For the past nine years, Wilson Nurseries has been offering its customers a “garden to table” experience at Sage Garden Cafe.
The nursery and restaurant, located at 3690 East-West Connector in Frankfort, serves as a one-stop shop for people coming into Frankfort to pick up their home and garden needs and grab a bite to eat.
The nursery celebrates 40 years this year, and owner Jennifer Wilson said the thought process for Sage started before it opened.
“So much of our customer base for Wilson Nurseries is from the surrounding area — Louisville, Lexington and Cincinnati,” she said. “For years, people called all the time and said they were coming to Wilson’s and then asked us where to eat. We always recommended various restaurants in town.”
The building that now houses Sage used to be the garden center. In 2001, Wilson opened the doors to the current nursery location next to Sage. The old garden center was then used as administrative offices for several years.
“(Sage) was kind of a natural thing to happen in a lot of ways,” Wilson said. “At that time, 10 years ago, I thought about doing a floral shop or a grocery store, but a restaurants made a lot of sense. It won.”
Since it opened, there have been no regrets.
“There almost hasn’t been a day for nine years that isn’t busy,” Wilson said.
Sage provides a true “garden-to-table” experience, Wilson said. All of the herbs and vegetables are grown in one of three gardens on the property or on Wilson’s farm.
The menu changes every six months to keep with the produce that’s in season.
Keeping with the season, the current menu has a kale quinoa bowl, a bean goddess bowl and a bourbon smokehouse burger.
“I had someone say that was the best burger she ever had in her life,” Wilson said.
Another popular item on the menu is the hummus sampler.
“A lot of people order it as a lunch item,” Wilson said. “It’s three types of hummus made from scratch — classic, basil and roasted red pepper. We change it seasonally to use whatever herbs we have.”
Helen’s Favorite turkey sandwich made on homemade oatmeal walnut bread with a signature cranberry spread is another popular item, as well as the cranberry chicken salad and Brooke’s Baby Bleu salad, which is named after Wilson’s niece.
“(Brooke) was a server here one summer when she was in college,” she said. “She tweaked one of the salads with bleu cheese, candied walnuts, mandarin oranges, red onion, balsamic vinegar and field greens, so we named it after her.”
For the produce that isn’t grown on site, Wilson enlists the help of local farmers.
“Right now, the lettuce mix comes from Beyond the Bridge Farm, ran by local organic farmer Tony Silvernail,” Wilson said.
Keeping the restaurant garden to table year-round is a challenge.
Over the winter, Wilson grows herbs and some vegetables in the greenhouses, but she has to make sure she grows enough of other vegetables during the other seasons to last through the winter.
All of the vegetables are grown organically and chemical-free. Beneficial insects are used to take care of the bad insects, she said. Wilson loves the challenge of growing plants and she said it never gets old.
“I don’t get tired of plants — ever,” she said. “The work is hard and it changes all the time with new varieties of plants. It always stays exciting. I have a deep-seated passion for plants.”
Also on the menu are several mouth-watering desserts, including a carrot cake, rustic chocolate cake, lemon bars, chess bars, colossal cookies, and their most popular item, the Buffalo Trace bourbon bread pudding.
“We try to keep bourbon items on our menu,” Wilson said. “We have a strong working relationship with Buffalo Trace. The bread pudding is really good. It’s made with oatmeal walnut bread.”
The cakes and other desserts can be ordered for takeout. Sage’s oatmeal walnut bread and sourdough bread can also be ordered by the loaf.
“We make about 30-60 loaves of bread a day,” Wilson said.
They also sell kitchen and culinary-based items such as olive oil, artisan crackers, jams and jellies and more.
Sage also offers box lunches, catering and does large events, such as weddings, on location.
As far as what’s next for Wilson, she said she’s currently working on putting together a food truck for Sage. The truck will travel around the state to different events and will also be used at Wilson Nurseries in Lexington and in Frankfort on busy days.
Wilson also said plans for patio hours were in the works.
“We’re going to stay open until 5 p.m. and offer appetizers, beer and wine. We’re going to change up the patio space a little bit with sofa seating — make it more casual. People can come, have a drink and take dinner home.”
With the opening of the new butterfly house at the nursery on May 26, Wilson expects business to ramp up even more.
“We want people to come here to Frankfort and experience Wilson Nurseries and have lunch at the same time,” Wilson said. “We’re more than a place to buy plants.”
Sage Garden Cafe is open 10:45 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday.