When you think of Louisville, what do you think of? If your answer is bourbon, you're not wrong: Walk into any (literally any) bar and you'll find a brown spirit collection that's larger than most you'll find in even the best bars elsewhere. The offerings run the gamut from budget to budget-buster. Nearly all bars will have something rare; many have barrels available exclusively to their customers; and some offer out-of-print bourbons whose price goes up as the supplies go down.
Without doubt, this city is one of the most exciting places to drink the brown spirit. But Louisville isn't just a place to prop up a bar; it also has a food scene that's as diverse as its bourbon offerings.
What Is the Food of Louisville?
Louisville's culinary scene defies easy classification. Its location at the top-of-the-South means it is Southern — ish. Cross the river and you're in Indiana, so you betcha there's some Midwestern influence here, too.
There's also a legitimate farm-to-table movement, aided by government programs geared toward transitioning farmers away from tobacco. Most notable in this genre is Harvest, which is run by a farmer and local foods activist and where 80 percent of the ingredients are sourced from within a 100-mile radius.
You'll find authentic Vietnamese food at a number of spots around town (we can recommend La Que for its flavorful pho) and locals name DakShin as the best Indian food in town (or possibly ever). For tacos, head south toward the airport, but don't miss the lima beans at local favorite, Mayan Cafe. And while Nashville may lay claim to hot chicken, Louisville has a strong contender in Royal's Hot Chicken, where fried chicken with iceberg lettuce, pickles, and a healthy smear of mayo on a potato bun is best paired with a boozy milkshake.
Hungry yet? Here's what to eat and drink in Louisville, and how to bring it back home.
What to Drink: The Sips of the City
Well, to start, you should go to Jack Fry's. Opened in 1933 by Jack "Malachi" Fry, a bootlegger and bookie who got lucky at the tracks, the restaurant is the place to go for special occasions. Get some shrimp and grits, sure — but the recipe we're calling out is Malachi's Manhattan. If you're lucky Nick Owens will be tending bar and he'll mix you up this richer, rounder riff on the classic.
That drink is made with rye — so if you're after the true taste of Kentucky bourbon, we suggest you head to Milkwood, a casual subterranean spot helmed by Louisville's most famous non-native son, Top Chef Ed Lee. There, you'll find the most Southern of all drinks, and the only way to improve upon sweet tea: a Sweet Tea and Bourbon Cocktail. We loved it so much, we make it by the pitcher.
Get the recipe: Sweet Tea and Bourbon Pitcher Cocktail
What to Eat in Louisville: The New and the Old
But you're not just here to drink. In fact, if you've had a little too much to drink, we have two excellent solutions. The first is the Hot Brown, a delicious heart-attack of an open-faced sandwich invented as a hangover cure at the historic Brown Hotel. Think: Texas toast, turkey, bacon, tomatoes, and Mornay sauce.
If you're more of a pancake-lover, you won't go wrong with the Cornbread Pancakes at Silver Dollar, a modern honky tonk with a menu that's part Southern, part Southern Californian, with some Tex-Mex thrown in for good measure. These pancakes are as big as the plate, thick as your fingers, and just the right combination of sweet and savory. Not wanting to leave that flavor behind in Louisville, we raced back home to whip up a stack ourselves. While they won't fill a whole plate like the ones you'll find at Silver Dollar, ours can be stacked high and are topped with a glossy, jewel-toned strawberry compote.
Sweet Goodbye: Notorious, Beloved, Derby-Pie
Now, we know what you're thinking — we haven't forgotten about dessert ,and there's really just one way to go. We're going to call it Kentucky Bourbon and Walnut Pie because "Derby-Pie" is trademarked by Kerns Kitchen and will get you into a whole slew of legal trouble if you try to use it. The chocolate-nut pie most commonly involves pecans (although we use walnuts, like Kerns) and goes by a number of other monikers, including the explanatory Chocolate-Pecan Pie, the geographically inclined Kentucky Bourbon Pie, and the thumb-to-nose "I Can't Call It Derby Pie" pie. Whatever you want to call it, it's a sure-thing crowd-pleaser.