Much of Louisville’s geography is classified into one of three areas: the East End, the West End and the South End. For a long time, a North End was missing. But chef Christopher Seckman filled that niche when he opened North End Cafe in April of 2003 — not on the riverfront, but toward the north end of Frankfort Avenue. Two years ago, he added a Bardstown Road location to the map.
Never mind what the compass out front says, Seckman has established his own direction in catering to how people eat. For one thing, not everybody has breakfast first thing in the morning. “I like to think our menu is kind of a diner-inspired menu,” says Seckman. “People who work third shift may want a hamburger and a beer in the morning when they get off. So at eight, you can get a steak or burger or breakfast food. The whole menu is open all day.”
North End’s menu may take its cue from a diner, but don’t expect greasy spoon fare. Nearly everything is or can be made gluten-free, Seckman notes. “Our concept is that we’re very conscious about people’s eating needs, whether it’s a gluten-free, vegan or a low-acid diet.” Approximately 30 percent of the menu is vegan or vegetarian, with much of the seasonal produce coming from local farmers and Kentucky Proud producers.
Along with the usual bacon and eggs, diners will also find innovations such as smoked trout hash, migas (a traditional Tex-Mex breakfast) and a chickpea-and-quinoa cake. “It’s pretty popular,” Seckman says. The mood, too, is varied: While the Bardstown Road location is bright and airy with large, open rooms, the Frankfort Avenue bistro has a brick-walled interior with smaller spaces left over from its earlier use as a home dating back to 1900. “Just the building makes the vibes different,” Seckman says. “A different feeling for sure.”
Seckman has followed that feeling for a long time. “I have been working my whole life in restaurants,” he says. The third-generation restaurateur learned on the job until he was in his late 20s, when he decided to attend Western Culinary Institute in Portland, Ore., so he could one day teach others. “Now I know I don’t want to teach,” he says, laughing. “I’m like a teacher for those who are here anyway. I like bringing in the younger guys and showing them how to do it.”
When asked about North End’s butter-rich biscuits, Seckman admits that it’s not so much the recipe as the technique that is important. “My guys can make them better than I can now.” One unintentional student is Seckman’s daughter, Isabel, who studies art in Baltimore. “When she was 7 years old she’d critique the waiters in the restaurant – any restaurant – and tell me what they were doing wrong. She’d watch the room.”
The older Seckman continues to watch, dreaming of a possible third North End location someday. But for now, he’s content splitting his time equally between the two current ones. “We’re really focused on North End right now,” he says. “We’d like to think we can help everyone enjoy themselves with their friends.”
North End Cafe has two locations: 1722 Frankfort Ave. and 2116 Bardstown Road. Both are open Monday, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., and Sunday, 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. The Clifton location can be reached at (502) 896-8770, the Highlands location at (502) 690-4161. For more information, visit www.northendcafe.com.