Whether it’s the Kentucky Derby, KFC, college basketball, or the famed Louisville Slugger baseball bats, the city of Louisville isn’t short of things to marvel at when planning a visit. But, when it comes to the fine cuisine of the Derby City, it’s certainly nothing to scoff at as well. Between being home of the Hot Brown, Derby Pie, and some of more unique dishes and restaurants in Kentucky, Louisville offers plentiful options to salivate over.
When it comes to famous dishes, Louisville lays claim to originating many items that one may or may not be familiar with currently. There’s the Hot Brown (created in 1926 and named after the famed Brown Hotel), an open-face sandwich of turkey and bacon, covered in Monray sauce which is then baked or broiled until it’s bread is crisp. The dish also has versions that substitute in ham or pimentos. On the other side of the spectrum, there’s the Derby Pie (a chocolate and walnut tart in a pie shell with a pastry dough crust.), which technically wasn’t invented in Louisville, but has since been widely associated with the Kentucky Derby. Created by George Kern in 1950, it’s rumored by some that immediate family members or those who have worked with the Kern family know the true secret recipe of the trademarked pie. The namesake of the pie alone has been the subject of litigation for years.
Louisville is also the home to the popular spread benedictine. Invented in the early 1900s by Jennie Carter Benedict, this spread is comprised of mainly cucumbers and cream cheese. Originally intended for making cucumber sandwiches (and in some cases it still is), benedictine is now commonly used as a dip, but is usually rarely seen in restaurants outside of Kentucky. There’s also the popular condiment Henry Bain sauce. First served at the Pendennis Club (and only made available to members at the time), this sauce is not only used primarily for steaks, but for local game animals as well. Numerous homemade recipes for this sauce have since circulated for years and years. Most of these recipes follow along the lines of a mixture of chutney, ketchup, chili sauce, steak sauce, Worcestershire sauce and hot sauce.
Aside from the delectable homemade eats that call Louisville home, there’s also the fine dining that populate the city’s streets. If you’re in the mood for some upscale dining, then look no further than the iconic Jack Fry’s Restaurant with its Southern flavor fare and buzzing atmosphere. For lunch, you can enjoy yourself several fine entrees such as shrimp & grits or the chicken paillard, and at dinner there’s the ever-so delicious veal roulade. But, if you’re not chained to either menu, well then the Jack’s Burger (made from Black Chuck Farms ground chuck with caramelized onions and served on a brioche bun) will not let you down. If you ever want to find a seat in this authentic Louisville establishment during Kentucky Derby weekend, well then be sure to come prepared with some reservations.
Located at the 21c Museum Hotel, we have Proof of Main, which is one of Louisville fairly younger restaurants. But, this particular venue has also racked up enough of great reputation since it opened its doors in 2006 that you should not hesitate a look inside. Previously voted one of Esquire magazine’s “Best New Restaurants,” this museum gallery/dining hall is a downtown gem and a favorite among locals and even visitors. The restaurant is known for combining both the traditions of Italy and the American South. The edible highlights include the smoked brisket and the grilled celery root sandwich. Not to be ignored, though, but the charred octopus is said to be quite addictive. Also, if you fancy yourself a drink, the bar does come equipped with a bar filled 120-plus varieties of Kentucky bourbons.
Described as a modern approach to the Southern Table, 610 Magnolia (located in the heart of Old Louisville) is the city’s only restaurant with an exclusive, yet ever-changing prix fixe-only (meaning fixed price) menu. Up to a six-course tasting menu (which changes nightly based on availability of fresh ingredients) is offered from the get-go that includes the best of “local seasonal produce and responsibly farmed animals.” Open only three nights a week, the contemporary but rustic/elegant venue has been featured in many publications including Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, The New York Times Magazine, Saveur, and Southern Living. It should also be noted that Magnolia’s main chef Edward Lee has garnered a lot national attention for his bluegrass culinary arts. While an evening at 610 comes at a hefty price tag, the menu is boasted with international fare that’s worth every cent. The 4 Hill Farm Lamb is to die for and the Togarashi Spiced Catfish with baby bok choy and carrots will make you devour your plate in a few minutes. In addition, the seared scallops with zucchini bread and fennel and lobster mushrooms are not to miss. Basically, right as sit down at 610 and decide your order, you know you’ll be getting a well-crafted meal that defines Louisville dining.
Even as a city filled with multiple entertainment choices and lots of history behind it, Louisville has a multitude of food avenues that shouldn’t be ignored when passing through. From sampling the unique signature dishes to trying out the latest in Southern dining, there’s plenty to savor and write home about.