For many an aspiring chef, the food truck provides an accessible opportunity to showcase their cooking talents. Many of those chefs dream of one day opening a brick and mortar location, but not everyone gets the opportunity. By moving into a literal brick and mortar building in the heart of rural Princeton, Wisconsin, Matt Trotter and the crew behind Horseradish Kitchen + Market became some of the lucky ones. Notably, Matt and crew not only made the transition to a permanent restaurant, but they did so with style, creating a space that’s both timeless and welcoming. After they reached out to show us their charming restaurant, we knew we wanted to share its inspiring story with our readers. The next time we find ourselves in Central Wisconsin, we’ll definitely be stopping in for lunch.
Tell us about Horseradish Kitchen! What was the inspiration for the restaurant and what are your specialties?
"We began as a food truck in 2015 operating out of a little vintage school bus. With little knowledge of the food or food truck industry, my family and a few friends got it up and running. Three years into business, the food truck was its own destination with a steady following. Then in late 2016, two of our most frequent visitors, Alex and Sarah Pearsall, approached us about a building they had just purchased in town. We spent the winter brainstorming and by Spring, we had formed a partnership and demolition of the interior began on our current space.
We’ve always been known for fresh, interesting flavors in the form of sandwiches. We have a local baker in town who makes the most incredible bread and that became the foundation for everything. I would say our most iconic item is The Midwest Beet: layers of pistachio goat cheese, thinly sliced beets, pistachio pesto and greens on grilled ciabatta bread."
How did you get into cooking?
"Food was always a center of my interests growing up. We were a family of six, so my mom always spent a lot of time in the kitchen - making meals from scratch, baking and always hosting friends and family during the holidays. My dad, an avid hunter, was always bringing wild game home and preparing it. This dynamic of very domestic versus very wild helped me to develop my own style in the kitchen. But I’ve always liked the self-expression that comes with cooking and making it personal. From the menu, to the plating, to the centerpiece, each part is its own creative outlet and its own opportunity to create something beautiful."
What has it been like to cook in a brick & mortar restaurant as opposed to a food truck?
"Well, the biggest difference is now I can stand up straight! I’m 6’1” and the food truck was never tall enough for me so I was constantly hunched over. My goal in our new space was to create a more 'livable' kitchen - less institutional so that it felt like it could be at home. It has become my second-home, surrounded by and sharing all the things I love. Naturally, I’m there more but it’s a place I enjoy spending time. It’s my creative space. Even days we are closed, we often find ourselves in the kitchen making food for each other."
How has the community responded to Horseradish Kitchen being open year-round beyond the Summer months?
"We usually closed the food truck down after Labor Day so extending beyond that season was really a change for us. Princeton’s small population (1,200) creates its own set of challenges. We’re a rural community, located in the central part of the state and rely heavily on tourism in the summer. I’ll admit, our expectations weren’t high for the off season. Usually it would just be two of us, prepared for a few tables. Once people started to realize we were still open, suddenly a dead night would turn up a few people, and then a few more, and soon the place was full and we were running around trying to keep up. It was truly inspiring for us — and fuel to keep going. We have some pretty great customers and regulars to be thankful for."
Your restaurant seems to have a nice blend of homeyness and unique design, and your food truck had an interesting aesthetic of its own. Talk about your personal tastes in design.
"The food truck set the tone for where we are today. I always joked about the truck that there we were making all this food and 80% of the photos on social media were of the food truck or the environment.
What really interests me is the backstory of design. Whether its a chair, a mirror or a piece of art - I think understanding how or why a thing was designed ultimately influences greater design decisions in the bigger picture. When I find myself loving something, I want to know why and will spend hours researching it. The “aha” moment is discovering how one seemingly unrelated thing relates to another. It’s my own form of mystery solving.
When we designed the restaurant space I was very material-focused, seeking out classic materials hoping to create something timeless with a sense of longevity. One of my favorite moments is the exposed cast-iron plumbing hanging from the ceiling over the bar. It doesn’t really call itself out, it’s just a subtle layer and texture.
How did you find out about Schoolhouse and why did you decide to use Schoolhouse fixtures in your restaurant?
"I think through our shared admiration for Sydney Hale Co. candles. I found Schoolhouse when browsing through other Sydney Hale retailers a few years back. I’ve been a fan of Schoolhouse style ever since. The juxtaposition of old and new is what defines Schoolhouse for me and so it felt natural to use Schoolhouse fixtures - to bridge the gap between the old and the new."
The menu at Horseradish Kitchen does quite a bit of globetrotting, from the “Korean Nachos” to the “New Deli” curried chicken sandwich. How did you come up with your menu items?
"I like having few ingredients do a lot of work. Like the curry in the chicken salad or the Kimchi on the Korean Nachos. Curry and Kimchi are just flavor-filled, and, reportedly, good for you. (We like food that makes you feel good too!) The menu developed over the years on the food truck. Often we’d start with a familiar dish and then we’d played with a few interesting ingredients to make it our own. The Korean Nachos were a complete accident. We were serving a banh mi sandwich that had a jalapeño mayo and kimchi on it. We ran out of bread one day and had a bag of tortilla chips on the truck. We put some leftover pulled pork on them and the banh mi ingredients and it became a classic."
Finally, what things should people visiting Princeton make sure to see?
"Depends what you’re into! If shopping and eating is your thing, you could spend a day here in Princeton, especially during flea market season. Princeton has hosted the largest outdoor weekly Flea Market in the state for over 30 years and is also known for its antique shops. If you like being outdoors, Green Lake is one of the most beautiful attractions. Then there’s canoeing and kayaking on the area rivers and great biking opportunities. One of my favorite local facts is that John Muir (Father of the National Parks) spent his childhood on a farm in the next county over, which is a testament to the natural beauty of the area. Put all those together and there is an impressive amount to see and do!"