When in Europe, you can expect to find locally sourced, seasonal, and organic food just about anywhere you go. They don’t need to slap a catchy phrase like “farm to table” on the menu to point out that their food has integrity. It’s already a given. And in Louisville, Kentucky, it’s really no different.
Located on the picturesque Ohio River overlooking Indiana, Louisville is home to one of the most unique and exciting dining scenes in America. One part Southern, one part Midwestern, and one part all its own.
The relationship between chefs, restauranteurs, and farmers here is so strong, that in many cases, the line is completely blurred. Louisville is a city where farmers own restaurants and butchers raise their own pigs.
Start your day at Blue Dog Bakery with a cup of coffee and one of their freshly baked, buttery croissants. If it’s a heartier breakfast you crave, sit down and choose from their mouthwatering menu of farm-fresh eggs and home-cured meats made from owner Bob Hancock’s very own heritage breed pigs. Just a few blocks away, Hancock is working to open his own butcher shop, offering unique cuts of sustainably raised animals and house made charcuterie, in addition to a full bar and dining area, set to open within the year.
Walk just a few doors down and you’ll find Bourbon Barrel Foods. Owner Matt Jaime started the company in 2006 as the first and only soy sauce microbrewery in the U.S. He’s since expanded his offerings to include Worcestershire sauce, vanilla extract, smoked spices, and more. Sample the array of bourbon-barrel-aged and smoked products adored by top chefs throughout the region, and be sure to take home a bottle of his signature Bluegrass soy sauce, made with non-GMO Kentucky soybeans and aged in old bourbon barrels.
The chic and kitschy 21C hotel is host to not only super comfortable, well-appointed rooms, but also to an art museum. Take some time to peruse what’s on display, and then head over to the hotel’s restaurant, Proof on Main, for a cocktail and a bite. Executive chef Mike Wadja’s gourmet version of a Pop-Tart — made with blackberries, chicken liver, and cracklings — is a must try. Wash it down with a Poison Arrow cocktail, made with Heaven Hill 6 Year bourbon, Campari, and house-made blood orange bitters.
A stay in Louisville is not complete with a meal at Harvest, an appropriate name for a restaurant that is as farm-to-table as you can possibly get. That’s because Harvest’s owner, Ivor Chodkowski, isn’t just a restauranteur — he’s also a farmer. The seasonal menu boasts over 80 percent of ingredients sourced from within a 100-mile radius, many of which are grown on Chodkowski’s very own farm. Chef Patrick Roney uses masterful skill to transform these ultra-fresh ingredients into locally inspired, yet totally unique cuisine. Come for the smoked trout deviled eggs, stay for the pickle-brined fried chicken, and definitely do not skip the Loupe-a-dope cocktail, made with Copper and Kings immature brandy, fresh cantaloupe juice, and house-made rhubarb bitters. But of course, only when in season.
As if this city didn’t have enough of its own homegrown talent, hordes of chefs have flocked to Louisville for its top quality ingredients and easygoing way of life. Brooklyn-born celebrity chef Ed Lee’s restaurant Milkwood is a standout, combining Lee’s Korean background with Kentucky’s distinct flavors. The pork cracklings with pimento cheese and octopus “bacon” are not to be missed, but what I found most impressive here were the cocktails. The Thai-inspired Big in Bangkok, with 4 Roses bourbon, peanut butter, and lime was surprisingly light, perfectly balanced, and quite possibly the best, most interesting cocktail I’ve ever had.
Pay a visit to 8Up, Louisville’s only rooftop bar, for fresh cocktails, casual fare and the best views in town. Then move to Bistro 1860, where chef Michael Crouch is cranking out eclectic, exquisite cuisine with a menu that offers every dish in small, medium, and large portions. With an impressive wine list offering over 50 different wines by the glass, Bistro 1860 should absolutely top your list of places to eat in Louisville. Order the lobster hush puppy, the lamb tenderloin tartare, and the curry tempura diver scallops.
Just like most Southern cities, Louisville has a sweet tooth. Satisfy yours at Kizito with giant, classic American cookies made with real butter and all natural ingredients. For an old school candy fix, stop into Muth’s for bourbon balls and their signature Modjeskas, made of fluffy homemade marshmallow and buttery caramel, named for a famous Polish actress who frequented Louisville in the 1880s.
For top notch fare served up with a side of entertainment, the NuLu district is where it’s at. Enjoy a flavorful, locally sourced meal at Rye, then stick around to catch one of the region’s best live bands perform at one of their “Back Porch Sessions.” A block over, at Decca, chef Annie Pettry is turning out perfectly crisp fried green tomatoes and sultry mushroom tagliatelle, made with homemade pasta, foraged chanterelles, and sesame seeds. After dinner, head down to Decca’s cellar for a night cap and some killer live music.
With such a rich and dynamic dining scene, it’s no wonder why chefs and food lovers from all over have been flocking to Louisville to experience some of the best food in America. In this city, the phrase “farm to table” isn’t just a buzzword, it’s a way of life.