven, crumbly biscuits. Airy whipped cream melted slowly over the top, studded with whole berries and flakes of pink sea salt to add that certain hint of savoriness that is oh-so-important in a well-balanced dessert.
Wiltshire on Market spins the sort of magic that makes each visit familiar, something you crave and long for, while at the same time offering a completely new experience with every encounter. I can’t wait to see what they have in store for us, week after week, as we stroll happily and hungrily into the very peak of the harvest season.
Wiltshire on Market is located at 636 E. Market St. in NuLu. Reach them at (502) 589-5224.