INTERVIEW: Liz Huot talks about the inspiration behind Oskar’s Slider Bar, Yelp reviews & Aquavit!

I’ve been an avid fan of  Grind Burger Kitchen since co-owners Liz and Jess Huot started their business off as a food truck back in 2012. After a few years of successful burger slinging, the duo opted to move into a permanent brick and mortar spot at 829 E. Market Street. Since then, whenever I feel a hankerin’ for a high quality burger, more often than not I’ll make my way downtown for a Southern Burger, my personal favorite Grind burger, which is topped with bacon, pimento cheese and sliced pickles. Couple this with a side of their delicious brussel sprouts, and you’ve got one of my go-to lunch choices in Louisville.

Not long ago, word got out that the fine folks behind Grind Burger Kitchen were planning to open a new restaurant with a bit of a different concept. Their latest venture, Oskar’s Slider Bar (located near the zoo at 3799 Poplar Level Rd.)  is a Nordic themed restaurant and bar that specializes in petite sandwiches and other smaller servings of salads, sides and soups, most of which cost just around 3 bucks. 

I stopped in for dinner at Oskar’s a few days ago and tried six of their sliders as well as sides of their kale salad and lingonberry glazed meatballs, all of which were damned good and more than affordable. My favorite two were the short rib slider, topped with pickled carrot, and the lamb and lefse taco which was topped with pickled red cabbage. I was also drawn to their selection of Aquavit, an interesting Scandinavian spirit that is typically flavored with caraway or dill. The two brands we chose were Brennivín (clear and unsweetened) and Linie (dark and smooth) — I washed both down with a Hammerheart Flaming Longship Scotch ale making for a pretty intoxicating, but righteous drinking experience.

After leaving Oskar’s, I wanted to find out more about their operation and what this place is all about. I reached out for an interview, and thankfully Liz Huot kindly obliged. 

Never Nervous: Where did the inspiration behind opening a slider bar come from?

Liz Huot: There are a couple places around the country with similar concepts, so we definitely aren’t the first, but we knew we could take what we had seen and build on it to make it interesting for Louisville. Our sister restaurant, Grind, doesn’t have the capabilities to put out sliders because of how small the kitchen is, but we get requests for sliders there daily. We didn’t want to open a second Grind and we wanted this new place to have more of a bar feel, so we just kind of put all the pieces together and Oskar’s is what came of it all.

 

Short Rib Slider with Pickled Carrots
Short Rib Slider with Pickled Carrots

NN: What inspired the badass Nordic vibe?

LH: Jesse and myself are both of Norwegian heritage and he grew up in North Dakota, which has a lot of Scandinavian ancestry so since we wanted to bring a different vibe than other places in the city it was a perfect fit. We knew we could do the culture and heritage justice since we grew up with it and weren’t just cherry picking things out of thin air.

“Jesse and myself are both of Norwegian heritage and he grew up in North Dakota which has a lot of Scandinavian ancestry.”

NN: Does the name “Oskar” have any particular signifigance?

LH: Oskar is the name of our 1.5 year old son. Even if we hadn’t named our son Oskar, I think we still may have named the restaurant Oskar’s. The ‘k’ is the Scandinavian spelling.

NN: How do you feel your restaurant has fit in to the neighborhood since opening?

LH: We think it’s a great fit. We also live in the neighborhood, so we wanted to create a place that we would like to go. The concept is unique, the vibe is casual but has some attitude, a meal can cost as much or as little as you would like and we have a great bar program. The feedback from the neighborhood has been incredibly positive so far. Of course, there are people that don’t really “get it” and that’s fine. We knew we’d get push back from some people, because it’s not a second Grind, and $3 sliders and Aquavit may not be something they are familiar with, but those people are few and far between. Most people in the neighborhood also understand that supporting local restaurants like Oskar’s results in more local businesses moving in and is better for everyone. Last week we had someone who lives close by come in for lunch and dinner in the same day and then dinner the next day. It’s incredible.

Gravlax -- Cured Salmon on Rye Cracker
Gravlax — Cured Salmon on Rye Cracker

NN: I really appreciate the laid back, neighborhood bar vibe I get from your place. Was that atmosphere intentional?

LH: It definitely was. It’s reminiscent of neighborhood bars in Minnesota and Wisconsin. When we decided on the concept we mapped out around 20 rural dive bars in Minnesota and drove from Minneapolis all the way to Talmoon, which is about 60 miles outside of Canada. We took tons of pictures and brought them back to use as the basis to design the interior and the bar. Then we took a second trip to Wisconsin and brought back a lot of the decorations and knick knacks you see.

NN: Is your menu still evolving, or is it pretty set in stone for now?

LH: There are things on the menu now that are popular and probably won’t do away for a while, but we will switch out and change items periodically.

NN: I know it’s rough, but if you HAD to decide, which of your sliders would you consider to be your own personal favorite?

LH: I’m partial to the lamb and lefse taco (pictured below) and Jesse really loves the fish sandwich.

Lamb & Lefse Taco
Lamb & Lefse Taco

NN: Before visiting Oskar’s last night, I’d never heard of Akvavit. How’d you come across this unusual spirit, and how popular has it become at your place?

LH: I can tell you we’re selling more Aquavit than anyone else in town, but that isn’t saying much since I think there are only a couple places selling it. Haha. We came across it long before Oskar’s while traveling and researching our Scandinavian heritage. It’s a fairly ubiquitous spirit in other parts of the country.

“We came across it (Aquavit) long before Oskar’s while traveling and researching our Scandinavian heritage.”

NN: What does the future hold for Oskar’s? Would you guys ever consider hosting shows or karaoke?

LH: I think it would be really fun to do a Scandinavian black metal night every so often, but I don’t know how the neighborhood would respond to that. Haha We intended on building a small stage, but at this point we need all the space for seating. After the initial rush of being a new restaurant wears off we’ll see where we’re at, but we do plan on putting a patio out front for some outdoor seating so we may be able to do some show outdoors during warmer weather. We would love to do some late-night karaoke at some point too. We shall see.

Lingonberry Glazed Meatballs
Lingonberry Glazed Meatballs

NN: What’s new with Grind Burger Kitchen? Are there any new menu items we should be aware of?

LH: Once Oskar’s gets on its feet we’re headed back down to Grind to do some menu updates and remodeling. We have so many ideas all the time and never enough hours in a day.

NN: If you had some friends coming in from out of town, and you had to recommend a restaurant in Louisville (that isn’t one of yours), where would you send them?

LH: As we all know there are so many great restaurants in Louisville, so I’ll throw out a few new places I’ve been referring that people may not have heard of. Bar Vetti is really excellent. It’s a concept from Ryan Rogers of Feast and Royal’s and Andy McCabe who I honestly think is the most underrated chef in the city. There are so many excellent things coming out of that kitchen. We also love Lupo. It’s from one of our longtime friends from our food trucking days, Max Balliet who is behind Holy Mole. Everything is delicious but their fritto misto is so light and the drinks are stellar.

Cheeseburger Slider
Cheeseburger Slider

NN: Do you peruse food reviews and review sites such as Yelp and/or Zomato? How do you feel about these sorts of services?

LH: I do and it’s a double-edged sword. There are a lot of lovely, well-informed people that use them and read them and write reviews, but there are also people that just have a vendetta or a chip on their shoulder and that’s exhausting. Generally we have great reviews, so it’s fine but those bad ones are the ones people read first and while sometimes we deserve being called out there are times when to be frank, they are inaccurate, spiteful or just plain ignorant about food or how businesses work, so it can be incredibly frustrating.

“There are a lot of lovely, well-informed people that use them and read them and write reviews but there are also people that just have a vendetta or a chip on their shoulder and that’s exhausting.”

NN: If you were about to be executed on death row, what do you think you’d choose to be your last meal?

LH: Jesse’s shrimp and grits. We’re really objective about our own food and I’ve eaten shrimp and grits all over the country and never had any better than his. And a giant bottle of great champagne.