It was mighty cold during our stay. We managed to keep warm while seeing the sights (we did a lot of drive bys), but we’ll definitely have to return during the spring or fall for a closer look. The budding trees and green grass on the rolling hills must be picturesque. I’m sure the fall foliage is breathtaking, as well. Instead, I was greeted by icicles so big they could impale bigfoot. The forests were bare but dripped ice, many branches cracked under pressure. Landscapers and tree trimmers will certainly have a busy season once the city thaws, but I digress.
Bob and Hugh, led us around town, and introduced us to their favorite haunts; we had such an enjoyable visit. To be honest, I didn’t expect much from Louisville. I knew little about it… it’s home to Louisville Slugger, the Derby and bourbon distilleries. What I learned is that it is booming city with loads of charm. I found that entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well, and there are some real culinary delights too.
Our first dinner downtown in NuLu was my favorite. We met his friends at Harvest and the six of us had a feast. This restaurant is deeply rooted in the farm to table movement. So much so that the walls are adorned with photographs of farmers; and a map of locally sourced farms dresses the back wall. From my first sip of beer from Country Boy brewing (Lexington, KY) I knew I was in for a treat. We started with a meat and cheese board ($13) and beer cheese with pretzel baguette ($8). It was one delicious bite after another. If I had to choose, the pimento cheese was my favorite.
Everything was so good; I was stoked for our main course. I chose the pork confit, with jalapeno-bacon grits, and fried okra ($20). I can’t recall a more succulent bite of pork. And I never had grits like these, they were fantastic. I even liked the fried okra, lightly breaded and crisp without a hint of grease. Outstanding, really. Frank had the evening's steak special which was prepared to perfection. Around the table, only praises were sung for the bbq board ($26), shrimp and grits ($16), and buttermilk fried chicken ($20). I have no doubt desserts would have been stellar, too, if only we had saved room. I suspect magic happens there nightly. A return visit will be a must next time I am in town.
The following day, we had lunch at the Vietnam Kitchen. The menu is extensive and it receives much praise. We were a bit disappointed by our selections, but we may have chose poorly. The pork & shrimp Goi Cuon ($3.75) wrappers were very chewy. I prefer a fresh tender bite. Frank ordered the K6 Hu Tieu Cay Trieu Chau ($9.15) which is a bowl of flat noodles in a spicy broth. The broth was very good but the noodles were so chewy, I couldn’t tell if they were over or under cooked. It was practically inedible. I tried K11 Hu Tieu Xao Ga ($9.70) which was so similar to Pad Thai but without the complexity, nor the sweet heat that I adore. I was left wanting so much more. Bob and Hugh were satisfied with their usual choice of J7 Bun Thit Nuong Cha Gio ($8.55) and N4 Thit Ko Tieu/Xuon Ram ($11.35). Although, the clay pot took an extremely long time to prepare, we were nearly through with our meal by the time Hugh received his.
Afterwards, we went downtown to the Frazier History Museum. First, we passed through the Louisville Slugger Museum where the scent of wood and lacquer are strong. Frank took the tour the day before I arrived. He gave me the cliffnotes. Napoleon was the special exhibit at the Frazier. I enjoyed the collection more than I expected. On the lower floors there are vast collections of guns, swords, armor and medieval weapons. To be honest, it failed to keep my interest. After the first hundred weapons, I grew weary. I wish there were more interactive exhibits. The few they had were interesting. I cannot say it’s a must see unless you have a deep appreciation for US and UK weaponry. It did provide nice way to pass time while keeping warm during this frigid spell.
There are several antique stores in the area, we stopped at the Crazy Daisy. It was fun to step back in time. I spotted so many items that brought me back to my childhood, many items were replicas of pieces my grandparent’s owned. Sure, there’s lots of junk, but you must remember one person’s junk is another’s treasure. I was impressed to see such a collection of Las Vegas memorabilia ashtrays, glassware, etc.
Somehow I left these gems behind.
I had one place on my list that was a must see, that was the Holy Grale. Beer from all over the world is currently being worshiped in the former Unitarian Church. It’s quaint and cozy, and seating is limited. We managed to secure a table and we immediately got started quenching our thirst. I had an aged beer from Belgium that reminded me a bit of sours I’ve tasted lately. Frank struck gold with Konig Ludwig on tap. The men’s bathroom is a real hoot, with a dozen versions of the last supper (Frank took a photo of his favorite, the poker game).
When hunger struck we went to Rye for dinner. We practically had the place to ourselves and we nearly ordered every item on their limited menu. We started with the meat ($15) and cheese plate ($15), which offered a selection of pork, cow, sheep and goat cheeses.
I couldn’t resist the Bone-in Berkshire Pork Chop with chestnut confit and sweet potato ($35), Frank and Bob both selected the steak ($30) from the menu and Hugh had the lobster bisque ($10). We could not choose from the side selections so we had one of each: Butternut Gratin ($8), Triple Cooked Fries ($6) and Korean Roasted Brussels Sprouts ($8) and a concoction of beans that I don’t quite recall.
Everything was nicely executed. The chop was one of the best I’ve eaten, and Frank thoroughly enjoyed his steak. The favorite side was the butternut gratin. It was so comforting, perfect for a cold winter night.
We grabbed dessert elsewhere at Ghyslain. These are some high end chocolates and desserts that are being crafted in NuLu. We each selected a pastry that was nearly too beautiful to eat. Yet, we enjoyed every decadent bite. It certainly made our dreams sweet that night.
You have probably sensed that I have a great fondness for beer, but you might not know that I really haven’t acquired a taste for liquor. I don’t represent my Scottish or Irish roots well; I haven’t found a whisky (or whiskey) I like, despite many tries. I never had bourbon before so I thought it may change my mind. We drove out to Loretto, KY to visit the Maker’s Mark Distillery. It was a slow day, I guess most people aren't eager to trudge through the ice and snow for a visit, but it was to our benefit. We had a private tour. Our guide was a wealth of knowledge. We received an education on its history and the distillery process. Then, we were rewarded for our efforts with a tasting, before heading into the gift shop where Frank dipped his very own bottle. The verdict? Frank has a new favorite drink. I don’t like Bourbon any more than Whisky (or Whiskey). But Maker’s Mark Bourbon Balls are tasty. I guess the chocolate hides that
They've really taken great care to preserve Maker's Mark history. They are still making small batches, dipping each bottle by hand and die cutting all labels just like it was done in its infancy. The grounds have hardly changed over the years. Even the kitchen is a step back in time.
The tour begins in the still house, you can smell corn, wheat and barley in the air. Maker's Mark does not use rye, instead red winter wheat is used.
The magic happens when the yellow mash ferments in huge cypress vats. We were able to sample the mash, think oatmeal prepared with beer. It was interesting to see it in its various stages.
Once the still separates the whisky, it is place in charred oak barrels for aging. The storage room is dark and cold, but it has a pleasant scent. The barrels are rotated from upper levels to lower levels over a three year period. There is no set time for the aging process. Samples are periodically taken from the barrels, they are pulled when they reach the appropriate taste. Maker's 46 goes through an additional step, charred planks are added to the barrels to impart a spice flavor. This takes about an additional nine weeks.
When the barrel reaches maturity the bottling process begins. Maker's 46 was being bottled during our visit; it is only produced in the winter months.
The neck's of the bottles are hand dipped in sealing wax on the line and then boxed for transport.
Finally, we are led to the tasting room. Where four tastings have been prepared: the white allows you to see and taste how the barrel influences the color and taste during the aging process. It's terrible, it tastes like grain alcohol. The fully matured Maker's Mark is world's better, but I still felt like I had kissed a fire breathing dragon. The over matured Maker's mark smells wonderful, but it is offensively bitter. Aging definitely has a best by date. The final sample is Maker's 46. Some prefer it, because of its spicy notes, but we agreed the original is best.
Our last stop was the gift shop. As previously mentioned, Frank purchased a bottle of Maker's Mark that he was able to personally dip.
Maker's Mark distillery is only one stop on the bourbon trail. I hope to see others in the future.
That night we had dinner at Hammerheads. It was Frank's second visit, I had heard all about it, but I was unable to picture the drab basement serving up incredible eats. You might think you're in the wrong place when your GPS leads you to a house in this Germantown neighborhood, but once you spot the hammerhead you'll know you've arrived. The scent of smoke that permeates the air will be your second clue, and if it's later in the evening you'll surely be met by a large crowd.
Upon viewing the menu, I noticed that meat dominates and prices are fair. Once I laid eyes on duck tacos ($12) there was no question what I would be having. Frank loved the lamb ribs last visit, but wanted to try something new. He had nearly decided on pulled pork but he was swayed to try the baby back ribs ($22) when our waiter mentioned that they were his favorite. Bob and Hugh chose the angus ($8) and elk ($12) burgers. We ordered duck sliders ($4 ea), and mac and cheese balls ($7) to start. We shared grippo fries ($4) in duck fat ($3).
The ribs were the best we've had outside of Texas. They were mighty delicious. The duck tacos did not disappoint. The sliders were weak, but it was no fault of the duck. It was the bun that was the culprit. The mac and cheese was creamy and smoky. The hollandaise didn't woo me so I wished I had ordered the side instead... Lessons for next time. The fries were seasoned with a sweet spicy BBQ seasoning. They were good, but I suspect I might like the truffle fries better. Overall, I was pleased by the quality of food. You wouldn't expect it from its divey appearance.
On our final day, Frank had flight out (PHL) at 7 o'clock in the morning. We woke long before the sun was up to take him to the airport (2AM PST), said farewell and returned to Bob's and eagerly awaited the city to wake. He took me on a tour of the Highlands and Old Louisville. If you like old homes and beautiful architecture, these neighborhoods can't be missed. Treelined streets are littered with a blend of Victorian and Colonial homes and mansions. These areas ooze character, many homes look just as they did over a hundred years ago.
The Highlands was where I'd spend most of my time if I lived in Louisville. On a 3.2 mile stretch of road there is an eclectic mix of locally owned resturants, shops, and bars. Anything you need can be found here (except maybe parking). Here, you'll also find Cave Hill Cemetary and arboretum. It is the final resting place for Col. Harland Sanders. I only rode by (it was 4 degrees), but Frank visited his grave. Next trip, I'd like to stroll around and see the lovely variety of trees thrive.
Bob and I had lunch at hillbilly tea which is located in the heart of Louisville. The dining area is darling, exposed brick, reclaimeed woods... very rustic chic. Menus are printed on burlap. The tea selection is extensive, but the lunch options are limited. Choices were extremely limited on our visit since they were out or awaiting shipment on half the menu. Bob had the ribeye special ($15) and I went with the hillbilly standard ($12). Which is chicken salad on corn bread, braised greens and grilled bread and cookie. We also ordered a side of hillbilly mac n cheese ($3). Little did we know the ribeye special also came with it.
The chicken salad was very good, the corn bread wasn't bad. The niceties end there. The grilled bread seemed two or three days old. It was inedible. Half of the greens were decent and edible, those that remained we too tough to chew. The cookies were dry and bland. I honestly couldn't detect a single flavor. The mac n cheese had no macaroni just chopped cauliflower in a cheese sauce. The ribeye was not a quality piece of meat. At least we enjoyed the chai ($5.50) and iced ($3.25) teas. Drinks were large, but portions were small. I'd wouldn't expect to leave a $40 lunch hungry, but I did.
All was not lost, however, Bob took me to his favorite coffee shop, Please & Thank You. I filled up on the most delicious chocolate chip cookies before heading home. It's a super cute relaxed coffee shop that plays records. I have a soft spot for records, music has never sounded as good as on vinyl.
Said and done, Louisville has ideal location on the banks of the Ohio River Valley, they have four seasons and it's affordable. I understand why many call it home. Next visit, I'd like to see a few of the 120 parks in the area. Maybe I'll even try a Hot Brown, Derby Pie or Mint Julep.
With any luck this will be my last look at snow for a very long time.
As much as I love traveling, I'm reminded that there is no place like home.