StratiStrati Wild Italian to open Sept. 29: Even sooner than Hillbilly Tea’s opening is the Sept. 29 debut of Strati Wild Italian (1702 Bardstown Road), a concept created by Eggheadz LLC owners Shane Hall and J.D. Rothberg, the duo behind Wild Eggs and Wild Rita’s.

As the pair did with Wild Rita’s, they’ve given an operating partnership to Howard Richardson, who will operate the kitchen and produce its fast-casual Italian food. Richardson is a veteran of Emeril’s in New Orleans and was the longtime corporate chef at Winston Industries in Louisville.

Richardson and Rothberg met while working at Napa River Grill in the mid-1990s. Michael Grisanti sold the concept to Rothberg, who recently sold it to Junior Bridgeman. Rothberg is investing those proceeds in the expansion of Wild Eggs (of which there are now seven).

In a story on WDRB.com, Hall shared his belief that Eggheadz could become a $100 million firm using Wild Eggs and Strati as franchise vehicles. So far he and Rothberg have eight total restaurants — none of which have closed — and 16 Wild Eggs scheduled for future openings.

Four Roses Master Distiller Jim Rutledge

Four Roses Master Distiller Jim Rutledge

Festivals, festivals, everywhere a festival! ‘Tis the season for outside food and drink festivals. On Tuesday, the Kentucky Bourbon Festival in Bardstown began, and it concludes Sunday when the last of an expected crowd of about 50,000 will get their last swallows of who knows how much bourbon.

On Wednesday night, I visited the first major event, the Kentucky Bourbon All-Star Sampler, where many of the state’s master distillers pour tastes, hold court and sign autographs for near-worshipful fans. Four Roses master distiller Jim Rutledge, whose famously perfect penmanship is always in high demand, showed off by signing an attendee’s baseball bat.

(Just dawned on me: Does anyone consider it questionable to allow someone to walk around with a bat in a crowd where people are consuming copious amounts of bourbon?)

A couple of brand new bourbons were debuted, including Willett Bourbon’s 9-year-old single barrel 118 proof, which hit stores on Thursday, and Maker’s Mark’s cask strength release, a 113-proof bourbon sold in 375ml bottles for about $45. (Both were excellent, I must add.)

Nearly every ticketed event is already sold out, but the non-ticketed events on the lawn of Spaulding Hall are family-friendly affairs free to the public.

**Bonus discovery: I had dinner at the Harrison-Smith House, known for many years as Circa. Kentuckians Newman and Rachel Miller, who spent several years in Chicago working for a hotel chain, opened the elegant but casual restaurant last month. Trust me when I say it’s a dandy that immediately put itself atop the list of best restaurants there. Newman’s food would easily stand its ground in the Louisville market. Check it out if you go to the festival.

porktoberfestGet high on the hog at Porktoberfest: Louisville restaurants will again compete for the title of Top Hog when the second-annual Butchertown Porktoberfest happens on Friday, Oct. 10, at Copper & Kings (1111 E. Washington St.).

This pork-inspired culinary competition will include chefs from Decca, Feast BBQ, Wiltshire on Market, Gralehaus, Louisville Jerky Company, Holy Grale, Taco Punk, The Troll Pub and Sidebar at Whiskey Row.

Cash prizes and trophies will be awarded to the winners of the five categories: Best Overall; People’s Choice; Best Vegetarian (at a pork feast?); Most Creative; and Best Dessert.

The hamvangelism continues: Shameless plug alert! Two sign-and­-dine events to promote my book, “Country Ham: A Southern Tradition of Hogs, Salt & Smoke,” will be held next week. The first is in Louisville at Seviche, on Tuesday, Sept. 23 (click here for the menu and time); the second in Lexington at Azur, on Sept. 25 (click here for the menu and start time).

Of course locals know the talents of chef Anthony Lamas, but perhaps you don’t know of the mad skills of Azur chef Jeremy Ashby because he’s in Lexington. Trust me, his food is worth the road trip if you can’t make the Lamas’ sure-to-be-extraordinary dinner.

Black tie DiRoNa Gala: The Distinguished Restaurants of North America (DiRōNA), an association of peer-regarded restaurateurs and chefs, is holding its annual meeting in Louisville in a week and a half. That four-day event ends with its annual black-tie (optional) gala at the Brown Hotel on Oct. 8. This year’s theme is Bourbon & Beyond 2014.

The gala begins with cocktails at 6 p.m., followed by a 7 p.m. six-course dinner prepared by top chefs from across Louisville.

The dinner will include an awards ceremony for new DiRōNA members, scholarship recipients and 2014 Hall of Fame members, including the founder of OpenTable, Chuck Templeton and Agostino and Vincenzo Gabriele, owners of Vincenzo’s Italian Restaurant. The cost is $175 per person. For reservations, call (606) 392-1555. For more information, go to DiRoNA.com.

The evening’s menu:

  • First course by Agostino Gabriele, Vincenzo’s Italian Restaurant: artichoke bottom filled with crab and scallops topped with shrimp and sauce Americano
  • Second course by Anthony Lamas, Seviche A Latin Restaurant: tuna with Bluegrass soy, coconut and sesame powder
  • Third course by Dean Corbett, Corbett’s: An American Place: duck breast with duck confit, smoked sweet potato, crisp kale and a port-currant reduction
  • Fourth course by John Castro, Winston’s Restaurant at Sullivan University: locally sourced heirloom tomatoes with crisp country ham, Sophia goat cheese and red vein sorrel
  • Fifth course by Josh Bettis, The English Grill at the Brown Hotel: brown-sugar braised short ribs with spiced kabocha squash, wild mushroom “bone marrow” and bourbon poached apples
  • Dessert by Derek Spendlove, Sullivan University: persimmon brûlée with cranberry sauce