LOUISVILLE, KY – First things first. It’s pronounced LOU-uh-vull. And this mid-sized city along the Ohio River – known more for its horse race than anything else – is also the perfect base of operations for a tour of Bourbon Country. You can visit most of the major distilleries within an hour’s drive, and even though I was only in town for a few days, we managed to hit a few highlights.
1. Pork & Pone at Hillbilly Tea (pictured, above)
I adored this place, and the low-key vibe during brunch on a Sunday was just relaxed enough to lull me into a midday cocktail. But the slow-roasted pork shoulder with garlicky mayo and a crunchy red cabbage “chow chow” crown made the most of its soft-as-cornbread “pone” or thick corn cake on the bottom.
2. Old Fashioned made with Eagle Rare 10 yr. old bourbon at Proof on Main
The restaurant is housed in the 21c Museum Hotel, which has an incredible, rotating art collection; I loved the food here, but I really fell head-over-heels in love with the Old Fashioned made with Eagle Rare bourbon, aged 10 years. Yes, there was a bit of simple syrup to balance that mildly spicy, toasty spirit, but I could have sipped this drink two days straight.
3. The punches at the St. Charles Exchange.
Another drink? Damn right. This is Bourbon Country, afterall. The cocktail list at the throwback bar had me scratching my head and wishing I had brought three or four friends with, just so I could taste a few of them. But the two punches on the list (just $10 each) were too tempting to pass up. The Paisley Punch featured Mt. Gay rum, with Dolin vermouth, fresh raspberry syrup, lime juice and dry curaçao, plus some angostura bitters. The other punch we tried was the Uncle Tupelo (pictured, above), featured Old Grand-Dad Bonded (which just means its been around since prohibition), fresh lemon juice for brightness, Cointreau, peach liqueur, demerara syrup and aromatic bitters. Speaking of Old Granddad…
4. 1948 Old Grand-Dad Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey at the Silver Dollar.
With notes of warm caramel, toasted corn, vanilla and spice, this is bourbon for grown-ups. There’s no shame in cutting it with some water or maybe a little bit of ice, but this throwback really showed me what a pure expression of America’s official spirit is capable of. By the way, thank you Larry Rice for pulling out the good stuff! And speaking of the Silver Dollar…
5. Texas chili at the Silver Dollar.
I was diggin’ the cornmeal dusted and fried oysters from the snacks menu, but I had no idea the Texas chili was packing so much heat. Didn’t even need the jalapeños on the side, although the soft, crumbly cornbread really came in handy.
The smoked trout hash at the North End Cafe.
The maple-bacon long john from Nord’s Bakery in Germantown
The smoked brisket at Doc Crow’s on Whiskey Row
The moqueca (Brazilian fish stew) at Seviche
The chickpea & country ham fritters with treviso at Proof on Main, with a special shout-out to the interior design of the main dining room: