Exchanging a food truck for four walls

STANDING IN THEIR new Horseradish restaurant are, from left, Matt Trotter, Bennett Drake, Atticus Hiestand, Lauren Pearsall and Alex Pearsall. The Princeton restaurant opened Memorial Day weekend. Ariana Hones photo

by Ariana Hones

In between looking for a mop bucket and saying goodbye to the steady stream of satisfied customers, Matt Trotter, donning a well-worn Horseradish T-shirt that is less than 2 months old, sits down for what appears to be the first time that day.

A moment that begs the question, “How are you?”

“Tired, but good,” Trotter says with a smile.

Horseradish, Princeton’s hip, new eatery is open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. for lunch and thus far the experience has been as Trotter reports succinctly, “incredible.”

“Every day we are busy,” he said. “We are booking parties every weekend. People are enjoying the space. It is everything we wanted.”

Born from a winter-time, movie-watching experience, Horseradish brings inventive flavors with local roots to the community’s palate.

“I had a retail store, Teak & Soxy, across the street and I watched the movie ‘Chef’ over the winter, so I thought it would be a fun way to expand what was happening in the store — offering some different foods than what you typically see around here.

“We found a food truck on Craigslist and the next thing we know we had to figure out how to run it.”

In summer 2015: Horseradish, the food truck was born.

Trotter’s vision for the community always has revolved around cultivating an eclectic atmosphere.

“We wanted people to be able to get lunch and shop,” he said. “It was more than a food thing; it was an experience.”

Summer 2016 brought numerous expansions as Trotter created more seating options and acquired a liquor license for the food truck.

However, Horseradish was never suppose to move beyond its four-wheeled home.

But then, people started to talk.

“We went from serving 20 people on a Saturday to over 100 people,” Trotter said.

One of those people was Alex Pearsall.

“Alex was a regular of the truck,” Trotter said. “He would bring all his friends all the time to eat. At the end of the season, he came up to me and said, ‘I just found this building, why don’t we do something bigger?’”

From January 2017 to Memorial Day weekend 2018, that is exactly what Trotter and Pearsall did.

They refurbished the inside of a historic downtown Princeton building to bring a harmonious balance of old meets new in both decor and menu.

“We wanted a space that felt both original and jazzed up with our personalities,” Trotter said.

“We used original beam work on the ceilings and we have the original hardwood floors, but then we also have garage doors letting in sunlight instead of windows,” Trotter said. “Everything is tweaked and touched. It was a very collaborative process.”

Like the giant moose head that greets customers as they walk in.

“Ahh yes, that is Tim, named after the man who brought him into Teak & Soxy,” Trotter said. “Alex always like seeing him in the shop, so we had to bring him here.”

A native of Princeton and graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in visual arts, Trotter seems content with challenging expectations.

Much like the naming process for this debut process, everything Trotter does weaves a twist into what is seemingly familiar.

“We came up with the name Horseradish because most people know about [the food], but it is still a little unusual,” he said. “That summed up how we wanted our food and the experience here to be.”

Trotter seeks out innovation, yet stays true to the methods of excellence when it comes to sourcing products.

“We like to find people that are doing one thing and doing that thing the best,” he said.

From Boerson Farm vegetables to Renard’s European Bakery, Trotter emphasizes how important the greater community is to the success of Horseradish.

“We have all these resources. We could not do this on our own and I love that,” Trotter said. “They always say, ‘If you do it people will come,’ and it is great to see the fruition of that saying. We can do such cool things right here.”

And they will.

In the quieter winter months, Trotter and Pearsall hope to have more time to think creatively about what is next for Horseradish.

Some ideas so far?

“We would love to have guest chefs come in to cook meals,” Pearsall said, adding they’re also looking to bring in musicians to the restaurant and add a cocktail hour.”

But for now, in the heat of the summer, customers can find sanctuary in Horseradish’s delicious bites and beautiful locale as it straddles both bustling downtown Princeton and the Fox River.

What to try?

Trotter’s favorite is the classic Caprese sandwich, beloved for its summer-ripe tomatoes and fresh mozzarella.

“It is so simple, you can’t go wrong,” he said. “It is so good.”

The fan favorite?

“People love our beet sandwich,” Trotter said. “For some, they have come for three years to Horseradish and they have only eaten that sandwich. It’s hard to take it off the menu when it has a cult following.”

But the beet sandwich being taken off the menu is just what happened recently. The reason, however, was justifiable.

“We ran out of beets,” Trotter said.