Three buildings line the north side of Chestnut Street between Fourth Street and Fifth Street in Downtown Louisville. Formerly a series of strip clubs and largely written off by many Louisville leaders, the block has been steadily changing in recent years, notably with the breakthrough Meta cocktail bar opening in a two-story Tudor-style building.
While walking by last year, I noticed a new facade and a for lease sign on the window of the middle one-story structure at 423 West Chestnut Street, and it now looks like the building has a tenant: Billy Box, a concept for a freshwater sushi cafe by Hillbilly Tea owner Karter Louis and chef David Scales. The Courier-Journal reported that the new restaurant will “[fuse] Appalachian and Japanese cultures in a bento box format”—a practice that Louis said will be more sustainable that harvesting and shipping ocean fish.
According to the newspaper:
Billy Box will feature fish such as ruby red trout and striped bass as raw options but will also offer preparations ranging from cured to smoked to torched.
“Sushi doesn’t necessarily have to be raw,” Louis explains. “It’s basically fish on rice.” And they’ll use what Louis calls the best rice in the world, Carolina Gold. “It’s perfect for sushi,” he says.
In keeping with the concept of Appalachian ingredients, Billy Box will serve “basic things that translate to their Japanese counterpart,” Louis says. “Instead of shiso we’re using mint leaves or basil. Instead of wasabi we’ll use actual horseradish expressions.
If all goes as planned, the Billy Box will open before Derby. Read more about the project at the C-J and check out this interview with Karter Louis at State x State, where he discusses “his restaurants, his love for tea, and what it’s like to continually cook up fresh ideas (Appalachian sushi, anyone?) for an ever-evolving Louisville.” Here’s a sample:
What current project are you most excited about right now at Hillbilly Tea now and why?
To me, they’re all one project. In all fairness, the new thing is always the most exciting to me. What I’m most excited about is Billy Box, which is another offshoot of Hillbilly Tea. It’s an Appalachian sushi concept. It’s all lake fish and buckwheat; it’s like Japanese meets Appalachian. Very rustic, like you’re in the mountains. I’m excited because I don’t want us to become stale as a brand. I’m excited about it because it challenges me in a new way to explore even more of Appalachian cuisine.
Will you be in line to try out Billy Box later this year?
I keep joking that “Kentucky is America’s Japan” (and/or “Japan is Asia’s Kentucky”) due to the sometimes surprising cross-over loves (and investments) between our two geographically removed regions (bluegrass, jugbands, bourbon, …). It’s interesting seeing yet another (I think DKD and Milkwood count) restaurant playfully experiment with that cross-over. It seems particularly interesting because Hillbilly Tea does already have a surprising foot in Asia (they’ve ran a location in Shanghai). I’m very curious to see how this Billy Box concept turns out.